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The Fine Print: Let's talk about tees!

Custom T-Shirt Printing: The Top 5 Things you need to Know

You find yourself in charge of ordering custom t-shirts for an event, a business, or the next family reunion but aren’t sure what to expect from a custom t-shirt printer. If you’re inexperienced with purchasing custom products, it can be a little scary since the end product reflects your decisions and probably represents a significant portion of the budget allowed for the entire venture.

We’ve printed millions of custom t-shirts and shipped them to customers across the U.S. so we’re decidedly the experts when it comes to identifying potential issues and educating our customers on the best course of action. Here are the top 5 things you need to know when engaging in custom t-shirt printing.

  1. Quantity and pricing are like peas and carrots, they just go together
  2. Most t-shirt printers offer quantity discounts but it’s important to understand the logic behind it. Burning screens for a screen printing job is part of the setup process and is built into our pricing. Because it involves a lot of work, a small number of t-shirts are going to incur a greater price per item.

    However there are price breaks where we’ve been able to rationalize a significant decrease in the price per item. It’s a point of cancelling out the cost of production and maximizing our screen printer’s awesome powers of speed if you will. Our most generous price breaks are at 12, 36, 72, 144, and 300 pieces.

  3. What’s the difference between screen printing and digitally printing a t-shirt?
  4. There are 3 factors you want to consider for this question. The type of t-shirt product, the design, and the number of t-shirts desired. Screen printing is the traditional method by which custom printed clothing has been produced. However, since the innovation of polyblend materials, (a certain percentage of the fabric is made from synthetic materials) and the demand for photo quality finished designs, a distinction has to be made when choosing a t-shirt product. If your design is relatively simple or if you need your design printed on performance wear, (typically a polyblend) you’re going to choose screen printing.

    Typical Screen Print Design

    Typical Digital Print Design

    The digital print method would be the default if your design is complex or photo like. Digital printing requires that the garment you choose be made of 100% cotton for the inks used in digital printing to adhere properly. Additionally, if you’re looking for six items or less, you would choose the digital print method because it will be cheaper per item than screen print.

  5. This t-shirt design is just for my personal use. Why can’t I use images I found on the Internet?
  6. We all love popular icons from movies, music, and other forms of entertainment. However, most images that are found on the Internet are owned by someone unless released under a Creative Commons License. That means an ethical custom t-shirt printer would not print images, and thus, make a profit from someone else’s copyright protected or trademarked images.

    Additionally, many times when images are downloaded from the Internet the quality is low resolution and would not reproduce to your expectations. It may look fine on a computer screen but when blown up to actual size the result can be disappointing. If you’re not sure of the legality of using an image, contact us and we can do a reverse image search to verify copyright concerns.

  7. I have a deadline, how far in advance do I need to order my t-shirts?
  8. If you need your t-shirts by an exact date, placing your order 10 calendar days ahead of that date will ensure you receive them in time with no extra shipping charges. Although we do offer lightning fast options in as little as 3 days, giving yourself plenty of time to review choices, artwork proofs, and customer service questions is of course the most tactical. Especially if you have more than one decision maker involved with your t-shirt order.

    If you request a proof, be sure to follow up with our customer service department on the approval. Since we want to make sure you’re happy with your custom products, we need that verification before proceeding with the order.

  9. I’m a reseller. How do I know my artwork will be protected?
  10. Your design is your design. We never make your artwork available for others to print without your express permission. Some online custom t-shirt printers offer ecommerce stores for their customers to sell their t-shirts designs on demand. However, if you’re a serious reseller looking to build a clothing line, read the fine print.

    These stores require you to relinquish total rights to the design and they use them for marketing and make a profit every time your design is sold. While this may sound like a low hassle way to run a store, it makes it very hard to build a brand that’s under your control.

The Dummies Guide to T-Shirts

Differences in Fabric

A lot of people don’t even think about the different types of t-shirt fabrics available. If you’re not well versed in fabric choices you might just assume a t-shirt is a t-shirt is a t-shirt. It’s not true. Cheap t-shirts are typically made of either really thin or really thick fabric. However, high quality t-shirts are actually going to be on thinner, softer side because of ring spun cotton, but they have a heavier feel to the touch. The thin t-shirts we’re talking about are thin because they are cheaply woven. Cheap, thin shirts can also be transparent which is not going to be popular with women. Thick, cheap shirts are typically tubular meaning they do not have side seams and are more likely to lose their shape after washing. So look for shirts with side seams. This is usually a sign of a better constructed tee overall.


We’ve all had it happen. You buy a t-shirt because you love it, but once it’s washed a few times, it’s either too short or too tight. Before you pick a t-shirt product, check the label to understand what type of material it’s made of and if it’s been preshrunk. Preshrunk material is more likely to remain true to size. 100% cotton is an American staple but since cotton is a plant fiber, it has a tendency to shrink when exposed to heat. If you’re concerned about shrinkage, wash only in cold water and lay flat to dry. This will also extend the life of your t-shirt and the print. A poly blend fabric is unlikely to shrink and in many cases can be softer and more durable than 100% cotton. However when applying decoration such as digital print embellishment, cotton tees are the best because of the fibers ability to absorb.

Customer Supplied Goods

Being in the screen printing industry for decades, we understand there may be opportunities to purchase bulk t-shirts at steep discounts. While it may seem like a bargain, if you intend to embellish with print, you may not be able to. The best t-shirt printers have a lot of knowledge concerning printability. Not all retail shirts are intended to be embellished by screen printing or digital printing methods. When in doubt, contact us prior to purchase to understand the risks of the t-shirt product you intend to buy.

Sustainable T-Shirts and Printing

You want to do right by the environment and live a greener life. We do too. You may think that sustainable t-shirts are too expensive but we actually offer two great options. Check out the Hanes ComfortBlend EcoSmart T-Shirt which is definitely on the affordable side, plus the Alternative Apparel Organic Cotton Basic Crew which is a bit more expensive but a popular brand. Our sustainable products require a minimum order of 6 t-shirts.

When to Choose Screen Print or Digital Print

Being in the screen printing industry for decades, we understand there may be opportunities to purchase bulk t-shirts at steep discounts. While it may seem like a bargain, if you intend to embellish with print, you may not be able to. The best t-shirt printers have a lot of knowledge concerning printability. Not all retail shirts are intended to be embellished by screen printing or digital printing methods. When in doubt, contact us prior to purchase to understand the risks of the t-shirt product you intend to buy.

Large Orders can Swallow the Indie Designer

Starting your own brand offers a lot of challenges along with the rewards that come from being an independent designer. One of the biggest mistakes indie designers have shared with us is they incorrectly think that screen printing their own orders saves money. If time is money, (and it is,) you can spend your valuable time doing much more important things like building your brand and coming up with “it” wear. That’s why you started down this road in the first place, right?

When you get to the point that a manual press cannot reasonably support the volume of your orders, you start treading water to keep up, costly mistakes are made and the passion you have for your brand is compromised.

Even if you have in depth knowledge and expertise in screen printing, the time and effort it takes do your own printing can rob you of design inspiration. You may find that investing in your own quality equipment can deprive you of much needed resources to market your brand. Partnering with an established screen printer like also open up access to discounted product pricing as well as comprehensive access to hard-to-find goods.

We have strong relationships with product suppliers and since we buy our supplies in bulk, we enjoy discounted prices that we extend to t-shirt designers that choose to work with us. Some very successful brands roots began with us and we shared their growing pains with support, expertise and experimentation. In fact, some of our most prosperous brands do outgrow us when they get to the point they can afford the equipment and staff to bring everything in-house, but we know we have been a pivotal part of that success.

Partnering with DesignAShirtalso offers integrity and protection of your designs. When using other screen printers, even those that offer a free website, you compromise the ownership of your design as part of their terms of service. Your designs can be used in their marketing materials, modified, and even sold which is a big win for them because they use your content to make their brand look great. For our brands and resellers, we never take credit for your designs on our social channels or in our marketing material ensuring your brand remains YOUR BRAND.

Customer Service Challenges for Custom Screen Printers

Some of the most difficult challenges we face as professional screen printers is handling touchy situations that arise from attempts to use protected artwork for personalized apparel. Having had to fight plenty of times to protect our trademarked name and images, we take legal issues like this very seriously. When we work with clients on a new clothing line, we want them to feel secure in the fact that we would protect their designs to prevent loss of revenue and marketshare too.

With an online design studio which allows customers to design or upload art for printing customized shirts, it may not be apparent to some that what they are endeavoring to do is illegal. We try to be as transparent about our business practices as possible but since the ordering process is designed to be self-serve, the best we can do to thwart an attempt to have protected graphics or designs printed is to include notification that we won’t print those items unless with permission.

Our goal as custom t-shirt printers is to provide total freedom during the design and ordering process, that’s why we allow clients to complete the entire transaction independently. This works beautifully for 99% of our customers. We further understand in 2015, customers want their commerce experience in their hands. However, on occasion we run into issues where someone uploads protected art.

When this happens, we contact the client and alert them that we will not be able to fulfill their order and issue a refund to the card they used to purchase the service. Very recently we made one client very upset when we cancelled their order for a t-shirt that infringed upon Disney’s designs.

Here are excerpts from the email correspondence: 

Yes, we are afraid of a mouse, a lot of people are. Disney strikes fear into the heart of many designers, screen printers, muralists, children’s event entertainers, cake makers, day cares and more. That’s because they do not mess around when it comes to protecting their property and they don’t mouse around with making examples of people. For some, it may seem ridiculous to worry about the printing of one little shirt that uses Disney imagery (or any other protected artwork,) but the reality for companies is this, if they allow for little infractions they put their entire right to protect their property at risk during more serious matters

Although we really hate to turn down orders and upset customers, we try to operate a lawful business and have further responsibility to stay in business as we have more than 40 employees that count on us for their continued livelihood. We make every effort to delight our customers and meet the needs of everyone in the market for personalized apparel, but sometimes we just have to say no.


5 Free Art Tools to Create Alternatives to Copyrighted Graphics

We love to print t-shirts, but sometimes we get requests from customers to print graphics that we know are copyrighted. We can never print copyrighted graphics or logos except of course with permission from the copyright holder. Because we know people love to create unique and personalized apparel, we researched some fantastic free tools that will allow you to create some very different types of art and use it for your own t-shirt. These tools offer copyright free use of your creation but only for personal use. Warning, you are entering a time sucking, fun zone.

1.       Graffiticreator

Need street swag? This tool allows you to choose your street style font and customize the look with different fills, outlines, and backdrops.

2. Weavesilk

This tool creates ethereal imagery based upon the movement of your cursor within the interface. Have fun with this zen-like experience.

3. Piq

Simple name, simple art. Love Minecraft-style art? This tool allows you to create your own pixel art! 

1. Bomono

For the artist that likes to explore possibilities. This tool isn't for the type that needs absolute control, Bomono has a mind of its own.

5. Hero Machine

This tool is awesome and allows you to develop your own superhero. Choose all the components of your hero's appearance. Mix and match, colorize and then take a screenshot.