T-shirts are the 21st-century uniform. You see them paired with a blazer in the boardroom or dressed up with heels. You see them with collars when you hand your keys to the valet. You wear your favorite t-shirts year-round.
T-shirts make great uniforms and have become an increasingly important branded marketing tool.
But there are so many t-shirt printing methods out there!
Here, we’ll quickly take eight real-life examples and compare screen-printed shirts vs vinyl printing on t-shirts.
It’s not so complicated!
The Handmade, Weathered Look
First up: the vintage-inspired, lived-in tshirt. This is a common look when you want shirts to look handmade. These shirts are perfect for liveable, daily wear shirts, especially for casual branding.
This is not a stiff look, it’s comfortable.
For this look, screen printing wins.
What is screen printing? Screen printing is the OG handmade shirt. When they were made as one-offs, an artist would create layers of thin mesh (screens), with cutouts and press the ink through the mesh into each shape. Essentially, the color (ink) would only go through the intended mesh. Each color got applied separately with its own set of screens.
The basics of screen printing haven’t changed much, except in our screen printing shop now everything is done by computer. Super fancy, digitized equipment moves each shirt from color to color, getting designs exactly right.
Even if your tshirt design is weathered-looking, you want it to be exact.
Printing Several Colors, the Graphic T-shirt
While adding additional colors can add some additional cost, when it comes to printing multiple colors, screen printing is still the go-to method.
Screen printing works on an enormous number of fabrics and with nearly every color imaginable.
If you want to print a few colors inexpensively, use screen printing.
T-shirts that Last a Lifetime
In this scenario, you want a washable shirt that can be laundered frequently and maintain color without cracking or fading.
This is another common ask: the daily wear or uniform t-shirt.
For this scenario, screen printing wins again.
The Logo-printed Shirt
When logos have just a few colors and not an overly-elaborate design, screen printing is not only the best method, it is also extremely cost-effective.
One might want to consider embroidery for certain designs or for logoed polo shirts, but for most logos screen printing works best.
Scenario 5: The Family Reunion
Event t-shirts, such as family reunions or company events, are usually best to be done screen printed.
When you get a concert shirt, a shirt from your favorite sports team, etc, they are most often screen printed.
It’s cost-effective and the shirts will last a lifetime.
Scenario 6: Still the Family Reunion
Smaller events, such as a family reunion with 12 or fewer shirts, might be more cost-effective to do with vinyl.
Vinyl is machine cut and heat pressed onto the material. It works on virtually any fabric.
Vinyl printing uses industrial-grade machinery, so it’s not like the heat transfer fabric people do at home. It may not last quite as long as screen printing, but modern vinyl resists cracking and fading and generally holds up quite well.
Printing Numbers on Jerseys
Vinyl works great for one-off tasks, like printing the number and name on the back of a jersey.
Because vinyl is the gold-standard of jersey-printing, getting that “team sports” look can also best be done with vinyl. When companies want to have sports-jersey looking event shirts, or names for each employee printed in block prints on the back like their favorite NFL team, vinyl wins.
Vinyl doesn’t work well for multiple colors or small details. But that NBA-looking jersey-inspired shirt usually has block printing in a single color, anyway.
Printing an Image or Photo
In the final scenario, the customer wants an actual photo on a t-shirt. An example is a group of veterans getting the photo of their WWII ship on their matching shirts.
Images or photos can be printed onto vinyl material and heat transferred to shirts, so vinyl wins this round.
Think of this one like the vinyl wrap done on a company car.
Vinyl does slightly reduce the flexibility of the shirt, but it’s still very wearable.
The Final Word, Screen-printed Shirts vs Vinyl
The final word is that the best printing method is the one that suits your specific job.
No printing or embroidery that comes out of our shop is anything less than superior quality. Contact us and we will give you our expertise for free. We want you to be delighted by your custom t-shirts, and we will give you that quality at a great price.