Design How Screen Printing

Printed Apparel: Four Things You Need to Think About

Designing and selling t-shirts is super easy! Just ask anyone who has ever stood in a sun-facing booth at an outdoor festival and watched 1,000 people walk right past their apparel without a glance.

Okay, it’s not always that bad. At least it doesn’t have to be. Some of our best apparel clients have been through those hard times and also had total sellout days. Business is fun! Yay, we are businessey!

Thankfully, there are several ways to increase your chances of designing apparel that sells. Here I’m going to focus on a few of the most crucial considerations. If you spot a theme, it’s because the common denominator in all this is to design with the apparel in mind.

Here are some things to be thinking about when designing for your apparel:

Fabric, Fabric, Fabric!

Screen printing on 100% cotton is a dream. If the garment is made well, it’s the best canvas for textile printing. It lays flat, it’s smooth, not too stretchy. It also feels great to wear.

These days it seems everyone wants some sort of blend. Blends are fine, but you should take into consideration that special inks and processes need to be used. This is because the dyes in polyester and other synthetics will release when heated to a high temperature (like when curing ink). What can happen is the dye will seep through the ink after curing, making the image look faded (called “dye migration”). Thankfully, there are special inks that cure at lower temps. Every time a screen printer prints on a new fabric blend, they need to test the print to make sure there won’t be dye migration and it won’t wash out. Keep this in mind when designing your apparel and understand the process will take longer if you want it to be right.

Also consider that the airy lightness of a blended t-shirt can be wasted if you print a huge, blocky design on it. We always recommend designing in finer lines and utilizing design that need less ink coverage.

Here’s a little fabric secret the manufacturers don’t advertise. Polyester doesn’t really breathe and it stains easily. So while that multi-blended tee feels so gooey soft in your hands it will:

  1. make you sweat on a warm day
  2. keep those armpit stains locked in

There’s a reason they wear cotton in the Middle East.

Hoodies and Buttons and Zippers, oh my

Any time you have a raised object on a garment, like a button, zipper or even a thick seam, it becomes a problem to solve for your screen printer (this is why we drink). Screens are flexible, but only to a point. So when the squeegee has to run over the top of a zipper, or really close to a button, it’s difficult to get an even, consistent print through the design.

The good news is, there are solutions for these things. For one, your printer can use a padded platen that has a hollow space to allow the objects to sink in, letting the squeegee run right over them, easy like Sunday morning. Even so, it can be a more time-consuming process, so allow for that and be receptive to suggestions on how to get the best results.

Making hoodies? Awesome. Find a good hoodie and design for it. Sure, you can throw any ol’ design into the middle of a zipper, but there are more fun things to do in life.

What’s the big deal about white ink on dark garments?

Printing white on dark shirts is always a challenge and it takes an experienced screen printer to get it right. While there are super bright white inks that show up well on dark garments, the printer will likely need to make two passes (two layers) to get that beautiful, bright white. This adds time to the process, because they will lay down one layer of ink as a base, “flash” it (cure just enough so it’s dry to the touch), then add a second layer before the final, full cure.

Tip: If you’re going for a vintage look, one pass of white can look awesome.

Another thing to consider when printing white on dark is the level of detail in your design. Tiny details that would show up perfectly in dark ink on light garments can get wiped out with white ink. When laying down that second layer of ink, those tiny details can get thicker and become a little mushy. If you’re super protective of those tiny details in your design, consider printing dark ink or doing a vintage look with one pass.

That old joke about size

Why does size matter? In screen printing, a screen is made for each color in an image. If you’re printing in just one color, only one screen will be needed. However, as soon as you ask for a different size, a new screen must be made.

When determining the best size of a design for our clients, we make a recommendation based on the smallest tee we’ll be printing. That size will then be used for everything from small to 3XL. You can imagine that the image can look a wee bit tiny on that 3XL. Consider whether you’ll be fine with that or will prefer a larger size for those big shirts.

These are only a handful of tips and I will share more in the future. Again, I hope you caught my theme here, which is to design for the apparel you’re going to have printed. In some cases, your design will work fine on multiple garment types, so you just want to be conscious of your options.

As always, ask your burning questions in the comments below and I’ll answer. You can also reach out on twitter, facebook or just email We’re here to help.

Want to learn more about getting apparel printed? Get our Amazing T-shirt Guide!