Printing on T-shirts has never been easier with so many different techniques, paints, and inks available on the market. Direct to garment printing is a more fitting option for customizing polyester T-shirts. It gives you the ability to print graphics and text on your shirts in solid, photo, or mixed ink colors with excellent results.
Polyester T-shirts are a great alternative to cotton. They are much more durable, fade-resistant, and easy to care for. DTG printing is the best way to print on polyester T-shirts. However, the T-shirt requires pre-treatment and adjustments of temperature, pressure, and time.
Polyester T-shirts used to be looked down on for screen-printing as the poor man’s choice. However, that has changed recently, and now direct to garment printing on polyester t-shirts is becoming very popular. This article will focus on DTG printing on 100% polyester garments and explain how you can ensure top-quality prints every time!
Printing with Direct-to-Garment on Polyester Fabric
Any type of printing on T-shirts was initially done on 100% Cotton fabric. It was unheard of to print on polyester T-shirts. When you have a closer look at the reasons, you will better understand why this is so.
Cotton fabric, being a natural fiber, is more durable than polyester. When you look at cotton fibers under a microscope, you see the dye pigments are ingrained into the fabric. Also, there is a tighter weave on natural fabrics, which is why the dyes absorb into the fabric better.
In polyester fabric, on the other hand, the ink or dye pigments sit on the surface of the fabric with a looser weave to the fabric, allowing for less dye to sink into the fabric. Therefore when printing with white ink on a darker polyester fabric, the white ink gives the fabric a grayish or washed outlook.
These issues have been a hassle for many printers printing on polyester fabric. They also recommend using a 50% polyester blend or a tri-blend T-shirt for direct-to-garment print.
Printers find no problem when printing on white polyester fabric. The problem arises only when printing on darker polyester fabrics, with most of the sporting and fitness world attired in polyester, finding a way to print on polyester fabric, especially with Direct garments.
DTG Can Print On Polyester
Can you DTG print on polyester t-shirts?
Yes. Even though many printers will advise you on using 100% cotton or a cotton blend fabric for DTG, you can also print directly onto a polyester T-shirt. However, they prefer you to use a white polyester T-shirt for DTG. Polyester shirts are not as textured as cotton shirts are, for example. Therefore, you get a smoother finish to the print.
This can only be done when you apply a polyester pre-treatment to the T-shirt before printing and allowing it to dry for a considerable amount of time.
You have to be more careful with colored polyester garments, though. With colored polyester garments, you may find dye migration occurring if the garment is cured at the standard DTG temperature setting; the dye from the polyester bleeds into the garment. For example, if using white ink on a red T-shirt, the print will appear pink.
DTG printers can efficiently resolve this issue by setting the curing temperature lower than what they would generally use on cotton or other natural fabrics.
Some darker shade polyester T-shirts may print better on DTG. However, a few action steps are required to prevent dye migration. Before DTG printing on a darker color polyester Tee, you will first need to apply a light coat of polyester pre-treatment. The garment is left to dry before repeating the pre-treatment application and allowing the shirts to dry.
It is best to apply the pre-treatment a day in advance so your production is not held back and you can meet your deadlines. If like me, you are concerned about releasing toxic gases into the environment, there are eco-friendly pre-treatment solutions available that are non-toxic.
Once you have completed the pre-treatment and allowed sufficient time to pass for the shirt to dry, it will be ready to print and then pass through the heat press. The temperature on the heat press should be set at 265 ˚F (130°C) for a brief period of 45 seconds. The T-shirt should be cooled, and then heat pressed a second time to seal the inks into the fabric properly.
A good tip is to invest in an automatic clam heat press that will open after the required time. With this type of heat press, you can work on other tasks without any worry about your shirt or the print damaging under the heat.
You may also look into getting a conveyor dryer instead of drying the shirt conventionally. This drastically reduces the drying time and increases your production time.
For a polyester shirt, the conveyor needs to be set at low temperatures, and the conveyor belt speed slowed down to adequately prevent dye migration or color bleeding.
The curing process will vary with different garment types, DTG printers, and ink. You can discern the best method to approach the pre-treatment and curing process by working and experimenting.
You may feel this process is long and tedious, but it proves that you can print DTG on polyester T-shirts, and there is so much more to explore and experiment with. The process also allows for washability of the shirts with no color bleeding or fading.
With DTG print on polyester shirts, you have a niche market that you can fit yourself into. There are ample, open opportunities to supply sportswear to sports, athletic clubs, and gyms that all prefer using polyester shirts.
You may need to take extra practice to figure out the pre-treatment and curing process, but it is more profitable in the end. You will be delivering a higher quality product to your customer, which will ensure they return to you.
Selecting A DTG Printer For Polyester Shirts
It is best to investigate further before investing in a DTG printer for polyester shirts. There are so many available on the market currently. These days every well-known printer company has a DTG printer available.
In recent times DTG has strengthened in popularity, gaining a larger slice of the printing market over screen-printing because of the DTG printer features, and it is more cost-effective than screen-printing.
In screen-printing, you need to invest in screens, inks, etc., which become costly for a small business starting out. With screen-printing, you need to consider the time factor as it is a longer process overall.
When selecting a DTG printer for polyester shirts, you should find one that offers you
- Outstanding quality
- Soft to the touch
- Excellent washability
- Low cost per print
- High production rate
Advancements in DTG printer technology coupled with breakthroughs in new inks such as Pigment Olympia inks, for example, have changed printing on polyester shirts dramatically. With these newly advanced DTG printers, you are now able to offer customers
- Customization of polyester shirts with no minimum quantity order.
- No dye migration, while the original fabric is protected.
- A superior white base transparency with lasting, realistic graphics.
- Prints are available in a broader variety of polyester fabrics from wovens, knits in different poly-blends (poly-lycra or poly-cotton), and textures.
By choosing the correct DTG printer for your polyester shirts, the efficiency and effectiveness of your production are increased with lower labor costs. You now have an added advantage over your competitors. Well Done!
Brief History On DTG Printer
If you were under the impression DTG printing is relatively new to the print industry, you would be incorrect. It may surprise you that Matthew Rhome invented the first DTG printer in 1990. In 2000 he patented his invention. Since then, countless companies have jumped onto the bandwagon of DTG printing, wanting a slice of that pie.
Customers were spoilt for choice with so many newer DTG printer models available. There was one slight drawback to the printers, however. It was found that the prints looked really great when printed onto white garments but not so much when used on black or darker colored garments.
The simple reason for this was that white ink was undiscovered for DTG printers at that time. All these issues changed in 2005 when white ink was discovered and used to remedy printers’ issues.
With this discovery, the printing world on shirts changed, and DTG was seen as a worthy opponent to screen printing.
Wash And Care For DTG Printed Shirts
A frequently asked question those new to DTG printing ask is how will the garment hold up under rigorous wash cycles? As with any printing method, screen-printing included, it will not wash well if the garment is incorrectly cured.
If you take a closer look at screen printing, you will find the plastisol ink used in screen printing is very much like adding a coat of PVC over the garment. This protective coating ensures the print lasts longer than even the shirt does!
DTG prints, however, are water-based. With a repeated wash, the garment will perish just as the print on the garment will as well. Nothing is permanent! The print industry standard for washes per garment is set to around 50 washes, and DTG printing with water-soluble inks far exceeds this.
Adding a pre-treatment solution improves the garments’ washability, especially when printing on white or lighter shade garments with CMYK ink, which does not contain a white base. The pre-treatment solution protects the inks from dye migration and bleeding.
- Washing a polyester shirt on a cool wash cycle of 30 Deg C (86 F) will ensure the print does not peel or damage.
- Hang out to dry
- Do not tumble dry your DTG print polyester shirt
- Do not iron directly over the print
Eco-Friendly DTG Print On Polyester Shirts
If you take a more complex look at DTG printing, you can clearly see that it is a greener option than screen printing. Granted, polyester shirts are not the best fabrics if you want to go green, but they are longer-lasting, which is an added bonus for those looking for sustainable clothing.
Suppose you are one of those few interested in sustainable clothing and want to protect the environment. In that case, you will be happy to know there are non-toxic, water-based, and vegan inks available for your polyester shirts.
DTG printing on polyester, unlike screen printing, which is labor and water-intensive, does not require as many resources to create a realistic, long-lasting print.
DTG Print is accessible and more sustainable if you look for a print-on-demand option.
Top 5 DTG Printers For Polyester Shirts
There are countless numbers of DTG printers available on the market. Each with its own unique features and attributes. They all are suitable for printing on polyester shirts, with some like the Kornit PolyPro having a range of vegan, non-toxic inks available. Here are my top 5 DTG brand options for you.
- Brother DTG Printer For Polyester Shirts
- Epson DTG Printer For Polyester Shirts
- Kornit Polypro
- FreeJet 330TX
- PolyPrint Echo2 DTG Printer
Four Best Practices For DTG Print On Polyester Shirts
Here are four best practices to remember when DTG printing on polyester shirts.
Save As CYMK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, And Black)
CYMK is the recommended format for DTG printers. If, however, you are using Photoshop to design your print, then export the file using these colors.
Image Resolutions For DTG Print On Polyester
The image you choose to print should not have a resolution of 72 dpi (dots per inch) or lower. For DTG printers, the image size should be between 200 to 300 dpi.
Fabric Should Match Printing Requirements
You need to choose the fabric best suited for your design carefully. It has been mentioned there is some difficulty in DTG printing on black or darker colored fabrics. If possible, go with white or lighter shades of fabric. This will compel your print design to stand out.
Select A Solid Background For DTG Print On Polyester Shirts
A solid background will better display your design and will give your design the Pop it needs! Also, make sure the background is a different color from your design.
The excellent news is DTG can print on polyester T-shirts, but the bad news is that it’s not necessarily straightforward. As noted above, it does involve a heat setting and curing process. Direct to garment printing is a cost-effective way of getting shirts printed at a cheap rate. Most high-end DTG printers for garment production have the ability to print on polyester garments.
Bryan E. Robinson is the former owner of TshirtGrowth. He has sold t-shirts since 2006 through dropshipping, screen printing, vinyl printing, DTG, Print on Demand, and more. Bryan has created his own t-shirt designs through Photoshop, Canva, and other platforms, as well as worked with freelancers to create many of his designs. Besides t-shirts, Bryan has over 18 years of experience in online marketing with eCommerce, B2B SaaS, B2C products, and more.