How Custom Apparel Printing Works

Garments from shirts to pants can now be customized for whatever reason, whether it be for professing your love for a sporting team or to show support for your college/university. Often, we all own one or two (or more) different types of apparel with some sort of custom printing on them, but we don’t know how they are made.

With today’s advanced technologies there are two main ways to create custom apparel printing: screen printing and digital printing.

Screen Printing

What is it?

Screen printing is a technique where a mesh based stencil is used to apply ink to an item such as t-shirts, pants, posters, bags etc. It’s a fairly simple process, but does require some special equipment and basic techniques.

How does it work?

Here is a simple breakdown of the process of screen printing:

  1. The Artwork: it starts with a piece of artwork, so the more detailed the artwork is, the more detailed the final result will be. You also decide on what colour you use and where that colour will go. The more colours used means the more screens used because each new colour requires a unique screen.
  2. The Film Positive: a film positive transparent of the artwork gets created.
  3. The Screen: the film positive is used to create the screen. The screen is composed of a polyester mesh material that is stretched on a wooden or aluminum frame. The screen gets prepared by using emulsion (a light sensitive liquid), the film positive and a special light. When the screen is finished, you will see the outline of your artwork on it.
  4. The Press: Now, this is where the printing starts. You can use an automatic or manual press, but either way, how it works is that the screen gets inserted into the press, the squeegees get locked in and the ink applied. After that, the apparel must be lined up perfectly and flattened out on the pallet. The press (if automatic) will raise the apparel to the screen and the squeegee will push through the openings in the mesh, inputting your design onto the apparel. Then all that’s left is for the ink to dry, and your apparel is complete!

Digital Printing

What is it?

Digital printing is a newer process that has recently developed and involves the chosen artwork being processed by a computer, and then printed directly onto the surface of your chosen apparel. It does not require a heat transfer or an applique, since the ink is directly stuck to the fabric of your apparel.

How does it work?

Each apparel get pre-treated where a fixer must be applied to the fabric before it gets printed, this is referred to as ‘padding’ or pre-treatment. Once each pre-treated fabric is print tested, the printer is adjusted to the amount of ink that the fabric can hold in order to achieve a crisp, bright print. Once this is done, this is the process of digital printing:

  1. Placement: the apparel is placed on the printer, and the ink head is set to the correct height for the fabric.
  2. Printing: the print starts to emerge as the print head passes from right to left over the fabric, laying the ink on the fabric in layers.
  3. Fixing the Fabric: the fabric must be steamed so the printed ink can bond to the fibre of the fabric.
  4. Washing: after the fabric is steamed, it needs to be washed to remove any excess print and fibre, then is it dried and ironed.


These are the two main ways to do custom apparel printing. It all varies on the quality and the speed you want your apparel to be printed. Contact GotMerch today to do any quality custom apparel printing!