T-Shirt Printing Machine for Small Business: Elevate Your Small Business with a T-Shirt Printing Machine

Photo of author

By Jacob Maslow

Starting a custom T-shirt printing business provides several opportunities to elevate your small business. Investing in the right T-shirt printing machine for small businesses can ensure increased revenues in this competitive market.

Whatever type of T-shirt printing designs you plan to sell, here’s how to set up your business and buy the right equipment.


T-Shirt Printing Machine for Small Business

Whether you already run a small business that you can elevate with a T-shirt printing machine or plan to start a new online business, here are some thoughts about elevating it, including getting the right equipment:

1.     Choose Your Niche

T-shirts are popular apparel items, and with a printing machine, you can customize them according to your client’s needs. Some of the biggest customers in printed T-shirts are stores and companies who want them printed with their logo.

However, that is not the only niche in the industry. Others include using people’s photos, custom designs for specific industry segments, and printed T-shirts for special occasions, like baby showers, bachelor parties, pre-wedding parties, and company events. Remember that you want a narrow audience, for example, funny logos for a specific market, like female chefs, but not too narrow.

2.     Source the T-shirts

You can start your business by finding a print-on-demand T-shirt company. They print the T-shirts according to your customer orders and ship them directly to them. Some advantages are smaller startup costs, fewer space requirements, and fewer logistics headaches.

However, print-on-demand has several downsides, especially a lack of quality control and lower profit margins. In-house production with a T-shirt printing machine gives you the most control over your product quality. Customers are willing to pay more for better quality, meaning your high startup costs will allow better profit margins.

Other advantages of in-house production include creating more niche and customized products and personalized shipping.

3.     Design the T-shirts

Developing T-shirt designs is the fun part. Let your creativity run free, and transfer your ideas to your final products.

You can use design software, hire a freelance graphic artist to create the art for your ideas, or buy design templates to create your t-shirts.

Read more about starting a T-Shirt business in our guides:

Start Your Own T-shirt Business to Unleash Your Creative Potential

Discover the Perfect T-Shirt Business Name: Tips & Ideas!

Transform Your Custom T-Shirt Printing Business Into A Success Story

4.     Choosing the Right T-Shirt Printing Machine

Before buying your T-shirt printing machine, research the various printing methods for your designs. Here are six of the most common T-shirt printing machines:

Direct-to-Garment Printing (DTG printing) – With DTG, water-based inks are applied by the printer directly to the garment instead of using a screen or transfer.

You create the designs on the software and connect your printer to your computer. The process begins with a pretreatment solution to prevent colors from smearing. Once printed, the T-shirt goes into a heat press or air dryer to cure the colors and smooth the fibers, protecting the print from repeated washing.

Since DTG printing takes images from your computer, you can create highly customizable designs with high resolution, sharpness, and vibrant color. It’s suitable for all T-shirt fabrics, including cotton/polyester blends, but the best results are on cotton.

DTG is the most environmentally friendly printing method since it uses water-based ink free of toxic chemicals. It also doesn’t require using additional materials. Cheaper options don’t provide the same results, so choose your DTG printer carefully.

Screen printing – Silk screen printing applies ink designs to T-shirts through a mesh partly blocked off by the stencil shape. Screen printing provides vivid colors. Therefore, it’s an indirect printing method using the following process:

  • You transfer the printed file to transparent acetate film that serves as a stencil.
  • You prepare the screens with an emulsion that hardens on exposure to light, blocking off the surrounding areas.
  • Each color of the design uses one screen and one stencil.
  • The hardened emulsion creates the stencil.
  • The T-shirt goes underneath the screen on a printing board.
  • You lower the inserted ink, pressing down with a squeegee or blade to impress the design.
  • After printing, you use a heat gun, heat press, flash dryer, or conveyor dryer to cure the printed design.

Screen printing used to be a popular T-shirt printing method for making, but it requires time to prepare stencils and screens, meaning it’s less cost-efficient for smaller orders. However, it’s cost-efficient for large printing jobs with less complex color combinations. It lasts well through many wash cycles. Screen printing is less environmentally sustainable since it uses several materials and wastes ink.

Direct-to-Film Printing: – Direct-to-film printing is considered reliable and efficient for various printing needs. One of its notable advantages is its simplicity, making it accessible for both beginners and professionals. The process involves using a Mutoh direct-to-film printer, known for its precision and quality output. Some benefits are:

  • Simplicity: Direct-to-film printing eliminates the need for complicated steps like screen preparation, making it a time-saving option.
  • Color Accuracy: It offers excellent color accuracy, ensuring the final prints match the intended design.
  • Quick Adjustments: This method allows quick adjustments, making it ideal for small-scale projects or last-minute changes.
  • Cost-Effective: Direct-to-film printing is cost-effective as it reduces material waste and the need for multiple screens.

With its precise printing capabilities, direct-to-film printing ensures sharp and vibrant images, making it a valuable option for businesses and individuals seeking efficient and impressive print results.

Dye sublimation printing – Known as all-over printing, dye sublimation printing can cover areas of a T-shirt, especially repeated patterns on more challenging parts of the fabric, like seams. It requires a three-step process:

  • You create the design and store it on a digital image file.
  • The printing machine prints the image in reverse on the transfer paper using a special printer.
  • You press the paper onto the T-shirt with the printing machine. The heating and cooling process creates the print.

Sublimation does not bond ink well to cotton, but it’s ideal for synthetic fabrics,  blending right into it for a smooth design that won’t fade or peel. Sublimation is the most expensive of all the T-shirt printing processes.

Heat transfer vinyl printing (HTV printing) – As the name suggests, this is an iron-on printing method. You transfer the design onto vinyl plastic-based sheets. You cut out the design shapes, remove the removable tape, and activate the adhesive by heating.

HTV printing designs are stiffer because of the vinyl and are ideal for sports jersey lettering. Fabrics that don’t take well to heat aren’t ideal for this type of printing. HTV printing is an inexpensive method ideal for beginners, but it’s time-consuming and unsuited to large-scale printing.

Plastisol transfer printing – Another indirect T-shirt printing method is a simpler screen-printing variation using transfer paper instead of mesh screens. The biggest difference is applying the design to the transfer paper instead of directly onto the T-shirt.

Transfer papers have several effects and textures, creating durable designs that won’t crack or fade.

Airbrushing – A  manual way to apply designs to a T-shirt using stencils with an air-spraying tool. It gives you artistic freedom to apply your designs and is inexpensive, but airbrushing requires more time, meaning it’s not cost-effective. Airbrushed designs are less durable, and you can’t provide intricate details.

Tips for Choosing a T-Shirt Printing Machine

1. Consider your printing needs: Consider the type of designs you want to create and how complex they are. The more colors, details, and fabrics you’ll work with, the more suited DGT or sublimation printing may be.

2. Research machines that match your budget: Compare prices for suitable machines in your price range while ensuring they meet your printing needs. More expensive machines usually come with better features like high-definition images and a speedier production process, but cheaper options might still do well enough when starting.

3. Analyze space requirements: Before buying a machine, measure the space where you’ll use it to ensure it fits. Sometimes you may need additional space for drying racks or extra tables.

4. Check customer support: Investigate the company’s customer service by reading reviews and asking other users about their experience with the machine you’re interested in. This will help to assess how reliable they’ll be during setup or any troubleshooting.

5. Consider environmental sustainability: If eco-friendliness is important to your business, choose among machines that use sustainable processes like DGT printing which uses water-based ink free of toxic chemicals and doesn’t require additional materials.

By researching these five aspects, you can choose a T-shirt printing machine ideal for your small business needs and budget while getting the most out of your investment.

Finishing up, purchasing a T-shirt printing machine for a small business can be complex due to the various types of machines available. By understanding the different printing processes and their advantages and disadvantages, you’ll have more confidence in choosing the right machine for your needs and budget.


What is the most cost-effective T-shirt printing method?

Screen printing is often considered the most cost-efficient T-shirt printing process for larger orders with less complex color combinations. However, it’s usually better to go with Direct To Garment (DTG) printing for smaller orders.

What type of fabric can I use for T-shirt printing?

Sublimation and heat transfer vinyl (HTV) work best on synthetic fabrics, while screen print, direct-to-garment (DTG), and airbrush are better suited for cotton and other natural materials.

Can I create intricate designs with a T-shirt Printing Machine?

Yes, most T-shirt printing machines are capable of creating intricate designs. However, some processes, like screen printing, require more time to prepare stencils and screens. On the other hand, Direct To Garment (DTG) and Sublimation Printing offer a faster production process with less waste materials.

What is the most eco-friendly T-shirt printing method?

Direct To Garment (DTG) is the most environmentally sustainable printing process since it uses water-based ink free of toxic chemicals and doesn’t require additional materials or screens. DGT also produces higher-quality prints than traditional methods.  However, sublimation is another option that reduces ink waste while producing vibrant colors on synthetic fabrics.

Images Courtesy of DepositPhotos