Want to make your own T-shirts? There are a few different ways to do it at home, all of which will allow you to make stylish custom shirts to sell or give as gifts. Each method has its own benefits and limitations, and it helps to familiarize yourself with them so you can get the results you want. The two primary methods are screen printing and heat transfer (or heat press).
Screen printing relies on a squeegee and a silk screen, which is a wooden or aluminum frame with a polyester fabric stretched across it. You’ll also need a photo emulsion formula and a stencil of the design you want to print on your shirt. The other crucial component you’ll need? Patience. Screen printing is a time-intensive process, and requires working carefully in addition to the wait time as your print sets. The availability of screen-printing machines might imply that this a mechanized process, but it’s actually a manual method that can (save for a single lightbulb) be done without any electricity.
A heat press works by heating a metal surface called the platen. Once the platen is heated you must apply pressure, and once the pressure is applied to the heated surface, it transfers the decal, print or image onto the T-shirt or material you are printing on. When buying a T-shirt printing machine, you want to look for a digital timer and temperature control, adjustable pressure knobs, and you want to keep in mind what size garments you plan on printing on so that you buy a machine that will fit your needs – literally.
So between screen printing and heat press, which is the best? In terms of quality, screen printing easily beats heat press. A screen-printed image becomes part of the fabric, resulting in a more professional look, whereas a heat transferred image can potentially crack in the wash, and it can have a plastic-y texture. However, heat transfer is easier and less time-consuming. Plus, you’re not limited by color. With heat transfer, you can add an unlimited range of colors. If you want a multicolored screen-printed design, you’ll need a fresh screen, with every extra color effectively doubling the amount of work you have to do. If you’re intending to sell your designs, screen-printing isn’t very economical unless you’re making them in bulk. Of course, if you’re just screen-printing for yourself or a couple of friends, the time element will be less of an issue.
Whether you’re starting an apparel company, printing tees for charity, or just want to have an outlet for your slogans, artwork and ideas, screen printing machines let you put your creativity to canvas. They’re easier than you may think as well, making them a great DIY option for your home. We’ve included screen printing as well as heat press machines that you can use at home.
1. Cricut Easy Press 2
In terms of value, functionality and ease-of-use, it’s hard to beat a machine from Cricut, which have quickly become one of the most popular options for DIYers of all stripes. The Easy Press 2 is a compact machine that can be used to heat transfer for t-shirts, totes or a variety of other projects. Plus, the unique “invisible ink” technology is designed to produce results that are closer to screen-printing.
Pros: Compact size makes it great for at-home DIYers. Versatile option for different projects.
Cons: Not as powerful as traditional options.
2. Jacquard Professional Screen Printing Kit
This kit from Jacquard is a convenient way to get into manual screen-printing. Instead of wood, the screen’s frame is made from aluminum, adding durability and reducing irregularities. You also get four different colors — there’s red, yellow, blue and white, in addition to the emulsion and sensitizer bottles. Three acetate sheets are also included in the kit.
Pros: Includes sturdy aluminum screen and aluminum squeegee. Acetate sheets and emulsion bottles included.
Cons: While it does include four colors, black oddly isn’t one of them.
3. Fancierstudio Power Heat Digital Press
Fancierstudio’s power heat press has a 15″ x 15″ press pad to work with with electronic heat and time control. It has a silicon-gel based board that’s pressure-adjustable and includes a teflon sheet to work with. It’ll perform the heat transfers you need to create excellent designs with great ease of use, providing industrial strength, temperature and pressure when pressed down. It’s easy to operate and will embed your designs permanently.
Pros: Great pressure and time control, industrial strength, easy to use, large pressing surface.
Cons: Timer may malfunction from time to time.
4. Speedball Advanced Screen Printing Kit
You can buy the components you need for screen-printing in a piecemeal way, but if you’re just getting started, you might want an easy all-in-one kit. This option from Speedball has everything you need to get started. The kit has a wooden screen frame and base, a squeegee, screen printing ink in multiple colors, emulsion and other handy tools to help you get started. There’s even a lamp with a bulb for exposing the screen. Plus, with four different colors (black, white, red and blue) you’re free to experiment.
Pros: All-in-kit has what you need to get started. Includes four different color options. Includes a lamp.
Cons: Some options may be more economical.
5. F2C 5-in-1 Professional Digital Transfer Heat Press
The F2C 5-in-1 Professional Digital Transfer Heat Press Machine has a large 12″ x 15″ heat press surface that gives you a wide area to create all different size designs on a variety of materials. This machine can print on hats, mugs, plates, pads, and T-shirts. This is a reliable heat press that’s 5-in-1 multifunctional, and while it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of some higher tech heat presses, it has all the basic functions a heat press needs. It is a great companion for the at-home crafter.
Pros: Large work surface, 360-rotation, digital control for pressure and sensitivity, 5-in-1 multifunctional.
Cons: No setup instructions included.
6. Vevor Heat Press Machine
The Vevor Heat Press can print/transfer on T-shirts, garment bags, mouse mats, ceramic tiles, plates and more. It can easily transfer images onto cotton, metal, ceramic and glass. This machine comes with a digital LCD timer and LCD temperature control. The LCD timer lets you preset the time and an alarm will sound you when the time is up. This feature helps prevent overexposure of heat. The digital LCD temperature control makes sure the machine stops heating when it reaches the temperature you set it to. This machine can be used for every day use and long production use in a commercial or home setting.
Pros: Reliable timer and temperature control, LCD screens that are easy to read.
Cons: Surface gets very hot so be sure to keep away from children.
7. TUSY Heat Press Machine
TUSY’s screen printing machine is very easy to use, with an LCD screen on top that displays time and temperature so you can keep track of the progress of your designs. The heat press is 15″ x 15″ so you’ve got plenty of space to work with, and it’s fully pressure adjustable so the power is in your hands. It also has an over-heating safety feature built in that’ll turn off the heat plate automatically if it detects a burn, fire or other accident.
Pros: LCD screen that’s easy to read, simple to use, large pressing space, anti-overheating safety feature.
Cons: Not a great option for beginners as the instruction manual is not very detailed.
8. Transfer Crafts T-Shirt Heat Press & Digital Sublimation Machine
If you’re looking for a heat transfer tool, this option from Transfer Crafts is an easy option for the amateur enthusiast. It comes fully assembled, meaning it’s easy to set it up and start making t-shirts. Plus, the temperature and time display panel makes it easy to ensure you get consistent results. It also features an overheating alarm to prevent damage.
Pros: Comes fully assembled for ease-of-use. Temperature and time display for more consistent results.
Cons: Somewhat large.
9. Oprol Heat Press
This heat press from Oprol is a compact option for the casual DIYer, and the stylish design also makes it a great gift. It has a build that’s similar to an iron, but it’s designed to heat evenly across the plate for better results. Plus, there are three heating levels, and the unit heats up in a matter of minutes. The sturdy base helps prevent accidental injury while protecting the press itself. And if you somehow forget to turn it off, it’ll auto-shut-off after 10 minutes of inactivity.
Pros: Stylish design that makes a good gift. Includes a protective base for safety. Plate is designed to produce more even results than an iron.
Cons: The unit is quite small.