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Understanding The Various Tee Shirt Decorating Processes?


There can be a lot of confusion around the various processes that decorators use to produce custom items.  Most people understand Embroidery versus Screen printing, but more specifically when it comes to Tee shirts you see two general processes.  Those two general processes are Screen Printing and Heat Press Applied Graphics.  Here at STK Promotions we have also broken down screen printing into two distinct processes we call Spot Color and Special FX screen printing.  So when it comes to your Tee Shirts we effectually give you four total options if you include embroidery, which is possible, but not very common.  Let’s take a quick look at those three processes since each has it’s pros and cons.

Heat Applied Graphics

This is a very common process that a lot of decorators use.  The primary reason is it is the least expensive option.  The design is cut from vinyl materials and then applied to the garment using a heat press.  The heat press is effectively a giant iron with platens on the top and bottom.  This process allows us to cut all the designs at once, and then simply start applying them to the garments.  This process can also be done on caps, bags, and pretty much anything you can mount in the press.  The materials vary from thickness and the designs vary from one color to printed multi-color.  In some cases designs are ordered pre-printed, cut and arranged if they are more intricate.  You can usually tell if something is heat applied just by feeling it.  The edges will be slightly raised and you can tell easily that it is not ink.  Below you can see an example of a Heat Applied graphic


This process as mentioned tends to be the least expensive, but also has color limitations and depending on the weight of the material the design can be “heavy” on the garment.  The upside is it is inexpensive and can be done quickly.  It also lends itself best to designs that need to have team names, numbers, or other per garment customization.  We can also combine a screen print design with a heat applied on for example so the screen print is on the front and a team name and number is on the back for example.  In recent years some of the designs have been able to become pretty extensive.

Spot Color Screen Printing

This is the most common form of screen printing you will find.  It’s the bread and butter of most decorators.  We have the ability to use this process for up to 8 color designs.  Becuase this is the most common it’s also relatively price competitive but can take a little longer to get out the door.  The process can be done on various garments including some “Dry-Fit” type fabrics but not all.  The heat applied process can pretty much be done on any fabric.  The designs we produce will stand out for your organization or company.  Also we almost always include an under print color on all darker garments.  The reason we do this you can see below on a sample where half did not have the under print.


You can see quite clearly the difference.  Using the under print does add a slight cost to the print, but we feel always including it on darker garments simply make the design look correct.  Generally you will know if one is not used for example if white is printed on black and the garment color appears to “bleed” through.  This process lends itself to a lot of intense artwork, more than the heat applied process for sure.  We will talk about how we do designs in another blog post.

Special FX Screen Printing

This is where we at STK Promotions really separate from the pack.  There is not many places in the country let alone East Tennessee that can do this.  These processes vary in the different kinds of things we can do.  This kind of print process will change your designs for the better.  It is the more expensive option of all three but we assure you it’s still very price comparative.  In fact on some designs the difference between it being spot color or adding a special effect was a dollar or less at quantity.  The options in this process are:

  • Simulated Leather
  • High Density
  • Sugar Glitter
  • Clear Gel
  • Silver Gel
  • Blister
  • Puff
  • Basketball Nubbies
  • Particle Glitter

In most cases a design will have one of these options PLUS spot color as part of the design.  You can see many of these examples on our FaceBook Photo Album of special effects.  We also have a sample set of actual designs we have done ourselves in addition to these stock samples.  We’d be happy to meet with you and show you all of them so you can see for yourself.  In some cases you need to just feel them to really understand the process and the quality.  All of them fully withstand washing and drying, so no need to worry about that!