Etsy Custom T-Shirts vs a T-Shirt Printing Company

October 06, 2021

Etsy Custom T-Shirts vs a T-Shirt Printing Company

It’s never been easier to print custom t-shirts! But like so many other things on the internet, you might be ordering blind. Is that company really who they say they are? Are those reviews legit? Did they pay for those followers? 

It’s a tough world. We’ve gotten cynical, understandably.

In this article we will lay out a common situation: Etsy custom t-shirts vs a local t-shirt printing company. How do those Etsy Shop orders stack up?

Let’s take a look.

What’s the Harm in Ordering from an Etsy Shop?

Etsy started as a shop for artists and home crafters. Their mission now focuses on “unique and creative goods.” 

In theory, buying from Etsy means supporting an artisan or entrepreneur.

In actual practice, however, cheap imports disguised as “handmade” have crept into the creative marketplace, virtually taking over certain categories. 

T-shirt printing is one of those categories. You may think you’re supporting a small business, local company, or creative entrepreneur. You might really be supporting a sweatshop.

Is it Cheaper to Buy T-shirts on Etsy?

Sometimes t-shirts are cheaper on Etsy. Creative designers still use the platform, but most of what you find will likely be a cheap knock-off of someone else’s creativity.

Like anything else, you get what you pay for.

Are T-shirts on Etsy Quality?

A t-shirt printing company selling on Etsy may produce quality merchandise. More often, though, you will get a print-on-demand (POD) international company (frequently Chinese). Print-on-demand is not the same as screen printing.

What is Print on Demand?

Think of print-on-demand as a big printer like the one you might have at home, only you load shirts instead of paper. Another name for POD is direct-to-garment (DTG) printing.

POD or DTG work well for subtle color gradation and one-offs. So, if you want a print of a photo or a face on a t-shirt, DTG shirts will be true to the original color. Of course, just like with computer paper, if you use a different color base you might not match color with the inks. For example, printing on a red shirt will affect all of the colors on top of the shirt. But you can print on light-colored shirts with POD inks and get a good match.

POD inks sit on the surface of the shirt, like a color photocopy or inkjet printer.

What Can a Professional Print Shop Do?

Professional print shops will usually use screen printing techniques. Print-on-demand equipment has gotten cheaper, but screen printing almost always wins in a contest of quality.

It takes a little setup to get screen printing equipment going. Each color needs its own screen. Color essentially gets pushed through the screen onto the shirt, then the next color. With new digital technology, these shapes line up, and you can print lots of shirts of different sizes and have them come out consistently.

Other advantages of screen printing t-shirts include:

  • Color - Inks can match virtually any color, plus special inks like glitter, iridescent, metallic or glow-in-the-dark.
  • Garment choice - Unlike DTG printing, screen printed colors look vibrant and true on virtually any shirt color or material.
  • Quality - Screen printing techniques have been in use longer than t-shirts have existed! The technology has evolved to be of the highest quality. When you screen print on a t-shirt the inks will generally last as long as the fabric itself.

Pop-up shops usually only do direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. Professional print shops have the equipment to screen print your custom t-shirts.

How Do You Find the Best T-shirt Printing Company

When considering a t-shirt printing company, check out their setup. They should have photos or videos or something to let you see their screen printing equipment. They should be able to show you samples of their work, on similar materials to your project.

It’s still a good idea to read reviews, though yes, sometimes those are fake. For example, a review might be talking about something else altogether the same company sells, not even about their t-shirt printing business!

When you can speak with a company and check them out, you know you are working with a real small business. They might also sell on Etsy, but they’ll be genuine craftsmen.

At T-shirt Labs, we love custom shirts! Our award-winning design team will work with you to ensure you get the best quality custom t-shirts for your money. Contact us to get started.