Choosing the Best Shirt for Screen Printing: A Comprehensive Guide

When it comes to screen printing, the quality of the shirt plays a crucial role in the final result. Whether you’re a professional printer or simply looking to create custom t-shirts for an event, selecting the best shirt for screen printing is essential. With a wide variety of options available, it can be overwhelming to determine which shirt will yield the best results. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key factors to consider when choosing a shirt for screen printing and provide you with valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.

From the fabric type and weight to the color options and durability, each aspect of a shirt can impact the outcome of your screen printing project. By understanding the characteristics of different shirts and their compatibility with screen printing techniques, you can ensure that your designs come out looking vibrant, sharp, and long-lasting. So, let’s dive into the details and explore everything you need to know about selecting the best shirt for screen printing.

Fabric Types: Cotton, Polyester, and Blends

When it comes to screen printing, the choice of fabric type is crucial as it directly affects the quality and longevity of the print. Cotton, polyester, and blends are the most commonly used fabrics for screen printing. Each fabric type has its own unique properties and considerations.


Cotton is a popular choice for screen printing due to its natural fibers, breathability, and comfort. It allows for vibrant and crisp prints, making it ideal for detailed designs. Cotton shirts are also known for their softness and durability, ensuring that your prints stand the test of time. Additionally, cotton absorbs ink well, resulting in excellent color saturation. However, it’s important to note that 100% cotton shirts may shrink after washing, so it’s advisable to pre-wash them before printing to minimize any potential issues.


Polyester shirts are widely used for screen printing, especially for athletic apparel and performance wear. Polyester is a synthetic fabric that offers excellent moisture-wicking properties, making it suitable for active individuals. It is also resistant to shrinking and wrinkling, which ensures that your prints maintain their original appearance even after multiple washes. However, polyester is not as absorbent as cotton, so it’s important to choose the right ink and printing techniques to achieve optimal results on this fabric.


Blended fabrics, such as cotton-polyester blends, combine the best of both worlds. They offer the comfort and breathability of cotton with the durability and moisture-wicking properties of polyester. Blends are a popular choice for screen printing, as they provide a balance between softness, printability, and longevity. However, it’s important to consider the specific blend composition when selecting a shirt, as the ratio of cotton to polyester can affect the overall print quality and feel of the fabric.

When choosing a fabric type for screen printing, consider factors such as the desired print quality, comfort, durability, and the specific requirements of your project. Each fabric type has its own advantages and considerations, so take the time to evaluate which one aligns best with your needs and preferences.

Fabric Weight: Finding the Right Balance

Another important factor to consider when selecting a shirt for screen printing is the fabric weight. Fabric weight refers to the thickness and density of the fabric, which can affect the opacity of the print, durability of the shirt, and overall comfort.

Lightweight Fabrics

Lightweight fabrics, such as those with a weight of 3-4 ounces per square yard, are great for achieving a soft and breathable feel. These shirts are ideal for casual wear and warm weather, as they provide excellent ventilation. However, it’s important to note that lightweight fabrics may not offer the same level of opacity as heavier fabrics, which can affect the visibility of the print, especially when using darker ink colors.

Mediumweight Fabrics

Mediumweight fabrics, with a weight of around 5-6 ounces per square yard, strike a balance between comfort and durability. These shirts offer good print opacity and are suitable for a wide range of applications. They are versatile enough to be used for both casual and promotional purposes, making them a popular choice for screen printing projects.

Heavyweight Fabrics

Heavyweight fabrics, typically weighing 7 ounces or more per square yard, are known for their durability and longevity. These shirts provide excellent print opacity and are ideal for designs that require a bold and solid appearance. Heavyweight fabrics are commonly used for promotional items, workwear, and garments that need to withstand heavy use or multiple washes.

Fabric Weight Considerations for Print Placement

The fabric weight also plays a role in determining the most suitable placement for your screen printed design. Lightweight fabrics may not be ideal for large or intricate designs, as they may not provide enough structure and support. On the other hand, heavyweight fabrics can handle more complex designs and allow for greater detail and color vibrancy.

When selecting the fabric weight, consider the intended use of the shirt, the desired print opacity, and the complexity of your design. By finding the right balance between comfort, durability, and print quality, you can ensure that your screen printed shirts are both visually appealing and long-lasting.

Color Selection: Enhancing Your Design

The color of the shirt you choose can significantly impact the appearance and vibrancy of your screen-printed design. Whether you opt for a classic white shirt or a bold, vibrant color, it’s important to consider how the shirt color will complement your design and enhance its visual impact.

Light-Colored Shirts

Light-colored shirts, such as white, pastels, or light grays, provide a versatile canvas for screen printing. They allow for vibrant and eye-catching prints, making them an excellent choice for designs with bright colors or intricate details. Light-colored shirts also provide a high level of contrast, ensuring that your design stands out and catches the viewer’s attention.

Dark-Colored Shirts

Dark-colored shirts, such as black, navy, or deep tones, offer a different aesthetic and create a bold statement. When printing on dark-colored shirts, it’s important to consider the ink opacity and choose inks that provide good coverage and color vibrancy. Additionally, using lighter ink colors or specialty inks, such as metallic or neon, can create striking contrasts and add visual interest to the design.

Contrast and Color Harmony

When selecting the shirt color, consider the level of contrast you want to achieve between the shirt color and the printed design. Higher contrast can make the design more visible and legible from a distance, while lower contrast can create a more subtle and sophisticated look. Additionally, consider the color harmony between the shirt color and the ink colors. Some color combinations may be more visually pleasing and harmonious, while others may create a jarring or unbalanced effect.

Considerations for Special Effects

If you’re looking to add special effects to your screen-printed designs, such as glow-in-the-dark or color-changing inks, the shirt color becomes even more important. These special effects inks may require specific shirt colors to achieve their desired effect. For example, glow-in-the-dark inks typically work best on lighter-colored shirts, while color-changing inks may require a specific temperature or lighting condition to activate.

Ultimately, the choice of shirt color should be driven by your design concept and the visual impact you wish to achieve. Consider the contrast, color harmony, and any special effects you plan to incorporate, and select a shirt color that enhances and complements your screen-printed design.

Considerations for Large Designs

If you’re planning to print large designs on your shirts, there are specific considerations to keep in mind to ensure optimal results. Large designs require careful attention to detail and proper selection of shirts that can accommodate the size and intricacy of the design.

Shirt Size and Placement

When printing large designs, it’s important to choose shirts that have enough printable area to accommodate the design without distortion or loss of detail. Consider the size and dimensions of your design, and select shirts that provide ample space for the artwork to shine. Additionally, pay attention to the placement of the design on the shirt, ensuring that it is centered and properly aligned.

Fabric Stretch and Distortion

Some fabrics may stretch or distort when printed with large designs, affecting the overall appearance of the print. It’s important to choose shirts that have sufficient structural integrity and minimal stretch to maintain the integrity of the design. Fabrics with a tight weave, such as heavyweight cotton or polyester blends, are generally more suitable for large designs as they minimize distortion and ensure that the details remain sharp and clear.

Considerations for Color Blending

Large designs often involve multiple colors or color blending techniques. When selecting shirts for such designs, consider the fabric’s ability to hold and blend colors. Fabrics with a tight weave and good color retention properties, such as cotton-polyester blends, are ideal for achieving smooth color transitions and vibrant blends. Additionally, consider the opacity of the fabric, especially when printing on dark-colored shirts, to ensure that the colors appear vivid and true to the original design.

Structural Support and Durability

Large designs canplace additional strain on the fabric due to the increased amount of ink and coverage. Therefore, it’s crucial to select shirts that offer sufficient structural support and durability to withstand the pressure of a large design. Fabrics with a heavier weight and a sturdy construction, such as heavyweight cotton or polyester blends, are well-suited for accommodating large designs without compromising the integrity of the shirt or the print.

Printing Techniques for Large Designs

In addition to choosing the right shirt, utilizing appropriate printing techniques can enhance the quality of large designs. Consider using screen printing methods that allow for precise registration and accurate ink placement, such as automatic or oversized manual screens. These techniques ensure that each color in the design aligns perfectly, resulting in a cohesive and professional-looking print. Additionally, pre-press techniques, such as under-basing or flash curing, can help enhance the vibrancy and opacity of the ink, especially when dealing with darker fabrics or intricate designs.

By paying attention to shirt size, fabric properties, color blending, structural support, and printing techniques, you can successfully print large designs that make a bold statement. Remember to choose shirts that provide ample printable area, select fabrics with minimal stretch and distortion, and employ appropriate printing techniques to achieve remarkable results.

Durability and Longevity: Ensuring Lasting Prints

One of the key considerations when selecting a shirt for screen printing is its durability and longevity. A well-printed design should withstand multiple washes and maintain its vibrant and crisp appearance over time. Several factors contribute to the durability of screen-printed shirts.

Ink Quality and Cure

The quality and curing of the ink used for screen printing greatly influence the longevity of the print. It’s important to choose high-quality, durable inks that are specifically formulated for fabric printing. These inks should have excellent colorfastness, resistance to fading, and the ability to withstand repeated washing and drying cycles. Additionally, proper curing of the ink is crucial to ensure its adhesion to the fabric. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for curing times and temperatures to achieve optimal results.

Fabric Durability and Construction

The durability of the fabric itself is another important factor to consider. Fabrics with a tighter weave and higher thread count tend to be more durable, as they are less prone to pilling, snagging, or fraying. Look for shirts made from high-quality materials that are known for their durability, such as heavyweight cotton or polyester blends. Reinforced stitching and double-needle hemming can also contribute to the overall durability of the shirt, ensuring that it withstands the rigors of regular wear and washing.

Proper Care and Washing Instructions

To maintain the longevity of screen-printed shirts, it’s essential to follow proper care and washing instructions. Always read and follow the garment manufacturer’s recommendations for washing, drying, and ironing. Wash the shirts inside out using a gentle cycle and cold water to minimize friction and prevent excessive fading. Avoid using harsh detergents or bleaching agents that can damage the print. When drying, opt for a low heat setting or air-drying to prevent excessive shrinkage or heat damage to the ink. By taking proper care of the shirts, you can significantly prolong the life of the screen-printed design.

Special Considerations for Specialty Inks

If you’re using specialty inks, such as metallic, glitter, or puff inks, it’s important to follow the specific care instructions provided by the ink manufacturer. Some specialty inks require additional care or precautions to maintain their appearance and longevity. For example, metallic inks may require gentle washing and air-drying to prevent flaking or dulling of the metallic finish. Always check the ink manufacturer’s guidelines to ensure that you’re caring for the shirts appropriately.

By choosing high-quality inks, durable fabrics, following proper care instructions, and considering special care for specialty inks, you can ensure that your screen-printed shirts maintain their vibrant colors and overall quality for an extended period.

Fit and Style: Finding the Perfect Match

While the visual appeal and print quality are crucial, the fit and style of the shirt are equally important factors to consider when choosing a shirt for screen printing. The right fit and style can enhance the overall appearance of the design and ensure that the wearer feels comfortable and confident.

Shirt Cuts and Styles

Shirts come in various cuts and styles, each catering to different preferences and body types. Some popular shirt cuts include crew neck, V-neck, scoop neck, and raglan sleeves. Additionally, there are different styles to consider, such as regular fit, slim fit, or oversized. When choosing the shirt cut and style, consider the target audience and their fashion preferences. For example, if you’re creating shirts for a sports team, a raglan sleeve style may provide a sporty and dynamic look.

Comfort and Wearability

Comfort is an essential aspect of any garment, and shirts for screen printing are no exception. Choose shirts that offer a comfortable fit and are made from soft, breathable fabrics. Cotton shirts are known for their comfort and breathability, making them a popular choice for everyday wear. Additionally, consider factors such as the shirt’s stretchability and moisture-wicking properties, especially if the shirts will be worn during physical activities or in warm climates.

Fashion Trends and Brand Alignment

Staying up to date with current fashion trends can be crucial, especially if you’re targeting a specific audience or aiming to align the shirts with a particular brand. Consider the colors, cuts, and styles that are popular at the time and ensure that the shirts reflect the desired aesthetic. Additionally, if you’re creating shirts for a brand or organization, make sure the chosen shirts align with the brand’s image and values.

Size and Fit Considerations

When selecting shirts for screen printing, it’s important to consider the sizing options available. Choose shirts that offer a wide range of sizes to accommodate different body types and ensure that everyone can find a comfortable fit. Additionally, consider the fit of the shirt itself. Regular fit shirts provide a classic and versatile option, while slim fit shirts offer a more modern and tailored look. Oversized shirts can provide a relaxed and trendy aesthetic. Consider the preferences and needs of the intended wearers when making your selection.

By taking into account the shirt cuts, comfort, fashion trends, brand alignment, and size and fit considerations, you can choose shirts that not only showcase your screen-printed designs but also offer a comfortable and stylish option for the wearer.

Eco-Friendly Options: Screen Printing Responsibly

As the demand for eco-friendly products continues to rise, choosing environmentally responsible options for screen printing is becoming increasingly important. By opting for eco-friendly shirts, you can reduce your carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future. There are several considerations to keep in mind when selecting eco-friendly options for screen printing.

Organic and Sustainable Fabrics

Organic fabrics, such as organic cotton or bamboo, are grown without the use of harmful pesticides, insecticides, or synthetic fertilizers. These fabrics are free from chemicals that can harm the environment and human health. Additionally, sustainable fabrics, such as recycled polyester or hemp, are made from recycled materials or renewable resources, reducing the demand for new raw materials and minimizing waste. Choosing shirts made from organic or sustainable fabrics ensures that your screen printing project aligns with eco-friendly practices.

Water-Based Inks

Water-based inks are an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastisol inks, which contain harmful chemicals and PVC. Water-based inks are made from natural pigments suspended in water, making them non-toxic and biodegradable. They also provide a softer feel and more vibrant colors. By opting for water-based inks, you reduce the environmental impact of your screen printing project and create a safer working environment for yourself and your team.

Non-Toxic and Low-Impact Printing Processes

In addition to using eco-friendly fabrics and inks, consider the overall printing process and any potential environmental impacts. Look for printers that utilize non-toxic and low-impact printing processes, such as those that minimize water and energy consumption or implement recycling and waste reduction practices. By partnering with environmentally conscious printers, you can further reduce the ecological footprint of your screen printing projects.

Certifications and Standards

When selecting eco-friendly shirts for screen printing, look for certifications and standards that validate their environmental claims. Certifications such as Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) or OEKO-TEX Standard 100 ensure that the fabrics used are produced sustainably and are free from harmful substances. Additionally, certifications like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) indicate responsible sourcing and production practices. These certifications provide assurance that the shirts you choose meet rigorous environmental standards.

By choosing eco-friendly fabrics, water-based inks, non-toxic printing processes, and looking for relevant certifications, you can screen print responsibly and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Preparing Shirts for Screen Printing: Tips and Techniques

Before diving into the actual screen printing process, proper shirt preparation is crucial to ensure optimal print results. Taking the time to prepare the shirts adequately can help improve ink adhesion, minimize potential issues, and ensure a smooth printing surface. Here are some tips and techniques to consider when preparing shirts for screen printing.



Pre-washing the shirts before printing is an essential step to remove any dirt, chemicals, or sizing agents that may be present. This helps create a clean and receptive surface for the ink to adhere to. Wash the shirts using a mild detergent, preferably without any fabric softeners or bleach. Avoid using high heat during the wash cycle, as it can cause shrinkage or damage the fabric. Once washed, allow the shirts to air dry or tumble dry on a low heat setting.


Ironing the shirts after washing helps remove any wrinkles and ensures a smooth printing surface. Set the iron to the appropriate heat setting based on the fabric type. Iron the shirts inside out to prevent any direct contact between the iron and the printed design. Be cautious not to apply too much pressure or leave the iron in one spot for too long, as it can damage the fabric or the print. Ironing the shirts before printing helps create a crisp and even surface for optimal ink transfer.

Removing Lint and Residue

Prior to printing, ensure that the shirts are free from any lint, loose threads, or residual debris. Use a lint roller or adhesive tape to remove any lint or loose fibers that may interfere with the print quality. Additionally, inspect the shirts for any residual chemicals or sizing agents that may have survived the pre-washing process. Wipe down the shirts with a clean, damp cloth to remove any remaining residue and ensure a clean printing surface.

Taping and Securing the Shirts

When preparing the shirts for printing, it’s important to secure them in place to prevent shifting or movement during the printing process. Use masking tape or screen printing tape to tape down the edges of the shirt onto the printing pallet. This helps keep the shirt stable and ensures accurate ink placement. Additionally, consider using adhesive spray or pallet adhesive to further secure the shirt to the pallet, especially when printing on slippery or stretchy fabrics. Proper taping and securing of the shirts facilitate precise and consistent prints.

Testing and Registration

Before printing the entire batch, it’s advisable to conduct a test print to ensure that everything is properly aligned and the desired print quality is achieved. Use a scrap piece of fabric or an extra shirt to test the print placement, ink opacity, and color accuracy. This allows you to make adjustments if needed before moving on to the final prints. Additionally, check the registration of the design to ensure that each color aligns perfectly. Proper testing and registration help avoid costly mistakes and ensure a high-quality end result.

By following these tips and techniques for shirt preparation, you can create a clean and receptive surface for screen printing, resulting in professional-looking prints with excellent ink adhesion and minimal issues.

Best Shirt Brands for Screen Printing

When it comes to screen printing, choosing reliable and reputable shirt brands is essential for achieving optimal results. While there are numerous brands available in the market, some have gained recognition for their printability, durability, and overall quality. Here are a few of the best shirt brands for screen printing:

1. Bella+Canvas

Bella+Canvas offers a wide range of shirts known for their exceptional printability and fashion-forward styles. Their shirts are made from high-quality fabrics, such as combed and ring-spun cotton, ensuring a soft and comfortable feel. Bella+Canvas shirts are also known for their consistency in color and sizing, making them a popular choice among screen printers.

2. Gildan

Gildan is a well-established brand known for its extensive selection of shirts suitable for screen printing. They offer a range of fabric options, including cotton, polyester, and blends, catering to different printing needs. Gildan shirts are known for their durability and affordability, making them a go-to choice for bulk orders and promotional items.

3. Next Level Apparel

Next Level Apparel is recognized for its stylish and trendy shirts that are ideal for fashion-forward designs. Their shirts are made from high-quality fabrics, including blends with polyester and rayon, offering a soft and comfortable feel. Next Level Apparel shirts are known for their superior printability and color vibrancy, making them a popular choice for screen printing projects.

4. American Apparel

American Apparel is synonymous with quality and style. Their shirts are made from fine, ring-spun cotton, providing a soft and luxurious feel. American Apparel shirts are known for their durability and excellent print results. They offer a variety of styles, including classic cuts and trendy options, allowing for versatile screen printing options.

5. Anvil

Anvil is a brand that emphasizes sustainability and eco-friendly practices. Their shirts are made from organic and recycled materials, providing an eco-conscious choice for screen printing projects. Anvil shirts are known for their comfort, durability, and excellent printability, making them a preferred option for those seeking environmentally responsible garments.

6. Hanes

Hanes is a well-known brand that offers a wide range of shirts suitable for screen printing. Their shirts are made from high-quality cotton and cotton-blend fabrics, providing comfort and durability. Hanes shirts are known for their affordability and availability, making them a popular choice for both small and large-scale screen printing projects.

These are just a few examples of the best shirt brands for screen printing. Each brand has its own unique qualities and suitability for different printing needs, so it’s important to explore various options and consider factors such as fabric type, quality, printability, and style when making your selection.

Finding the Best Value: Balancing Quality and Cost

While quality is paramount when choosing shirts for screen printing, it’s also essential to consider the cost-effectiveness of the options available. Finding the best value involves striking a balance between quality, durability, and cost. Here are some factors to consider when looking for the best value:

Fabric Quality and Durability

Opting for shirts made from high-quality fabrics ensures longevity and durability. Consider fabrics such as cotton-polyester blends or combed and ring-spun cotton, as they often provide a good balance between comfort, printability, and strength. These fabrics are less prone to shrinking, fading, or losing shape, ensuring that the screen-printed designs maintain their quality over time.

Printing Techniques and Ink Compatibility

Choosing shirts that work well with a variety of printing techniques, such as water-based or plastisol inks, allows for flexibility and versatility in your screen printing projects. Ensure that the shirts have a smooth and even surface, which aids in achieving consistent and high-quality prints. Compatibility with a range of inks also ensures that you can experiment with different effects and achieve the desired visual impact.

Affordability and Bulk Pricing

Consider the affordability of the shirts, especially when working on larger quantities or bulk orders. Some shirt brands offer bulk pricing options, providing cost savings when purchasing a larger quantity of shirts. This ensures that you can achieve the desired quality while managing your budget effectively.

Customer Reviews and Recommendations

Research customer reviews and seek recommendations from other screen printers or industry professionals. Their experiences and insights can provide valuable information about the quality, printability, and cost-effectiveness of different shirt brands. Online forums, social media groups, and professional networks can be great resources for gathering such information.

Long-Term Considerations

While upfront costs are important, it’s essential to consider the long-term value of the shirts. Investing in higher-quality shirts may have a higher initial cost but can result in cost savings in the long run due to their durability and longevity. Shirts that maintain their quality after multiple washes reduce the need for frequent reprints or replacements.

By considering factors such as fabric quality, printing techniques, affordability, customer reviews, and long-term value, you can find the best balance between quality and cost in your search for screen printing shirts.

In conclusion, selecting the best shirt for screen printing involves considering various factors, including fabric type, weight, color selection, durability, style, and eco-friendliness. By understanding the characteristics of different shirts and their compatibility with screen printing techniques, you can ensure that your designs come out looking vibrant, sharp, and long-lasting. Additionally, factors such as fit and style, preparation techniques, and choosing reliable shirt brands contribute to the overall success of your screen printing projects. By taking the time to evaluate these factors and make informed decisions, you can create remarkable screen-printed shirts that meet your specific needs while offering exceptional quality and value.

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