Screen printing is an incredibly versatile process, used both as an artistic medium and as a commercial printing technique. One stencil can be used to reproduce the same design hundreds of times, making it an ideal choice for mass production. It’s also a great option for printing on clothing, as t-shirts are the perfect canvas for conveying a message or advertising an event.
Screenprinting became a popular form of advertising in the 1960s, with companies like Coca-Cola and Disney publishing shirts featuring their logos. By the 1970s, caps and t-shirts began to be printed with major film and television characters and shows. Today, the process continues to evolve, with new techniques and advances in print inks. There are few things that can’t be printed on a t-shirt using this method, from glitter through to puff and glow-in-the-dark inks.
American Apparel is one of the most popular brands for custom tees, and for good reason: Their made in America fitted t-shirts are soft and comfortable, and they come in sizes to fit everyone from babies to adults. In addition, their fashion-forward styles are designed with a particular look in mind. Whether it’s a silhouette-enhancing women’s rib tank or a men’s tee with a stylishly deep v-neck, American Apparel shirts offer a look that can showcase your brand in the best possible light.
The American Apparel brand is owned by Gildan, and when the company relaunched in 2019, it offered eight U.S.-made styles and 20 listings of globally-made tops. While these options don’t make the cut for most retail-focused t-shirt buyers, they have gained popularity with wholesale customers, who are typically businesses that print their own apparel or provide a screenprinting service to other companies. For these buyers, the relaunch has been a game-changer.
“When they started offering US-made tees, they got a lot of our attention,” Torrey Valyou, the CEO of New Duds Screen Printing in Colchester, Vermont, tells FastCo. Connect. “They’re better quality, their people are treated fairly, and they pay living wages.”
The US-made shirts have also given a boost to the industry as a whole. Valyou estimates that when American Apparel first launched, their products made up 30-40% of his company’s bulk orders. Now, that number has dropped to just 2%, as more and more wholesalers are opting for alternative domestic-made t-shirt manufacturers such as Bella + Canvas and Tultex.
In contrast to these brands, American Apparel’s tees are more expensive. However, the premium is more than offset by the fact that it is a better-quality shirt. “American Apparel’s stuff just feels nice, and it makes a better t-shirt,” says JC Smith, co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based apparel brand Bailiwick Clothing.
To create a custom t-shirt, the fabric is loaded onto a screen-printing pallet (also called a table) and placed underneath a blank screen. A squeegee is then pulled across the screen to apply the desired print to the t-shirt. When all the colors have been applied, the garment is removed from the pallet and fed onto a conveyor belt that leads into a dryer where it’s heated to high temperatures to cure and set the ink. Once the print has cured, it’s then cut to size and sent out for shipping. american apparel screen printing