There are several methods for creating customized T-shirts, each varying significantly in difficulty and cost, which can range from around $8 a shirt to several hundred dollars for a silk screening press and supplies.
Hire a Professional Company
Typically, hiring an outside company to make your shirts involves submitting a design, selecting a shirt color and style and placing your order. Companies often require a minimum amount, so if you only want one T-shirt, this might not be the best method; however, the print quality will almost always be higher than that of your own home equipment.
Print on Transfer Paper
Available at any office supply store, transfer paper is relatively easy to use and ranges between $10 and $20 a packet, but images do not always last as long as professionally printed images do. Use graphic-design software to create a design, which can be made of pictures, clip art, text, photographs or any combination. You can also scan an image to your computer, and you should be able to print onto the transfer paper directly from your scanner software. If not, import your image into another graphic imaging program and print from there, following the instructions included with your purchased transfer paper. Most brands of transfer paper will tell you which way to insert the paper into the printer, ink jet vs. laser printer options, etc., as well as instructions for how to iron the printed image onto a T-shirt.
Silk Screen Printing
Silk screen printing is a time-consuming method that yields a higher-quality T-shirt whose image lasts longer than that made with transfer paper. You will need a silk screening press, ink and paints or both and a set of screens, or fabric, on which the image will be set. A typical silk screen press consists of one or more square frames into which you place a thin fabric and a plastic coating that contains your image. Your image is cut out of the plastic coating or can be transferred onto the coating using a UV light-resistant paint and exposure process. After painting on the ink, you press the frame onto your T-shirt to transfer the image onto your shirt. Presses start around $100, and supply costs vary widely depending on the amount of ink and quality and size of screens. Silk screening your own T-shirts can be extremely difficult while you are learning; expect a certain amount of trial and error (and wasted materials) when starting out.
Katherine Mitt has been contributing to online publications since 2009, focusing primarily on fashion and style topics. She holds a B.A. in English from a small liberal arts school.