T Shirt transfers are a popular craft at home. It allows you to easily customize a t shirt for an event, team activity, or just for fun!
Each type of printer has advantages and disadvantages for t shirt transfers. The kind of printer you should use is determined by the goals you have in mind. Are you looking to make profits by starting a small business? Or is this a fun craft to do and you just enjoy making t shirts?
I’ve been working on and using both types of printers for a long time. I’ve found an inkjet printer is better than a laser printer in some ways. In a few ways a laser printer is better.
The main difference between laser printers and inkjet printers is one uses toner while the other uses ink. Both use similar pigments. Toner grinds them into a fine powder with plastic, wax, and resin. While ink dissolves them with water into a liquid.
Pros and Cons of a Laser Printer
In my experience the biggest advantage of a laser printer is the durability of toner. It’s water proof, resists fading and stains. After 30 washes it does crack and flake off some.
Colors from my laser printer aren’t as bold as they are from my inkjet printer. But overall toner lasts longer than ink transfers.
In my experience the biggest disadvantage is the limited image options. You really have to scrutinize the images you can work with. Detailed photos are out. I’ve used some photos of people and objects that turned out okay.
My laser printer has a hard time producing good images with large halftone areas or gradients. Those images aren’t ideal for any transfer anyway. Bold solid colors are better for t shirts. My laser printer does an excellent job with black text or solids.
Another advantage of a laser printer is it can be used with HTV sheets. It’s a two step heat transfer but heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is more durable than toner. These HTV sheets work with light or dark t shirts of many materials.
Laser printers aren’t cheap and toner cartridges are expensive. It seems counter intuitive but laser printers are cheaper in the long run. Meaning once you print 5,000 or more pages on both types of printers you will see how the cost of ink cartridges adds up.
One toner cartridge costs two or three times more than one ink cartridge. But it lasts ten times longer. Buying in bulk saves money over time. Ideal if you plan on starting a small business.
Pros and Cons of an Inkjet Printer
In my experience the biggest advantage of an inkjet printer is it’s print quality. It produces great quality photos on t shirts. The starting point is much better than a laser printer.
Inkjet printers are fine for detailed photos, large gradients, and many distinct colors. You don’t need to scrutinize images for t shirts like you do with a laser printer.
In my experience the biggest disadvantage of an inkjet printer is how quickly t shirts fade. Inkjet t shirt transfers are primarily iron on transfers. Unlike laser printer t shirt transfers which work with HTV.
The initial cost of an inkjet printer is much less than a laser printer. Ink cartridges cost less but don’t last nearly as long. They wind up costing more after printing thousands of pages. Unless you get a tank printer.
Ink tank printers actually cost less to operate than a laser printer. In my experience ink tank printers have the same or better print quality than a regular inkjet printer. They are typically slower and have fewer features.
Inkjet vs Sublimation Printer
While a sublimation printer is technically an inkjet printer. When it comes to t shirt transfers there are so many differences they seem like completely different printers.
A regular inkjet printer ink can use dye or pigment based inks. While a sublimation printer can use sublimation ink. Only certain printers can use sublimation ink. Your average HP and Canon inkjet printer are not compatible with sublimation ink. So you can’t convert an Envy or Pixma printer for sublimation ink.
The difference for t shirts is amazing. T shirts done with a regular inkjet printer will fade after a couple washes. While t shirts done with a sublimation printer will last as long as the garment itself. A permanent bond is formed during sublimation.
The biggest disadvantage of sublimation is it only works with polyester fabrics. Inkjet and laser printers work with any t shirt. While sublimation requires t shirts with a high blend of polyester fabric.
Sublimation printers are more expensive than regular inkjet printers. Unless you convert an Epson or Brother printer.
Professional sublimation printers cost tens of thousands of dollars. While a white toner laser printer costs between $3,500 to $10,000. The laser printer can work with many different fabrics while sublimation is limited. The final product from a laser printer has better print quality than DTG too.
If you have an Epson or Brother inkjet printer sublimation is an option. It has much better results than standard ink but is limited to polyester t shirts or polyester blend t shirts.
T shirts can be made with either type of printer. Inkjet printers work with iron on transfers. Not that you can’t use a heat press if you want. But regular inkjet printers have good initial print quality but fade after a few washes.
A sublimation printer is just an inkjet printer with special ink. T shirts made with it are permanent. But it only works with certain fabrics.
A laser printer works with iron on transfers, HTV sheets, or heat press transfers. White toner is an aftermarket modification. It has great results, much better than DTG. Toner is fade resistant and takes over 50 washes before any cracks show.
In my experience a laser printer makes better t shirts with the right design.
The Copier Guy, aka Dave. I’ve worked on scanners, printers, copiers, and faxes since 1994. When I’m not fixing them I’m writing about them. Although, I’m probably better at fixing them. I’ve worked with every major brand. As well as several types of processes. If it uses paper I’ve probably worked on one.