Best Machines For Printing T Shirts (and how to choose!)

t shirt printing machine

Looking to start your own home-based business on Etsy or eBay? Buying a machine for printing t shirts could be a solid investment. However, first, it’s important to know exactly what kind of machine you need because each one has its advantages and disadvantages! Here’s what you need to know.

Heat press vs Screenprint vs digital t shirt printing machines

machine for t shirt printing
Heat Press MachineDigital Printing MachineScreen Printing Machine
Most affordableMore expensiveMost expensive
Easy to useEasy to useHarder to use
Okay print durabilityGreat print durabilityBest print durability
No color limitsNo color limitsColors are limited
Can print photosCan print photosCan not print photos
Foil, glitter, crystals, patchesNo specialty printingNo specialty printing
Best for one-off ordersBest for one-off ordersBest for bulk orders

In short, the machine you need depends on your budget and what you plan to sell. If you want to sell customized one-off shirts, then you’ll want a heat press or digital printer. If you’re going to sell high-quality fashion designs or bulk orders, then a screen-printing setup is best.

For most home-based businesses, a heat press printer is what they start off with. These machines are very affordable and it’s easy to learn how to use them. Heat presses also allow you to do specialty prints like foil or rhinestone. However, the prints will be stiff and they are not the most durable.

Screen printing setups offer the most durable prints, but screen printing is a bad choice if you’re planning to sell customized one-off prints for your customers. Since every color in the design needs its own screen, it’s not cost-effective to do this and is better suited to bulk orders (such as for sports teams or clubs.) Screen printing also means a lot of manual labor switching screens and applying the ink yourself, unless you can afford a commercial grade (very expensive) automated machine.

Digital printing is the best of both worlds. A digital t-shirt printer (Direct To Garment Printer) offers great print quality and durability, it’s easy to use, you don’t have any design limitations as you would with screen printing, and you can easily make and sell high-quality one-off t shirts. The only problem? Purchasing a Direct To Garment printer is the most expensive option.

Okay! Now that that’s out of the way… here are our top picks!!

Ricoma Multi-Function Heat Press

heat press machine for t shirt printing

Looking to print more than just shirts?

Ricoma’s super affordable heat press allows you to fully stock your Etsy or eBay store with tons of products, and you can do it for less than $600.

Offer your customers personalized hats, mugs, shirts, and even decorative plates with this machine.

With places like Etsy getting more and more saturated every day with t-shirt sellers, this can really give you an edge and bring in more profits.

Keep reading to see sample products! Or, click here to check prices and availability for this machine.

Ricoma’s 4 in 1 machine allows you to print these products and sizes:

12″ x 15″ T-shirt and garment printing

specialty t shirt printing machine
In addition to regular shirt printing, you can also use specialty transfers like the glitter design above.

The 4 in 1 has a generous garment printing area, and unlike digital printers and screen printing, you can also take advantage of flashy specialty printing methods like foil or rhinestones for your designs. It also does very well with photo prints if you’re looking to make those kinds of shirts.

3″ x 5.5″ hat printing

hat printing machine
Print on hats (and brims!), add patches, rhinestones, or sublimation designs.

Hat prints are large, beautiful, and vibrant. The hat plate works on any kind of hat, and you can even print on the brims if you want to! In addition, you can also use the press for iron patches, sublimation, or rhinestones.

11 oz mugs

mug printing machine
The Ricoma press makes beautiful customized mugs too.

Mugs are super popular on Etsy and it’s easy to make designs with this machine featuring quotes, illustrations, your artwork, or even custom designs for your customers.

8″ plate printing

plate printing machine
Easily make decorative plates for holidays, anniversaries, or general home decor.

A more unusual item but still very in demand! Custom printed decorative plates for anniversaries or holidays can be big sellers and this press does a great job transferring your designs to them.

In addition, the machine features a heavy-duty steel frame, an extra thick heat plate that gives you even temperatures and pressure, and a timer that lets you know exactly when the print is done.

Click here to get the best price on Ricoma Multifunction heat press.

Ricoh Ri100 Digital T-Shirt Printer

shirt printing machine

While digital t-shirt printing machines are cool, they aren’t cheap. Professional machines start at around $15,000, so machines in the $4,000 range, like the Ricoma Ri100, are a good deal in comparison.

Don’t be fooled by the cheaper-looking machines on Amazon. These are actually DTF and not DTG printers. DTF is essentially a heat press and you’re paying too much for these machines.

However, the machine is super easy to use, and it lets you fulfill even highly customized orders fast.

You can also print on a variety of items, such as shirts, tote bags, onesies, towels, and pillowcases.

t shirt digital printing machine
The Ricoh Ri100 is affordable (for a DTG printer) and creates beautiful prints.

Plus, the machine is lightweight and portable, making it a good choice if you’re looking to sell customized items on the spot at craft fairs, fundraisers, or community events. This machine also works on bulkier items, such as sweatshirts, and it comes with free professional design software.

So, what’s bad about it? Well, unfortunately, this machine does not print white ink and it’s only intended to be used on light-colored garments. For most, this is fine, but keep this in mind before purchasing.

Click here to check prices and availability on Ricoh Ri100

Need an affordable machine for dark clothing? Amazon does have one legit and affordable DTG printer that works on darks. However, it’s a good deal more difficult to use and you can’t use it on heavy garments like hoodies or sweatshirts. Click here to see this machine.

Screenprinting Kit

Okay, so what about screenprinting? Well, the good news is, screenprinting can be very cheap. In fact, if you’re keen to try and your designs are very simple, you can pick up a beginner kit for around $100.

screen printing t shirts and tote bags
Screen printing is easy and cheap for simple designs done in bulk.

BUT, it’s very labor-intensive if the designs are complicated and it’s NOT the right choice if you want to do one-off customized shirts for clients. Screenprinting is a good pick if you want a budget way to make high-quality prints that are one or two colors and you plan to make them in bulk.

This is popular for bands or artists looking to sell simply merch at shows, or for people who will be bulk printing shirts to sell to a business. That’s because the screens and setup are the expensive part of screen printing and the more shirts you print, the cheaper they are per shirt.

You should also keep in mind that while screenprinting is not hard per se, it does take significantly more skill, and unless you can afford a $9,000+ automatic screen printing machine… it’s also more labor-intensive.

These machines are also HUGE by the way, and unless you have a dedicated business space with a warehouse, you’re not going to be able to use one. This is not an at-home method unless you do it manually.

In closing, there are a lot of ways to print a t-shirt but some are better than others!

By Tanya Womack

Tanya is a stay at home mom who blogs online to earn a bit of extra income from her hobbies. She also loves working on projects which she can involve her two kids in and teach them the valuable life-skill of sewing.