This is not to say that brands selling for $10 or less are using cheap low quality cotton shirts. I do believe there some brands who sell tees for $10 that are using the Bella 3001 which is pretty good quality blank and pretty much the go to shirt for most brands especially those just starting out. But to increase profits and still sell at $10 I wouldn’t be surprised if a brand used a Gildan or shirts they order from Alibaba for about $1 per shirt.
We also have to keep in mind that not only is necessary to have a design out on the shirt. So that is an additional cost.
There’s no one set rule for printing methods used to produce a $10 shirt. It could be HTV, DTG or screen printed if the brand is big enough to order huge volume of shirts.
HTV is heat transfer vinyl that comes in rolls and cut with a vinyl cut. Then the unnecessary vinyl is weeded out from the clear backing and the design is heat pressed onto the garment. This looks good initially but in my experience it won’t hold up over time.
DTG is direct to garment printing. So think about the ink jet printer you have but big enough for a shirt to slide inside for the nozzles to print directly on the garment like it would a sheet of paper. DTG printers use the basic CMYK color system you find in a traditional ink jet printer but it also has white ink. The good thing is its pretty much print and go. There’s some pre treatment that needs to be done but for the most part it produces a pretty good image on the shirt. The issue hear I found is most I have experienced used some type of water based ink that started to fade after every wash. So the vibrancy in the design was lost. And the other issue is you can not do pantone color matching.
Screen printing is the oldest printing method around where ink is pushed through a silk screen creating the desired design. If done correctly the design can outlast the garment. You can get perfectly matched colors. You can also get garments with effects like glow in the dark, glitter, puffed prints etc. The downside is the setup is very time consuming and can be expensive because most shops charge for their time. Where HTV and DTG can be done one garment at a time, screen printing is about volume because of the setup and breakdown process.
To get to the $10 price range for myself would mean I would have to go the DTG route. I have tried that when I first started out and I hated it. I used a drop shipping company that handled the printing and shipping which allowed me to focus on everything else but I hated not being hands on to see the item before it went out. I did my best to order samples of my designs before offering them for sale but that made me hate it even more.
The vibrancy and intensity were not always there. The smell was weird. The whole thing just a had a generic feel to it. I felt like just another brand they were printing but I didn’t have my hands on each design and had the limitations they set around placement, size, shirt restrictions etc.
Here we go again more rules.
There’s nothing wrong with DTG, it has its place in the market but for my vision screen printing works best for my designs. I can place them where I want how I want. I can pantone match the colors. Use special effect inks that can’t be used in DTG.
I can not make $10 tee because the setup, clean up and custom inks involved in screen printing is way to time consuming to be achievable for one off and custom printing like I do. There’s no way I can guarantee color matching with any other print method.