In short, custom t-shirt printing is an art form -- and, as with any other form of art, you have talented masters and you have hacks. Some companies (like Bolt Printing) will work with you to ensure your design turns out beautifully. Other companies will just print whatever you send them -- no matter how bad it looks on a shirt -- and may even have additional quality issues on top of that.
If you're going to the trouble and expense of investing in custom apparel, you want shirts that look good. But how can you tell the reliable custom t-shirt printing companies from the less-reputable ones? Here are a few things you need to look at.
Is the custom apparel company upfront about their pricing?
When doing a comparison between companies, the first thing you might look at is price... and that's where you can easily get tripped up.
A LOT of custom t-shirt printing companies try to obscure their pricing -- hiding fees -- to make their prices look lower than they actually are. So just trying to look at a price comparison by itself can sometimes be deceptive because not every custom apparel company believes in using all-inclusive pricing.
In some cases, these companies rely on cheap tricks because they don't handle the customization themselves -- instead, they act as a middleman and farm the labor out to another company.
Do you want to work with a company where you're led to believe everything will be one price only to learn there are additional set-up fees, special processing fees, hidden labor fees, and whatever other fees they can try to squeeze in there? And are you willing to trust a company that engages in those kinds of business practices?
At Bolt Printing, our price is the price -- there are no tricks, no hidden fees, and you don't need to add something to your cart then get to the end of checkout just to see the price. And if you do need to request a free quote, expect a reasonable price well below most of our competition.
Does the custom t-shirt company handle its own production or is it a middleman?
As crazy as it sounds, not every custom apparel company handles its own customization. Some will instead take customers' orders and then ask another company to do the actual work.
Why is this a problem?
First, who are you really dealing with? And will the middleman stand by the other company's work when there's a mistake or issue?
Second, more layers = more cost. If a custom apparel company is paying another company to do that customization, they're passing those costs along to you.
Not to mention additional layers means more places where things can go wrong. Have you ever played a game of telephone? With each person, the original message gets more muddled. And even taking miscommunications off the table, how much control does the middleman have over the other company's production?
Finally, what value is the middleman actually providing? Are they just cashing your check or running your credit card payment?
At Bolt Printing, all production is done in-house. This means that we have complete control over the quality of our products and how quickly we can turn them around for you. Our close collaboration between customer service, the art department, and production staff means that you always get the best possible product at the best possible price.
Does the t-shirt printing company have proven experience?
Custom t-shirt printing is an art form. At a single glance, a talented printer can tell when a t-shirt design absolutely won't work... and a lousy printer will just try to run the design.
There's a LOT that goes into screen printing t-shirts. You have to understand the dyes, how certain dyes will interact with specific garment types and colors, etc.
A good screen printer -- like a good cook -- understands that temperature and time are important factors. They can follow a basic recipe, often producing an okay result.
However, a truly excellent screen printer is like a master chef, with an experience and understanding that goes far beyond that. They know how specific interactions between temperature, humidity, chemical compounds, fabric types, and dye formulations can determine success or failure when creating the perfect final product.
And, like a master chef, this experience can't just be learned overnight or even in a year. Aspiring chefs often apprentice in top restaurants for years, dutifully learning their craft from seasoned veterans and working their way up.
At Bolt Printing, we have over a hundred years of combined experience. This includes everything from garment manufacturing to art production, screen printing to digital printing, and embroidery.
We're passionate about our work and strive for excellence in everything we do. When choosing a custom apparel company, you should settle for nothing less.
Can you put a face to the custom tee company?
This is Lana Corsano, the CEO and founder of Bolt Printing. She started the company by herself in 2009, successfully growing the organization to have dozens of employees and an impressive production facility in Brookfield, CT.
When buying from a custom t shirt printing company, you should know who you're working with. Be wary of any company that isn't upfront about its leadership -- what do they have to hide? If a company doesn't want you to know who they are, can you count on them to answer their phones when you have a problem?
Can you communicate directly with the custom shirt company?
Be cautious with any custom apparel company that doesn't list their phone number. This can be a good predictor for how tough it'll be to get in touch with them if something goes wrong.
And, when they have a phone number, you should consider calling it before placing an order just to make sure they pick up their phone. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions. You'll want to know whether you're talking to a call center or people actually working at the company.
If your only lines of communication are online forms or chatbots -- or anything else where a real person isn't answering your questions -- I'd suggest running far, far away.
Are you able to talk with a custom t-shirt expert?
Many people get nervous when it comes to ordering custom shirts -- after all, it's usually a decent amount of money and so many things can go wrong. When it comes to being reassured, few things build confidence like speaking with an expert.
A reputable company isn't afraid to let you talk directly to somebody who works on turning your t-shirt design ideas into t-shirt reality. This could be somebody who works with custom artwork (making sure it's the best it can be) or an expert with deep knowledge of the printing process who knows whether something will or won't work (and has more than a few tricks for turning a design that won't otherwise work into one that will).
At Bolt Printing, our customer service experts handle the graphic design work. When you call, you're generally dealing with somebody who will work on your custom design, ensuring it'll turn out great. This greatly simplifies the process, streamlining communication and reducing the places where a miscommunication can happen. From there, they can walk directly into our state-of-the-art production facility to talk directly with any of highly-qualified, expert printers.
How does the t-shirt printer run their company?
The level of quality and care often varies depending on a company's culture. When employees care about their work, customers are more likely to receive top notch, speedy service.
Our company values and encourages collaboration. Great things can only be achieved by working together and keeping close lines of communication helps us avoid problems.
However, not every custom tee business takes this same approach. Some companies might rely on call centers in another state -- or even another country -- where the person answering the phone knows almost nothing about customization and may have never spoken directly with any production staff. (In fact, they might not even be able to tell you the production facility's address!)
That's why it's so important to know who you're talking to when you get on the phone. Don't be afraid to ask who they are and what their role is with the company.
Talking with an expert can head off potential issues -- meaning a whole bulk t-shirt order won't wind up wrong!
When's the best time to resolve a mistake? Before it's made.
By talking with somebody who routinely works with t-shirt designs, issues can be flagged before they become major problems. After all, the worst time to fix a design issue is after you have shirts printed.
If you have concerns, raise them. Ask how something will work. Make sure people understand what you want to do. If you have a question about your proof, speak up. This approach will ensure your order flows smoothly
Does the custom clothing company let you order blank t-shirts?
The best way to see if you like the design and feel of a t-shirt is to see it in-person. Unfortunately, if you're not seeing it until after your custom tees arrive, it's a bit late to change anything.
Many custom shirt companies will let you order blank t-shirts. This way you can know exactly what you're getting.
Can you order generic printed t shirts as a sample?
With a generic printed t-shirt sample, you're able to judge the quality of the screen printing on the t shirt. This way you can be sure the color, style, size, t-shirt quality, and printing are to your liking.
If you're placing a large order, it could be a worthwhile investment. Otherwise, you might wind up ordering a hundred shirts and having something you dislike.
Check if they provide proofs as part of their normal screen printing process
When a t-shirt printing company cares about producing high-quality products, they'll take extra steps to make sure everything is to the customer's specifications. One of the absolute best ways to do this is by providing proofs.
A proof shows customers how their custom designs will look. This is an easy way of eliminating potential miscommunications and making sure customers get the GREAT (not just good) quality products they expect.
Proofs are an essential part of the ordering process, ensuring that the print quality is the best it can be. They're created when a skilled production artist prepares uploaded files by improving image quality and applying necessary adjustments to match the on-press requirements.
By asking customers to sign off on a proof, the company is making sure you approve of the design.
At Bolt Printing, we want you to be satisfied with your order. That's why we wait for your approval on the final proof before we start to print t-shirts.
What's their return policy on custom tees and other apparel?
Because custom t-shirts are designed to a customer's specifications, returns and refunds are tricky. Some custom apparel companies don't accept returns at all while others deal with complaints by not answering their phone.
Screen printing is permanent. Once your design is on a shirt, it can't be removed. This means the t-shirts are effectively unsalvageable because who would they be resold to? (For instance, if the t-shirts were for a family reunion, you'd need another family with that exact same last name, who like that exact design, and who need shirts in those exact same sizes. What are the odds of that?)
Given the nature of these returns, you should be suspicious of any custom apparel company with a generous return policy. In at least some cases, the company has no intention of honoring it.
However, study whatever terms are listed. Reputable companies tend to be very clear about the specific conditions for a return and what isn't covered -- and that specificity is usually a sign that a company stands by its return policy.
If customers receive defective printed t-shirts (either the material or printing), a reputable company will make submitting a claim easy and then make things right when applicable.
Do the reviews seem trustworthy? (Before you have them customize shirts, make sure they haven't been customizing reviews!)
Reviews are among the most powerful forms of social proof. After all, if a lot of other people have had positive experiences, wouldn't you expect the same treatment?
However, you shouldn't be so quick when it comes to just looking at an overall number. There can be a deeper story behind it.
Do the reviews look legitimate? Some unethical companies will post fake reviews in an attempt to make themselves look better (and, in some cases, to make competitors look worse).
Make sure to read at least a few 5-star reviews along with some 1-star reviews to check if the reviews sound like they were written by actual customers. Some review sites will verify that the customers actually purchased product -- but bear in mind some really unscrupulous companies can find ways around that. (One method for cheating reviews is called "brushing" -- this scam involves companies sending out fake orders (generally cheap, unrequested goods) to people and then using those addresses and information to post reviews for other product.) That's why even if the review involves a "verified purchase," you may want to read more than just the rating.
Look at the dates on the reviews. Are they recent? A company's performance several years ago may no longer be true today. After all, companies change over time -- people come, people leave, standards can improve, standards can decline, etc.
Always take a minute to glance over the last few months' worth of reviews and see how they stack up against the review history. Is the rating buoyed by a lot of good reviews in the past and taking on water today? Or is a stellar recent performance being sunk by things that happened years ago involving people who aren't with the company anymore?
Were the reviewers provided free product or an incentive to write the review? And were they offered something to rewrite a review? Unfortunately, this one can be harder to spot.
Are the shipping costs reasonable? Or is the company trying to sneak hidden fees on their customized tees?
Before placing an order, always be sure to look over the shipping terms.
Some companies will offer free standard shipping while others may have flat rate shipping. If you need to rush order tees, there are often expedited options for speedy service.
However, there are a few companies out there who try to squeeze customers for a little extra profit on shipping and handling. This can be a way of giving the appearance of being low cost when in fact they're more expensive than their competitors. (And their hope is once they get you to the end of the checkout, you'll agree to pay it just just to get things over with -- which is often done as a deliberate psychological tactic.)
Bolt Printing offers free standard shipping on most orders to a single address in the continental US (meaning if you place an order where you need something shipped to multiple addresses, that won't be covered). And, if you're in a super rush, we have paid expedited options.
Tips for getting a custom-made t shirt you're sure to love
#1- Start by looking at your favorite t-shirts.
Check their labels for the brand and fabric content, which can give you an idea of what to look for.
#2- If you're not sure about a t-shirt color, order a blank sample.
When looking at garments online, the color can appear different.
#3- Provide high-quality artwork files.
Remember -- just because something looks good quality on a screen doesn't mean it'll look great on a shirt!
#4- Pay attention to the spelling in your design.
A small, stupid mistake can lead to a regrettable t-shirt design. Take those extra few minutes to look things and, when possible, ask somebody else to check, too.
#5- Request a proof before they print your shirts. (And be careful if a company doesn't provide one!)
Carefully review the proof and request changes if something doesn't look right. And, if changes are made, request a new proof.
#6- If you're not completely sure about something, ask questions.
Making assumptions can lead to all kinds of unnecessary problems. Remember: a great custom apparel company has no problem with answering questions
Only work with a custom shirt printing company you can trust
With so many reputable, quality custom apparel companies out there, there's no reason to take a risk on a company you don't fully trust.
At Bolt Printing, we're passionate about bringing customers' t-shirt designs to life and take custom t-shirt printing seriously -- the quality of our printing and products is always a top concern. We want to make sure you get the best possible results for your money, whether you need 50 custom t-shirts or 500 (or even 5,000!)
You don't need to be a graphic designer to create your own designs -- especially when you can rely on our online design studio. Bolt Printing's online designer has a wealth of clip art that can be used in any number of designs. (It's almost like having your own online artist community. Of course, if you've hired actual freelance creative artists, you can import their artwork into our studio.)
And there's no pressure to order today -- if you've come up with a design you like, you can sleep on the decision by saving the design for later.