Producing Sustainable Graphic Tees - What It Takes To Truly Run Eco-Friendly Brands

Listen up! Screen printing isn't just some mindless production gig. It’s an art. It’s a statement. At Superior Ink, we're not just churning out graphic tees and hoodies like your average Joe. We craft legendary designs that scream personality, and while we’re at it, we make sure Mother Earth gets some respect.

Wake up and smell the ink! The world's waking up to the evils lurking in everything – from your morning cereal to your shampoo. Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword anymore. It’s a cry for change, and it's about damn time.

A big chunk of the textile industry is stuck in the dark ages – guzzling water, playing with nasty dyes, and turning a blind eye to questionable working conditions. But here’s the good news: the future of screen printing looks a lot greener, and it’s thanks to trailblazers like us.

Want to know what makes a t-shirt sustainable and how to transform it into wearable badass art? Let's break it down.

Source Sustainable Materials To Make The Best Prints

Cotton's the talk of the town with most custom merchandise. It's every printer's dream with its absorbent nature, but there's a dark side. Traditional cotton farming is a water hog and loves its pesticides a bit too much.

That’s why we're all about that organic cotton life. No nasty chemicals. Kinder to our planet. Softer on your skin. But the real MVP? Organic recycled cotton – sustainable and ridiculously soft.

When it comes to printing, cotton, whether it's the elite Pima or certified organic cotton, is king. Why? Because of its killer reaction with water-based and discharge inks. Pima stands out with its fine weave, giving more room to play, while organic cotton’s game is all about being eco-friendly without compromising on print quality. For a deeper dive, check out our Ultimate T-Shirt Fabric Guide.

Ever heard of Repreve®? It's dope fabric spun out of recycled water bottles. Brands are vibing with recycled materials, cutting down on waste, and minimizing the drain on virgin resources. But heads up, even recycled polyester sneaks microplastics into our water. If a garment is over 50% polyester, water-based ink is only absorbed by the cotton fibers in the blend, resulting in a more muted end product. So, let's talk inks.

Screen Printing Ink Types To Print Sustainably

Water-based inks are the future...and the now. Twice as cool, with zero toxins and a minimal carbon footprint. When printing on well-constructed blanks, the result is perfect. Soft to the touch and simply becoming part of the fabric. But, they can be a little shy on dark fabrics.

For that bold pop on darker shirts, you've got to either layer a white base or introduce a discharge agent. This bad boy creates a chemical reaction, pulling out the fabric dye and making room for the vibrant new ink.

Still, some printers prefer using old-school plastisol inks because of the bolder pop of color, and the ease of being able to print on a wider array of fabrics. There are some designs that benefit from a method that is a mix of the two. If you want the full story on that, check out "The Battle Of The Inks", a deep dive video and article series to answer all of your burning questions.

For us here at the shop, we firmly believe in using water-based ink, and we are in love with the finished product. However, it comes with its own set of production challenges. Since we are in the rocky mountains, a mile high (altitude, not the other kind) the air here is very dry making it incredibly challenging for us Colorado kids to print with water-based ink. Because of this, we do have some printing limitations. It's important to work with your account manager before each project to discuss the best options for your project.  

Is Printing Sustainable Really More Expensive?

While it may cost more upfront to have your designs printed with water-based ink on an ethically made blank, the long-term effects of eco-friendly inks are well worth it. Not only does this ink isn't going to crack within a few washes, and the fabrics aren't going to be a single-use item. Rather, by selecting a method and source that is eco-friendly you make your merch more attractive to customers and build a better reputation for your brand.

Plus, you can think of any effort you make to produce sustainably as an investment in your future, and your kid's future, and the earth we live on having a future too. Sounds like a pretty sound investment to us.

The Real Cost Of Traditional Printing

The truth is, as more and more of the textile industry gets on the sustainability bandwagon, prices come down and eco-friendly becomes more mainstream. That's when we need to be aware of brands "green-washing", or simply slapping a "green" label on what they produce without actually changing the way they do things. That is not anything we are about here at Superior Ink. We source from only the most reputable brands and are sustainable throughout the process, and within our practices as a shop being Cerfiably Green Denver since 2017.

Bottom line, we aren't eco-conscious to be "trendy", but we actually believe the textile industry needs to be disrupted, and as merch producers, we have a responsibility to do just that.

Did you know?

If you want to check out an expose' we did on the topic, you can read about it here: The Real Reason To Print Sustainably.

Beyond Eco-Friendly, What To Look For In Ethical & Sustainable Apparel

Because we've done our homework, we want to introduce you to the three top blanks in our opinion that are going to get you a gorgeous result every time, while maintaining a very high standard for sustainability.

Allmade -

Allmade is where sleek design meets sustainable innovation. Crafted by printers for printers, Allmade tees don't just look good, they do good. With legendary material that’s tight-knit and primed for ink, these t-shirts leave old-school cotton in the shadows. An MVP in both durability and their eco-game. Partnering with eco-giants like Repreve®, every Allmade Tri-Blend tee saves water, slashes CO2 emissions, and breathes new life into six plastic bottles. The third thread in the blend is modal—a soft, sustainable derivative of beech trees that ditches the chemical hangover of regular rayon. Customer feedback drives Allmade’s shirt game, ensuring top-notch quality, style, and comfort, making these shirts your ultimate confident pick. *Disclaimer: At Superior Ink, we stand tall with Allmade. We're co-founders, believers, and advocates. #feelyourimpact.

Original Favorites -

Dive into Original Favorites: where the gold standard of softness, Supima® cotton, meets top-tier printing. Imagine the softness of a kitten on a cloud—that's the feel, coupled with a print surface that's every screen printer's dream. Original Favorites isn't just about luxury; they're about responsibility. With a slew of eco-friendly certifications, they're ditching the toxic mess and sprinting full-throttle towards sustainability. Transparency? Check their supply chain; it's clear as day.

District Re-Tee® -

Meet the District Re-Tee®: 100% recycled, naturally colored, and the embodiment of sustainable swagger. Not just a brand, but a blank game-changer crafted from what could've been landfill fodder—think 54% recycled cotton, 40% post-consumer recycled polyester, and 6% recycled rayon. Here's the twist: heat-pressed labels. It might give some merch makers a moment's pause but think bigger. Perfect for events, schools, eateries, bands, and podcasters. It’s more than a tee; it's a budget-friendly, eco-conscious narrative amplifier.

Crafting Change: The Power of Sustainable Screen Printing

Wrapping this up, screen printing is more than just placing art on fabric—it's a canvas for change, an avenue to make statements that matter. In a world where sustainability isn't just a trend but a dire necessity, every choice we make in our apparel reflects our commitment to a greener, more conscious future.

At Superior Ink, our dedication runs deep. We don’t just ride the wave; we aim to lead, creating a legacy of sustainable fashion. Every tee, and every hoodie tells a story beyond its design—it speaks of impact, care, and a commitment to the planet. Join us in taking a stand. Choose sustainability. Choose a brighter, more responsible future.

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