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The History of the T-Shirt and the Rise of Digital Printing

Colorful t-shirts

The T-Shirt has risen as a symbol of modern popular culture and culture in general. What started as an unassuming undergarment has quickly taken the world by storm.

It is common nowadays; many people don a t-shirt in their leisure time or even at work. With the T-shirt being such a popular garment, many people don’t realize its origin. 

Since it dominates worldwide culture, many people assume that the iconic garment has been around since fashion’s beginning. 

This statement couldn’t be further from the truth, as T-shirts were a recent and novel invention that took the fashion world by storm. 

Thanks to popular culture in the 20th century, T-shirts have become the fashion icon they are today. 

Why Are They Called T-Shirts?

T-shirts are a truly iconic fashion symbol, yet many people don’t know why the widely-used shirt’s name. 

People named t-shirts for:

  • The general T-shape of the body
  • Their shape, including the sleeves

Some incorrectly assume that the phrase T-shirt is a nickname for something longer. Little do they know, T-shirt was the full name of the garment we know and love today.

Many people don’t know the origins of the iconic T-shirt, as they have never stopped to ask why the garment rose to popularity. 

What is a T-Shirt?

The T-shirt began as an undergarment, which people wore underneath formal or work clothing. T-shirts were an informal invention created by factory workers in the 1800s. 

These workers created T-shirts by cutting work suits in half to keep cool in the summer. These suits were typically made of wool or cotton, making the wearer extremely hot during warmer temperatures.

From then on, T-shirts served as an alternative to thick workwear, and workers wore them underneath overalls or work attire. 

When Did the T-Shirt Catch On?

It wasn’t until 1898 that T-shirts became more widely used. During the Mexican-American War, the United States Army began issuing them to soldiers. Afterward, the Navy followed suit, giving T-shirts as a standard undergarment to all enlisted troops. In 1913, T-shirts became the undergarment of choice for the Navy.

By the 1920s, the general public seemed to catch onto the T-shirt’s existence. More workplaces were issuing T-shirts as an undergarment of choice, making factory workers more comfortable while working.

T-shirts didn’t exist as anything other than an undergarment in the early 20th century. Since T-shirts were considered an undergarment, it was not yet socially acceptable to wear them as a replacement for regular attire. 

Societal standards dictated that people should wear a T-shirt or an undershirt exclusively underneath work or street clothes. 

The Rise of T-Shirt Fashion

It wasn’t until the 1950s that T-shirts began the slow rise to today’s societal status. James Dean and Marlon Brando are to thank for the T-shirt’s meteoric rise to the spotlight. 

In 1951, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” starring Brando, took the world by storm. The film prominently featured Brando, who sported a tight, fashionable T-shirt. 

In 1955, Dean also had his turn at modeling the popular garment. In “Rebel Without a Cause,” Dean rocked a tight white T-shirt. These two famous actors pioneered T-shirts as a cultural symbol in the United States.

After these two legendary actors modeled T-shirts for the general public, the garment finally began to take the world by storm. 

T-shirts, especially the classic white crewcut tee, became very popular with youth during the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that printed shirts would begin rising to fame. This period was when the revolutionary screen-printing ink, Plastisol, was invented and perfected. 

Custom Printing Kicks Off

Plastisol ink kicked off the custom printing scene, as companies could finally create shirts for fashion and advertising. At first, Companies primarily featured these custom-printed shirts at concerts and events.

After their introduction, the youth of the 1960s took a liking to the expressive fashion medium. Young adults were constantly wearing custom T-shirts to represent favorite bands, locations, messages, and more. 

People commonly used t-shirts to indicate where they had traveled, so tourism departments and locations often made an effort to print custom shirts based around the locale.

T-Shirts Enter the Fashion Scene 

Red, White and Blue T-Shirts

Prominent brands of the time also used T-shirts to convey their messages to consumers. They used T-shirts to advertise their message, all while providing wearers with a quality product. Garments such as these became somewhat of a fashion statement among youth and young adults in the 1970s.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that T-shirts spread to the high-fashion industry. Chanel pioneered this movement in 1992 by featuring graphic tanks and T-shirts in a fashion showcase. Around this time, celebrities and popular culture icons wore T-shirts to upscale events as a fashion statement. 

The 1990s also brought mass-produced blank, colored T-shirts to the forefront of fashion. Many upscale companies began producing these shirts out of high-quality materials, selling them as a luxury product rather than an undergarment. 

The punk movement of the 1990s solidified the T-shirt’s presence as a staple of American culture. Punk culture saw the rise of graphic T-shirts, with many people expressing a need for custom attire featuring their favorite expressions, bands, and personal statements.

Digital Printing Revolutionizes T-Shirt Design

This call wasn’t fully answered until the 21st century, with the advent of digital printing. Screen printing was the only option available before digital printing, which only gave wearers limited color options and a short garment lifespan.

Digital printing revolutionized this whole process, giving customers the ability to capture endless amounts of color on a single shirt. Digital graphics also proved durable and long-lasting. 

The graphics did not deteriorate quickly, unlike screen-printed graphics. Digitally-printed shirts retain their bright, vibrant colors for longer than their screen-printed competition. For this reason, during the 2010s, digital printing rose to fame as the medium of choice for T-shirt printing.

How Does Digital Printing Work?  

Unlike screen printing, digital printing is not a print transfer process. Instead, the graphic is directly printed onto a T-shirt, creating a custom, high-quality picture quickly and efficiently. 

The process is quick and efficient and does not require a lot of manual labor. The digital printer does most of the work, transcribing the design directly on the garment. 

Screen printing required a designer to match the colors to the original design, which was a manual, time-consuming process. 

With technology improvements, this process is primarily performed by a computer and printer. Clients can pick their colors beforehand. The printer automatically matches these colors as it prints the design on the shirt.

Since the process is so quick, it can be used for large and small orders, making it an efficient way to print shirts for events, businesses, or any other client needs.

At TRUE Apparel Printing, our digitally-printed graphics are high-quality, clean, and crisp, with no heat lines or ironing marks. We are proud to offer our customers only the best quality printing for all of their promotional needs. 

How We Create Your Design

Stacks of Colorful T-Shirts on Shelf

The process of bringing your design to life is as easy as 1-2-3 at TRUE Apparel Printing. We know that owning a business is difficult, so we make it as easy as possible to print promotional goods for your business.

Our design process is as follows:

1. Send your design

Please email us a copy of your logo or design in a PDF file to format it for printing.

2. Select Quantity and Budget

Let us know how many products you will be ordering with us to give you a rough estimate of the cost. Afterward, let us know your budget and any other features you would like in your design.

3. Choose Apparel, Fabric, and Color

Using our vast selection of materials, you can select which product you’d like your design printed on, along with the type of fabric used. You can also know which color you would like your product to be. Keep in mind, however, that product type and material can change your price estimate. It is best to remember your budget during this phase to determine what features you need to keep. 

Why TRUE Apparel Printing?

TRUE Apparel Printing is conveniently located in Durango, Colorado, to meet your business’s printing needs. We work with clients both locally and nationally, focused on bringing them products made to last. 

We offer printing services for all of the following:

  • T-Shirts
  • Long Sleeve Shirts
  • Hoodies
  • Hats
  • Polos
  • Tote Bags
  • Accessories

If you are interested in any of our services, we would love to further assist you with your branding needs. You can call at (970) 759-5814 or email us to request a quote for our services. We also have a contact page on our website, if that is more convenient for you. 

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