The Color White: The Best Friend of T Shirt Designers & Printers (Sublimation Especially)


Posted by AllDayShirts on to T-Shirt Color Guides

For a while, white wasn’t exactly the most attractive color to wear on your exterior. It can be pretty see-through and when it comes to inevitable stains that we get on our clothes, hiding them can be impossible.

White was pretty much just reserved for use at weddings, religious services, or even as the typical color of undergarments. Of course, there were some exceptions like the Greasers’ use of the white t-shirt during the 1950s and 1960s, but even then, it was more of a secondary part of the outfit with the main focal point being the rugged leather jackets and rough denim jeans.

And just to be clear, we’re not saying white was completely absent in all clothing trends for the past 70 or so years. Black and white was an extremely popular combination in the early 1980s. 

But that’s the thing, black, and white. White was rarely, if ever the primary color during a fashion trend but rather always playing second fiddle to another color.

For example, let’s take a look at the following picture of two fashion models posing in black and white in 1982.

Two models posing in black and white in 1982Kypros/Getty Images

White plays a very important role in this outfit, providing a sharp contrast with the solid black as it is utilized on the edge of the outfit. However, by no means is white the primary color of this outfit as black dominates the outfit by covering most of the body as well as the head and legs. This was a common trend in early 1980s black and white fashion, white was really always left in black’s shadow.

White’s Sudden Popularity in a Growing Bulk T-Shirt Design & Printing Industry

So what caused white’s explosive popularity in recent years? To answer simply, t-shirts. T-shirts have become unfathomably popular in recent years, practically dominating everybody’s wardrobe as the primary option for a top.

The main compelling feature of a t-shirt is its simplicity. A t-shirt is lightweight, comfortable, and easy to slip on and off while primarily just consisting of one solid color. There is plenty of free real estate on t-shirts to put whatever features or designs your heart so desires.

As a result, a huge market opened up for designers who wanted to put their ideas and creations on t-shirts. Naturally, white became the go-to base color for designers. 

White wouldn’t interfere with the designer’s creations at all since it would act just like a blank canvas would for a painter. It allowed the contents of the design to be expressed fully, not at all hindering the creativity of the design. Especially in the early stages of t-shirt design and printing, white was the best option. This is because printing techniques still had a lot of room for improvement and white allowed the designs to be as vibrant and clear as possible.

White’s Role in Small Business T-Shirt Printers

I think we can all agree that technology is rapidly evolving right in front of us faster than it ever has. The new technology that is constantly being developed is reaching industries near and far, and the t-shirt design and printing industry is no exception to that.

All kinds of new technologies have rapidly transformed the t-shirt design and printing industry allowing everyday people to enter the workspace and start a business with very little investment. It was no longer a market dominated by huge corporations trying so desperately to keep small businesses from entering. Not only that but all kinds of new printing techniques have been created along with this new technology giving producers many options and allowing for a very differentiated product, a very important component for a growing industry.

In the early stages of t-shirt design and printing, nearly all t-shirt designs were produced in bulk using screen printing. Although screen printing can be a great printing option since it’s easy to pick up and allows for quick and vibrant designs on t-shirts to be created, one screen printing setup can take up a large amount of space and requires a huge investment in order to create more complicated designs since each color needs its own separate screen. 

This means more space, a larger more expensive setup, and more time-consuming screen preparation which all equates to more money out of your pocket These were all humongous limitations for aspiring small business owners in the t-shirt design and printing industry which prevented them from ever entering the market.

Fortunately for these aspiring small businesses, much more cost-effective t-shirt printing methods were developed as mentioned earlier. 

New processes such as Direct to Garment (DTG) printing and Sublimation completely revolutionized the t-shirt marketplace for small business owners as they did not require large initial investments and benefits could be reaped immediately. Any person could buy a new DTG or Sublimation printer and start printing on t-shirts for a couple of thousand dollars or less, an incredibly inexpensive start-up cost for a business.

Where white plays into this is that these brand new printing techniques being used by smaller businesses are still in their developmental stages and have some limitations in the colors they can print on. Although they have the ability to create very vivid and complicated designs which is one of the features that makes them very attractive in the first place, the color of the t-shirt can dramatically reduce the quality of the print, specifically when darker colors are used as a base.

This is why you really have to lean heavily towards basic bulk white t-shirts like the Gildan G500 in white for Direct to Garment (DTG) printing and the Jerzees 21M or Team 365 TT11 in white for Sublimation. 

In the following section, we will show you exactly how a dark color affects the base of a t-shirt specifically for Sublimation and why a white t-shirt is always a solid option.

The Dynamic Duo: Sublimation and White T-Shirts

The usage of Sublimation printers among small t-shirt design and printing businesses has absolutely exploded in recent years. This is mainly because it’s the most affordable option if you're just starting a t-shirt design and printing business. It’s also fairly easy to learn and can produce extremely complex designs consisting of nearly unlimited colors with super high resolution.

Unfortunately, however, sublimation is also the most limited t-shirt printing method as it only works on high polyester content t-shirts and is only vivid on light colors like white (Some things are too good to be true, sob).

Here’s an example.

White Versus Grey

These are two Jerzee 21Ms, one in white and one in dark grey. The same multi-colored North Dakota design is being sublimated on both of them.

Sublimation side by side comparison of two different colored shirts Heat Transfer Warehouse

When analyzing the quality of the print for the white t-shirt on the left, it is clear that the white base color allowed the design to thrive achieving a very vivid and high-resolution print.

The dark grey t-shirt on the right achieved quite the opposite as the design came out extremely dark and faded. It is clear that the dark grey base interfered with the print acting like some sort of filter over the design.

This proves an important point. If you’re a small business in the t-shirt design and printing industry using Sublimation or Direct to Garment (DTG) printing, it can be quite risky to use darker colors as a base for your designs. It’s true that some customers may enjoy the vintage look of a faded print, however, there definitely won’t be any complaints with the high-quality vivid print that a white t-shirt produces.

Recommended Bulk T-Shirts for Direct to Garment (DTG) and Sublimation Printing

If you’re a t-shirt printer or designer using Sublimation or Direct to Garment (DTG), here is a handy list of cost-effective white t-shirts for both printing processes:


  • Jerzees 21M in White: This is a fan favorite in the Sublimation community. Fellow printers really enjoy its soft cotton feel despite being 100% polyester. It also comes at an extremely affordable price for a 100% polyester shirt.

  • Team 365 TT11 in White or Team 365 TT11W in White: If the Jerzees 21M is Coke, the TT11 from Team 365 is Pepsi. Also beloved for its soft cotton feel, this is a nice solid alternative to the 21M while also being offered in a women’s fit.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

  • Gildan G500 in White: The Gildan G500 is the most reliable t-shirt you are going to find in the t-shirt design and printing industry. As affordable as they come, the shirt is soft, durable, and versatile. A perfect shirt for Direct to Garment (DTG) printing and really any method other than Sublimation.
    G500 White
  • Bella+Canvas 3001 in White: The Bella+Canvas 3001 is a step up in quality from the Gildan G500 coming at a little higher price. The shirt is made with the famous Bella+Canvas 100% Airlume combed ring-spun cotton, some of the softest and most comfortable material you will find at its price point. If your customer is looking for a more soft t-shirt, this is a great choice.
    Bella Canvas 3001
  • Next Level 3600 in White: The Next Level 3600 shirt is just like the 3001 from Bella+Canvas. It uses a higher quality material with its 100% combed ring-spun cotton and it has a softer feel and touch. It is simply just a matter of preference for which to choose between this and the 3001 from Bella+Canvas.
    Next Level 3600 3600

Overall, if you’re in the t-shirt design and printing industry, we hope you can understand just how user-friendly white is as the base color of your t-shirt. By no means should white be the only base color you offer for your t-shirt designs, but is undoubtedly the most reliable and efficient color to put your amazing designs on and to show off to your customers.

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