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Best Practices for Decorating Burnout Shirts

Despite the ongoing popularity of burnout apparel, there seems to be a certain degree of trepidation among decorators regarding how to decorate it. Burnout apparel is made out of the same blend as a T-shirt: 50% cotton/50% polyester. The only difference is that it’s treated with a chemical that “eats” the cotton.

When the entire shirt is treated, it creates a mottled or splotchy look with randomly scattered see-through streaks. This makes it lightweight and soft — two qualities in great demand by consumers.

Burnout shirts also can be “printed” with a pattern such as flowers or peace signs. You also can do a graphic design
— like a name, animal head or logo — on the front chest. It offers a lot of versatility for creating unique new looks.

I’d estimate that about 80% of the burnout shirt jobs I do are for females. The biggest markets have been retail, boutiques, bars, resorts and the music industry. It’s definitely perceived as a fashion item. While it originated with a basic crew-neck style, demand has since resulted in a wider array of silhouettes, such as V-necks, long-sleeve tops, tanktops, dresses and more. The sample used for the step-by-step portion of this newsletter, Next Level Apparel’s Burnout Ombre Deep V (style 6542), is an excellent example of a fashion garment that offers endless decorating options.

As far as decorating on burnouts, the truth is that while the lightweight, web-like qualities of this shirt need to be taken into consideration, it’s not any harder to decorate than a regular T-shirt. I’ve had great success using plastisol and water-based inks, foil and sublimation transfers. You also can use plastisol or digital transfers, as well as embroidery.


Both light and dark burnout shirts can be screen printed. However, because of the light weight of the fabric, it is not

Another consideration is the mesh count. You do not want to put down a heavy layer of ink, so I don’t
recommend using a mesh size lower than 180. You’ll also find that you’ll have more issues with ink bleeding
through the shirt, so plan on wiping off the platen more frequently than usual. The degree of bleeding will vary
depending on the ink type, pressure and the shirt. Not all burnout shirts will print the same; some will bleed more
than others. Also, be aware that water-based ink bleeds less than plastisol.

White burnout shirt with a bright yellow ombre bottom, sublimation was the ideal choice. We were able to
incorporate the existing sublimated yellow portion into the overall look of the finished garment.
Dryer speed is the third factor that will vary from printing a traditional T-shirt. I recommend doing a few test runs to determine the belt speed that works best. In general,however, you will have to speed up the belt to avoid
“cooking” the shirt. You’ll know if it has been in the dryer too long because it will either come out in a ball or
extremely wrinkled. Dye migration also can be an issue, and this can be controlled via the dryer temperature and
belt speed.

Sublimation works on only light-colored garments, however, because the dyes turn into a gas when being
heat applied and are absorbed by the fibers, so they would not show up on a dark-colored shirt. There also is literally no hand. With burnout being popular for its soft, lightweight feel, sublimation is a great way to decorate without adding any weight or a discernable hand to the shirt.

In addition to screen printing, foil is another great alternative for decorating a burnout shirt. You can use foil alone or incombination with screen printing for excellent results. A foil adhesive is printed onto the shirt. The adhesive is dried and then the shirt is placed on a heat press. A sheet of foil is placed over the design and heat applied. The good news is,once the adhesive has been dried, you can stack the shirts.

So it’s possible to apply adhesive to the entire order and then heat-seal the shirts later.
Another advantage to sublimation is that it doesn’t limit the number of colors you can use. The production costs
for one or 10 colors are exactly the same, so you can offer customers beautiful four-color process looks without
a bunch of screen set-up charges.

Sublimation transfers must be heat applied. However, if you have a semi-automatic heat press, even high-volume
production is feasible using this technique. Rhinestone, studs and sequins are other great embellishments that can be added to a burnout shirt. These are created as a transfer and applied in the traditional manner These embellishments really add to the fashion appeal of the garment. One tip when heat-sealing a decoration to a burnout shirt is to always slide a Teflon sheet between the top and bottom layers. Otherwise, you’ll find that the adhesive may bleed through the top of the shirt and stick the top
and bottom together.

MT apparel practical to lay down an underbase. Discharge inks work well, as long as you keep in mind that discharge
works only on cotton, so it’s going to only discharge the cotton portions. But I have found this creates a
cool, vintage look. With only half the shirt discharging, it’s not possible to get really bright colors. Make sure customers understand that color is going to be subdued, which actually adds to the appealing retro or vintage look of the shirt.


One of my favorite methods of decorating burnout shirts is to use sublimation transfers. Since the Next Level Apparel style that was selected for our purposes was a No matter which decorating process you choose, I recommend showing a customer a sample with the chosen decoration type on it. This way, you avoid any misconceptions about the results, and you also can discuss any issues that may arise.

So we decided to create a lemonade design with a Cracker Barrel restaurant, old- timey kind of feel. We wanted something that was cute, light and summery.

Once the theme was decided, the dimensions of the shirt were measured to create a rectangular box in Adobe Photoshop that would define the design area. By keeping a sample of the shirt handy while designing, it’s also easier to visualize where different parts of the design will fall on the shirt.

The next step is to set up the Photoshop file. I recommend making the file 300 dpi because when you design in high resolution, the resulting artwork always looks better.

Once the design is finished, the layered Photoshop file is saved, flattened and converted to a .tiff format to be printed. A .tiff file prints a lot faster because the printer doesn’t have as many files to process.

Once the sublimation transfer is created, it’s an easy process to lay the shirt on the heat press, slide a Teflon sheet inside, lay the heat transfer print side down on the shirt and heat press it. For added dazzle, we added a few rhinestones in selected places and also heat-sealed them.

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