Screenprinting vs. Direct to Garment Digital Printing(DTG)

I wrote this article for my blog, Tee Spotter. I review and write about clothing lines and similar topics. I figured this would be a good resource to post here.

@Tee Spotter on Twitter

Hey all. I’ve been thinking about writing this article for a while now and after asking for feedback, some people had a genuine interest in the subject, so I will do what I can to shed some light on these printing methods and all of their mysteries. If you have any questions when I’m done, feel free to ask.

Screenprinting and Direct To Garment Printing(we’re going to call this DTG for short, to save my fingers some typing) are two very different methods of printing onto t-shirts. In this article I will explain the differences between each of these methods, the pros and cons of each, and how to decide which one is right for you.

Screenprinting is exactly what the name states, printing with a screen. Your artwork is first broken down into separate layers, one color on each layer. Each of these layers is then transferred on to a screen, and the design is burned in. This burning process makes holes in the mesh of the screen so that when ink is pulled across the screen, it gets pushed through the mesh and onto your tshirt. This is repeated for each of the layers(and colors) until the whole design is finished. There are many different kinds of ink that are used for screenprinting, but I think I’ll save that for another article.

Direct to garment printing is a digital print of your artwork directly on to the shirt(hence the name). Think of a huge ink jet printer with your shirt inside of it, that is basically what happens when using this method of printing. Unlike screenprinting, all of the colors are printed at the same time and there are no screens or different kinds of ink involved.

So what are the pros and cons? Well, both methods have quite a few…

Screenprinting is high quality, it lasts basically forever, there are more options as far as what you can do with your artwork(foil, puff ink, fuzzy ink, and so on), its great for larger orders of shirts(for bands, clothing lines, etc.) But, it is more complicated to design for, each color has to be on its own layer, which sometimes the printer will do for you. Also, color matching can be more difficult and can cost extra on top of having limited colors(usually around 6-12 max). Screenprinting costs more in general because you have to pay for the screens, and the set up. Keep in mind though, you’re paying for higher quality, so it can be worth it.

DTG has its own pros and cons though. Unlimited colors is a pretty big plus. It costs less. Its a faster process. Its a great choice for someone printing just a few shirts, but for someone printing many, it isn’t the best choice. The quality of the print is much, much lower. It will fade in the wash. Its even more difficult to match colors since the printer(not the person printing the shirts, the actual printer) has to mix everything itself. If you want to print on dark colored shirts it costs extra to pretreat the shirt and do a white under base that is probably going to show through on the edges of your design anyway. I guess if you don’t care about print quality, DTG is okay.

Now, how in the world do you tell which kind of printing you should use? It’s actually not that hard to decide…

If you…
Are printing a large number of shirts
Have artwork that is 6 colors or less
Are looking for high quality, long lasting prints
Need exact color matching

Then I suggest you go with screenprinting. It will take care of all of these and then some.

If you…
Are only printing a few shirts
Have artwork with lots of colors and/or shading
Have a small budget
Don’t need colors to be matched

Then DTG might be a better option for you. It will save you money and still deliver what you need.

I think that I covered mostly everything there is to cover on this topic, I may have missed a few things but nothing major.

Please keep in mind that I don’t know EVERYTHING, I’m not saying that someone who needs a lot of shirts can’t use DTG or that someone who only needs a few shirts can’t use screenprinting. I’m more so just trying to give everyone a better outlook on these methods and how they are meant to be used. The decision is totally up to you, I only want to help you in making that decision. Hopefully I have done that. Like I said, if you have any questions feel free to ask.

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  • Pingback: Daily Tee & News Roundup for October 27th

  • http://www.twitter.com/kailashiyer kailash iyer

    What number would you essentially say is “a larger number of tshirts” ?

  • http://goldstarok.com Embroidery oklahoma city

    I agree with your conclusions and looking forward to your coming updates. Thanks for sharing

  • Transmutees

    About a year ago i went through all the pros and cons of screen vs DTG. I tested some DTG and found them to be very faded and washed out. The screen on the other hand were a bit too expensive to produce. I ened up siding with spreadshirt's plot printing vinyl press, which uses solid color vinyl and uses a plot printer to cut out my designs, by color, and separately pace them on the shirt. In that sense its similar to screen. One color at a time and separately applied. I can only use three colors with the technology, and i pay per color, but its a lot cheaper for me to start up my business with.

  • http://www.soldoutcreations.com Scoota Watson

    I'll wait until DTG get more enhancements beforeI bother with it.  Screen Printing to old fashion here in Memphis, TN.  I find it my clients are more into heat pressed images.

  • Gord

    You incorrectly grouped all DTG printers in the same category as “quality is much, much lower”.  I run a DTG shop will high end equipment and have no issues whatsoever with print quality.  When it comes to a four color process I would take on the best screenprinters anytime

  • http://www.northwestembroidery.com/ Northwest Embroidery

    For designers looking to put their work on actual samples before running production, DTG is a godsend. Color matching is getting a lot better lately, minus certain reds and neons.