When it comes to printing custom t-shirts you hear about screen printing and direct to garment printing (sometimes called DTG or digital printing). But which one is better?
In this article, we’ll tell you just a little bit about each, so you can see the situations where one might be better than the other.
What is Direct to Garment Printing?
DTG printing works much like the printer in your home or office, squirting ink directly on the fabric (garment). When you direct print to garment, you essentially stain the fabric with your intended design. The inks adhere best to cotton, the same way that certain papers work better in an inkjet printer.
DTG is not vinyl printing, which uses heat transfer and has a thickness to it. DTG is not screen printing (more on that later).
Direct-to-garment printing uses just 4 to 6 colors: cyan, yellow, magenta and black (like your home printer), with the possible additions of red and green. Red and green can, of course, be mixed from the other 4 colors, but some machines use those colors separately to get more true colors.
DTG printers are expensive–as much as $800,000. The technology is also new, having only been around a couple of decades. Like any new technology, costs will likely come down over time.
What is Screen Printing?
Screen printing was originally called silk screen printing, because the ancient Chinese used silk in the printing process. Screen printing has been around for over 1000 years.
In screen printing, a stencil is created, with the ink getting pushed through each stencil (screen). You need one screen per color. Traditionally, inks were pushed through the silk with brushes, but now it looks more like a squeegee rubbing ink across the stencil. The ink gets applied directly to the fabric this way. Then the textile then has to be heated to adhere the ink. This is called curing.
Screen printing has virtually unlimited ink choices, including standard colors but also special effects, such as neon inks.
Today’s screen printers use manual machines, occasionally, but larger operations often have automatic machines, which can print 500-800 shirts per hour!
So Which is Better, DTG or Screen Printing?
The truth is, they are both excellent when used for certain applications.
DTG printing works better for:
- One-offs (single pieces) or small orders.
- Designs with tiny details.
- Gradient colors or blended colors (such as printing a replica of a photo).
When is screen printing better? Screen printing works better for:
- Volume (larger orders).
- Printing on oversized or unusual materials, such as polyester, synthetics, or blended fabrics.
- Printing with specialty inks, such as glitter, glow-in-the-dark or textured inks.
- When you want a vibrant color on a darker fabric.
The main differences in results between these two processes have to do with inks, as well as the set-up and takedown process. Because direct printing on a garment works much like an inkjet printer, it doesn’t take much setup. But it also really only works on 100% cotton. In the end, your result is a softer, lighter print.
With screen printing, that setup and takedown time doesn’t make sense for just one shirt. Textile artists sometimes screen print manually. But for shirts, totes or other textiles, the making of individual stencils for each color means that you generally want to print a number of garments for each design. That’s the cost-effective thing to do. So DTG works better for a single print.
Other than those specific cases, screen printing is the tried-and-true method of printing on garments. Screen printing has stood the test of time. The results are consistent and great for printing volume.
T-Shirt Labs Can Help
When it comes to creating the highest quality design for your custom shirts, T-shirt Labs is your screen printing company. We know the ins and outs of great design, with all the options available to make stunning, custom textiles.
But we are not just artists, we are shirt scientists! We understand the most cost-effective ways to help you and your team look great.
Contact us to get started.