Why T-Shirt Screen Printing is Elite Compared to Digital Printing

t-shirt screen printing

Most of the pop-up shops printing custom t-shirts these days are using direct-to-garment (DTG) digital printing. In the past fifteen years or so the technology has rapidly advanced, and DTG printing has gotten much more popular and affordable.

But when it comes to printing the best custom ink shirts, screen printing is still the elite way to go.

Here’s why.

What is Direct-to-Garment Digital Printing?

DTG digital printing is basically like a giant inkjet printer, similar to the printer one might use at home. Few people would have such a device at home, though, since digital t-shirt printers still cost anywhere from $15,000 to $800,000.

You can order a single shirt DTG and print them quickly, with very little setup involved. So the price point to order a shirt from a printer is quite low with DTG.

However, when you want to print multiples, screen printing is still often cheaper per piece. Screen printing might have been around for over 1,000 years, but it’s still the more advanced technology when it comes to t-shirt quality.

Read on and find out why.

The Superiority of Screen-printed Inks

Screen printing and DTG use completely different inks. DTG inks are water-based. They use the same CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and blacK) color scheme that your home printer uses.

T-shirt screen printing, on the other hand, offers virtually limitless colors and even textures of ink. Most inks for screen printing have a plastisol (PVC) base, which means they’re opaque. You can match any Pantone color precisely. They also come in specialty inks, like water-based (if you want), or glow-in-the dark. Other common specialty inks include:

  • Fluorescent
  • Metallic
  • Glitter
  • Shimmer
  • Puff, textured or suede-effect
  • High density (rubber-like)
  • Crackle
  • Soft hand (thinner, for a softer feel)
  • Discharge (bleaches, instead of inking)

When it comes to the inks available for custom printed, screen print t-shirts, the only limits are your imagination and your budget!

Color matching is especially important for branding. You want that logo color to be identical every time you use it.

DTG prints do ok at color matching on lighter-colored fabrics, since they’re semi-transparent. But they cannot match the color replication, brilliance and vibrancy of screen printing t-shirts. DTG will look dull next to screen print transfers.

How Screen Printing Offers More Versatility

Speaking of identical logo printing, DTG digital printing has a problem when it comes to certain materials. As mentioned above, DTG can color match fairly well on white or light-colored materials, but what those materials are is also limited.

DTG prints well on cotton shirts or hoodies, but that’s about it.

Screen-printing, on the other hand, can be done on virtually any material. You can screen print on 50/50 blends (which tend to be softer and hold up better to washing than 100% cotton). Specialty fabrics, like golf shirts, moisture-wicking shirts, and other materials do great with screen printing! You can even print on the sleeve of a shirt, a pants leg, hats, bags and jeans.

How Do You Print the Most Durable T-shirts?

DTG prints do not perform as well as screen printing on a durability test, either. The water-based inks used for DTG printing tend to fade relatively quickly.

Plastisol-based screen printing inks can last as long as the material itself. We still have some samples of screen prints from the Song Dynasty (960-1270) in China! Of course, they’re not worn and washed like a modern t-shirt, but that’s still some serious longevity.

So is DTG Printing EVER Better?

Ok, so screen printing is elite compared to digital printing. It’s more vibrant, more true-to-color, more durable and more versatile. Is it ever better to print direct-to-garment?

Yes, occasionally, DTG printing might be a better option. For starters, if price matters more than quality, DTG wins when it comes to small print quantity. There’s some setup involved in screen printing. You save that cost with small orders of DTG shirts.

DTG also offers superior color blending.

What is color blending on t-shirts? Color blending is a smooth gradient of colors. For example, if you print a picture of a human face that’s true-to-color, you’ll get better blending when you print DTG. (A vinyl image transfer is another option for printing a blended picture, but that’s another story).

Screen printing uses tiny dots, known as halftones, to simulate color blending. If you hold a magnifying glass up to the ink on a newspaper, you’ll observe the same technique.

Should You Order from a Local T-shirt Printer?

When you support a local printer, you support your community. Look for “screen printing near me” to find an elite t-shirt printer. Get local expertise! At T-shirt Labs, we print right here in Florida, USA.

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