Whether you’re looking to design your t-shirt as a keep-sake or you’re a large business aiming to print thousands of t-shirt designs, you must know whether DTG or screen printing is the best option for you.
Discover what printing method will suit you and your design best to get printing today!
What Is DTG (Direct-to-Garment) Printing?
Direct-to-garment printing is a mode of producing t-shirts using a specialist digital printer to apply water-based ink to the fabric of the shirts. The DTG method typically makes a range of colors out of magenta, black, green, red, and cyan. Not every process will use all six colors, but they’ll at least use four.
Instead of using a screen or paper when transferring the ink, the printer directly applied the ink to the fabric’s surface using a DTG machine.
- High accuracy – DTG will gain the necessary images (that want to be printed) from digital files, meaning that the printers can produce almost any color with high accuracy, resolution, and sharpness.
- Versatile – DTG printers can print onto many popular t-shirt fabrics, including polyester, cotton, and polyester-cotton blends.
- Eco-friendly – As DTG printers use water-based inks, the inks retain more naturally occurring substances and don’t have the toxic chemicals in more conventional inks. Couple that with its ability to print on organic cotton.
- Flexibility – Using digital files means you can print as many t-shirts as you want, including just a single unit.
- Expensive (to own a DTG printer) – A direct-to-garment printer can cost over $10,000, so you should consider the expense if you want to own a DTG printer. Of course, with DTG printers being so expensive, they’re less accessible.
However, the good news is that you don’t have to own a DTG printer to reap the benefits, as DTG services are affordable for small businesses or entrepreneurs looking to get their image out into the world.
What Type of Designs Work Best With DTG Printing?
Because DTG printers can offer a wide range of colors, detailed designs, and photorealistic images (an image that looks just like a photograph), there are almost zero color limitations. This ability is crucial for businesses with more complex, intricate, and colorful designs.
The only downside with the direct-to-garment method is if the image has transparency, meaning that the elements of the image aren’t 100% opaque. If so, the design doesn’t translate as well onto the fabric because the DTG machine tries to fill in the transparent gaps with another color, spreading the ink and resulting in holes in the material.
Aside from that, companies have great flexibility in the designs they’d like to use!
What Is Screen Printing?
The screen printing process is considerably indirect as it involves applying ink to a t-shirt through a mesh screen partially blocked by stencils. Also known as silk-screen printing, the stencils have cut-out areas where the ink will seep through the mesh, making the final design.
You place the ink at the top of the stencil. A blade, or a squeegee, fills the mesh holes with the chosen ink by gliding the ink down the surface of the mesh. The preferred tool then reverses back up the mesh to fill any gaps. While relatively simple, the process can become more complicated and require more planning when multiple images or colors are involved in the designs. For example, that requires numerous screens and stencils as a result.
While the emergence of Pop Art in the 1960s led to a rise in popularity, screen printing remains a popular method and aesthetic today. With all the components that go into creating a screen print, such as readying the stencils, mesh screens, and images, it’s not surprising that it takes a significant amount of time to complete from start to finish. The process is less efficient than the DTG method, so it’s often reserved for larger print runs.
Screen Printing Advantages
- Versatile – A tremendous advantage to screening printing is the ability to place the artwork in various places on the shirt, so your design doesn’t have spatial limitations.
- Large-order friendly – The more you order, the cheaper and more cost-effective it will be, meaning that companies looking for a larger order will reap the financial benefits of going with bulk screen printing.
Screen Printing Limitations
- Small-order adverse – Due to the costly nature of the screen printing process, companies looking to make small orders of printed designs will find the DGT process more cost-effective.
- Expensive – Screen printing can be a costly experience, and not just for small orders. The cost increases if you want to use multiple colors, requiring more ink.
- Design limitations – Screen printing can only do so much while the retro and simplistic aesthetic remains much-loved. If you want more complex designs, screen printing will struggle.
- Inefficient – Regarding the time it takes to perform the screen printing process, it’s not a good option for those on short deadlines. Time management is key!
What Type of Designs Work Best With Screen Printing?
Solid graphics work best for the screen printing process because they often don’t have complex or small details. Basic typography, symbols, shapes, and geometric designs are popular choices for those opting to choose screen printing. Often this is partially because making the stencils for more intricate designs is hugely time-consuming. Sometimes, the screen printing process won’t allow for precise minor details.
Each color applied separately also means that most screen printing designs contain a maximum of a few shades. Usually, the cap is nine colors per print at most screen printing providers.
DTG vs. Screen Printing: Which Is Right for You?
DTG will also produce better quality images than screen printing because DTG prints derive from digital files. Using digital files in high resolution vastly improves the sharpness of the design.
While screen printing can produce good quality designs with bright colors, this is often in larger-scale designs with limited details, meaning you have to limit your methods or risk details being lost in the screen printing process.
With the DTG method, you’ll get a complete range of colors, improving the quality of your designs.
A design’s durability is all about how long the quality of the image will last. Sadly, the DTG method has struggled with durability since its conception. While now DGT designs retain their quality after dozens of washes, it could only handle about ten washes in its early days before fading.
However, lasting dozens of washes don’t scream “lifelong” either, which is a problem that screen prints suffer from far less, with the design often lasting decades. This does, however, rely on the screen printing process to have the ink applied and cured correctly.
Please ensure you follow the proper washing techniques to help both last as long as possible.
The overall design of a DTG print will be less vibrant because it uses a single layer of ink. However, your overall design can have as many colors as possible. Some color combinations can be too complex to achieve, which limits your design. For example, if you want light-colored ink on dark fabrics, the DTG method might not suit you.
Screen printing will always produce vibrant designs with more saturated colors. Yet, there’s a limit on the number of colors due to the labor-intensive process.
DTG will be the better option if you want a complex design. It can use fine lines, small text, a variety of textures, and more intricate details that aren’t possible with a stenciled screen print. This level of complexity won’t fade throughout the print run, either.
That’s not to say that screen printing can’t have layers or complexities. Instead, compared to the direct-to-garment printing method, you may have to adapt your design to make it more reproducible. For example, you may need to enlarge smaller text.
The direct-to-garment solution costs less than screen printing for smaller orders. This is because setting up the screen printing process is costly. However, while you can offset the cost, it typically requires a large bulk order.
Likewise, the more colors you want to use when screen printing, the more costly the order will be. However, with DTG printing, the low set-up cost means it doesn’t matter whether you’d like to order one t-shirt or many.
That being said, if you need hundreds, or even thousands, of t-shirts printed at one time, then (depending on the design) screen printing might be a more cost-effective option.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does DTG Last Longer Than Screen Printing?
The durability of the DTG method is often less than that of screen printing when the printer applies and cures the ink correctly.
Is DTG Cheaper Than Screen Printing?
That depends. DTG is far more cost-effective if you want to make a small order (anything from a single unit upwards). However, screen printing is likely the more cost-effective solution if you wish to print hundreds or thousands of t-shirts.
Which Is Better, DTG or Screen Printing?
Both methods are unique and have their advantages and limitations. Please look at your design needs; if you want a smaller order with more complexity, then the DTG method is the best. However, screen printing could be a better option if you have a more straightforward design you want to print a thousand times.
Ultimately, your design should shine! Whatever method suits your needs better will be the right choice for you. Discover how The/Studio can help you achieve your printing goals today with a top-quality customizable design process. Get in touch today!