Screenprinting and direct digital printing (also known as direct to garment printing, or DTG) are the two most popular methods of printing artwork / designs / logos onto t-shirts. Both result in a durable, long-lasting product, but there are distinct advantages to each method that will factor into a decision of which to choose for any given project, including cost, time required for order completion, style and quality of artwork, and color of shirts to be printed.
With traditional screenprinting, artwork is first broken down into separate layers, with each layer consisting of one color. Each layer is then transferred onto and “burned” into a screen, creating tiny holes in the mesh of the screen. When ink is pulled across the screen, it gets pushed through the mesh and onto the shirt being printed. Each layer has its own screen, and the colors are added in a specific order so that the final result appears like the original artwork.
Screenprinting on shirts is high quality, will last a long time, and once the original set of screens is created, can allow for mass production of screenprinted shirts at a low cost. This is perfect for great for larger orders of shirts (for bands, sports teams, company shirts, etc), as the larger up-front setup cost can be absorbed easily. However, it is a fairly complex procedure, designs and artwork take more time, and the number of colors that can be implemented is limited.
In contrast, direct digital printing allows artwork to be printed directly on to the shirt in one step. All of the colors are printed at the same time, and the number of colors which can be used is nearly unlimited. The up-front cost is less, as there are no screens to make, which can be a pro for smaller orders; DTG printing can also be faster for delivery on small orders. The cons include the facts that direct digital printing is lower quality than traditional screenprinting, dark colored shirts require extra work, and there is no real cost benefit on larger orders.
Deciding on screenprinting vs. direct digital printing will hinge on a few basic factors.
Screenprinting is better for:
- Large custom printed shirt orders
- Artwork with six or fewer colors
- Shirts that will be washed often or in hot water
Direct digital printing may be acceptable when:
- Only a few shirts are needed, and fast delivery is a must
- Multi-colored or heavily shaded artwork is being used
- Color matching is not a huge issue
The differences between screenprinting vs. digital direct printing or DTG printing may make it easy to choose an option for your company, team or family reunion. The size of your order, quality desired, type of artwork and time frame will all be things you need to consider before making your final choice.