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Weighing the Merits of Screen Printing and DTG Printing on T-Shirts

Some of the most frequent questions we get from customers concern the differences between screen printing and DTG (direct to garment) printing, also referred to as digital printing. These are two of the most popular printing methods, with some major differences. I thought this post would be a good place to answer some of those questions.


Screen Printing

Screen PrintingScreen printing, in its present form, has been around for over 100 years now, and now provides the capability to make intricate and detailed prints. In screen printing, your image is broken down into several layers of images, each a different color. The negative of each layer is burned onto a screen coated with UV sensitive emulsion. Those portions of the emulsion that are not exposed to UV light are removed. Ink can then pass through those areas but not the others. Stacking these layers of color on the substrate, or the material of your product, leads to a finished image.

Screen printing fabrics is usually done with plastisol ink, which has a vibrant look and a smooth, plastic sheen to it. The print is literally plastered to the substrate. Screen prints are durable, and the ink lasts about as long as the shirt itself. Water based inks achieve the same dramatic color as plastisol, but with a much softer texture. Screen printing allows for the use of specialty inks, like neon or glow in the dark.

DFC has the capability for both automatic and manual screen printing, and uses each for different purposes. The manual press is reserved for small batch jobs with only a few colors while the automatic press is best for production of large batches.

 DTG Digital Printing


Digital Printing

In terms of number of steps, DTG printing is much simpler. Simply load your image into the computer, slap the product into the printer, and print. Voila! These printers look much like ink jet printers that you see in an office, except for the price tag. If you’re thinking about getting one of these in your home, expect to spend somewhere between $10,000-200,000.

DTG prints are often much softer than screen print inks. The printer itself is responsible for mixing the colors, so you can get incredibly detailed colors, but the print tends to lack the vibrancy of screen prints.

That still doesn’t answer the question: which process is right for you? Take the following considerations:

Order Size

Part of the expense of screen printing is the setup cost. Screens have to be burned and the production line needs to be set up to print your order. That all takes time and money, increasing the cost of your order. Screen costs and setup costs are the same, no matter how many shirts you print. A large order spreads those costs over many shirts, making it a relatively negligible cost. For a small order, that additional cost could be more than you want.

For large runs, screen printing has a much faster turn around time, since DTG  printers are comparatively slow.

Custom Designs

DTG has close to no setup time, and making one-off custom prints is where it shines. For example, if you want a set of shirts for your family, with a different image on each shirt, the costs of screen printing are going to be high, and the turnaround of the order would actually be faster with DTG.

Design Complexity

The intricacy of your image is a huge factor in deciding on a print process. Most T-shirt designs are relatively simple, with just a few colors. You could go either way at that point, but screen printing yields a longer lasting print.

If you’re trying to print a digital photo image to a print, DTG creates incredible definition. There are other options for such a project. A 4 color screen printing process is able to create comparable definition at a higher print quality. For that, there is a 144 piece minimum, given the lengthy setup time.

Now that we’ve shed a little light on this subject, maybe you have all the specifications in mind for your next order. Maybe you feel even further from understanding than before. Either way, your best bet is talk to a representative at DFC. Remember, this is what we do, so we know exactly how to find the perfect solution for you. 

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