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DTG vs. Screen Printing - an in-depth comparison

By: Diana Posted on: Apr 8, 2022

DTG or Screen printing - which one to choose? The question often confuses people who are stepping into the custom apparel industry. The truth is that both of these are excellent and reliable options for customizing apparel, with their own pros and cons. This article aims to help you make the right choice and enable you to offer the best to your customers and grow your business.

Let us start by taking a look at the basics of each method.


Screen Printing

Screen Printing

Screen printing is an apparel decoration method in which the designs are created on the garment by pushing the ink through a stencil. However, unlike most ink-based technologies, the ink doesn’t get absorbed by the fabric, but rather stays on the surface.

In this method, each color in the design requires its own screen. The elements of the design are broken down into different layers. The ink is pulled across the stencil - one color at a time - with a squeegee to produce each layer of the design.


DTG (Direct-to-Garment) Printing

DTG (Direct-to-Garment) Printing

DTG Printing is an apparel customization method where the ink is directly applied to the fabric. This technology gained a lot of popularity in recent years as it can faithfully recreate designs with a high level of detail and a plentitude of colors.

The printing method of DTG is often compared with that of printing on paper using an inkjet printer. The digital version of the design is sent to the printer using a computer. The printer transfers your digital image onto blank apparel by spraying water-based ink onto the surface. The ink gets soaked into the fibers of the garment to produce precise and high-quality prints.

Now that you know how DTG and Screen Printing work, let us compare them across various factors.


Production Cost

The cost of screen printing depends on the number of colors and screens that are needed. You will have to create a separate screen for each color resulting in a longer turnaround time and production cost, making screen printing in-efficient for smaller runs. However, it is very cost-effective for bulk orders.

DTG printing is the most cost-effective for printing small batches of custom t-shirts. The cost is not influenced by the number of colors or complexity of the design. However, since most printers can only handle one shirt at a time, larger orders will require significantly more time to complete.


Production Time

Screen printing requires a setup time that offsets its production speed. Once the stencils are put in place, you can start churning out custom t-shirts in large numbers. But for the method to be feasible, you will need a minimum number of t-shirts that use the same design. This number could be anywhere from ten to a couple of dozens based on your overhead and capabilities.

One of the major advantages of DTG is that you don’t need a minimum order quantity for it to be profitable. The low setup cost and effort make DTG effective for as few as a single garment. Yes, it will take longer to complete large orders, but the low upfront time and quick process allow you to fulfill small orders at reasonable prices.


Design Complexity

Design Complexity

Screen printing cannot fully capture the smaller details in the design when printing. It works the best for solid designs that have just a few colors and details in them - think simple fonts, geometric shapes, and minimalist logos.

Direct-to-garment printing is capable of recreating designs without losing minute details like gradients, textures, and fine lines. Combined with their ability to faithfully reproduce a wide range of colors, DTG is the perfect choice for photorealistic images and intricate designs.


Print Quality

Print Quality

Done correctly, with the proper application of ink and treatment technique, screen printing will last for decades. The designs will have the same vibrancy, look, and feel even after repeated washes. This makes it a preferred choice of apparel decoration in the sports and business industries.

Although technology has come a long way over the years, durability is a factor that Direct-To-Garment prints have always struggled with. Today, most DTG prints can withstand over a few dozen washes and still remain intact. The exact lifetime of the print will vary with respect to the printer, type of ink, pretreatment & curing, and other factors.


Comfort and Feel

These terms refer to things like the texture of the print of the shirt and how heavy the ink feels.

In screen printing, the more layers your design has, the thicker the design gets. Thick layers of plastisol ink used in screen printing can pull down the shirt creating an uncomfortable draping. Although water-based inks are available, they are not compatible with all garment and fabric types.

DTG uses water-based ink that is lighter on the fabric. Since the ink is sprayed, there is virtually no build-up of ink on the fabric surface. This results in better breathability, a smoother feel, and barely adds weight to the fabric.


Fabric Options

Screen printing can be done on cotton, blends, polyester, canvas, denim, performance, and moisture-wicking fabrics like rayon. It creates good results on most colors as well.

Although it works with a wide variety of fabrics, 100% cotton remains the most reliable recommendation for DTG printing. It could cause issues with polyester, blends, and moisture-wicking fabrics. Digital printing on fluorescent colors is not recommended as garment dye could bleed into the ink and discolor the print.


Apparel Options

If you’re only printing on the basics garments like T-shirts and hoodies, DTG is a great choice. But if you want to print on a wide range of garments including caps or smaller items, it is best to switch to screen printing.

With screen printing, there are many more platens available. This makes it possible to work around restrictions and decorate more categories of apparel.


Colors

Colors

DTG printers, on the other hand, offer plenty of colors and allow you to print detailed designs and photorealistic images with virtually no restrictions. However, the water-based inks used to lack the vibrancy of Plastisol inks – particularly when printing lighter colors on darker garments.

However, when it comes to printing gradients, DTG has the winning edge. The water-based ink can overlap and blend together to produce smooth gradients and shadings.


Print Locations

Screen printing is more accommodative and allows you to print anywhere as long as you can set the garment on the platen. This makes it easy to print on pant legs, the hoods of sweatshirts, on-the-pocket prints, side prints, etc.

DTG, in certain cases, may not be able to reach a certain placement like close the collar, shoulders, and seams. These restrictions also make the method unsuitable for All-Over-Printing.


Environmental Friendliness

With the rise of the sustainable fashion movement, more people are choosing products with a sustainable edge. That’s why it’s important to take into account the eco-friendliness of each printing method.

Screen printing uses a lot of water and it’s often done with non-biodegradable plastisol ink. As a bulk process, it comes with the risk of overproduction, one of the major problems the sustainable fashion movement is tackling.

DTG is one of the most sustainable decoration techniques. It allows you to avoid overproduction and waste. The machines typically use environmentally-friendly, water-based inks, and the process itself is highly energy-efficient.


Conclusion

In the end, choosing between Screen Printing and DTG comes down to the size of orders you want to undertake, the complexity of your designs, the types of garments you want to print on, and other factors. Hopefully, this article helps understand the key differences between the two technologies and choose the method that works best for you.

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Top Customer Comments

Linda
Jul 19, 2022
Sure, screen printing lasts longer but I am leaning towards dtg lately as it is more sustainable.
replay Reply
Brenda
Jul 14, 2022
Nice info! When would you choose sublimation over these methods?
replay Reply

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