Screen Printing vs. Digital Printing - What Is The Difference?

  • BIDBI
  • 31st October 2020

With the amount of garment printing techniques that have been developed, it can be confusing to understand the difference between them, and when best to use them.

The two most common forms of garment printing are screen printing and digital printing. Both have their uses and this guide will give you an overview of the techniques, the advantages, and disadvantages of both, when to use them, and why.

The techniques

Screen printing

Screen printing also known as silk screen printing or serigraphy is a traditional print technique which has been around for centuries. Screen printing is when ink is pushed through a stencilled mesh screen, which has been placed above a garment, which creates a printed design.

A separate stencil is made from each colour of the image, the ink is pushed through each stencil to build up the whole final design with all the colours.

Ink is mixed for each print job, so the ink colour is mixed just for you, so this means that pantone colour matching is possible.

Digital printing

Digital printing is a fairly modern technique, the ink is printed directly on to the fabric in the same way an inkjet printer prints onto paper. The garment is then heat pressed to seal the print onto the fabric.

The printer uses CMYK ink which gives a much wider range of colours than other ink systems.

What to consider?

Choosing which print technique to use is dependent on a few different factors.

Quantity

Depending on if you need 1 or 200 bags, one print method may be more cost effective. DTG printing doesn’t cost that much set up, which means that it is a more cost-effective option for printing small batches or single items. If you need a large order, screen printing is the better option as the set-up cost is spread over the larger quantity.

Product

What type or product do you want to print on? Is constructed from a man-made fibre or natural cotton? DTG is limited in this area because it is recommended to only print onto 100% cotton- it will struggle with 50/50 blends, polyester, and technical fabrics such as nylon.

Dyed fabrics can also cause problems for DTG due to dye migration, this is when the garment dye bleeds into the ink and causes discolouration.

Screen printing on the other hand can print on any colours and any fabrics from cotton, blends, polyester, denim, performance fabrics, and more.

Design

Is your design one colour, or a gradient? Does it include lots of intricate patterns or detailed drawings? If it is a photograph or has photographic detail, DTG printing is the best choice. When it comes to gradients with smooth transitions, details such as fine lines, skin tones, digital printing is much more reliable than screen printing. However, you have vibrant colours and clean lines in your design, DTG is no match for screen printing,

Colour matching

If you need to pantone match to your branding or certain colours, then screen printing is the option to choose. Because the inks are mixed for each print job, if you have a specific pantone in mind, the ink mixer can match to that pantone. Matching colours accurately is extremely important when it comes to corporate branding, so screen printing is perfect for logos and other branded merchandise.

You can’t beat screen printing when it comes to colours, it is possible to print a range that includes almost every colour out there.

Budget

Do you have a big budget, or a smaller budget which needs to include more units? Screen printing becomes more cost effective the more units you get printed. If you need a bulk amount, over 200, and you have an intricate design consider simplifying it to make it more suitable for screen printing

What is the difference?

The look

Screen printing is generally only a few solid colours, whereas digital printing can replicate photographic detail and intricate designs.

The feel

Even if there is thick ink coverage screen prints on garments will always feel soft to the touch, there are some considerations- for example, the feel will be different if your design is vibrant and printed on a darker garment,  as opposed to a white or light coloured fabric.

DTG will feel almost exactly like the garment that is getting printed, however if the garment is darker a white layer of ink is put down first so the colours can show up. This gives a similar feel to screen printing.

The colours

Screen printing produces vibrant colours and the ink can be pantone matched. The colours with DTG are duller, and although advancements have been made it is still impossible to match to pantones.                                                                                                                           

Advantages

DTG:

-          Perfect for small runs of 50 or less

-          Full colour photographic prints are possible

-          The print feels like the fabric

Screen Printing

-          Choice of numerous specialist inks; foil, glitter, florescent etc.

-          Can achieve vibrancy in the colours

-          Inks can be mixed to match certain pantones

-          Doesn’t fade easily and is durable

-          Ability to print on any fabric or substrate

Disadvantages

DTG:

-          Limited to which fabric types you can print on

-          Colour vibrancy isn’t as good as screen printing

-          Cannot pantone match colours

-          Colours will fade eventually

Screen Printing

-          Limited to the number of colours

-          Costly for smaller print runs

-          The print can be felt

-          Can have higher wastage

-          Colour blending is harder to achieve

As you can see there is disadvantages and advantages to each technique. Choosing the right technique depends on a range of factors; on what fabric you are printing on, your design, your budget, quantity, and the look and feel you are after.

If you need more information on print techniques or how to get a range of bags printed with your design on speak to one of our team.