Screen Print Vs DTG [Comparison & Ideas]

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Serigraphy silk screen print process at clothes factory. Frame, squeegee and plastisol color paints. Screen Print Vs DTG.

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If you’re planning on getting the best screen printing machine and setting up a t-shirt printing business, it is a good idea to learn what makes it different from DTG printing. 

This is because the two most popular techniques, screen printing and DTG printing, offer different advantages and disadvantages for businesses. This makes them suitable for different types of requirements. For instance, a screen printing business is best for printing garments in large quantities. 

It is also the older of the two forms of custom apparel printing. On the other hand, DTG printing is more suitable for a business that produces only a few shirts at a time and is a more recent invention. 

In this guide, we’ve discussed the most crucial differences between the two printing methods in detail to help you select the right one. 

So, let’s dive in! 

Differences Between Screen Printing And DTG Printing

Male asian workers carefully hold the heater to dry the screen printing ink after printing the t-shirts. Differences between screen printing and dtg printing.

To understand the differences between screen printing and DTG printing, it is important to first learn about each of these methods.  

Understanding Screen Printing

Screen printing is the most commonly used method for printing ink on garments, textiles, and other substrates. In this method, a nylon mesh stencil, also known as a screen, is used to transfer ink onto the fabric. While being one of the oldest printing methods, it became popular during the 1960s when the printed t-shirt trend first took off. 

This method is also known as silk screen printing, because originally screens made of silk were used to print custom t-shirts. Screen printing works by creating a stencil on the screen and then pushing the ink through it. Generally, the screen is coated with a light-sensitive emulsion into which a negative design image is burned.

While the emulsion hardens, the image remains in the form of a water-soluble paste that helps to create a solid stencil.  

This image is then washed away, leaving gaps through which the ink can pass. Keep in mind that screen printers use thick inks, and you will also need a separate screen for each design element. This is because the inks need to lie on top of the material instead of soaking in.

In the screen printing process, the various design elements are printed layer by layer onto the t-shirt, which is why a larger number of layers take more time to print. This is why this method is more suitable for printing items in bulk. Once the ink has been applied to the surface, the final step involves curing it. 

Additionally, besides the standard equipment for screen printing, this method uses plastisol inks for printing the t-shirts. These need to be cured using a heated dryer which heats the ink to 320 degrees Fahrenheit, making the thick ink incredibly durable. 

What Is DTG Printing?

DTG or direct-to-garment printing is a newer method of t-shirt printing compared to screen printing. It involves printing the design directly onto the garment by using highly specialized inkjet technology, and the process is similar to printing on paper.

Despite being only about 20 years old, this technology is quickly becoming very popular, mainly because it requires very little setup time. A DTG printer digitizes the image and prints it onto the t-shirt. The digital print head of the printer controls the amount of ink that is sprayed onto the surface.

One similarity between this method and screen printing is that DTG printing inks also require curing. Businesses employing this method generally use a heat press or a curing layer for this purpose. DTG printers come in a variety of sizes, ranging from desktop-sized machines to gigantic ones that require climate-controlled garages. 

Screen printing vs dtg : which is better

Screen Printing Vs DTG : Which Is Better?

Now that you know about DTG and screen printing methods, it is time to look at their differences.

1. Quality

For any apparel business producing custom printed garments, quality is one of the most important factors determining its success. While screen printing creates high-quality, vibrant prints, it is limited to specific colors and is time and labor intensive.

On the other hand, DTG printing can deliver high-quality prints that are also incredibly detailed and is not limited to just a few colors. That is why this printing method is quickly becoming more popular for printing high-quality custom apparel.

2. Durability

Most people prefer durable goods to throwaway ones, especially in the modern era where they are becoming rarer by the day. In this scenario, garments printed using the screen printing method can be a fantastic choice since they can easily last for the entire life of the product. Such garments are more resistant to fading as well as wear and tear. 

T-shirts printed using the DTG printing method can also last for multiple washes if proper maintenance instructions are followed. However, due to the type of ink used and the method by which it is applied, the print will fade over time with regular washing and drying cycles. This means that DTG prints will not last as long as screen prints. 

Ultimately, DTG printing is suitable for businesses who do not have high-volume orders and sell custom t-shirts and other apparel. On the other hand, screen printing is more suitable for businesses with large scale printing needs such as uniform and jersey printing. 

3. Suitable Designs

Designs can be of several types and can incorporate tiny elements, fine lines, various textures, intricate details, and more. 

For screen printing, the best designs are those that have solid graphics without a lot of details, since you need to know how to make a screen for printing each design. Such designs are limited to basic shapes and symbols, geometric designs, and typography because it takes a lot of time to prepare the stencils for the screen printing presses. And, getting highly detailed designs right during the printing process can be very difficult. 

Additionally, this type of printing is generally used with designs having only a few colors since each color needs to be applied separately. No more than nine colors are generally used. The reason for this is that screen-printed garments have tiny dots that cannot be seen by the naked eye, which is not the case with DTG-printed ones. 

As mentioned above, DTG printing is the best choice for creating highly detailed designs that utilize many colors such as gradients, photographs, illustrations, etc. In this case, it is even possible to print photorealistic images and detailed designs, making it more suitable for businesses who intend to offer a wider variety of prints. 

On the flip side, this garment printing method does not work very well if the design has transparent elements. This is because DTG printers tend to spread the ink in areas that are not completely opaque, which leads to gaps in the fabric. To avoid this, you can use halftoning for fake semi-transparent designs or use only solid colors. 

Also, when using the direct-to-garment printing technique, make sure to use the sRGB color profile since it closely matches the DTG printer color requirements. 

4. Sustainability

The importance of sustainable practices is increasing steadily day by day, which is why you need to take into account the impact of your business on the environment. Since screen printing businesses usually print garments in bulk and sell them only as they receive the orders, there is always a chance of overproduction. 

And, if the products are not sold, they are burned or dumped in landfills. The screen printing method also uses plastisol inks that are non-biodegradable and need a large amount of water. 

Compared to screen printing, DTG printing is a much more sustainable technique since it follows a print-on-demand model, and businesses do not print garments in bulk. They are printed only as the orders are received, preventing overproduction and waste. 

Also, many DTG printer manufacturers develop various technologies that can help promote sustainability. Such printers lead to a reduced amount of wastewater and also use less energy, thereby lowering the carbon footprint of a business. Some printers even use water-based vegan inks that are biodegradable, toxin-free, and free of animal by-products. 

5. Minimum Order Quantity

Another reason why DTG is the preferred printing technique for many is because it does not require any minimum order quantity. It allows you to print only the number of pieces as required, making it perfect for small orders while also ensuring that the final price is reasonable. 

When it comes to screen printing, however, things are not that simple. In this case, there is always a minimum order requirement that varies from business to business. This can be quite time-consuming and complicated for those just starting out. 

6. Pretreating Requirements

A key aspect that makes DTG printing different from screen printing is its pretreatment requirements. To get vibrant colors using DTG printing, you will need to pretreat your custom t-shirts and apparel to be printed. 

The pretreatment chemicals can either be applied using a pretreatment machine or a roller, and like the inks used in the process, these chemicals are quite costly. And, the process itself increases the time involved to complete the cycle of printing. 

Another thing you should keep in mind is that it is not a good idea to pretreat a large number of garments beforehand. This is because the chemicals tend to degrade with time, making it more difficult for the ink to adhere to the fabric. That is why most businesses pretreat each garment individually just before printing. 

7. Production Time

Screen printing has a faster production time than DTG printing but requires more time for setting up the machinery. This makes it more suitable for bulk printing rather than for printing a few pieces only. Once the stencils are created, the other aspects do not take much time. Some printing presses can print up to 1080 pieces an hour. 

As for DTG printing, it is generally slower than other printing methods but ideal for businesses that follow the print-on-demand model. This is because DTG printers print slowly line by line like regular printers and can take two minutes to print one t-shirt. 

However, this method allows printing a single item if required and you can even replace it if it does not sell. So, those with a low budget and planning to enter this field will find DTG printing the most suitable option. 

8. Feel Of The Fabric

Using the right methods can help easily provide an extremely soft feel to any screen-printed garment. Some methods and inks can help create prints that are part of the fabric that the wearer can barely feel. 

However, DTG printed t-shirts are generally much softer than screen-printed ones because the ink used by a DTG printer is thinner than plastisol ones used in screen printing. But, water-based screen prints are softer than DTG ones.

You should also know that DTG printing is not suitable for all types of garments. In some cases, customers want a thicker feel which can only be provided using plastisol inks.  

9. Cost

When choosing a garment printing method, it is crucial to adopt the most cost-effective approach to make profit. For businesses that intend to print products in bulk, screen printing is a more sensible choice since it is cost-effective for large-scale production. In this case, the final price of the order depends upon the number of screens and colors required for printing. 

Due to these factors, screen printing has a higher average cost than DTG printing, which has a lower setup cost and is ideal for printing small quantities. This allows the price of the product to be lower than in screen printing. 

Also, keep in mind that the equipment and inks required for DTG printing are more expensive, and this process is more labor intensive. DTG printing also requires trained personnel who know how to operate and maintain the printers.  

The final factor that determines the cost is the level of printers. Digital printers used for DTG printing are either low-end or high-end ones, but you won’t find any mid-level ones. The high-end printers are quite costly, while the low end-ones may not provide the desired results. 

Situations Suitable For DTG Printing

As mentioned, screen printing is an older and more popular technique used by thousands of businesses in the custom garment printing industry. So, you may be wondering about the type of situations in which DTG printing is a better choice. Here are some cases in which this printing technique is more suitable than screen printing. 

1. Poor Quality Or Highly Complicated Artwork

Unlike screen printing, DTG printing does not require burning or separating screens which involves a lot of effort and time. That’s why DTG printing is ideal for artwork that is not of high quality or those that have highly detailed designs. Additionally, you can use multiple colors which is not possible in screen printing. 

2. Small Orders

While screen printing is the most popular choice for printing in bulk, it is not very cost-effective when small quantities are to be printed. In such cases, DTG printing is the perfect alternative, especially if customers require very few pieces of an item. 

In most cases, a screen printing shop has a specified minimum order quantity below which it does not accept orders. This generally varies from 12 to 24 pieces, so customers who want a single t-shirt cannot get it printed. 

DTG printing offers a more economic option for businesses that accept small order quantities. Another alternative is contract printing, which is provided by several third-party print services. 

3. Reprints And Rush Orders

In DTG printing, you can start the printer, pretreat the garments, print and cure them, and send them off easily due to the low setup time. Because of this, this method is better suited for rush orders which require a limited number of shirts quickly. 

Rush orders may either be reprints or replacements, generally meant for correcting any errors that may have occurred during the printing process. They may even involve a smaller quantity of a specific print in a short period. Since such orders are premium services, they give a business an opportunity to make more profit.  

Screen print vs dtg frequently asked questions

Screen Print Vs DTG Frequently Asked Questions ?

What Is Pretreatment In DTG Printing?

Pretreatment is one of the most important steps involved in DTG printing and is required in almost all cases. It is especially crucial when white ink needs to be used or the fabric to be printed is of a dark color. Pretreatment is similar to using a primer when painting a house. 

It involves applying certain chemicals to the garment that has to be printed, which act as an undercoat, making the ink more vibrant and durable. Without pretreatment, it is difficult for the ink to adhere to the fabric, and the garment may appear faded and dull. 

A garment printing shop that relies on the DTG process generally has a pretreatment machine that applies the coating to the apparel. But, it can also be applied using a roller, and both these methods will increase the cost and time required for the printing process. One reason for increased cost is the high price of the pretreatment chemicals. 

How Many Times Can A Stencil Be Used For Screen Printing?

The construction of a stencil plays a major role in determining its life. The stencil used in screen printing is generally made using a polymer mesh and consists of a solid area preventing ink from passing through. There is also an open area through which the ink reaches the substrate, which is how the various designs are created. 

There are several methods by which a stencil can be created for screen printing. However, in most cases, once a stencil has been burned with the artwork, it can be used countless times for the same design. Unfortunately, it also means that for every design, you will need a new stencil. 

Do DTG Printers Require A Lot Of Maintenance?

DTG printing machines use digital printing techniques similar to inkjet printing to print garments like t-shirts, hoodies, and others. And, any printer used regularly for commercial purposes will require proper maintenance to keep functioning optimally. While a direct-to-garment printing machine generally uses a WIMS (White Ink Management System), which reduces this need for maintenance to some extent, it cannot eliminate it completely. 

Ideally, you should spend about five to ten minutes daily on maintenance when it is used. The cleaning and maintenance procedures are generally explained in the manual that comes with the machine. 

How Is Dye Sublimation Printing Different From Screen Printing And DTG Printing?

Dye sublimation printing is a digital printing technique that uses heat transfer to print an image onto the intended substrate. Also known as digital sublimation, this process is generally used for decorating banners, signs, and even apparel. 

The digital sublimation process uses a special ribbon that holds solid inks heated by the printer, causing them to sublimate. When the ink vaporizes, it permeates through the surface of the substrate and solidifies again. Since, in this case, the colors are not applied as individual dots, it provides a more photographic appearance to the prints. 

There are several ways in which the dye sublimation process varies from screen printing and DTG printing. While screen printing requires a lot of setup time and is best used with limited colors, digital sublimation does not require much time to get started. But, it does require costly equipment. Also, it is not possible to create special effects using the sublimation process, unlike screen printing. 

Dye sublimation is also different from DTG printing since it relies on the molecular bonding of the colors with the fabric. In DTG printing, the colors are only applied to the surface of the substrate and do not bond with it. 

Young male worker choosing printing surface and appropriate inks for screen printing, worker man mixing colors for screen printing on clothing fabric technique. Screen print vs dtg final thoughts.

Screen Print Vs DTG Final Thoughts

Both screen printing and DTG printing are excellent methods for a custom garment printing business. However, due to the differences in requirements from business to business, there is no clear answer as to which method is best.

In such a situation, selecting the method most suitable for your business requires careful consideration of certain factors. These include the design complexity, product quantity requirements, available resources, and others.

Above all, your number one priority should be to ensure that your customers are satisfied with the finished products. This is because providing them with a custom experience that meets their needs perfectly is the best way of having a profitable t-shirt printing business. 

On that note, it’s time to conclude this comprehensive guide. Until next time! 

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