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DTG vs Screenprinting

DTG vs Screen Printing - Pros, Cons and choosing the right method for your apparel

DTG (direct-to-garment) printing and Screen Printing are two of the most common methods to print custom t-shirts & apparel.

Both methods have their own pros and cons, which is why Tee Junction offers both services inhouse to our customers.

So how do you decide between DTG printing and Screen Printing? Well, I'm glad you asked!

The tl:dr. (quick summary)

What's the difference between the two methods?

Screen printing is the more traditional method and involves pushing ink (plastisol or waterbased) on to the apparel through a stencil (the screen), while DTG printing is a newer method that uses a digital printer to apply ink directly onto a garment (much like a home inkjet printer, but on steroids).

● DTG printing is recommended for full-colour designs with lots of details (like illustrations, gradients, photographs, etc.) and/or when ordering in small quantities, such as a once-off design or just a few pieces. 

Tee Junction's DTG printing is the best-in-class and offers very good colours and durability, and will be suitable for most applications. DTG excels for full-colour designs such as photographs and illustrations.

● Screen printing will produce the most vibrant, durable prints thanks to the thicker and more solid plastisol/waterbased inks available. The screen printing process involves setting up each colour in the design separately and is, therefore, more labour and resource-intensive. The minimum quantity is usually 10-25 units, and there is a maximum of 5-6 solid colours that can be printed depending on the garment.

We recommend screenprinting for situations where the t-shirts & apparel will be worn and washed regularly.  It is most suitable for those who seek the best colour reproductions and longevity for the life of the garment, such as for business uniforms, sports teams, fashion retail, etc.

The Tee Junction team will always provide the best advice and guidance for your needs.

The Details.

What is DTG (Direct-to-Garment) Printing?

Also commonly referred to as 'Digital Printing', DTG is relatively new to the world of apparel printing (around 15 years). Tee Junction was one of the pioneers and first every company in the world to offer complete DTG printing solutions for custom t-shirts and apparel.

The concept of DTG works similar to a home inkjet printer. The design is set up on the computer (a PNG file is recommended), and the software sends the design to the DTG printer, where waterbased CYMK (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black) ink is printed directly onto the garment.

On white garments, Tee Junction applies a pretreatment onto the fabric, much like a primer before you paint a house. The CYMK ink is then printed directly onto this pretreated fabric.

On coloured and black t-shirts, the process is more involved. This time, a stronger pretreatment is applied to the fabric of the shirt. The next step is the 'white underbase', where white ink is applied to all areas where the design will be. This white ink provides the 'canvas' for the colours to print onto; otherwise, the colours would not be seen on dark coloured shirts (since the waterbased inks are translucent, not fully opaque). Once the white underbase is applied, the garment is fed back into the printer, and the CYMK design is printed on top of the white ink.

DTG Printing Pros

  • Full-colour printing at no extra cost
  • No minimum orders or setup fees
  • Great for photographic prints or designs with gradients
  • Cost-effective for small runs (1 to 50 units)
  • Natural, waterbased colours

DTG Printing Cons

  • Colours are not as opaque/solid as screenprinting
  • Can fade over time (10-20% for white t-shirts, 5-10% for coloured garments)
  • Requires more care when washing (cold, gentle wash only, no dryer)
  • Not as cost-effective for larger runs compared to screenprinting (designs with 1-5 colours)
  • Suitable for 80-100% cotton garments only. Smaller product range available.
  • Fewer print locations available (no sleeve printing, or printing near hems)

What is Screen Printing?

Screen Printing is the old school way...but just because it's old doesn't mean its no longer relevant. On the contrary, screen printing is still the tried and true method for bulk orders and retail quality custom apparel.

Screen Printing involves the process of pushing plastisol or waterbased inks through a mesh stencil (the screen) onto the fabric.

Each colour in the design is printed separately with its own screen. This means that your design must first be 'separated' into different layers by colour, a process that begins with our experienced graphics department. The resulting separation is printed onto 'films', much like a negative from photography, and then 'burned' onto the mesh screens to create a stencil. This involved process is why pricing for screen printing is based 'per colour'.

The screens are then set up on our screen printing press, and individual coloured ink is then pushed through the stencil using a squeegee. The apparel moves through the press, each time receiving a new colour until all the colours are layered on to create the final design.

Screen Printing Pros

  • Super solid and opaque colours
  • Thicker ink and prints
  • Best durability of print - last the life of the garment when properly cared for
  • Special inks available (metallic, gold, glow-in-the-dark)
  • Cost-effective for larger runs (25+)
  • Suitable for a wider range of garments types (cotton, polyester, sports material, etc.)
  • More print locations available compared to DTG printing (sleeves, near hems, off-set, etc.).

Screen Printing Cons

  • Each colour in the design requires a setup fee
  • The more colours in your design, the more it costs
  • Maximum of 5-6 solid colours
  • Gradients and full-colour prints can be achieved using 'full-process' screenprinting and halftones. Higher minimum orders apply.
  • More labour intensive. Average production time ranges from 1-3 weeks depending on the number of colours and complexity of the job

Video Guides

The video below from apparel supplier Bella Canvas shows a comparison of a full-colour design printed via DTG and via Screenprinting (using a full-process/halftone method).

The DTG result really shows its advantages for highly detailed, full-colour designs. 

The next video is from Printavo and Campus Ink in the USA. This video goes into more details about how the Screen Printing and DTG processes work.

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