DTG vs Screen Printing
Quality of a print matters, so choosing the proper printing method is important for your next set of shirts. Is it better to print using DTG aka Direct To Garment or use silk screen printing? The pros and cons of DTG vs Screen Printing are discussed. I’ve used both for my brand and for printing for clients and both can achieve some great results.
What is Silk Screen Printing?
Silk screen printing has been around for over a century since 1907. It was patented in England by Samuel Simon Matthew Atere-Roberts. Screen printing involves pushing ink through a screen stencil made of woven mesh onto the surface of the garment. The screen is created from negatives of the design and every color gets its own screen, plus a screen for an underbase if the art goes on dark color items. The ink is pushed through the screen manually or using a machine with a squeegee. The shirt is run through a dryer that has a temperature ranging from 325-375 degrees depending what’s being printed. The ink would have dried through the dryer leaving a durable layer and ready to be worn.
Screen printing often requires setup time and the more color the design has the more costly the screen printing setup is, however once everything is setup the process is much quicker than DTG. Hence why screen printing is often recommended for bulk orders due to the volume discounts.
Screen Printing Pros:
Cost Effective for large orders– The setup for screen printing takes time, but once it is good to go the printing process is quick and faster than DTG. Large orders are ideal, because printing can be done very quickly.
Various Print Locations– Although printing over seams is a no-no or difficult for some printers, it is possible to print on various locations and a easier to set up. Need a large print going down the pant legs, sleeve prints, all over print, etc. it is easier to print once the set up is ready.
Easier to print on specific garments– If you have a poly-cotton garment, triblend, or some other item it can be printed on through the screen printing process. If you’re looking to have some promotional item or glass bottles with a logo screen printing will most likely be used.
Various inks can be used– Plastisol ink is the standard ink that most printers will use, but some will offer waterbase, discharge, metallic inks or other specialty printing to add some flavor to the order.
Long lasting & durable quality– Shirts may fade, but a good print can last for years. Like anything over time there may be cracks, but a well done job will have the ink lasting.
Setup and setup costs– Setting up for a job can take awhile and with multiple colors it may take a few minutes before production occurs. Some companies may charge a setup cost for production.
More money for multiple colors– Printers will charge for screens and the more colors you have in your design the more screens.
Minimums required– Setting up does take time especially when companies are pretty busy, so taking time to set up for a 10 piece order is very annoying. Printers may not want to touch a job that has low quantity and if they do the pricing can be high even with multiple colors. Larger quantities will usually have a price break.
Complex details may not show– A good printer will be able to get most of the details in a complicated design, but it won’t be exact. If your design is filled with intricate details it may look good, but it won’t be as good as what you see on your computer screen. What gets printed is only as good as what the color separations by the graphic artist made and some designs don’t translate well to screen printing.
What is Direct To Garment (DTG) Printing?
Direct to Garment or DTG printing is a relatively new printing method. It involves printing directly onto the fabric with inkjet technology. It involves a special printer, which looks like a normal inkjet printer on steroids, which prints the ink directly onto the garment in the desired design. DTG uses waterbased inks that are absorbed by the fibers of the garment, which is a reason why you do not feel the ink normally. DTG also requires very little setup and can be printed “on-demand.” Most of the “Print on demand” t-shirt sites like Redbubble, Teepublic, and now DesignByHumans use DTG printing, because they can print 1 offs instead of printing a large quantity on a variety of a design that may not even sell. EPSON and Broder have good DTG printers and it is not a cheap investment and unless you’re a printer it may not be worth buying for yourself if you’re a t-shirt company. It may be worth it hiring a printer that has the machine to do so.
Full color prints– Multiple color designs aren’t issue, because if you wanted to print all the colors in the world you can do so in one shot.
Prints all details, best for photos– If you want to print a photo you can. DTG will capture all the details of whatever design you want.
Cost effective for small orders-If you need 1 shirt or only a couple then it’ll be worth the price you spend and should be done sooner than screen printing. If you need a sample this would be a good option.
No setup fees– Where multiple colors will run up on so many screen charges this will save you money.
Always uses waterbased inks– Waterbased inks are soft and environmentally friendly.
Minimal feel– You will barely feel anything on white tees and if the print is on a black or dark color shirt, you will not feel like you’re wearing a heavy plastic shield.
Best look only on 100% cotton– White 100% cotton t-shirts will give the best results. Prints will look muddy and not as vibrant on 50/50 or triblends.
Ideal only light color shirts– DTG machines have gone a long way where there are less issues printing on black shirts, unless a printer has a newer model printer the best results will be on the light shirts specifically white, ash gray, and light blue. Some printers cannot print white and others can, but it doesn’t mean that the colors will always be vibrant. If the shirt is pretreated with not the proper formula for the machine the colors will not appear so bright. That happened with one instance where the company that sold the DTG machine did not give the proper pretreatment that is needed for the shirts for the machine and boom the colors weren’t so great, but once the correct one was given the colors were a lot brighter.
Limited design placement– You’re limited to how big the printer is, so if your palette for the printer has 15″x15″ as its max then that is the biggest you can go. The shirt is placed to stay steady on the palette, so it can print without any disruptions. Some machines can printer on hoodies, but it isn’t ideal as there may be issues with not enough ink on the garment or it’ll cause jamming delaying the process even more.
No PMS matching– If you have specific colors for your brand, you’ll have to hope the printer comes out looking close to what you want. There haven’t been any breakthroughs PMS color matching, so it’s a bit of fiddling with the colors on the production end to make it come close. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the same color.
Printing takes longer– The myth of DTG is that it is printed immediately on the spot with a shirt and you’re good to go. Sure, you can do that with a white tee, but if you really want good colors and the ink to last there’s more to it, especially for dark colors. First, you have to pretreat the shirt so when the ink lays on the shirt it’ll be absorbed properly where the colors will pop, then you have to place the shirt on the machine and setup the location of the print. Once the printing begins it can take up to 2 to 5 minutes printing 1 t-shirt. With dark shirts it’ll have to print the white base, then add the color on top of it. If you want you can have the ink printed twice on either light or dark shirt it depends on how saturated you want the color to be. Then you add it to the heat press for about 60-90 seconds depending on what color shirt you just printed. Printing one shirt may be fine, but if you’re looking for a batch then it’ll take some time. Screen printing may take some time to set up, but it’ll crank out a bunch of shirts once it gets going, especially if it’s an automatic machine.
Ink is costly– Just like any other inkjet printer, the inks are costly and the machines suck out the ink pretty fast. If you have to do a head cleaning that’s a decent amount that gets drained to make sure the printer is running properly.
If you’re unsure what printing method you should use for your order speak with the printer and they should advise you which will work best.