As mentioned in one of our earliest posts, Printaroo: The Evolution of Shirt Design and Printing, the art and process of shirt printing has been around for ages. Roots of printed apparel date back to the Song Dynasty around 960-1279. They would stencil a design on silk screens, thus screen printing was born. As years passed, other methodologies were invented or expanded upon silk screening. Fast forward to 2018, methodologies have pretty much stayed consistent. However, technologies have helped to optimize processes to allow for higher efficiencies and profitability. The process of screen printing was once a daunting task, has ultimately been automated to scale. New technologies like direct-to-garment (DTG) also cut down on time and simplify the creation process. Screen printing and direct-to-garment (DTG) are the most common ways to print shirts today. However, they are quite different in process and offer their own advantages and disadvantages.
- Screen printing and direct-to-garment (DTG) are the primary methodologies of shirt printing today.
- While both offer great value in their own ways, they also have some limitations.
- Which printing method is right for you is mostly dependent on your need for quantities.
Screen PrintingStated above, screen printing has been around for over a thousand years. But how does it actually work? Screen printing is a printing technique where a mesh stencil is used to transfer ink onto a product. A squeegee is moved across the screen to transfer ink through the open mesh, while impermeable portions maintain the prints’ integrity. One color is printed at a time, so several screens are needed to create a multi-colored design. So envision a 3 colored design. Each color would require its own screen. The background would be the starting image, followed by the middle image, and finished with the front color screen.
Advantages of Screen Printing
- The prints typically have a thicker layer of inks. This means prints have the ability to withstand a lot of washes and stress.
- The time-consuming part of screen printing is creating the stencils. Once the stencil is created, shirts can easily be automated and printed quickly.
- Prints come out very bright and lively. There are thousands of colors of ink that can be used.
- Screen printing is a very versatile method of printing. Any flat surface can be screen printed.
Disadvantages of Screen Printing
- With the extensive work needed to create a stencil, or stencils for multi-layer, screen printing is not viable for small orders. Screen printing is labor intensive in the startup and takedown process.
- Screen printing is limited in the number of colors it can use on a design. Beyond seven layers, the print may become too heavy.
- Not eco-friendly. For every screen used, it must be cleaned with water after use. If a printer has to print 10 designs, each with five layers, that equates to 50 screens needing to be cleaned. Multiply that process with the number of days needed to print those designs. The math works out to a lot of water!
Direct-to-Garment (DTG)One of the greater evolution in shirt printing came from the invention of the ink jet printer. What office warriors know as the machine that constantly jams up, or takes an hour to warm up on Mondays, has been developed to have the ability to print on shirt fabric. Direct-to-garment, or DTG printing, holds a garment in a fixed position and uses special ink that’s applied by a printer head. The result is a fully printed t-shirt by way of ink jet printing.
Advantages of Direct-to-Garment Printing
- Direct-to-Garment printing is great on-demand printing. The process is not labor intensive, and extremely quick to produce a product.
- Like it’s paper counter-part, direct-to-garment printers have the ability for high image quality.
- Unlike screen printing, DTG has the ability to print however many colors are needed.
- Eco-friendly! Due to the process being so simplified of putting a shirt into a printer, there’s minimal waste of water or ink.
Disadvantages of Direct-to-Garment Printing
- DTG printers are expensive to buy. It’s not typically an option available for personal use due to expense.
- Direct-to-garment is not suitable for large quantities. The printing process is typically slow on a per shirt basis, whereas screen printing automates the same process over and over again for large orders.
- Limited in fabric choices. DTG printing is limited to cotton-based materials. It’s also pretty limited in the areas of a shirt it can print on.
- Though prints have a decent lifespan, up to 8 years, its screen printing brother can last upwards of 15 years.