Screen vs. Digital Printing: Which Is Better for T-shirts?

You have decided your business needs a refresh. Part of your plan is to have new t-shirts printed up for the entire staff. You have a brand-new logo, an updated color scheme, and a pretty good idea of what you want the t-shirts to look like. Now you have to decide which printing method you prefer. The t-shirt company has offered you both screen printing and digital printing.

Is one better than the other? No. Both processes have their pros and cons. Your best bet is to talk with the printer about your plans. A good printer will consider everything from production volume to image quality before making a recommendation.

  1. Screen Printing

What we now call screen printing used to be called silkscreen printing back in the day. It was so named because the screens that controlled how ink was applied to fabric were made from silk. Some printers still use silk today. However, most use synthetic screens that are cheaper to produce and last longer.

This process calls for creating a series of stencils (screens). Each stencil covers one color of the image. A stencil is applied first. Then ink is injected. It flows across the stencil and lays on the fabric wherever stencil material is missing. This process repeats until all the colors have been applied.

Pros and Cons

The biggest advantage to screen printing is that you end up with vibrant colors. The ink is also thicker, so images tend to last longer. The biggest disadvantage here is that screen printing does not allow for complex and detailed images. One or two colors work well. Beyond that, you lose quality with every color added.

The owners of Plurawl, a New York company that sells a unique brand of LatinX clothing, accessories, and artwork, says that screen printing is a very good option for mass production. But companies choosing to print mostly small lots might prefer digital printing.

  1. Digital Printing

Printing a t-shirt digitally is surprisingly similar to printing on a piece of paper. All you need is a computer, a graphics software package, a fabric printer, and specialized ink. You load the desired image into the software and manipulate it in any way you like. Then you are ready to print.

Just load the garment into the printer, make sure everything is secure, and click the ‘print’ button. The printer does everything else. In just a few minutes, you have a beautiful t-shirt ready for sale.

Pros and Cons

Plurawl says that the biggest advantage of digital printing is that it allows for very intricate images. With a high-quality printer and top-of-the-line ink, you can get near photo-quality images. You also do not need any specialized training or extremely expensive equipment, like screen printing requires.

On the downside, the ink that digital printers use is considerably thinner. As a result, your colors are not as bright. They also fade more quickly. If you choose a low-quality printer and ink, the images you produce may not last very long at all. Needless to say, it’s worth investing in high quality hardware and ink.

There are several other ways to print t-shirts including dye sublimation and heat transfer. The latter was pretty big in the 1970s and 80s because it was easy and cheap. Some t-short printers still rely on it today. However, screen printing and digital printing account for most of your modern t-shirts.

Which one should you choose? That is up to you and your printer to decide. Before you make your choice though, be sure to get answers to all your questions.