Screen printing vs. digital printing

Written by kelsi johnston
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Screen printing vs. digital printing
Screen printing and digital printing allow for custom designed T-shirts. (T-shirt image by Antonio Oquias from

Screen printing and digital printing are two common techniques used to make custom T-shirts and a variety of other items such as posters, labels, signs, decals, and any other textiles. Both methods of printing have their own specific design tools. Each one is suited for different types of projects based on the quantity and speed needed to complete them.

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Screen Printing

The original way to design a T-shirt was to use the screen printing technique. It is a method of placing graphics onto shirts using stencils and screens, usually one made of silk or other mesh materials, to imprint a design directly on the fabric. A design is initially printed on a screen, with a separate screen needed for each colour in the design, and then placed on the shirt. The shirt's material absorbs the ink after it is forced through, creating a single layer and a custom design that can generally withstand a few years of wear and washes. This process can also be used on several other materials like paper, plastic, metal, and glass.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Screen Printing

Because screen printing can be done on a variety of materials it is very versatile, which is a great advantage. It can create different effects than other printing methods because it allows for thicker ink printing. It also allows for a wider variety of colours, inks, and dyes because of simplicity of the application technique.

Another advantage of screen printing is cost efficiency. The unit price of an order with screen printing decreases as the quantity of the order increases. This is why screen printing is often the best option for large orders. The design is also very durable because screen printing allows the ink to bond very tightly with material.

A disadvantage, however, is the set-up costs. Even though a person saves money on large orders of screen printed items, the set-up costs at the beginning can be quite large, usually requiring £13 per colour needed as of late 2010. The set-up cost is the reason why many businesses require a minimum number of items they will screen print at one time.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is a newer, easier technique used in custom design that works very similarly to the way a computer's printer works. There are specialised digital printers that print the design directly onto T-shirts using water-based inks. This technique is best used in highly detailed designs that use a high resolution and a lot of colour. Unlike screen printing, digital printing is great for small orders because its quicker and doesn't need separate screens for each colour in the design.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Digital Printing

A great advantage of digitally printing designs on T-shirts is that it does not use separate screens for each colour. This means colour is unlimited and process is easier and takes less time to complete. This also means that there is no required minimum order size for items designed with digital printing because single items are easy to produce. Digital printing also allows for a softer design than screen printing does, making it difficult to distinguish the feel of the fabric from the feel of the design itself. This gives the garment a natural feel.

One of the disadvantages of digital printing is that there are only a limited number of surfaces on which this technique works, and only shirts with white or light colours can be used. Any dark fabrics must be screen printed. Another disadvantage of digital printing is there are generally no discounts for group orders like with screen printing.

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