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Beginner's handbook

DTG vs. Screen Printing

By Reading Time: 4 minutes

Find the best printing method for custom t-shirts

We’ve put together a new article that expands this topic to include sublimation printing. You can read it here.

When starting your own t-shirt line, one of the first things you’ll have to decide is your printing method. In this day and age, there are tons of options out there. Each one’s different and has its own characteristics. Direct to Garment (DTG) and screen printing are among the most popular options.

At Printful, we print the majority of our t-shirts using the DTG method, but we also offer screen printing. This blog post will shed some light on the differences between each method so you can learn which is best for you!

Before we dive into detail, watch our video below where our production supervisor in Charlotte shares his expert advice about printing.

Now that you have an overview, we’ll describe each method in greater detail.

Screen printing: how does it work?

Screen printing is a process that involves pushing ink through a woven mesh stencil onto fabric. The stencil opening creates the space through which the ink will go to create the design. The ink is then pushed over the mesh, pulled by a fill blade or squeegee. As the blade is pulled, the ink is pushed through the mesh, onto the garment.

Things you should know about screen printing

With screen printing, only one color can be applied at a time. Therefore, the number of colors on a t-shirt is limited, and each color requires more time, another screen and stencil, and ultimately, more money. That’s why screen printing is a good choice for simple designs with one solid color, and when you’re making many t-shirts of the same design at a time (eg. for a sports team, summer camp, or event).

How can you get yourself screen printed t-shirts?

There are many ways to get your hands on your own screen printed t-shirts. Here’s a great tutorial on how to do it at home, or you can find a screen printer close to you. You can get your screen printed t-shirts through Printful. Check out this page to learn more!

Direct to Garment (DTG): how does it work?

With DTG printing, a printer directly applies the ink onto the t-shirt with inkjet technology. It’s sort of like printing on paper, except on a t-shirt. A special printer prints the ink directly onto the garment in the desired design. DTG uses specialty water-based inks, which are absorbed by the fibers of the garment.

Things you should know about DTG printing

Since the DTG printer is as precise as, well, a printer, you’re able to print images in much higher detail than screen printing, and you’re not limited in color. Because the printer can print any image, you have a lot of options to customize your design.

This is also a good option for those who don’t have a lot of money to make an up-front investment for a large batch because each t-shirt can be ordered separately. No need to guess how many of each size to order, and you won’t have unsold items sitting around your living room.

How can you get a DTG printed t-shirt?

You can make an order at Printful! This is our main printing method for t-shirts, and we’re pretty darn good at it if I do say so myself 🙂

Watch this tutorial to learn how to place an order.

Which printing method is best?

Screen printing and DTG both yield comparable, quality prints, but they differ in method. For one, screen printing is one of the oldest techniques, while DTG is newer technology. Screen printing involves pushing ink onto fabric, while DTG uses a printer to print ink directly onto a garment.

The decision ultimately comes down to your design and the quantity you need. Keep this chart handy – it sums up the points we talked about in this post.

Method Pros Cons

Screen printing

– cost-effective for large batches

– ideal for simple designs with limited colors

– the more you order, the cheaper they are

– not cost effective for multiple colors

– can only print simple designs

– large upfront investment

– one design per batch

Direct to Garment (DTG)

– extensive color options

– can print detailed designs and photographs

– ideal for small batches and one-offs

– minimal upfront investment

– not cost-effective for extremely large batches

– limited design placement

What does Printful do?

Printful is a print-on-demand drop shipper. What does that mean? We print and ship print products for online stores. We’re white-label, so everything we do is under your brand.

The benefit of working with Printful is that it’s super easy for anyone to start a business without the startup costs. No signup or subscription fees – you only pay when an order is made. And since we print one-offs, you don’t have to buy inventory in bulk and guess what sells best.

If you’re still not sure about DTG or screen printing, let us know in the comments! We’re happy to help.

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This article was originally published in November 2013; it has since been updated.

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  1. James

    DTG seems like the way to go. Cheaper, Faster, More Details.. I’ve seen one of the fastest DTG printers on the market today. It does up to 400 full color A4 size prints per hour!

    1. Nora Inveiss

      I’m not sure I agree 🙂

      If you have a detailed design that uses a lot of colors, DTG would probably be your best bet. So screen printing would be a con for customers with these designs.

      But if you have a simple design with limited colors, screen printing could work great.

      1. John D

        You might not agree, but this comment is correct. To say that screen printing is only suitable for simple designs is complete nonsense!

        *can only print simple shape designs
        *not cost effective for multiple colors
        Both wrong

        Screen printing has been around for a lot longer than DTG and is still the go to method for large runs of t-shirts no matter if the design is complex or simple.

        1. Nora Inveiss

          Good points!

          Screen printing isn’t effective for our business model, which is printing one-off orders on demand. That’s because you have to create a new screen for each design, so if you’re just printing one, then it’s not really worth the expense. It also becomes more expensive with the more colors you use, which is why we recommend using 7 colors or fewer.

  2. Nick

    Hello There. A student calling for help! I am planning a start up in fabric printing but I won’t be using cotton but burlap (hessian) fabric 100% Jute Fiber. I am estimating about 400 prints per day and in terms of graphics, I am expecting more than half simple designs having up to three-four colours and rest more complicated ones. I can do printing by item or roll to roll printing and I would need some advice in terms of which types of printer would be better Screen Printer or DTGs taking into account that the company will adopt quick response with short lead time and flexibility.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Hey John! Screen printing is a very manual process, so it takes a long time to create screens for highly detailed designs. It’s simply not effective for the print-on-demand business model, which is why we don’t recommend our customers use it if they have designs with a lot of detail.

  3. Steve

    Great info. I want to print on nylon for windshield shades. I need to be able to do individual pieces and quick turn around. Can DTG machines print on nylon and is there t-shirt size print area limitation?

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Hey Steve! Printful doesn’t print on garments with nylon, but I believe it’s possible! If you’re printing on a t-shirt then yes, there would be a print area limitation.

  4. Alex Dean

    Our family reunion is coming up, and this year we are wanting to get t-shirts for everyone that is coming. But since we haven’t had to purchase any before, I am looking for more information about the process. It’s good to know that when it comes to the screen printing process, the number of colors we can put on a shirt is limited. That will be great for us to remember when we make the final decision on the design we want.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Yes, DTG printing works for all colors, including black! Not sure where is the best place to purchase a DTG printer, but maybe someone else reading will 🙂

  5. darin

    can you tell me what the the the dtg print size so i know how to make my design size i know some sizes are 13 inchs by 23 inches can you tell me what yours is

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