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Beginner's handbook

DTG vs. Screen Printing

By Reading Time: 4 minutes

Whether you’re just starting your clothing line or scaling your apparel business, you need to decide on a printing method that’ll satisfy customer expectations and meet your business goals in the most cost-effective way.

There are quite a few options out there, but the two most popular are direct-to-garment (also known as DTG) and screen printing. Today we’ll be looking into the differences of each, so you can choose the method that suits your business.

Before we get into the article, watch this 4-minute video where Chad, our Charlotte facility production supervisor, gives his expert advice on the two printing methods.

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

What is screen printing and how does it work?

This printing technique pushes the ink through a woven mesh stencil onto fabric. The ink doesn’t soak into the fabric, it lays on top. Back in the day, screen printing was the only way companies could print custom products, like t-shirts with a brand logo, in bulk.

With screen printing, a special screen has to be made for each element of your design. Once that is done, each color of the design is applied layer by layer onto the garment. So, the more layers your design has, the longer it will take to print it.

What type of designs work best with screen printing?

Screen printing is mostly used for simple designs in fewer colors. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create outstanding prints using typography, line drawings, shapes, and symbols.

Is screen printing right for your business?

Screen printing can be cost-effective for orders with simple graphics (ideally with one solid color), but it’s unsustainable in the long run, especially if you want to offer a variety of colorful designs. 

Why? Because it requires upfront investment and quite a bit of your time to get the designs print-ready.

Most third-party print services have order minimums that can be anything from 5 to 100 items. The bigger the quota is, the more likely you’ll have to worry about where to store the printed garments if you don’t want to have piles of clothing laying around your home or office. And this can be financially challenging if you’re just starting out or want to experiment with new designs.

The final price of your order is also influenced by the number of colors in your designs and the screens that are needed to print it. All of which you’ll have to discuss directly with the printer. 

Some printers will ask you to submit print files separates into layers of each color. They might also ask you to specify the color codes for inks they should use to print your design. So if you’re looking for an upload your design and forget about the rest type of experience, screen printing probably isn’t the right choice for you. 

What is direct-to-garment printing and how does it work?

Direct-to-garment, or DTG, is a printing method that sprays the ink onto the garment using inject technology. The inks then soak into the fibers of the garment. It’s sort of like printing on paper, except on clothing.

What type of designs work best with DTG?

DTG printers offer extensive color options which means you can print detailed designs and photorealistic images with virtually no color limitations. This can be important for those businesses that want to experiment with color and design. 

Is DTG printing right for your business?

Direct-to-garment printing is a hassle-free way to get the products ready for your customers.

Most third-party printers have no order minimums for DTG products, so you don’t have to worry about keeping stock. This printing method also enables businesses to use printing services on-demand.

With print-on-demand, your designs are printed on products only when orders come in. This means you don’t need to buy large quantities of products in advance.

With DTG, the entire design is printed in one go (unless you print color on dark fabrics—that requires a white underbase layer). And since DTG doesn’t have a color count, there’s no extra setup time to start printing, so your order’s fulfilled as soon as the print file comes through.

This printing model gives you the freedom to introduce new designs or enter new markets without losing any money. If the product doesn’t sell, you can discontinue or replace it. 

Want to learn more about on-demand printing and how it can help scale your business? Request a call with our specialist.

What’s better: DTG or screen printing?

DTG and screen printing yield fine quality prints, but they differ in method and cost. DTG uses a printer to spray the ink into a garment, while screen printing layers the ink on top of the fabric. Most importantly, DTG enables order fulfillment on-demand with no upfront cost, when screen printed shirts can only be ordered in bulk.

If you still can’t decide which printing method is right for you, use this comparison table:

 Screen printingDTG
High-quality printsYesYes
Detailed designsNoYes
Unlimited color paletteNoYes
Order minimumsYesNo
On-demand fulfillmentNoYes
Good for bulk printsYesNo
Requires upfront investmentYesNo

As you can see, there’s more than money and time at stake when choosing the right printing method for your business. 

Choose your printing method wisely

Whether you want to scale your business using DTG or screen printing is completely up to you. Before you make your final decision, consider:

  • the complexity of your designs,
  • your product quantity needs,
  • your willingness to invest in the stock upfront. 

If you’re looking for the easy and effective way to grow your business, DTG on-demand is your best bet. With this printing method, it’s easy to introduce new designs to your store risk-free, and you don’t have to worry about keeping stock and shipping the items yourself. All that gives you more time to experiment with your product offering and marketing. 

What’s your experience with DTG and screen printing? Let me know in the comments below!

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

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  1. Elizabeth

    How does the print feel on the shirt? Is it plasticy or soft (where you don’t feel the ink) like the shirt? Will the design tear when the shirt is stretched? Is the ink absorbed into the material or does it sit on top? I didn’t see a comparison for screen vs dtg on this aspect which is important too. Thx.

  2. Michael Schmidtman

    Hi Nora!
    I feel like apologizing on behalf of some of the previous commenters. They either don’t understand or they are happy with what they know.
    I’m starting up a coffee import/export business and I want to print tees, sweatshirts and maybe ball caps. I’ve considered opening a small, custom DTG shop for “brand recognition” products to use as premiums/promotional items for my brands. I am also considering a sideline print DTG printshop to possibly generate additional income. There is no way I could accomplish these goals with screen printing. My logo, which is on my package labels, is very detailed with 6 colours and fine details. No way can I set up a six or eight station screen print machine, especially not for a quirky, niche product. Given a good, high-quality graphics file, I can print (or have printed for me) beautiful, short-run items on quantities tailored EXACTLY to my requirements.
    Thank you for your website and comments section!!

  3. Patricia Quink

    Would I be able to order dish towels with various family recipes uploaded and what kind of price would I be looking at?

    Also if I upload an old sampler picture, could it be transferred to a dish towel?

    1. Giedrė Kronberga

      Hi, our sublimated towels are $24.95 per piece. And sure, you can use it as a canvas for your family recipes! However, you can’t bulk upload your print file on multiple products.

    1. Edward Zarins

      Hey Dave,

      There shouldn’t be any issues with a white DTG print on a black shirt but screen printed one might have a brighter look though.

    1. Gundega Sāmīte

      Hello Allison!
      For both DTG and screen printed shirts, you should not use harsh cleaner, wash in warm water, and turn them inside out for extra protection.

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