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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. CoR

        This doesn’t answer the question about the differences in quality and durability. In my experience, DTG doesn’t hold up to multiple washes nearly as well as screen printed shirts.

        1. JD

          I was looking for the answer to your question as well… about the durability of each. Davis Siksnans, can you please answer that question? Which holds up better over time/washings?

          1. Davis Siksnans

            There are different DTG machines by various manufacturers (prices can range from $1000 to $1MM per machine) which in turn causes various levels of DTG print durability. Also, you can set specific settings for DTG machine to use a thicker layer of ink that can make the print hold longer which is decision left up to the company. In addition to that you have to look at the garment pre-treat process – has the right amount of pre-treat liquid been applied and has the garment been cured properly to make sure the print is the most durable? Not all DTG printing companies are doing this properly. Also, 100% cotton t-shirts will have a much higher DTG durability than any poly-blends. If you print using DTG technology on poly-blends you will get a vintage print/look. So it depends on a t-shirt fabric as well.

            My point is that it depends on your DTG supplier and their machines/processes and you have to test it for yourself by purchasing samples and washing them.

            Also, DTG printing durability has improved A LOT in the last decade. It used to be that screen printing was noticeably durable than DTG, but right now if you use the right procedures durability should be comparable for 100% cotton t-shirts. If quality is your priority and you don’t care about minimum quantities and limitations in colors you can use, then go with screen printing, but in most cases DTG will be fine.

        1. Armandt

          Actually, with half decent setup, it should be more detailed. The ink on a screen print doesn’t disperse that much, so if done right, could be insanely detailed.

          Screen print also lasts longer, proof of this would be that most of the flags you will see, by a large margin will be screen printed(yes, cost also comes into play in the choice, but considering exposure to the elements, cost of production compared to constant cost of replacement would have taken screen printing through the roof if it didn’t last long enough).

    1. Scott

      This is in regards to Durability because that is what we care about most.

      We have purchased DTG shirts from multiple companies in multiple states and our experience is after only 6-12 washes, we won’t even wear the shirts anymore because they just look that faded and bad.

      However, we have Screen Printed shirts that are 10 years old and to be honest, the screen print is out lasting the actual shirts themselves…

      If you need 1 shirt or a couple right now, really fast, same day for a special occasion and don’t care about wearing it after that, I will go with DTG. Otherwise, if you want to wear it for a long time, Screen Print is my choice.

      SAG

  1. Screen Printing

    Its really hard to find informative info but here I can… Pretty nice post. I just wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing and I hope you write again soon..

  2. Tom Ford

    I wanted to know how much the ink costs for the Digital Printers? Also what is the production capacity per hour. Why aren’t Digital Printers cost effective for large batches, does it consume too much electricity.

    Thanks
    Tom

    1. Julia Gifford Post author

      Hey Tom,

      DTG printers aren’t cost effective for large batches mainly because of the time it takes to product them. If you’ve got big batches of the same design, all you need is the one screen, and in a matter of seconds you can produce a whole bunch of t-shirts, whereas the DTG printer will take a while with every single one of them.

      Hope this helps!

  3. Jack

    Great that you are trying to get the information out but it is evident that you are predominately a DTG printer and may not have a great deal of experience in Screen Printing.
    “DTG is better for full-color, detailed graphics. Screen printing better for simple graphics.”
    Is a common miss-conception. 4 Colour halftone work reduces the outlay for the screens; only four screens required CMYK on light fabrics and 5 screens (with a white under base) for dark fabric, and produces a vast array of colours at photo quality, if you know what you are doing. I have heard people state that CYMK printing has a wash out effect but keep in mind that the actual DTG printer is basically a CMYK printer. In case you are wondering I am a screen printer and have done many 4 colour halftone T-shirts.

      1. Ken

        I have a brother DGT and I can do sleeves and wrap around prints with mine, but you have to lift and replace the garment and reprint if need be, but you can do it just fine.

        I do find silk screen shirts tend to last longer. but some of the new inks for DGT are and print heads are changing the game!

        1. Ken

          DTG* sorry using dragon to do voice to text, it wasn’t understanding me and auto correcting to something it thought I wanted.

  4. Marcus

    Julia does your team handle screen printing 4 colours cmyk as “Jack” suggested? if so would I produce my work in photoshop as CMYK if I wanted to do this? (and final output .png)… how does sublimation hold up against screen printing? (I like the versatility of both screen and sublimation to print larger designs on the T versus the 12 x 16 limitation of DTG…) Aswell as the fast large order capacity of screen printing, i`m assuming sublimation would be a slow process as well? kind regards,

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Hey Marcus! I asked our screen printing team lead about this. Here’s his reply:

      We can print CMYK but we stick to white shirts only. CMYK printing is similar to DTG in that the illusion of many colors is made by mixing only CMYK together. However many graphics look best with actual spot colors meaning an actual screen per color. Even if we did CMYK on dark shirts we’d need a 5th screen for under base so it’s still a 5 color job. If a customers quantity isn’t high enough, that will result in a expensive run of shirts. Any specific questions can be answered when placing an order so we can see the graphic and what would work best for it.

      1. GCLB

        Hi Nora, Can your guys separate our image/graphic into CMYK if we provide you from our designer a Photoshop PSD file for screen printing? Thanks.

        1. GCLB

          Just to add, the graphic is done using brushstrokes in Photoshop to give a realistic look with many varied colors.

          1. Liva Spandega

            Hey there,

            If you need some help with preparing your print files, you can get in touch with our Design Services team. For a fee, they’ll help you get the file in order – fill out the form in the link, and they’ll get back to you.

  5. Edgars

    I think there is one more thing about screenprinting, more emotional than practical. It’s handmade which makes your t-shirt very special (and your mood or even feelings when you wear it as well).

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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

  11. 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.

  12. 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!!

  13. 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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