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DTG vs. Screen Printing

By Julia Gifford - Reading time: 3 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.

Before we dive into detail, take a look at this overview and think of what your needs are. Do you have complex designs? Do you need a bulk order for an event? This will help narrow down the decision.

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 shape 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

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

Because of screen printing’s technique, only one color can be applied at a time. Therefore, the number of colors on a t-shirt is limited, and each layer demands more time, another screen and stencil, and ultimately, more money. That’s why screen printing is a good choice for simple designs, 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. If you’re interested in having a third party handle your fulfillment, 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 is used that prints the ink directly onto the garment in the desired design. DTG uses specialty 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!

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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      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.


  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.


    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 🙂

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