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Blog / Beginner's handbook / Choose Your Style: Embroidered vs. Printed Custom Clothing

Beginner's handbook

Choose Your Style: Embroidered vs. Printed Custom Clothing

Choose Your Style: Embroidered vs. Printed Custom Clothing
Dace Gribuste

By Dace Gribuste

10 min read

Custom clothing is all about boosting your business, showing off your style, and creating legendary looks. But hold your horses, you first have to create your design and pick a fulfillment method. It’s the choice between embroidered vs. printed custom clothing. 

Alright, let’s keep it real—both customization methods have their pros and cons. But fear not! Understanding the details will lead you to the perfect choice that matches your brand and designs flawlessly.

So, let’s take a deep dive and explore what each method offers for your individual needs. Get ready to find your ultimate match for custom t-shirts, hoodies and more!

Embroidery works by stitching intricate designs onto fabric. It’s what gives your apparel that textured, artistic, long-lasting look. Think sophistication and durability combined! From logos to custom designs, the professional-looking finish of custom embroidery is totally impressive.

There are different embroidery styles to suit your design needs. Check out the two main types:

  • Regular embroidery. This classic approach uses a set number of thread colors. It’s great for clean and elegant looks, like logo design and monograms on t-shirts. While it may have limitations regarding colors, regular embroidery highlights a refined, elegant look. 

  • Unlimited color embroidery. As the name suggests, this technique breaks free from the constraints of limited thread hues. It’s perfect for complex graphics and photorealistic artwork.

As discussed, embroidery comes in lots of styles. For instance, if you’re keen on adding extra embroidered flair to your fabric, the choice that stands out is 3D Puff embroidery. Below you’ll find a quick list of other embroidery types. Take a look to learn more.

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How does embroidery work?  

Here’s a brief rundown of the process:

  • Digitizing your design. First, your design is converted into a digital file using specialized software. This step is called digitizing. It creates instructions for the embroidery machine to follow.

  • Hooping the fabric. The fabric is then securely placed in a hoop or frame, and is ready to be embroidered.

  • Embroidery machine setup. The digitized design is loaded into the embroidery machine. This machine has multiple needles and threads ready to go.

  • Stitching the embroidered design. The process is performed by a computerized embroidery machine. It moves the needles and threads precisely to create the desired patterns, shapes, and colors from the digitized file.

  • Finishing touches. Once the embroidered design is complete, any loose threads are trimmed. In this phase, the embroidered garments are inspected for quality and accuracy.

Printing is incredibly versatile, it allows you to use various fabric types and grants you a wide range of creative freedom. Below we discuss the different printing techniques and the final results each option gives you. 

Types of printing 

Let’s explore what options are available.

  • DTG (direct-to-garment) printing: This method involves directly printing the design onto the fabric. The process is realized by using specialized inkjet printers. Because of the detailed finish, DTG’s perfect for intricate and colorful designs. The main advantages of DTG include no setup time, quick printing, and low production costs. 

  • Sublimation printing: Sublimation works by transferring the design onto the fabric with the help of heat and special inks. This technique works best on polyester fabrics.

  • DTF (direct-to-film) printing: Instead of printing directly onto garments, DTF prints the design onto a special film. Then, it’s transferred onto the fabric using heat and pressure. This is a versatile option for various fabric types, and produces high-quality and durable prints.

a screen shot of a sign

Source: Printful 

For those who aren’t tech-savvy, how garments get printed might seem like magic. But in reality, it’s all about the technology. 

With DTG, ink is directly sprayed onto the fabric. Sublimation turns ink into gas with heat, helping it stick to the fabric fibers. In DTF, the design is printed onto a film and then transferred with heat onto the fabric.

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When it comes to custom apparel, embroidery and printing take center stage. Each technique has its own advantages and unique charms. Let’s delve into the key differences and explore how they impact the final products. 

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Embroidered products not only look stunning, but also feel premium. The raised, detailed, and textured 3D design adds depth and dimension to the fabric. This distinct tactile experience sets it apart from other fulfillment methods.

On the printing side, DTG technology brings vibrant and detailed designs that blend with the fabric. The water-based inks make the prints soft to the touch, but fresh prints may feel slightly rough. Don’t worry, they’ll smooth out after a few washes.

Sublimation technology creates smooth and integrated designs. They’ll stay durable and fade-resistant over time. Just remember that sublimation is best for polyester fabrics.

DTF printing ensures bold and sharp designs with a slightly raised texture. This printing method works well with many different fabric types, so you can choose your favorite fit.  

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Source: Unsplash 

Embroidered designs are tough and won’t lose their shape or shade even after lots of washing. But watch out for anything that could snag the delicate threads.

DTG prints stay vibrant with proper care, but dark or colorful clothes might show a bit of fading due to fabric ink absorption. 

a person wearing a white shirt with a flower design on it

Source: Printful reviews 

Sublimation printing makes designs part of the fabric, so they’re super durable. Just remember, 100% polyester shirts last longer than cotton ones. Plus, sublimation dyes are more prone to fade in the sun.

DTF prints are sharp and strong but may crack if washed in very hot water. However, these prints are still more resistant to peeling and cracking than DTG prints.

To keep your custom clothes durable, follow care instructions and avoid harsh chemicals. Both embroidery and printing will stand the test of time if you treat them right. 

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Embroidery nails intricate and detailed designs with its needle and thread precision. It brings out fine details, delicate patterns, and monograms with impressive clarity. 

Alternatively, the complexity of printed designs depends on the printing technique. DTG and sublimation handle a wide range of design well, but super intricate patterns may not be their strong suit. Still, converting digital designs into prints will capture the finest details more sharply compared to embroidery.

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Source: Pexels 

And DTF excels at complex designs. You can print photos, full-color designs, fine art, small text, graphics, and more with ease. Prints come out sharp and realistic, even supporting gradients.

When dealing with design complexity, it’s crucial to consider the intricacy level you desire. For more specific, detailed designs, embroidery reigns supreme. For bold and elaborate graphics, printing delivers stunning results.

Embroidery’s perfect for smaller designs, nailing precision and detail even in tiny logos or monograms. The controlled stitching of the machine ensures the design comes out top-notch. However, embroidery won’t be the best choice for massive designs. It’ll take extra time, precision, and costs.

In contrast, printing embraces bigger and bolder designs with ease. DTG, DTF, and sublimation welcome eye-catching graphics and full-size prints. It’s perfect for shirts and other apparel when you want to stand out in a crowd. But be careful—prints may lose their sharpness in super small designs due to resolution limitations.

Embroidery uses various colored threads to create designs, while printing relies on ink to achieve its vibrant hues.

Within embroidery, there are varying color options. Regular embroidery relies on a set number of thread colors, while unlimited color embroidery breaks free from such constraints.

In DTG printing, the CMYK color model (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) is used for the designs, along with white ink for the base. However, the ink gets sprayed directly onto the fabric, which can result in slightly less bright prints. 

Sublimation printing comes out the best on white garments, but it can also work on light-colored ones. The sublimation ink is transparent, meaning the base color will partially show through.

DTF printing also uses primary colors with a white base on dark garments. This ensures vibrant and vivid prints, regardless of fabric color or type.


When picking between embroidery and printing, think about the material and surface you’re working with.

Embroidery’s great for things like caps and jackets, where printing might not be ideal. Plus, you can get creative with where to put the design on the garment. 

DTG works best for hoodie or t-shirt printing, but thicker fabrics or uneven surfaces might be a struggle due to its direct-to-garment nature. If the fabric isn’t even or is bulky, the ink might not stick properly to the garment’s surface.

Sublimation is perfect for clothing made of polyester—it gives you long-lasting and fade-resistant prints. But it won’t be as excellent for non-polyester materials. 

DTF is the jack-of-all-trades. It’s not just for clothing, you can print on wood, metal, ceramics, and more.

On-demand fulfillment 

You’re in control with on-demand fulfillment for both embroidery and printing. No need to worry about large production runs—you can create custom clothing whenever you want. It enables your to cater to individual orders, reduce waste, and avoid excess inventory. Check out how on-demand fulfillment works below.  

What is on-demand fulfillment? 

On-demand fulfillment is a smart approach for handling orders. It involves producing, packing, and sending products only after someone places an order. This means you don’t have to print or store items yourself. Simply design the products, launch your online store, and link up with an on-demand fulfillment provider like Printful. When orders come in, they’ll handle the entire process—printing, packing, and shipping.

With Printful, there’s no requirement for a minimum order quantity. This flexibility empowers you to craft personalized designs for a diverse range of items and market them under your own brand. You can also integrate on-demand solutions alongside in-house production to minimize risks, increase capacity, and prevent overproduction. 

Here's how you can get started with Printful.

  1. Create a Printful account: Begin by setting up your Printful account.

  2. Design your Product Template: Upload or create your design and attach it to a Printful product. This creates a ready-made product that’s all set to be added to your store.

  3. Connect your store: If you don’t have one, create an online store. You can integrate Printful with various ecommerce platforms and marketplaces like Shopify, eBay, and Etsy.

  4. Add products to your store: Pick ready-made Product Templates from your Printful account and add them to your shop with just one click.

  5. Set up payment methods: When customers buy from your store, they’ll pay you the retail price on your platform. You then pay Printful for fulfillment, shipping, and taxes. These payments are separate. 

  6. Start selling: Once an order is placed, Printful automatically forwards it to the nearest fulfillment center, where items are produced within 2–5 business days. Shipping time will depend on product availability and end address delivery destination. Printful is white label, so your customers will receive their order with your branding on it. 

This process gets you on the path to selling with Printful seamlessly.

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The verdict’s in! Embroidery and printing both deliver fantastic results for your print-on-demand business, but they offer different outcomes for your designs. Let’s recap each technique.

Embroidery should be your top choice for a premium and professional look that works well on various fabric types. It adds a timeless, high-quality, and durable finish to shirts, hats, bags, and more. The raised texture gives a 3D effect—perfect for intricate designs, embroidered logos, or monograms. This technology’s great for formal wear, corporate outfits, or personalized gifts. 

a shirt with a heart on it

Source: Unsplash 

Printing is all about versatility. It handles complex artwork and vibrant colors like a pro. You can apply it to various fabric types, from polo shirts to hoodies, jerseys and promotional items. It’s great for everyday wear and offers a range of design placements, sizes, and styles.

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Source: Unsplash 

So, which one should you choose for your clothing brand? It depends on your needs! For a refined and upscale look on detailed designs, go for embroidery. For large eye-catching prints on different materials, printed designs should be your go-to choice.


By Dace Gribuste on Sep 19, 2023

Dace Gribuste

Guest author

Dace is a freelance writer at Printful, with a background in content marketing and social media management. During her spare time, she indulges in reading and seizes every opportunity to backpack across Europe.

Dace is a freelance writer at Printful, with a background in content marketing and social media management. During her spare time, she indulges in reading and seizes every opportunity to backpack across Europe.