Navigating the world of print-on-demand, you’re often faced with a crucial decision: should you opt for the timeless elegance of embroidery or the bold, contemporary appeal of screen printing?
These choices are central to defining your brand’s aesthetic.
If you’re finding it hard to choose between these two distinct styles, don’t worry. We’re here to guide you through the ins and outs of embroidery and screen printing, helping you determine which method best fits your needs.
From mending a torn garment to stitching beautiful patterns, embroidery has firmly established itself in the fashion world for quite a while.
We’ll delve into the specifics of embroidery and guide you through its production process.
Embroidery is the art of decorating fabric or other materials using a needle and thread. Historically a handcraft, modern techniques now often employ machines for embroidery, significantly reducing the time required for intricate designs and enabling mass production.
Of course, you can still embroider the traditional way and get in touch with your artistic side. That way, you can use various thread and yarn thicknesses, and add colorful beads, sequences, and other decors to embellish your designs.
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Whether done by hand or machine, embroidery involves a series of steps that transform simple materials into elaborate, textured artworks. We’ll walk you through the modern way of creating embroidery designs step by step.
Let’s imagine you want to add an embroidered logo on your shirt. To do so, you’ll need to:
Prepare the design. Upload a compatible digital version of your design/logo/text for the embroidery machine to process for the stitching. The better the compatibility and quality, the more accurate your embroidered logos, design, or text will be.
Choose the fabric. Since the density and texture can cause the thread to break or have inconsistent patterns, choosing the right fabric is crucial.
Pick the thread. Different types of threads create different textures and appearances. Usually, you can choose from a wide range of threads, from cotton to metallic fiber.
Decide on colors. The thread colors and material change the overall aesthetic of your design, so pick the ones that best fit your design idea. At Printful, we also offer unlimited color options, making it possible to embroider gradient designs as well.
Choose the stitch type. From flat design to 3D puff, pick the stitch type that complements your design.
Secure the shirt. Make sure the design area of the fabric is securely fixed under the embroidery machine.
Embroider the design. First, the thread should be securely hooped, ensuring a stable and taut embroidery process. Then the machines, using needles and bobbins, stitch the design onto the fabric. The embroidery machines run until the embroidery is complete.
The speed and accuracy of the design depend on the precision of the machine and the number of stitches per minute.
You can outsource embroidery to a third-party provider like Printful so that you don’t need to buy an embroidery machine and take care of the process yourself.
Traditional screen printing has been in use since the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) when the Chinese crafted the early model of silk screening.
But what exactly is it and how does it work? We’ll walk you through the screen printing process step by step to help you pick the right customization method for your apparel.
Simply put, screen printing is a printing method that uses ink, a mesh screen, and a stencil to create a vibrant and quality screen print of your desired design.
Screen printing gained popularity in the printing and fashion industry due to its durability and versatility, allowing for high-quality prints on various materials. Often used for bulk orders, screen printing is favored for producing vivid graphics on apparel, posters, and other products.
To help you choose the right method for your production needs, we’ll delve deeper into how screen printing works.
Design preparation. Begin by preparing your design and inks for the final print.
Screen creation. Specific screens are developed with the entire design, or layers of your design. The more detailed and complex the design, the more screens are necessary for different colors and layers. A popular way of creating the stencils is by applying an emulsion on the mesh screen, which is then left in a dark room to dry off.
UV light exposure. Once the screen is created, you place the design paper on top of it and expose it to UV light, permanently drying it. This ensures that the ink passes through, creating the design on the mesh screen.
Ink transfer. The ink is transferred onto the fabric through the custom mesh stencil, using a special tool called a squeegee, and your design is printed onto the apparel.
Layers. For complex designs with multiple layers or colors, the same process is repeated several times. Each layer needs to be dried before working on the next one.
Drying time. Last but not least, depending on the complexity of your design, let the ink dry.
With such a detail-oriented and intricate process, screen printing definitely is a time-consuming printing method. However, the durability and vibrancy of the resulting prints make it worth the effort.
Now, let’s explore the specifics of embroidery and screen printing. As we examine each method, pay attention to details that might reveal which technique better suits your needs.
Whether for daily wear or a personalized keepsake, embroidered materials offer lasting durability and resistance to fading or losing color over time. Even frequent washing won’t damage the embroidery design.
The closely stitched threads create a robust bond with the garment, preserving the integrity of your designs.
Screen printing also offers lasting durability for designs, but with frequent washing, colors may fade and the quality can diminish over time.
Depending on the stitch type you choose, embroidery gives your designs a raised texture with different stitching patterns. This makes it ideal for small and intricate designs, like a logo design.
Embroidery is most popular for classic and preppy wear, uniforms, or luxury clothing.
If you prefer a smooth, flat design surface, screen printing is a better option. Screen printing is well-suited for a more modern look, such as—streetwear, casual wear, or sports apparel.
Screen printing is also a good choice for large designs, so you can use it to print large logos.
While it doesn’t quite match embroidery, layering ink in screen printing can achieve a somewhat raised texture in the design as well.
Embroidered designs sometimes face limitations in color availability, depending on the production facility. Unlike screen printing where inks can be mixed, embroidery relies on existing thread colors, making it more suitable for designs that fit within the available palette.
However, partnering with Printful alleviates this issue, as we offer unlimited colors to choose from, ensuring your embroidered design closely matches your original vision.
Screen printing offers a broader color spectrum, allowing for ink mixing to achieve a shade that closely matches the original design. This method excels in creating various visual effects, such as gradients, shading, blending, and varying brightness or dimness, providing more versatility in color manipulation compared to embroidery.
Embroidery works well on a wide variety of fabrics, including linen, denim, crepe, and velvet. This adaptability to various materials highlights the fashion styles where embroidery is most effective and appropriate.
As embroidery involves making tiny needle holes, this is a no-go if you intend to create designs for waterproof clothing such as raincoats or diving suits. However, it’s a good fit for caps, scarves, and polo shirts.
Screen printing is not suitable for stretchy or uneven fabrics, as these materials can affect the quality and clarity of the print. So it works best on natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, or blends of natural fabric. It’s mostly used for t-shirts and hoodies.
Since embroidered designs are crafted with a thread and needle, it offers more precision when it comes to small intricate details like a swoosh of the tail of the letter “S”. As long as the design is small, embroidery is better for texts, company logos, and other small elements.
Screen printing can replicate larger designs close to the original. However, it’s important to note that upon closer inspection or magnification, screen printing may not capture every detail as precisely as embroidery.
For example, if your design features color splashes, overall it will be the same image, but all the spots and drops will slightly differ between garments.
Embroidery garments are cost-effective, regardless if you order a small batch or in bulk. So if you’re new to ecommerce and fear that ordering in bulk might be too risky, no worries—you can easily order just one custom embroidered garment from Printful.
Due to high setup costs, screen printing is only suitable for bulk orders. So placing large orders is the only way to be cost-effective. It can be risky if you’re new to the ecommerce world.
If you want your apparel to look and feel premium, embroidered designs are the ideal choice. With the raised texture and various patterns, it creates a handcrafted, sophisticated appearance, more so than any of the printing methods.
Screen printing offers a distinct feel—a smoother and flatter texture, delivering a clean, polished appearance. It’s perfectly suited for a modern and bold aesthetic. Even with large areas displaying the design, the garment is comfortable to wear and soft to the touch.
Embroidery garments, with their intricate threads and patterns, require more care and maintenance. Turn the clothing inside out to protect the design and avoid washing it together with any sharp objects that may snag the stitching.
When it comes to screen printing, avoid high temperatures and harsh detergents, as they can damage the print. To avoid staining, separate colors and whites before washing.
Embroidery is more suitable for frequent washing and drying compared to screen-printed clothing.
If you seek a premium, professional appearance combined with the charm of handicraft, embroidery is an excellent choice. It precisely captures intricate details, making it ideal for small logos, quotes, and charming characters. Moreover, embroidery is versatile and suitable for a wide array of fabrics.
So if you’re looking for a cute gift or custom caps for your employees, embroidery will be your best option.
If you want to start a streetwear brand or simply order custom hoodies and t-shirts in bulk, screen printing is a good choice. With its wide color range and bold design capabilities, it’s a popular choice for graphics that leave a striking impression.
We hope this article will help you figure out whether embroidery or screen printing is a better fit for your needs. For more inspiration, check out our article on how to start a clothing brand and try out our Design Maker to see how your print or embroidery designs look in real life. Good luck!
Aesha is a freelance content writer. She is also getting her Bachelor’s in Intl. Communication Management. And not so surprisingly, reading is her favorite hobby.