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[INFOGRAPHIC] The difference between DTG, screen printing, and sublimation printing

By Julia Gifford - Reading time: 3 minutes

When starting your t-shirt line, one of the first decisions you’ll have to make is to choose the method you’ll use for print your apparel. There are many options available, and each has its own pros and cons. Here we’ll go through the most popular methods, screen printing, direct-to-garment (DTG), and sublimation (aka all-over printing), to help you get a better idea of which is best for your new ecommerce store for garment printing.

Screen printing, direct to garment, and sublimation printing

Screen printing, direct to garment, and sublimation printing

The difference between the screen printing, DTG and sublimation printing

A while ago we made a table outlining the pros and cons of screen printing and DTG. Here we’ve updated the table to include sublimation printing as well.

 

Pros

Cons

Screenprinting

– cost effective for large batches

– versatile design placement

– the more you order, the cheaper they are (volume discounts)

– 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

– maximum detail in design

– suitable for small batches

– minimal upfront investment

– easily customized design

– not cost effective for extremely large batches

– no volume discounts

– limited design placement

Sublimation printing 

– prints seam-to-seam (all over the garment)

– extensive color options

– maximum detail in design

– suitable for small batches

– not available on all garments

– no volume discounts

– not large-order friendly

 

What the different types actually mean

DTG (direct-to-garment)

DTG is pretty much like using a printer to print on fabric. Because it works like a printer, it can support the most detailed design, with as many colors as you want. 

The printer can only print one garment at a time, which makes it perfect for printing one-off t-shirts. 

Watch the video showcase here.

Screen printing

This is the process of pulling a layer of ink over a screen to produce a design. A special screen has to be made for each design, which means that there should be many orders of the same design for it to be worth it. 

Watch this video to see how it’s done.

Sublimation printing

This is the process of printing onto a special sheet of paper, and then transferring that image onto fabric. The ink is heated until it disintegrates into the corresponding fabric. That makes the ink long-lasting, and you’ll never have the unfortunate “peeling” effect of a well-worn t-shirt. 

Click here to watch the video showcase.

How to choose which printing method to use

The printing method you’ll use depends on two factors:

  • your design
  • the quantity sold in one go

Quantity 

The first question is about the quantity that you’re selling. If you’re planning on doing everything one-off and drop-shipped, and you can’t really plan the amount of sales you’re making, then chances are you’re better off using DTG (direct-to-garment). That makes sure that you’re not putting a whole lot of money into your venture off the bat, without knowing if it’ll sell. Usually beginner e-commerce merchants don’t have large and stable sales, so one-off, DTG printing is recommended.

If you’re ordering many in one go (think team sports, camps, clubs, etc.), and you know you’ll be making at least 15 sales of the same design, then you might begin to consider screen printing.

Your design dictates your method

Your design is the most important element in deciding which printing method is for you. If your design involves many different colors, intricate details or photography images, then DTG will be your best shot.

You should already have an idea of what your design will be. Will it be photography? How many colors are in one design? Maybe it’s black and white, or simply lettering? Do you intend to have your design stretch from one seam to the other? (aka all-over)

Here’s a step-by-step graph to help you decide which printing method is best for you:

 PF_dichotomous key

Still not sure which to use? Let is know in the comments what you’re planning to make, and we can help you choose!

 

 

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  1. Theory Animation

    Thanks for a great breakdown!

    The only thing we’ve noticed with DTG are colors coming slightly darker compared to RGB monitors. They also seem to perform much better on lighter shirts (in terms of vividness of the colors); on darker colors they seem less vivid.

  2. NZi Graphix

    Hello, I’ve recently uploaded files for sublimation printing. I used the specs in your templates in the design process and uploaded them yet when I go to order the designs I get the warning that the dpi and size parameters are in-correct. Please advise me on where I am going wrong. I have some rush orders and as of yet can not fulfill them due to this problem. Also, is it absolutely necessary to use “Shopify”?
    I have my own website and can set up Paypal and moc-ups of my products myself. I do not see the need for an additional cost in this endeavor.

    1. Julia Gifford Post author

      Hi there, you’re not limited to Shopify, to save on setting up a third party shopping cart you can accept orders and place them directly through your account manually while you get momentum. The API is also open and available if you have a developer who will be able to make use of it directly. As for the file in question, if you places an order using the files, and then provide an order number we can see specifically what needs to be done via email, call or live chat. Call us +1 (818) 736-5361

  3. Tony

    hi am struggling to think of what’s the best option for Funeral T-Shirts, normally there’s a photo and some text, front and back printing sometimes
    would be onto either a white or black t shirt
    your thoughts would be greatly appreciated
    thks
    tony

  4. Barry Garner

    Excellent breakdown of the different printing techniques and how they differ. Be new to the screen printing business this was a huge help for me thanks for your informational post.

  5. Sunil Rodrigues

    I have printed sheet of UV and Drip-off. I want screen an black text on that sheet. Please can you let me know which color is used?

  6. Edward Rutkoski

    Can you use white ink on DTG printing? Sometimes I need white even on light colored shirts — I am not referring to an underprint.

    1. Julia Gifford Post author

      Hi Edward, sure printing white on light colored shirts is definitely an option. It’s just a question of if you’re happy with an outcome. The best way is to order samples. They’re 20% off and with free international shipping.

  7. Rodney Guy

    I’ll start off selling black shirts with white lettering and white shirts with black lettering. I also want a small logo on the top back. I’m thinking that DTG will be the way to go because I’ll be ordering them one at a time as I get orders. Advice?

  8. Justiner Odoms

    Great article! It is really going to help me in offering the best service to the customer and composing a pricing chart. I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks!

  9. Moses

    Hello, I’m new to the industry and i see in your infographic that DTG has a minimal investment. Can you point me to a printer that would best fit a small production business…

    Thanks!

  10. Mohamed

    Hello, I’m new to the industry and i see in your infographic .
    I want to produce a minimum qty but a lot of designs I think the sublimation is the best.
    What do you think? And if you think the sublimation is the best for me , which the better ink jet or laser printer.

    Thanks

    Thanks!

  11. Jamie Williams

    Different types of printing screen printing is better than DTG and SUBLIMINATION printing.it is suitable business purpose printing.DTG is a darker color.it is very costly but not for use multiple color.

  12. KV

    Digital Printing compared to Sublimation Printing on Swimwear. If you buy some swimwear and the inside is white but outside is a pattern/design, does this mean it can only be sublimation? Or can digital printed swimwear still also have pattern outside and be White inside. Thanks

  13. mandla

    hi. i would like to start printing on t shirts and mugs with a quick turn around and best quality. in terms of the number of processes involved, which method would be the best..thanks

    1. Julia Gifford Post author

      Hi Mandla, I would definitely suggest starting out with DTG. The price doesn’t change based on the quantities ordered, so it’s ideal when you’re just starting out with small orders.

  14. Rui M.

    hello,

    Great article.

    Has I work also in this business I will add some more info that I have from working with many print suplliers. Hope it helps.

    Sublimation printing:
    – Only works in polyester fabric. Usually used for swim and sports wear.
    The handfeel and quality is not suitable for the normal t-shirt.
    – The fabric has to be allways white or a really light colour.
    – It’s possible to do positional printing, the “seam to seam” is outdated, right now it’s possible to place the print where you want.

    DGT printing:
    – Only works in Cotton fabric. If we use for instance 70%Cotton/30%polyester fabric we will lose quality and the colour will be a lot different from the digital artwork.
    – If we print on white or really light fabric we will have a really soft handfeel print, if we go for darker fabric we first have to place a white base of ink and then print it on top, this way we end with a very tick print and really bad for wearing in hot days. It will look like a transfer.
    – Prices, really expensive and in the darker fabric the cost is the double.

    Screen Printing:
    – Each colour of the artwork as to be opened in a screen. If your artwork have 5 colours we need 5 screens.
    – If you have bigger quantities or plan to use this artwork more times it will be cheaper. The screen printing technique is 80% to 150% cheaper than the digital print and 50% to 80% cheaper than sublimation.
    – It works in almost all kind of fabric. Even in black backgrounds we can have no touch in the print.

    Hope it helps. Sorry for my bad English.

    1. Rohan gupta

      I want to start t shirt printing venture as to provide both cutomize printed t shirt and printed t shirt so which method of printing is better for this venture.
      Plz reply as soon as possible.
      Thank you

  15. JD

    Hey man I’m a newbie in the business and I am really enjoying reading your posts! Thank you for unselfishly sharing your information, many blessings!

  16. Bruce

    I really thought that this post was very helpful, since it describe and defines the pros and cons of DTG, Screen Printing and Sublimation Printing. Thumbs up for great post!

  17. Adrian

    Excellent blog. This is the most simple explanation for a rockie.
    I have one question: what kind of printing should I use for a reflective design on a technical t-shirt?. The size of the design is the whole front and back of the t-shirt.
    Thank you so much.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Glad you liked it! Printful doesn’t print with reflective inks and I’m not sure what works best. Maybe someone else will chime in with the answer!

  18. Tas Gabaji

    Hi,
    I am looking to get Poly Spandex Fabric printed for Swimwear- Would sublimation Transfer printed fabric work for me?
    Digital Prints have a tendency to fade on being stretched- I’d like to avoid that.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Possibly, yes! We use sublimation for our stretchy apparel, like leggings. It looks great, even when stretched.

  19. jess

    the outlines for the different types of printing are clear,helped me to decide on which to use for my designs , thanks

  20. Robyn Adams

    Hi there,

    How do screenprinting and DTG printing compare in terms of quality of the print?
    At the moment, I am looking at getting a DTG printer (I am not interested in screenprinting – I am looking to do full colour small batch runs) but I would like to know if I would be getting similar quality as screenprinting. And as far as fading – are we looking at the DTG printing fading very quickly? (I know this will depend on the quality of the printer/ink etc but just in general)

    1. Nora Inveiss

      I’d say the quality of screen printing and DTG is fairly comparable. At Printful, we use some of the best DTG printers in the industry, so print results are high quality. You’re correct that fading will depend on the fabric and ink, but it’ll also depend on how you care for the t-shirt. But I don’t necessarily find that DTG shirts fade faster than screen printed shirts.

  21. Kelly Ewing

    Thank you for sharing all the info. Is there a specific form of printing which would work best for swimwear?

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Hey Kelly! Sublimation printing works best for swimwear, but the most important factor is finding a fabric that will withstand the sun.

  22. Paula Lockhart

    I am starting a niche sock business with limited capital. What are my best production options for small, flexible runs in order to test market my initial designs?

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Printful is a great place to start! We print on socks (info here) and since we print everything on-demand, you don’t have to buy large quantities of inventory.

  23. S Young

    Hi, I have had some t-shirts screen printed and I don’t like that it looks like the screen print will peel off. Is the sublimation print option better for hoodies, t-shirts where the wording will “sink/stay” in/on the fabric longer? For example I recently purchased an ‘Ivy Park’ jumper where the wording on it is exactly what I want. Even if you pick the wording it doesn’t peel.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      It depends on your personal preference! I’d say that screen printing and sublimation are similar in quality, but sublimation does have that look where ink is “sunk in” to the fabric.

      It’s also important to note that sublimation printing doesn’t work with all fabric types. We only do sublimation printing on polyester t-shirts, as that’s the fabric that ink can absorb into. We don’t currently offer sublimation hoodies or sweatshirts, although we are interested in adding them to our product lineup eventually.

    1. Nora Inveiss

      I believe dye sublimation works on leather, but I’m not sure what the best method is. Hopefully someone else can chime in 🙂

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