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[INFOGRAPHIC] The Difference Between DTG, Screen Printing, and Sublimation Printing

By 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 to 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. 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 🙂

  2. Charchit Nema

    Hi,
    I want to start my own t-shirt printing business for job works (for big brand) mostly on cotton fabric. Please suggest which method I should go with for larger quantity and better quality.

  3. Gee

    Hi Nora, thank you for the the informative article. I would highly appreciate if you can answer my question.
    1. What is the best quality printing for 70%cotton / 30%polyster shirt. Colors of shirts are black, white and grey. Print is just plain text.?
    2. Best printing that does not easily fade?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Nora Inveiss

      Hi Gee! Glad you liked the article. I’ll do my best to answer:

      1. Shirts with polyester won’t have the same, solid print results as printing on 100% cotton. Poly shirt prints have more of a vintage, faded feel to them. I don’t think the shirt or ink color affects results too much.

      2. Sublimation printing is great – colors won’t fade. But you’re more limited to the type of fabric you can use (typically only polyester).

  4. Fletcher Martin

    We are using Brush Your Ideas T-shirt Design Software which shows us how a design will look on a material.

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