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Blog / Beginner's handbook / DTF Printing vs. Screen Printing? Which Method Fits Your Brand?

Beginner's handbook

DTF Printing vs. Screen Printing? Which Method Fits Your Brand?

DTF Printing vs. Screen Printing? Which Method Fits Your Brand?
Aesha Ansari

By Aesha Ansari

9 min read

So, you want to start your clothing brand but don’t know which printing method to go with. If you can’t see the difference or small factors that put one of these methods above the other, no worries. This blog will magnify those details for you!

DTF printing and screen printing are popular methods in the printing-on-demand business. While they have their similarities, each has distinct qualities that set them apart.

And as with everything, they have their own advantages and disadvantages, but these depend on your needs.

The key to choosing the most suitable printing method for you is to see which connects with your brand and needs the most. For that, you need to have a proper understanding of how they work.

Keep reading to find out what sets DTF printing and screen printing apart. Let’s get right into it!

What is DTF printing? 

DTF printing, a.k.a. direct-to-film printing technology, is quickly gaining popularity due to its ease of production and setup. This technique gives your prints a vibrant-colored and fine-detailed look.

Not only that, another peculiarity of DTF printing is that you can also print on dark-colored garments effortlessly. Its wide color range and suitability for versatile garments such as cotton, polyester, fleece, and even blends make it an easy favorite for businesses.

How does DTF printing work?

Now, let’s get into how exactly the DTF printing method delivers your end product.

First, your chosen design is printed on to a special film, on top of which a layer of white film is created. After this, an adhesive (particularly used for this process) is applied to the wet ink. Now, the film is ready to be put under the heat press, where the printed design is transferred onto the fabric of your choice.

One last step before it’s done is to peel off the transfer film and reheat the fabric to give you a longer-lasting print.

Source: Printful

Source: Printful

What is screen printing?

Screen printing or silk screen printing is a popular printing method that’s been around for a while. This technique uses a mesh stencil and a screen. Due to how it’s done, your prints can have your desired thickness and texture.

From cotton to denim, screen printing works well on a gamut of fabrics, offering consistent prints and a long lifespan.

How does screen printing work? 

Screen printing is a bit more time-consuming, with an intricate process.

So, to start off, you have your design, mesh stencil, and inks. Now, the most critical part is the specific screens. These screens are the shape of elements of your design or the whole design itself, depending on how complex the design is. Some designs need multiple colors and layers to achieve the end look.

Source: Unsplash

Source: Unsplash

Once the specific screens for the design are made, it’s pressed onto the mesh screen. Which is then kept under a UV light, making the exposed areas dry, thus allowing the ink to pass only through the element shapes.

Now, with the aid of the custom mesh stencil, the ink is transferred onto the fabric, creating your design. And, of course, it needs time to dry before adding the next layer or element. So now you understand why it’s a long and detailed process.

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DTF printing vs. screen printing: which suits you better?

To help you decide better, let’s see what both of these methods can offer you and how they differ. Who knows, one of these tiny yet crucial details might be your winning point.

Print quality and durability

DTF printing gives you excellent, high-quality prints with sharp details. Due to its digital nature, this printing technique is perfect to print full-color designs, images, and detailed graphics. And since the ink doesn’t penetrate the fabric, you get a very accurate print.

As expected, the print would feel a bit stiff the first time, but once you wash and wear it a couple of times, the print will loosen up and feel smoother. Also, since it’s a single-layer print, it’s very thin and light, giving it a soft, comfortable feel.

Source: Pexels

Source: Pexels

Screen printing is well known for its high durability, and it won’t fade away with a couple of washes, meaning your product will be getting your money’s worth. This method is better to be used if you have a simple design or text that takes up less space.

And although you can have more colors, it’s better to limit them. Screen printing requires separate screens for each color within the design. 

Print complexity

With its intricate detail capture, DTF printing offers vibrant colors and therefore can print high-quality images, gradient designs, sharp edges, squiggly lines of text, and even your favorite painting!

DTF printing uses the CMYK color mode (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) with a white base ink. This allows for complex color variations and techniques in full-color prints, no matter the fabric material.

In screen printing, the inks have to be mixed if needed, and even then won’t be as accurate as that of DTF printing. And as you can imagine, having gradient prints is also very tricky and time-consuming.

An interesting detail about screen printing is that since the ink is layered on top of the first coat of ink, it gives you a raised design with a texture to it.

Number of colors

Any color you want, in any style you desire, can be achieved with DTF printing. It’s a big advantage of having digital print. This will let you create gradients and give high color accuracy as well.

Screen printing, on the other hand, is not the best printing technology to use with multiple colors. It’s better if you stick with a few colors, or your print will be very thick; as you might remember, screen printing “stacks” its inks. However, the good news is that the prints will work on any color garment.

Source: Pexels

Source: Pexels

Fabrics and materials

DTF printing is quite versatile and can be printed well on various fabric materials, including cotton, nylon, fleece, blends, and, even some synthetic materials. One less thing to worry about, since your design will transfer well onto almost any material.

As its name suggests, traditional screen printing works better on fabric fibers such as cotton, silk, or fabric blends. A big difference from DTF printing is that screen printing lets you print on canvas, wood, metal, and even glass!

Source: Pexels

Source: Pexels

Quantity

Want to start with small-batch orders? The DTF printing method is a good choice for that. Its quick production and fast setup time make it easy to do orders on demand. And even if there are any last-minute modifications in the design, this can be adjusted and applied quickly. This is another reason DTF printing is one of the most popular printing methods right now.

On the other hand, screen printing requires way more time to prepare the equipment and even a specific screen just for the design. This means it’ll be a waste of time and resources for small-batch orders.

On-demand fulfillment

As I said before, DTF printing is a good on-demand fulfillment method. For bulk orders or even a single unit order, DTF won’t cost you any extra time or resources. Therefore, this is a good start for small businesses.

Since the screen printing method and equipment setup take longer, it’s cost-effective to have a minimum order volume for this method. Because of this, screen printing may also not be suitable for quick turnaround business needs.

Source: Unsplash

Source: Unsplash

Upfront investment

If you’re handling your own printing production, you need to look into the best printer and other equipment. But if you work through a print-on-demand company like Printful, all you have to do is choose your product, upload the design, and reach your target audience. Once an order is placed, we’ll take care of the rest!

However, suppose you want to start your own printing setup for your business for DTF printing. In that case, you need a good DTF printer, DTF inks, transfer films, special adhesives, the best quality t-shirts for printing (or any garment you wish to sell), and more, depending on your end product. So, the initial investment for DTF printing is pretty steep—anywhere around $50K and higher.

As for screen printing, you can start with less investment for the equipment, which includes a mesh screen, frame, inks, and squeegee. On top of that, whichever product you’d like to sell—trending t-shirts, cups, canvas, etc. On average, the starting investment ranges from $1–3K.

But once the order comes in, you’ll spend a lot of time as well as materials to fulfill your order. And due to the high-volume orders (which are recommended for profit), a significant ongoing expense may incur for preparing the screen and equipment and maintaining it.

So, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth having your own setup for your custom t-shirts, when we’re here to deliver your customers a smooth and quality experience.

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DTF printing vs. screen printing: why should you opt for one printing method from the other?

We’ve reached the end of the read. Now, with a better understanding of how both methods work, you can decide which will better fit your print-on-demand business.

Is DTF printing your best option?

If your brand has a colorful feel, then it’s safe to say DTF printing will offer you the most vibrant and clear quality prints. It’ll give you long-lasting, intricate designs. This is especially a good choice if your ideas are more minimally artistic.

But keep in mind, due to its plastic feel, it’s better to create small designs or at least in separate spaces. That means this won’t be the best choice if you want to print a huge painting on the entire space of your t-shirt.

Source: Unsplash

Source: Unsplash

DTF printing also lets you choose from various products, such as t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags, hats, pillows, etc. The best part? You have wider options of fabric materials to choose from—cotton, polyester, nylon, and even synthetic blends. And most importantly, there’s no minimum number of orders for DTF printing.

Or, is screen printing your best option?

As you now know, screen printing is time-consuming. However, if your brand has a bold yet simple vibe, screen printing can offer you long-lasting, high-quality prints.

Although, since it’s a low turnaround method, print-on-demand companies tend not to offer this method. But you can try and find a company that provides it. However, the orders would have a minimum order volume to keep it cost-effective.

Source: Unsplash

Source: Unsplash

Screen printing is a good choice for you if you like the feel of the ink. And if you want to create your designs in different textures, maybe a bit coarse or with a sprinkle of glitter, screen printing is the way to go.

And last but not least, screen printing works best on fabric fibers such as silk, cotton, or its blends. It’s great since these are popular apparel fabrics. However, it limits your catalog to specific products and keeps you out of lucrative polyester products like most sportswear.

DTF printing or screen printing?

Now that we’ve gone through all the comparisons and unique factors of DTF and screen printing, it’s your turn to choose which better suits you.

Keep in mind the fabric material, design style, colors, and order requirements we mentioned in the blog. This will help you recognize the printing method that works best for your brand.

And if you feel you’re still missing something, you can continue your research and explore more printing methods, and find the right one!

author

By Aesha Ansari on Nov 23, 2023

Aesha Ansari

Guest author

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.

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.