Screen Printing or DTG. Which T-shirt Printing Method is for You?

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At GetBold we offer both DTG and Screen Printing to get your ink onto a T-shirt. But how do you know which option is best for your project? There are many factors, and it may come down to us giving you our best advice… but here is a list of factors that will help you understand the differences.

Screen Printing is a tried and true form of printing on fabrics. It is a process of creating stencils on screens that you push ink through with a squeegee.  It is versatile and reliable, but it does take a while to set up a job, and pre-press is costly. Once the press starts turning though, shirts come off the press quite quickly.  So short runs are not very cost effective, especially multi colour jobs, because the more colours, the more screen, thus the more time and few shirts to divide that cost over.  For example, if you are printing a 7 colour image on only ten shirts, there will be several hours of pre-press time to pay for.  There will be colour separations, then we have to print films, burn screens, prep the screens, load those screen into a press and register them, choose ink colours, load the ink, do a few test prints and make a few adjustments and then…finally…print your ten shirts – oh – and afterwards we have to clean it all up and reclaim the screens for the next job. The pre-press will take about 2 hours, the clean up about 30 minutes, the actual printing part will take about 4 minutes for all ten shirts. Ya, the printing part is fast. In fact most screen print presses can output 300  images an hour or more once the set up is done.  So long yes, short runs…not so much.

Direct to Garment has the benefit of no set up. A DTG machine is basically ink jet technology onto a shirt. Once the art is done, just ‘control p’ and the printer starts producing images. ‘What? That’s it ?’ – you say. Why then would you not always print DTG?  Well two reasons, production time is slow. Depending on the DTG machine and the size of the image, the average output is….well 15-25 shirts an hour. So, no lengthy pre-press, but at 20 shirts an hour, screen printing can catch up pretty quick if there are enough shirts to print.

The other disadvantage to DTG is ink costs.  A large print area with lots of white ink can cost $10 in ink per shirt. WHAT? So not very cost effective if you are wanting something you can re-sell.  The same print area in screen printing inks would be maybe 40 cents.

So let me sum this up:

Where DTG really excels is short runs of multi coloured images. 36 or less pieces with lots of colours and high detail will really benefit from DTG. It will be cost effective because you avoid the pre press time associated screen printing, and it will look great because ink jet technology loves colour blending and high detail.

Where screen printing excels is in long runs, or images of low colour count. 300 pieces of a multi colour image would take a couple hours before the press starts turning, but only about 1  hour after that. Also, single colour images, depending on quantity, would most likely be screen printed. Maybe not if it was only two pieces, but likely yes on 6 or more.

I hope that helps you understand the differences between DTG and Screen Printing. We do both and are happy to advice you towards your best option. If you have questions hit the chat button, or give us a call.

And one more time, because everyone likes a chart….here is a chart:

 SCREEN PRINTING                                                                          DIRECT TO GARMENT

–          Slow to get going – So not good for short runs

–          High detail takes time

–          Photos can be disappointing

–          Slow production times

–          No special effect inks possible

–          Polyester is not a good idea

–          Ink can be expensive, especially on large images

–          Ink is less durable than screen printing

–          Cost effective on long runs

–          Cost effective on single colour images

–          Price is affected by amount of colours in image.

–          Special effect inks possible (Foil, or glow in the dark etc)

–          Polyester is no problem

–          Ink is cheap

–          Ink is really durable

–          High detail images look great

–          Cost effective on short runs

–          Photo look great

–          Doesn’t matter how many colours in image.