What Is the Difference Between Screen and Digital Printing? Update 06/2022

It is necessary to choose a printing method before beginning to print t-shirt designs. Cool shirts can be printed using either screen printing or digital printing. What exactly is the difference between screen printing and digital printing?

Ink is applied to t-shirts via screen printing and digital printing, which are two distinct methods. One color at a time, plastisol ink is layered onto a piece of fabric using stencil screens. Digital printing applies ink to the fabric in complicated designs using big printers.

Screen printing and digital printing are explained in this article. You’ll learn about important differences, such as cost and complexity, between various strategies. It is also revealed how various printing technologies measure up to vinyl and a heat press in final analysis.

What is Screen Printing

What is Screen Printing T-Shirts?

Screen printing uses a mesh screen to apply thick ink to a piece of fabric by using a stencil or a negative of the design. T-shirt ink is applied in a thick, velvety layer this way. Each color is applied to a distinct layer using a separate screen when employing this method, therefore just two or three colors are used.

Screen printing begins with the preparation of the screen’s negative space and ends with the smoothing of ink over the stencil. The screen is then printed onto the fabric by the printer. After the ink has been applied, the pattern is often heated or cured.

Silk screening is another name for this procedure, which is an extremely old art style that originated in Chinese culture and was refined over the course of thousands of years. Silk screens were used to apply stenciled layers of ink in the past. Today, most commercial shirt printers use polyester mesh screens and viscous plastisol ink for their printing needs.

Modern screen printing uses a unique ink that does not penetrate the fabric of a garment. Soft and sturdy, it fits comfortably on top of the cloth, giving the design an interesting and unusual look.

Using a stencil, a wooden frame with mesh stretched over it, and some plastisol ink, you can create screen-printed designs. T-shirt printers at home often employ a variation of this basic process. When printing multi-color designs, commercial screen printers make use of massive contraptions that hold up to 10 or twelve screens at a time.

Screen negatives and stencils have a wide range of intricacy. A Cricut or similar machine can be used to make a stencil that delineates the negative area for screen printing at home or as part of a home company. A chemical technique similar to photo development is used in advanced screen printing to generate a chemical stencil on the screen, allowing the ink to push through in the design’s positive area.

What is Digital Printing on Shirts

What is Digital Printing on Shirts?

A printed design is applied directly to the fabric via digital printing, which is also known as DTG or direct-to-garment printing. It’s a lot like how your printer at home puts ink on paper! Because of how little time it takes, this technology is relatively new to the apparel business.

Magenta, cyan, yellow, and black are the four primary colors used by most paper printers. DTG printers can come in six different colors, including red and green.

However, the main idea is that the printer mixes these primary colors to generate whatever image or photo you desire, exactly like a paper printer does when printing out photos and images! As though the printer were spraying ink directly into the fabric, this is how it works.

DTG printers, on the other hand, are massive. Instead of a small sheet of paper, they can easily pass one or more shirts through! They also have access to some cutting-edge technology. They can cost anything from $15,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on these factors.

Because DTG printing is so quick and simple, commercial printers are generally ready to make this significant investment. In addition, it enables for a wide range of color combinations and gradients to be used in a variety of ways.

The cloth usually has a supple, stretchy quality to the printed design. As opposed to screen printing, which results in a raised image, this method utilizes an ink that soaks into the fabric, making it less durable, but you may like the lighter weight.

Long-term, DTG prints may appear more subdued and lifeless. The benefit of being able to offer more intricate designs in exchange for printing shirts more quickly is worth the trade-off.

Screen Printing vs Digital Printing: Key Points

Screen Printing vs Digital Printing

Prevent getting overwhelmed by learning every nuance of screen and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing before you even begin your research.

Screen PrintingDigital Printing
DurabilityMore durable because of thick ink usedSlightly less durable but will hold up for years with proper care
QualityUsually viewed as the highest quality printing methodSlightly lower quality because of less vibrant colors
ComplexityWorks best with one, two, or three ink colors and a less complex designCan easily create very complex designs such as photos or memes
ConsistencySlightly less consistent because of necessary human involvement in set upHighly consisted because the printing process is run by a computer
Cost EfficiencyCost-efficient for large ordersCost-efficient for small orders such as custom-tees
Multi-Color PrintsCommercial screen printing machines can use multiple colors, but not as easily as DTGEasily creates multi-color prints quickly and efficiently
Color BlendingVery poor, as every screen can only layer one color at a timeExcellent. A DTG printer mixes primary colors into any shade or gradient and can create complex images using these blended colors
Set-Up Time and CostRequires a lot of setup time and expensive materialsRequires little setup time but expensive printer
QuantityCan easily print large batches of the same designCan print large or small batches with no impact to the bottom line
Best FabricCan print well on cotton or polyesterOnly works well on 100% cotton
Special EffectsSpecial inks such as glitter inks can create all kinds of special effectsDTG does not give the option for special effects
Best forLarge orders, less complex designs, athletic wear, or vintage/special effect designsCustom orders, complex images, softer and more breathable designs
Average Cost Per ShirtAbout $5-9 to print. Sells for $10-25Less than a dollar to print. Sells for $10-25

What is the Difference Between Screen Printing and Digital Printing?

Ink application to the fabric differs greatly between screen printing and digital printing. To print on cloth, a screen is loaded with ink, and the ink is pushed through the stencil one color at a time. Computer-mixed ink is used to create complicated designs on fabric via digital printing.

However, those divisions do not stop there. There are advantages and disadvantages to each printing method. While DTG gives more color options than screen printing, you can also use glitter ink in screen printing!


Digital printing versus screen printing: Which is more durable? In this case, screen printing is the clear winner. Screen printing uses a heat curing procedure to adhere the thick coating of ink to the fabric. The shape and color of screen-printed artwork should last for many years.

Is digital printing going to fade? Different, thinner inks are used in DTG designs. After a few dozen washes, these images will start to fade.

That said, a low-quality DTG print can appear washed out very quickly, so be aware of that. The plastisol ink used in screen printing can also break and peel away from the fabric if it is not properly cured. To a large extent, this is due to the printing process itself.


As a rule, screen printing is considered to be of higher quality because of its colorful designs and long-lasting durability. There are some who believe the newest process, Direct to Garment (DTG), is superior to screen printing in terms of color blending and complexity.

For what reasons does screen printing provide more vibrant images? What’s different is the type of ink used. A specific emulsion of PVC particles is used in screen printing to create plastisol ink, an opaque and thick material.

Before printing color layers, artists typically apply a coat of solid white plastisol. This makes the colors stand out even more.

Because DTG employs water-based inks, it is less bright and won’t show up as well on dark textiles like denim. These thin, water-based inks appear translucent because they are so thin.

When it comes down to it, both printing technologies have their advantages and disadvantages. In contrast to the more subdued hues and flat design made by DTG printing, the raised design and vibrant colors of a screen-printed design sometimes appear more classy and expensive than the latter.


Complex designs, such as pictures or full-color graphics, are no problem for direct-to-garment printing (DTG). It takes a lot of time and effort to set up a complex screen print, but the results are well worth the effort.

DTG’s ability to print precise, crisp detail is a big reason why it’s the winner here. Small fonts can be printed on paper with DTG, just like you can with your home printer. It can deal with a variety of hues, such as smoke curlicues or a lace or feather print.

Screen printing is capable of producing intricate designs, but it cannot manage the tiniest of details.. In some cases, you may need a larger lace pattern so that the thick, raised ink does not smear together and fill in the small holes in the lace design.

Halftones are another important design element that adds to the design’s complexity. Color gradients can be indicated by using these tiny dots. A magnifying lens is required for DTG, however screen printing requires far larger dots that can be readily seen in the design compared to DTG’s tiny halftones.


DTG printing makes it simpler to produce designs that are the same every time since it uses a computer to print the same image repeatedly. Humans are required to set up the screens on a regular basis for screen printing. This can lead to minor differences across printings of the same piece from the same batch.

You may notice some disparities if the mesh screen is pulled over the frame a little tighter in the first printing and a little looser in the second printing, for example.

Cost Efficiency

Digital or screen printing is more expensive. How many prints you need and the complexity of your design will determine how much it will cost.

DTG printing has the ability to print modest orders, or even just one design, very quickly. To prepare screens and generate stencils or negatives for each color layer, screen printing necessitates a significant amount of set-up time.

Screen printing, on the other hand, can produce a huge order at a low cost due to the one-time setup required for the entire batch of shirts.

DTG can handle complicated designs just as cheaply as basic patterns, however screen printing costs more because of the extra intricacy. One mesh screen and one set of negatives are all that is needed to prepare a screen for printing a single color, but for printing many colors, you need to prepare many screens!

Multi-Color Prints

Using a computer program to combine the CMYB primary colors, digital printing quickly and easily produces multi-color prints. A single, two, or three-color design is the easiest to screen print.

With screen printing, you may produce multi-color prints. Preparing and using multiple screens for each layer of color raises the cost dramatically.

Color Blending

Color blending is the process of combining various colors to produce new hues and tones. DTG printing uses hundreds of small dots of color to create a gradient of color saturation that may be changed. Colors and tones blend and overlap easily with this printing method.

To create intricate images, DTG printing excels because of its ability to seamlessly merge colors. Consider a black-and-white portrait of a person; to achieve the right facial features, you’ll need to use a variety of white, black, and grey tones.

Printing on screens generally does not attempt to mix colors. A single color screen is placed on the fabric one at a time, which is how this method works.

Set-Up Time and Cost

As with any type of printing process, digital printing requires considerable preparation and a high level of skill. For example, you’ll need to know how to load shirts into very large commercial printers and how to transfer digital files to the printer.

Setup time for screenprinting is significantly longer. Because of this, screen-printed shirts tend to be more affordable when purchased in quantity. If you order screen-printed shirts, you may be charged a set-up fee or a processing fee.


If you want to print a lot of shirts with the same design, screen-printing is a better option than digital printing. In contrast, small orders of screen-printed patterns can be expensive.

There are a lot of steps involved in setting up for a screen print design; but, once you’ve done that, you’re ready to proceed.

Best Fabric

Both screen printing and direct to garment printing (DTG) are best suited for printing on 100% cotton fabric. However, with a few tweaks to the procedure, you can safely and successfully screen print on polyester. Currently, DTG printing only works on cotton.

Due to the fact that digital designs can be printed into polyester, you should avoid using a company that offers this service! You’ll wind up with faded prints if you do this.

As an example, if you want a basketball team’s jerseys to be screen printed, you should go with this method. DTG designs cannot adhere to sweat-wicking athletic materials, but screen printing may.

Special Effects

Screen printing, on the other hand, offers a wide range of special effects that DTG printing does not.

Raised puff paint, for example, can be used to produce a screen print. It’s also possible to utilize a special glitter, metallic, or glowing ink! Another popular technique used by screenprint artists is to utilize “dayglo” tones, which are bright, fluorescent colors.

Plastisol inks with a suede-like texture can also be used. Layering high-density inks can create a 3D effect. A worn, vintage look can be achieved by adding a crackle effect.

Best For

Because the printer can reuse the color screens over and over again without having to set up the print again, screen print designs are ideal for large orders of the same design. This printing approach is also the most durable and bright on a garment. These patterns are further enhanced by the use of raised ink and vibrant colors.

DTG is a great option for custom printing because it only requires a computer file to be sent to the printer for one print! This printing technology is easy to use and produces high-quality photos. As a result, you may choose to go for DTG if you like a lighter and softer print that is more flexible and breathable.

Average Cost Per T-Shirt

Screen printing a garment typically costs $5-$9, however the price drops dramatically if you order in quantity and have the same design printed multiple times. A screen printed tee might cost anywhere from $10 to $25, depending on the design.

For less than a dollar, you can usually get a high-quality DTG shirt printed. Digitally printed t-shirts are generally less expensive, although this is dependent on a variety of circumstances, such as the firm selling the shirt and the location where it will be worn, among others. However, the typical cost is still between $10 and $25.

Silkscreen vs Screen Printing

Silkscreen vs Screen Printing

There is no difference between silkscreen printing and screen printing. Screen printing has become a more common phrase in the printing industry, particularly among commercial printers. The term “silk screening” is still used by some artists to describe their work.

When artisans employed silk screens to apply ink on parchment, paper, or silk banners thousands of years ago, the name “silk screening” was born.

Polyester mesh screens, which are substantially less expensive, are now used almost everywhere.

Screen Printing vs Sublimation

Screen Printing vs Sublimation

Heat and pressure are used in sublimation printing to transform liquid ink particles into gas and then adhere those gaseous particles to the solid surface of an item of clothing, a mug, or even a baseball cap.

The ink used in this procedure is different from that used for screen printing. Printing onto special transfer paper requires a certain type of sublimation printer. In the end, a heat press is used to permanently attach the design to the shirt (or other items).

Because of its ability to produce long-lasting, high-quality graphics, sublimation printing has grown in popularity in recent years. Because the dye particles are bonded deep into the fibers of the cloth by the liquid-to-gas process, the design should last for as long as the shirt itself!

Using a computer file and a sublimation printer, you may quickly make multi-colored graphics similar to those produced by DTG printing.

For visual appeal and special effects, however, screen printing still has the upper hand. A sublimation printer isn’t capable of printing with glitter ink, so you won’t get the same vibrant results.

Vinyl Printing vs Digital Printing

In order to print graphics directly on heat-activated vinyl, vinyl printing requires specialized printers. The vinyl is then cut out and heated before being put to the fabric.

Prints on vinyl have a long shelf life. Dishwasher-safe mugs and tumblers and car coverings are both made using this method. Using a digital file supplied to a printer, you may build quite complicated and multi-colored graphics, as well.

DTG printing is not as durable as printing on vinyl. Although it is less expensive, Additionally, the ink is applied to the cloth directly and there is no layer of plastic on top of the shirt, making it softer and more comfortable.

Screen Printing vs Digital Printing vs Heat Press

Custom t-shirts can be made using screen printing, digital printing, and heat press printing, but each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages.

There are two ways to apply heat to a shirt with a heat press. HTV or heat transfer vinyl is the first option. Using a heat press and a cutting machine such as a Cricut, you may apply vinyl shapes to fabric by first sending a digital file to the machine.

For a second option, you can use a heat press to apply a digital print to vinyl or transfer paper and then iron it onto the shirt.

Vinyl cut-outs provide a number of advantages, including low cost, ease of use, and durability. In addition, using digital prints on vinyl or transfer paper offers some benefits. For a relatively little price, you may make elaborate and complex designs.

DTG, on the other hand, makes it possible to print both large and small orders at a reasonable price. It can run both simple and complicated designs at a low cost. A disadvantage of DTG printing is that it doesn’t generate as vibrant of a color rendition, even with high-quality inks and paper.

When only a few colors are needed, screen printing is still the most cost-effective option for high-quality prints. In addition, larger purchases are more cost-effective, but one or two unique prints can still cost a lot of money.

DTG vs Screen Printing: Which to Choose?

If you’re looking to create a beautiful print, you can use both digital printing and screen printing.

advantages of DTG printing

  • Allows for a tremendous deal of complexity in the form of multi-colored, finely detailed artwork.
  • Handles low-volume orders in an efficient manner.
  • Made from soft, breathable cloth and dyed with water-based inks.

The drawbacks of DTG printing:

  • It’s not as long-lasting as some other methods, but it should last for a long time.
  • Although it has a high level of color saturation, it is difficult to distinguish against dark fabrics.
  • Isn’t as vibrant or dazzling as it used to be.
  • It is only possible to use this method using 100 percent cotton

Screen printing’s advantages:

  • Designs that can withstand a lot of wear and tear.
  • Plastisol ink, which has vibrant, brilliant colors and can be used to create a variety of creative effects, is used.
  • Cotton or polyester can be used as a substrate.
  • Cost-effectively produce large quantities of the same product.

Screen printing’s drawbacks include the following:

  • Each print requires a significant amount of time and effort to set up.
  • Additional color screens are necessary for multicolored graphics, which increases production time and costs per shirt.
  • Complex and elaborate designs are conceivable, but they need a lot of time and energy.

Small-scale orders are best served by direct to garment printing (DTG) and large-scale orders via screen printing. Quality is a subject on which there are varying degrees of agreement. It’s possible that digital printing’s sophisticated designs are more appealing to you than screen printing’s bold, raised designs!

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