DTG printing versus screen printing, how to choose


If you are new to the garment printing world you probably have never heard of DTG (direct-to-garment) printing but you are more familiar with screen printing. Custom screen printing is commonly used for school spirit wear and other large bulk orders that have simple art (usually text or a simple logo).  Screen printing is an art form that has been around for thousands of years. It is a form of stenciling that first appeared in a recognizable form in China 960-1279 AD.  It was then adapted by other Asian countries like Japan, and was furthered by creating newer methods.

Nowadays, a screen is made of a piece of mesh stretched over a frame. The mesh is usually made of nylon and a finer and smaller aperture for the mesh would be utilized for a design that requires a higher and more delicate degree of detail. For the mesh to be effective, it is mounted on a frame and stretched tight. The frame which holds the mesh is normally made of aluminum. The nylon is then coated with a UV sensitive material and dried in the dark until it is time to expose a design onto the screen.

exposed screen, screen printing, negative images

Your design is submitted to us in vector format and is first printed in black on a transparent sheet. Then the transparency is pressed against the coated screen and put inside a large exposure unit. This unit uses light to expose all of the areas of the coating EXCEPT the area where the design blocks light from hitting that portion of the screen (imagine if you wore sunglasses in summer and your face tanned everywhere but around your eyes which were blocked by the sunglasses). A stencil is formed because we wash out the area of the screen that was blocked by the transparency, leaving us with a negative image.

We then apply ink to the screen and pull the ink over the negative portion of the screen with a squeegee pressing ink through the mesh onto the shirt below. The ink is then cured and it is good to go!

pulling ink over exposed screen, custom screen printing

When you use screen printing, we normally recommend using 4 colors or less depending on the quantity of your total order to make it the most cost effective option. There is a setup charge per color (since we have to create a screen for each color) and then layer the colors on top of each other to create your 2-4 color design.

What’s so great about custom screen printing then?

  • It is great for printing multiple items with the same art such as school spirit wear, uniforms for contracted workers, family reunions, large events such as fundraisers or marathons, etc.
  • You can print on any flat material! It can be light or dark, poly or cotton, on a sleeve or down a thigh (not over seams though).
  • Typical minimums begin at 12 items with price breaks starting at 24, 36, 72, 144 + So if you are unsure how many people will be attending an event it is always best to bump up your order to the next price break to get the cheaper per piece price.

When is screen printing NOT ideal?

  • If you only need 5 shirts for your bowling team then we recommend printing 7 more because we have a minimum of 12 items.
  • If you have a photo or a rainbow-like image it may not be worth the set-up fees per color unless you are ordering a large quantity.
  • If you need the order quickly. Screen printing normally takes 7-10 business days due to the setup process.

So what the heck is DTG printing?

                DTG is a digital printing technology that was created in the late 1990’s. It uses a large machine that prints very similarly to your desktop inkjet printer at work. A computer is connected to the machine that sends the design information digitally to the printer. We find that high resolution images with a transparent background print best (we can also convert vector Illustrator files into DTG printable art easily). Our employees will take a garment and load it on to a platen . The garment must be completely flat and tucked tightly to avoid any bumps or wrinkles.

2 tshirts loaded on to platens, smooth surface, DTG printing

The platen is then loaded into the printer.  The order is ready to be started and the machine slowly moves the garment through the printer (similar to feeding a piece of paper through your desktop ink jet printer). Line by line will be printed.

in process of printing with a DTG machine, line by line, CMYK, conveyer belt

The inks used are water based dyes and on white or light garments, soak directly into the garment. When finished the items are untucked from the platens and cured under heat presses. To print on darks, the garments must first be pretreated (saline like solution sprayed onto the garment print area) and then cured. The pretreated garments are loaded into the platens for the first pass which is ALL white (the underbase) and then the machine rewinds and prints the color layer on top. Then cured. Whew!

DTG printing, cured with heating press

What’s so great about DTG printing then?

  • Full color images and detailed photographs can be reproduced this way
  • Little to no setup cost or time so you can print just 1 if you want!
  • Eco-friendly inks are used and a super soft feel is left on both non-underbase and underbased garments when compared with the heavy feeling ink of screen printing.
  • This is also the technology we use for print-on-demand fulfillment services  which means that the images are scale-able based on the size of the garment!

When is direct to garment printing NOT ideal?

  • DTG is specifically made for high cotton garments. We recommend 80-100% cotton for the best results. If your garment is partially polyester, the ink will print less vibrant and the garment might discolor during the curing process. We have printed using 50/50 garments but the result is less vibrant and usually “vintage” looking.
  • You can only print on the front or back of garments, no sleeves.
  • Generally, DTG is more expensive than screen printing at high volumes because of the time it takes to print the line by line detail.
  • PMS Color matching is not possible, however we do provide printed swatches to help you predict the final colors of your project.

Are you still not sure which one you should use for your printing project? No problem, submit a quote today and we will recommend the most cost effective service for your upcoming project. We will help you decide based on your art file, the garments you are choosing to print on, and the quantity you are looking to order!