What Is DTG Printing and How Does It Compare to Screen Printing?

There are a lot of techniques for customizing clothing. From fabric paint and markers to embroidery to screen printing, the options are seemingly endless. Whether you are looking to start your own apparel decorating business or you’re just trying to save some cash by customizing cheap bulk t-shirts yourself rather than paying a pro, figuring out which technique to utilize can be overwhelming.

t shirt printing

Currently, two of the best and most common methods of creating high-quality customized t-shirts, polos, hats and more are screen printing and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. DTG printing is a much newer technique than screen printing, and it’s been making some pretty big waves in the world of clothing customization. What exactly is DTG printing and how does it compare to screen printing, though? Keep reading to find out the answers!

What Is DTG Printing?

Direct-to-garment printing is a process in which ink is directly sprayed onto a garment. The ink permeates the fibers in a process that is similar to how inkjet printer ink soaks into printer paper. One of the main perks of this type of printing is that it requires virtually no set-up time, which makes printing one-off designs fast and affordable.

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With DTG printing, there are a lot of color options to choose from, and it’s possible to print photorealistic designs and extremely detailed images on fabric with very few limitations. The drawbacks, though, are that it doesn’t work well for images that are not 100 percent opaque and the process isn’t fast enough to be efficient for large batches.

How Does Screen Printing Work?

silk screen printing shirt

The screen printing process involves pushing ink through a mesh stencil onto the fabric. Rather than sinking into the fabric like the ink used in DTG printing, screen printing ink rests on top of the fabric.

With screen printing, multiple colors need to be added in layers. A special screen must be created for each color and each element of the overall design. This process can be incredibly time-consuming for complex designs. For this reason, screen printing generally isn’t efficient or affordable for one-off designs and small runs. Instead, it is only cost-efficient for large runs.

Screen printing works best for basic typography and solid graphics that don’t have a lot of fine details. Because each color needs to be applied separately, this method is most appropriate for designs with few colors. Most professional printers cap designs at a maximum of nine colors.

Which Is Better?

DTG printing and screen printing each have their pros and cons. When determining which method best suits your needs, it’s important to consider several factors. Are you planning on printing the same design in bulk? If so, screen printing is likely your best bet. If, on the other hand, you’ll only be printing in small batches, DTG printing is probably the more cost-effective option.

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Think about the types of designs you’ll be printing. DTG printing is best for photorealistic designs, while screen printing works perfectly for simple shapes and basic typography. If environmental impact is a concern, DTG printing is a greener and more sustainable option since the screen printing process requires a significant amount of water and typically involves plastisol inks which do not biodegrade. DTG printers are designed with sustainability in mind, too, to make the process as eco-friendly as possible.

DTG printing also offers a greater deal of flexibility in terms of design customization. Making even a minor change to a screen printed design requires making a new screen or screens which can waste a substantial amount of time. With DTG printing, you can customize designs in a matter of minutes or even seconds using image editing software. This would be hugely beneficial for making personalized shirts featuring the same design but different names.

When it comes to shirt fabric types, both methods tend to work best on cotton, polyester or cotton/poly blends.

printing images on t shirts in studio

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re customizing wholesale polo shirts for your employees or launching a full-scale garment customization business, both DTG printing and screen printing are solid options. Determining which one will best suit your needs requires spending some time reviewing the pros and cons and assessing your own preferences. If you are starting a business, you may even want to think about offering both types of printing to expand your offerings. Whichever option you choose, The Adair Group has the wholesale t-shirts, sweatshirts and other garments and accessories you need!

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