Direct to Garment VS. Screen Printing: Which to Choose?

DTG versus Screen Printing
The two most common methods for shirt printing are direct to garment (DTG) printing and screen printing. Let us help you decide which to choose!

So you have decided that you are in need of printing services, but now what are you supposed to do? There seems to be an unlimited number of ways to have your design printed, but you aren’t sure which method to choose for your shirt order. The two most common methods for shirt printing are direct to garment (DTG) printing and screen printing. You may be thinking “I don’t know what those two things mean and I just want my shirts printed!”, and that’s understandable. To make the best decision for your order, we here at Giant Robo Printing have compiled a list of reasons to either choose direct to garment or screen printing services. Let’s start out by talking about how direct to garment printing works.

The Direct to Garment Printing Process

Direct to Garment printing is a relatively new way to print designs on apparel. Although the technology was available in the late 90s, it wouldn’t become popular commercially until 2005 with the release of the first “from the ground up” printer made by Brother International. Since its invention, direct to garment printing has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry that is one of the most reliable printing services used today. To further understand direct to garment printing, let us dive into its process. 

The direct to garment printing process starts with pre-treating the shirt. It is of note that the printer used is essentially a huge inkjet printer that harnesses special water-based ink. Due to the use of this special ink, direct to garment items have to be pre-treated with a heat press. The pre-treatment process helps the fibers of the shirt lay flat and allows the water-based ink to bond better with the garment. After being treated, the garment is held in place by a platen system. From there, the design in the printer digital file queue is printed onto the garment. Now that the process has been examined, we will look at the specific benefits of dtg printing.

Direct to garment printer setup

Pros of DTG:

One of direct to garment printing’s greatest strengths is that it can print complex designs that incorporate multiple colors. DTG printing is able to bring intricate images and photographs to life in a way that screen printing just can’t match. Screen printing requires a design to be printed layer by layer via separate screens, where dtg prints the entire design at once. One of the biggest reasons to choose dtg printing is not having to order a minimum, unlike screen printing, which requires an order size starting at 24 pieces of apparel. DTG printing allows someone to print hyper-specialized designs in a limited quantity.

Cons of DTG:

When it comes to the potential downsides of direct to garment printing, there are a couple points worth noting. The first issue people run into is making sure to properly pretreat every item before printing. Without a diligent pretreatment job, the design will not stick to the garment. Another problem with dtg printing is shirt order sizes. Although the detail of dtg printing is slightly sharper than screen printing, it is not as economical to have a bulk dtg order. One last note about dtg printing is that the design is slightly less durable due to a thinner coating of ink compared to screen printing. It is important to mention that dtg printing is still easily capable of 50 washes without fading. Despite the points mentioned above, direct to garment printing is still a very reliable and durable printing method to choose for a small yet incredibly detailed order. We will now look at the other side of the coin by discussing screen printing and it’s process.

The Screen Printing Process

Screen printing is an ancient yet reliable printing process. Screen printing was first used by the Chinese starting in 960 A.D. and the process was originally called silk printing as silk was used for the screens. It would not be until the late 18th century when screen printing was adopted by Western Europe. Since then, screen printing has been used across the globe to produce quality apparel prints on a massive scale. Next, we will look at the screen printing process to better understand how it differs from dtg printing.

The first step of the process starts with either the customer delivering us an image or us making a design that will be used upon approval. Once the design is established, it is separated by layers and each segment of a design is put on a clear plastic film. A coating of photo-reactive emulsion is added to a screen and then a layer of film is placed on top of it. From here, the screen and film layers are exposed to UV light for 20 minutes on average. Next, the burned screens will get hit with a high-pressure stream of water. Washing removes excess emulsion and provides a screen template for each design. The screens are then attached to the press and each screen gets ink poured onto it and a squeegee is used to push the ink through the screen onto the article of clothing. Once the apparel is printed, it gets put under a dryer to dry the ink and cure it to the clothing. Now that we have looked into the screen printing process, we will explore the pros and cons of screen printing.

Screen Printing screen and squeegee set up

Pros of Screen Printing:

The biggest reason one might want to use screen printing is for its scalability. Although Giant Robo Printing requires an order minimum of 24 items, screen printing order sizes can be ramped up to however many you need. Once the screens are set up, any number of shirts can be imprinted with your design. Another positive of screen printing is that it’s ink is resilient and very durable. Although both dtg and screen printing are durable, screen printing usually has a thicker coating of ink, making it slightly more likely to stand the test of time when washed. Like dtg printing, screen printing provides detailed designs yet screen printing is more cost effective when printed in bulk. With positive factors to consider, though, also come negative ones.

Cons of Screen Printing:

The biggest drawback of screen printing is the lack of its ability to do “one off designs” in a cost effective manner. There is a considerable set up process for screen printing so a job requiring only one or two prints would be better suited for direct to garment printing. Another thing to consider is that each shape and color requires an individual screen, so designs with many shapes and colors will be very hard to complete effectively using screen printing. Since complex, interweaving designs are hard to print using screen printing, it is not the preferred printing method for incorporating photography on apparel either. For a brief recap of all the factors we talked about in regards to screen printing and direct to garment printing, please refer to the table below.

DTG Printing
Screen Printing
High Quality Prints
Capable
Capable
Multi-color, complex designs
Capable
More Restricted
Order Size
Low to no minimum required
Minimum 24 items, better for bulk orders
Wash Durability
Thinner ink coating, at least 50 washes
Thicker ink coating, more durable
Ink Type
Water-based
Plastisol based, water-based is extra
Set Up
Very little set up
Considerable set up time

Interested in finding out more about Screen Printing or DTG Printing?

Head on over to our Screen Printing or DTG Printing page to find out more about the services discussed in this article. If you are interested in a quote, refer to the top right for our quote form. If you are interested in reaching us another way, our contact information is at the top and bottom of the page.