It is almost impossible to define which printing method is the best or which is better than the other, screen-printing or digital printing? No one printing method is absolutely superior to another, the answer is always the same: it depends on what you want to print and what your needs are. But there are some undeniable aspects in which each is better than the other, so what I will do is make a comparison of advantages and disadvantages between screen-printing and digital printing methods for t-shirt printing. You can decide which method works better for you and your specific t-shirt printing needs.
Screen-printing has been around for decades, it is a technology that has matured and been perfected over the years, which makes it trustworthy and reliable. For any printing method that has been able to stay current for such a long time, has to bring something great to the table and is noticeable in my opinion.
Let me define the screen-printing process: a type of stencil design is created on fine mesh or polyester fabric; the ink is pushed through the stencil and onto the printable substrate (one stencil is used per color to create the finished product). To prevent stains and contamination on unwanted areas, these are covered with an impermeable substance.
- Cost efficient: the cost for large runs of printing is very effective and more economical. So if you need to print a large number of t-shirts this is a great process for you.
- High quality: it creates an unusual visual result with more professional and high quality details.
- Long lasting: the inks used for screen-printing are more durable over the long term due to their composition and thickness and the stress with which the inks are placed onto the design.
- Color: the colors are very vibrant and are hard to obtain with other printing technologies.
- Versatility: it is a very flexible technology in terms of things you can print onto, regardless of thickness and type of material. You can print onto a large variety of materials (wood, fabric, plastic, even metal) and objects as long as they are flat. For t-shirts we must focus mainly on the thickness part.
- Convenience: It’s easy to print on specified areas of the print material
- Higher initial cost than digital printing
- Printing process is longer: preparing screens
- Higher costs on short runs, hence there is little room for customization
- Limited color ranges
Digital printing is a more recent technology in the industry, where you create a digital print image with a computer and this is later printed directly onto the fabric or paper and transferred. The ink (inkjet or toner) is applied directly onto the substrate using a printer whether it is a small desktop or wide-format printer.
- Cost efficient: Lower initial set-up cost and speed of turn around. Best for small quantity or short print runs, since prices are fixed and bulk printing does note reduce costs
- Speediness: it involves less pre-press artwork
- Color: larger range of printing colors with ease.
- Photographic Quality: photorealistic images can be reproduced
- Customization: you can personalize each item you print
- Higher cost for large runs
- The print is not long-lasting
- Printing materials are reduced and more limited
Nowadays there is an alternative to choosing between one technology and the other, there are hybrid printers that combine screen-printing and digital all in one machine. It is a somewhat recent technology, so it is not profusely diffused and might not be available in most printing facilities. But it is nice there is an option that uses the best of each technology to produce impressive results.
As you can see, both screen-printing and digital printing have pros and cons, but the main differences is that digital printing is used for short runs and customization while screen-printing for large runs. Depending of your desired results you should take into consideration all the aspects listed here before choosing which technology to use.