Screen printing and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing are two of the most popular print methods and are often a source of constant debate on which is the preferred solution for print companies. Advocates of digital printing methods would say that its rapid expansion and improvements over time will allow it to overtake – and outright replace – screen printing. Various industry players, however, think that screen printing is here to stay.
New hybrid systems, such as the revolutionary Digital Squeegee system, are being introduced to the industry. It combines the best of screen printing and DTG’s advantages into one powerful package, making it a potential disruptor by offering greater flexibility to industry players intending to make the switch.
With a third option now available, it does bring up some new questions. This, inevitably, leads to newcomers (like yourself) apprehensively wondering, “Which one should I pick?” Allow us to help you make the right decision!
So What is Screen Printing?
Screen printing is the most widely known and used printing method, with a rich history dating back thousands of years across many cultures.
The process involves transferring ink to a mesh screen, with a design stenciled onto it to allow the ink to pass. The ink is then transferred onto the surface of a garment. Once done, the garment is cured (or heated) so that the ink properly sets into the garment.
Advantages of Screen Printing
Low Entry & Maintenance Costs: Entry-level printers can go anywhere from $400 to $3,000. Screen printing inks are also very affordable in contrast to DTG printing. Once you’ve set up your shop layout, you’ll be able to start printing in no time.
Versatility: Though it’s pretty labor-intensive, you’ll be able to produce a considerable number of printed products in a relatively modest time while using the proper techniques to improve productivity. Not only will you be able to print on cotton garments, but you can also print on a wide array of materials – from polyesters to glass and even metal surfaces. You’ll be able to cater to the needs of a highly varied customer base!
Screen Printing Inks: Inks used are very affordable and produce very vibrant, saturated colors – perfect for matching custom Pantone colors in a corporate logo. These inks are also much more durable than DTG prints, especially if you take extra care during washes. It might not have a very soft feel, but screen-printed designs will last a long time.
What Are Its Drawbacks?
Best for Bulk Orders: Small-scale (print-on-demand) orders require additional setup time, which makes it a strong limiting factor. The time and effort needed for intricate designs with multiple colors is a very laborious process. Screen printing needs one screen per color, and designs with many colors will need many more screens. The more complex the designs, the longer it takes to complete orders. In the end, you’ll be losing more than you gained.
Not for Intricate Designs: Screen printing has difficulty in showcasing intricate details on a design. DTG printing does a much better job, as it is an automated process that can include fine lines, tiny textures, and other elements. Screen printing may not accurately capture these details because the mesh screens cannot accommodate such minute details.
DTG Printing in Brief
Sometimes called digital printing, DTG printing uses a digital printing machine. First, the selected design is digitized so that a raster image processor (RIP) software can translate it into a set of instructions. The printer uses these instructions to print the design directly onto the garment. This is achieved by spraying ink onto the surface using carefully controlled print heads in the machine.
Benefits of DTG Printing
Digital format: DTG printing quickly digitizes various complex designs and prints them onto the garment. It can create a range of colors from only four, or sometimes six, base colors to create unique, multicolored designs. Designs with many intricate details will significantly benefit from DTG printing and can even be customized on the fly without interrupting the whole printing process.
Minimal Setup: Once you’re ready to print, it’s as easy as printing out a document with your office desktop printer.
Small-scale Orders: Print-on-demand orders, like a batch of shirts for a school sports team, are where DTG printing shines.
Consistency: The first print will always look the same as the last one since the printing machine handles everything. An additional benefit is that the inks are sprayed onto the surface, which helps reduce a buildup of ink and improves the flexibility and airflow of the garments. The best part is that DTG prints have the softest feel compared to screen printed designs, quickly contributing to their popularity.
Where DTG Printing Lacks
High Setup & Maintenance Costs: Even the most affordable printers can cost up to $16,000. We haven’t even factored in the additional costs of procuring the extra equipment needed – from pre-treatment machines to ensure the inks adhere to the surfaces used, a heat press, and the RIP software to convert the design into a set of instructions that the printer uses for printing it out.
Expensive Inks: Most of the cost of DTG comes from high white ink use, especially on dark shirts. This is because color inks will need to be printed on a white underbase, rather than directly onto the garment, to make sure they stand out once printed.
Inks Aren’t Very Durable: You might find after a couple of washes, a DTG print’s ink will have started to fade.
Not Versatile: DTG printing is also difficult to work on a wide number of fabrics, textiles, and other materials, a problem that has persisted since DTG’s conception. Issues like dye migration, where the garment’s dye bleeds into the ink, can happen when DTG printing is used on incompatible materials.
Best for Print-on-Demand: As your orders increase, your overheads also increase exponentially. It doesn’t help that it’s also slower than a screen printing setup, being able to print 15 to 20 shirts per hour. Then there’s the issue of costly inks that drive up your costs. It isn’t worth the hassle and extra expenditure you need to bear.
Introducing the Digital Squeegee
A relatively new innovation, the digital squeegee is a hybrid solution combining screen printing and DTG printing’s strengths. Specifically, digital squeegee machines use a screen printed underbase, removing the need for time-consuming pretreatments to let the ink set in while adding the convenience of digital printing to directly print multiple colors on intricate designs. Its benefits include:
Merging Screen and DTG Printing: You can print high-quality designs with multiple colors at highly efficient, and effective, production rates. In fact, most digital squeegee machines promise impressive printing speeds under ideal circumstances; fast setups that require few screens and no pretreatment; and a wider range of compatible materials – all in a robust and versatile package.
Reduce Production Costs: One example is making unique designs with complicated, high-color prints – all with a single screen. Designs can be quickly modified on the fly without ever pausing. The savings don’t stop there, though, such as using white screen printing ink for the underbase instead of expensive DTG inks. No pretreatment is needed, either!
At the moment, the biggest downside to the digital squeegee is its relatively high price tag. M&R’s latest product, the POLARIS, is currently marketed at approximately $800,000. The price does include a system, stage installation, and training program; a startup consumables kit; and spare parts. Still, it’s a huge investment to begin with!
So Which Should I Pick?
Deciding between the three options ultimately rests on what you intend for your business. You’ll have to carefully consider your business needs, your current budget allocation, and what your potential customers look like. Jumping right into any of these would be disastrous if you don’t plan ahead!
Do you have a sizeable budget but want to take on small, highly customized orders? DTG printing is a good choice, then. While it will set you back substantially to afford the printing machines and other equipment, the long-term setup cost and time are a lot more affordable than screen printing. You won’t be taking big orders just yet, but you can easily reach a wide audience with the ability to print intricate designs from a wide selection of colors. The quality of DTG prints, and their incredible softness, are all appealing features for groups of friends, school sports teams, and even small office groups who want a memorable product that stands out.
If you have a sizeable team and a good network of potential customers, screen printing might be the better choice. It’s much better at handling bulk orders that need a smaller but richer gamut of colors with simple designs. You might not have the same soft feel that DTG has, but the vibrant hues of screen printing inks, their ability to match custom Pantone colors used in corporate logos, and their overall durability grant screen printing that much staying power over DTG prints. The relatively low starting cost also allows you to quickly scale up over time as you take more orders, while boosting productivity at the same time.
What About the Digital Squeegee?
If you’re a newbie to the industry, we’d recommend not thinking ahead too far just yet. The incredibly high investment needed to get started with the digital squeegee is a major hurdle to overcome. If you’ve been around some time, and are looking for something to put you ahead of the game, then it’s definitely worth considering. It does help that new advances and incentives from major industry players are enabling others to go further with the latest technology without leaving a hole in your business’ wallet.
The ability to combine the strengths of screen printing and digital printing is a huge boon – all without sacrificing quality, color accuracy, productivity, and speed. The additional cost-saving features from combining screen and DTG printing will also become more apparent over time, and you’ll be getting your return on investment in no time. Just be sure to do your homework beforehand, so you know what exactly you’re getting into.
You might also want to consider having a software package to help you manage your orders, monitor production, and ensure everything is going smoothly. Here at YoPrint, we can assist you with scaling your business by offering industry-leading business management tools and services. Learn more by signing up for a free 14-day trial today!