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DTG Vs Screen Printing

Looking to open a new t-shirt business but aren’t sure what printing method to choose? Picking the right printing method is a critical decision not only because it will determine how profitable you will be but also because it will determine how fast your business grows, and whether or not you will be happy at what you do.

This guide compares direct to garment printing and screen printing, and gives you tips on choosing the right one for your business.

Screen Printing

Screen printing, also known as silk-screening, is the oldest and also the most widely used method of printing t-shirts on a commercial scale. It’s definitely the method that can help you work on the largest orders. The screens used in this method are basically meshes on which negative images are printed.

Here’s how the Screen Printing process works:

  • Create a separate screen for each of the colors you’re looking to use in your design.
  • Pour each ink color onto a separate screen.
  • Spread out the ink on the screen using a squeegee so it transfers onto the garment effectively through the screen.
  • Repeat the process for each screen.
  • Cure the design with a dryer.

The reason why screen printing is so popular is that you can get started with just a little investment if you are willing to go the manual way and use a few colors. You can then climb up the ladder as you progress and get more cash to invest in automating the process.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of using screen printing to print garments.

  • You can start off with a small investment
  • Printing screens is costly and definitely not economical when doing small orders
  • It produces superb quality
  • It can get messy when setting up the screens. These screens also have to be washed properly and stored
  • The printing is long lasting – with proper care, the graphic will last as long as the garment
  • The equipment used in screen printing are quite bulky and need lots of space – most definitely not a back-office affair
  • Once the screens are set up, the rest of the process is fast and cost-efficient. You don’t have to repeat the set-up process as long as you’re not changing the ink color and again you can use the same design over and again, thereby saving on ink

Silk screening can be a very lucrative business but you’ve got to have good working space. Also, be prepared to get messy especially when setting up the screens.

Direct to Garment (DTG) Printing

Direct to Garment (DTG) is an Inkjet innovation that prints directly onto garments. When this technology was first invented, there were lots of problems with printing onto dark-colored fabrics using lighter-colored inks particularly white.

Then again, the printers needed lots of maintenance and were not very user-friendly. The present models have climbed to a whole new level – they can print on darker-colored garments using lighter-colored inks without any issues and they are a lot more user-friendly.

Here’s how DTG works:

  • Pre-treat the shirt if it is dark-colored. You don’t have to go through this step if the garment is light-colored.
  • Load the shirt into the DTG printer. Some printers will allow you to load up to 4 garments.
  • Open your design in the Inkjet RIP software and then print it.
  • Heat press the garment for 2 or 3 minutes to cure it

Apart from the awesome quality of the printing, you can print one to 50 shirts using this method very cost-effectively. Also, the design produced has a softer feel than those produced by other printing methods.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of DTG:

  • The printing is of very high quality – the printer produces full color images
  • The printer requires maintenance – you need to run about 20-minute cleaning routines daily. With some printers, the process is easy and cheap but with others, such as the Espon F2000, the process is costly as lots of ink is wasted
  • Cost-effective even for small orders
  • Only designed to print on cotton – no nylon or polyester allowed. Most other materials are also not suitable for the DTG printer

Additional tips for using the DTG method:

  • If you’re to use this method, you’ll need to find enough, well-ventilated storage space for the ink bottles. The ink can be quite costly (usually $150 to $300 per liter), so ensure there’s no spilling.
  • Good DTG printers go for around $10000 going up. Go for anything less than that and you’ll probably be trading features like the ability to print on dark-colored garments.
  • If you’re looking to print high-quality, full color graphics, this is the method to use. Remember, it’s profitable even when printing just one shirt.

DTG vs Screen Printing Conclusion

There’s no entirely perfect method for printing garments. Screen printing is cost-effective for large orders but ineffective for small orders. DTG gives you the highest quality of graphics but then again, it won’t print on materials other than cotton.

If, on the other hand, you’re sure that this is the business for you and have some cash to invest, then go for a DTG printer and a screen-printer. With that combination, you can be sure that you’ll be able to serve a huge number of clientele.

James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.