Ever wondered how your favorite Tee-shirt got that soft-touch, vibrant color print on it? Printing on apparel is usually done using two methods- Direct to Garment Printing and traditional Screen Printing. Both print techniques are widely used in the industry, but when clients understand the benefits and unlimited potential of digital printing, screen printing becomes a secondary option. Depending on the amount of detail in your artwork and the type of fabric being printed on, the cost-effectiveness and durability of direct to garment will always make the most sense for both one-off prints and bulk production.
What is (DTG) Direct to Garment Printing?
Direct to garment printing is a procedure where a digital printer is used to apply ink directly to the surface of the fabric of the garment being customized. This is the only method used for fulfilling on-demand and single unit print orders through services like Printful, Custom Ink and Arena Merchandising. Advancements in digital print technology have made it possible to print photo realistic details, half-tones, gradients and exact Pantone color matches in minutes time on both cotton and blends. The efficiency of the process also makes it possible to get retail ready print proofs prior to bulk print production.
How Does Direct to Garment Printing Work?
DTG printing is quite similar to using the inkjet printer in your home or office. Just as a standard printer translates a digital image onto paper, a DTG printer translates the graphic file onto a blank tee. Direct to garment printing uses water-based inks that are sprayed over a pre-treated print area in layers that permanently set into the fabric with heat. Digital printing is extremely precise and delivers high-quality, long lasting results.
The Type of Designs that Work Best for DTG Printing is:
elaborate designs or graphic art with half-tones and gradients
designs that involve an unlimited amount of color
single unit production or on-demand print products
What is Screen Printing?
Screen printing is the traditional method used to print designs on tee-shirts and other wearables. This classic, tried-and-true print method uses special inks that are pulled through a mesh stencil onto the fabric. The results of this technique are directly influenced by the level of experience and knowledge of the print operator. This method, though labor intensive, can produce great-looking, durable prints but is limited by the total number of colors a print wheel can manage for any design and only works for bulk print runs; usually 36 units or more of the same image.
How Does Traditional Screen Printing Work?
Screen printing involves pulling ink through a stencil-like mesh onto the garment fabric to create a single layered design. Each color in the design has to be burned individually on it's own separate screen. The print file is separated into layers by color and then printed on sheets of film that are then transferred onto the mesh using chemicals and a light exposure unit. After the image layers are burned into a mesh frame, each frame is aligned into place on a print wheel where each color is then pulled onto the garment one at a time. Heat is used to cure or set each color into the fibers of the garment. After all the layers are printed, the whole graphic design comes into being.
Screen printing is most suitable for simple designs and large print runs. Screen printing works best with:
bold typographic or graphic images with limited colors
less detailed designs that don't include gradients or half-tones
orders over 36 units that don't have mixed sizes
DIRECT TO GARMENT PRINTING IS BETTER THAN SCREEN PRINTING
Direct to garment printing has several advantages over the traditional Screen Print method. It is not as time consuming or labor-intensive as screen printing and can be effectively managed by anyone with or without screen printing experience. Secondly, it can be used to print designs containing multiple colors, fine lines, tiny fonts and gradients in single unit quantities. If you are using Arena Merchandising for on-demand print and fulfillment, this means you can offer an unlimited variety of image variations and sizes that can be printed on dozens of apparel and soft good options and fulfilled as individual one-off orders without needing to stock inventory or run bulk prints for each design and shirt size. Digital Printing is also the more sustainable method for the fashion industry compared to screen printing. It requires a fraction of the toxic chemicals needed to create printable images and eliminates 100% of water waste generated during the set up for traditional screen printing. Digital printing also helps to prevent overproduction which leads to textile waste. The textile and apparel industry generates more than 92 million tons of printed textile waste every year. Decreasing the environmental impact at the production level makes direct to garment printing an eco-friendly game changer.
When working with third-party print and fulfillment companies like Arena Merchandising, direct to garment printing has proven to be the only economical and reliable option for managing a profitable apparel brand. Using direct to garment printing, print shops have the ability to adjust the output settings of their machines to create the most colorful, vibrant and crisp print results possible. While screen printing is still a good option for large print runs that feature 1-3 color designs, consumers and brand owners worldwide are beginning to prefer the quality and consistency of direct to garment and in many cases, are designing around the image limitations that come with screen printing allowing graphic artists to create more exciting and intricate designs.
Once you've had a chance to wear a digitally printed garment, you'll notice and appreciate the light-weight feel of the print along with the durability and color fastness that is still present after dozens of washes. Additionally, if you find the right print partner, digital print quality can be comparable to the cost of screen printing while producing results screen printing would never be able to replicate.
Print or embroider your own custom merchandise with Arena Merchandising. Set up a storefront or connect our on-demand print and fulfillment service to your existing sales platform for seamless order management. We pay 100% of the net sales revenue for each transaction.
I stopped using screen printing for my brand years ago. Direct to garment printing is the best solution to get a quality print that is fast, customized, and cost-effective. As a brand, you need to be equipped to develop great apparel that represents you and your customers.
Stop screen printing your shirts! DTG gives you the best strategy and resources to do it exactly how you want to.