T-shirt design printing: Choosing between screen printing and digital printing

Published: 19th August 2010
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Different techniques can be used to print your t-shirt design onto your T-shirt, and unsurprisingly, they produce different results. In this article, we examine screen printing and digital t-shirt printing, and the pros and cons of each one, to help you choose the best way to create your dream t-shirt.



Screen printing for t-shirts

If you had an industrious art teacher at school, you may have tried a simple version of screen printing in which a template for each colour of your design creates the spaces where the ink can be pressed onto the fabric. The same principle applies in professional t-shirt screen printing, although there is more automation of the actual printing once the set-up has been completed.



Digital printing

This is sometimes called "direct to garment digital printing" or simply DTG. This technique involves the application of textile water-based inks to the t-shirt using a specialised digital printer. The design is usually fixed onto the garment with a heat press.



Choosing the best t-shirt printing technique

When considering which technique to choose for a t-shirt print run, many people ask which provides the best quality finish. In fact, the best technique depends on the t-shirt design you want to print, as some are better suited to each technique. It also depends on the colours you are printing and the colour of the base garment too.



The best T-shirt designs for screen printing

Bold designs with thick lines and few colours are best suited to screen printing, producing very high quality results. If you are using a digital image with fine colour blending or black and white shading in your t-shirt design, screen printing will simply not be able to reproduce the image well.



Of course, other factors will influence the price of your t-shirt run, such as the number being produced, especially as screen printing does involve more setting up before printing can begin. The number of colours in the design also affects the price as a different screen is required for each colour.



If your T-shirt design is relatively simple, screen printing may well be the best option as it produces a very high quality finish. Many in the t-shirt printing industry maintain that the best vibrancy of colour can only be produced by screen printing.



The durability of screen printed t-shirts following multiple wears and washes is also considered to be the best, but of course, the quality of inks used and the base garment will also be a factor.



The best T-shirt designs for digital printing

Advances in printing technology have improved the finish of digitally printed t-shirts immensely over recent years. If you tried it a few years ago and were disappointed by seeing dots in your design, don't let it discourage you now. Modern digital t-shirt printing machines produce better finishes now, with better durability than ever before.



If you are using a photograph or complex, multi-coloured image in your t-shirt design, digital printing is the way to go as it can reproduce photorealistic designs. In addition, it's the cheaper option if you only need a small number of t-shirts produced as the set-up costs are lower.



One important factor to consider with digital printing is the colour of the base garment, as generally that colour is the most prominent in the design, and as a result, best effects are achieved using white t-shirts when printing a multi-coloured design. Only the very best DTG t-shirt printers may be able to get excellent results with black or dark coloured t-shirts. Printing white ink can still be problematic, so avoiding using DTG t-shirt printing for designs that contain substantial white areas, especially on dark base garments, is a wise choice.



Summary

With the advances in digital T-shirt printing over recent years, it's no longer simply a case of "screen printing produces the best results" - instead, start with the needs of your design and examine whether screen printing or DTG digital T-shirt printing can best reproduce it.



In short, if your design is simple and has few colours, generally screen printing is the method to opt for, but may be more expensive for a small print run. If your T-shirt design involves many colours and photorealistic images, then digital printing should be your first choice. Of course, the best t-shirt printing companies will be happy to give you advice on what is best for your needs.



About the author

Steve Beynon has over twenty years of experience in the garment printing and embroidery industry, creating Shirtlab after extensive research into customised clothing and apparel websites currently available in the UK. Shirtlab provides a state of the art online promotional garment design service, providing easy to use design tools that create outstanding personalised T-shirt designs with minimal effort.



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