This quarantine has gotten everyone bored out of their existence. And with everyone trying out new things, if you want to get custom apparel printed (just for fun or even as a small business setup), this article is for you.
There are two main techniques used in custom t-shirt printing: direct-to-garment (DTG) printing and screen printing. Screen printing is a more conventional method of custom t-shirt printing, whereas DTG has recently risen to popularity. Let’s break both of these custom apparel printing techniques down to compare their pros and cons and decide which method best suits your custom printing needs.
How does screen printing work
Screen printing apparel is the traditional approach. It uses a stencil to push ink down on the garments you are printing. The ink is applied as a layer on top of the fabric and does not soak into the fabric fibers.
The stencil is a woven screen known as mesh stencil that has to be designed (a lengthy and painstaking task) for every t-shirt print idea you have, separately. The ink is applied layer by layer, by a different stencil corresponding to each element of your design. The time required to print your design is directly linked to how many layers/elements it has. And too many layers will feel thicker on your t-shirts.
Screen printing makes no sense to use if you are looking to print just a few t-shirts. The cost of setting up screen printing and designing the stencils is too high. This is why screen printing is primarily employed when printing t-shirts in bulk. Otherwise, it’s not cost-effective and takes too long to be set up.
Which designs work best with screen printing
Screen printing works best with standard solid designs that are less complex. As the complexity of your t-shirt design translates to the number of stencils needed, overly detailed and intricate designs can dramatically increase the cost and time if screen printing is used.
Hence, screen printing is suitable for designs having simple geometry, basic shapes, and ordinary symbols. It is harder to get complicated designs right every time during printing with this technique.
And since each color is applied separately, screen printing also restricts the number of colors used in each design. Print providers often limit you to no more than 8-9 colors allowed in your custom apparel printing.
Screen printing and sustainability
One crucial thing to consider when setting up a new business is its impact on our environment. The plastisol inks used for screen printing aren’t biodegradable, and the whole process requires too much water.
Since screen printing is seldom not used for bulk orders, there is always a chance of overproduction. The custom apparel printed that is not sold often ends up being burned or dumped in a landfill, neither of which is an eco-friendly alternative. So in order to minimize the carbon footprint of your business setup, it is pivotal to only take orders that can be managed by your setup.
Does screen printing suit your business model?
The investment cost of setting up screen printing is high. This technique is cost-effective only if your designs are simple, with no intricate graphics, and use a limited number of color patterns (the fewer, the better). Third-party print services also have a set number of minimum orders they cater to, ranging anywhere from 10 to 100 pieces.
You also have to consider the space needed to produce and store a large batch of custom printed t-shirts safely to make sure you don’t incur a heavy loss while starting your business setup. Not being able to sell all the custom t-shirts printed would also add to textile waste – already a significant environmental problem – something you actively want to avoid.
Each design has to be bulk printed, limiting the variety of custom t-shirts you can offer in your store. The whole process becomes even more challenging if you do not already have an established customer base. This makes experimenting with designs almost impossible.
Moreover, screen printing services often require you to send them color codes of your design and print files separated into layers of each color. Lack of technical knowledge and not knowing the jargon of apparel printing makes screen printing unsuitable for people who are just starting out.
How does direct to garment printing work
Because of recent technological advancements in DTG printers, this technique of custom apparel printing has gained a lot of traction. Each year this technique gets faster, more affordable, and produces finer prints. DTG printers spray ink onto the fabric, much like an inkjet printer, which is then absorbed into the fibers.
DTG printing is precise and produces high-quality results, but the ink is not soaked as deeply as in other methods. DTG printers are large and can handle all different kinds of designs and offer much more color variation as no stencils are needed. The printing machines are extremely flexible and can be modified easily for a new design. This makes DTG printing less time-consuming and more economical, especially for one-time small orders.
Which designs work best with DTG printing
If you come up with a particularly elaborate t-shirt design with a lot of colors, DTG is the way to go. Photorealistic images and detailed designs is where this technique thrives best. There is no limitation to keep your design simple. If you want to try out different designs and offer more variety to your customers, this is relatively important.
One thing that DTG printing does not work well with is transparency. If the elements are not 100% opaque, they do not translate well when printing on t-shirts. The printer makes up for the transparent design by spreading the ink, making the print look spotty and smudged.
This is the only limitation of DTG printing – otherwise, you can experiment with detailed designs and color gradients as much as you like; as long as you make sure to use solid colors.
DTG printing and sustainability
Direct-to-garment printing uses biodegradable water-based inks that quickly soak into the fabric. It also uses relatively less water compared to other printing methods, making it a rather more sustainable technique. If working with a third-party printing service, your custom apparel is printed only after it has already been purchased, meaning there is no over-production and no textile waste.
Moreover, DTG printer companies use state-of-the-art technology to come up with sustainable and innovative designs for printers that minimize water wastage during printing and use lesser energy. The inks used are non-hazardous, toxin-free, and use no animal by-products formulated and thoroughly tested in labs to not compromise the print quality.
Does DTG printing suit your business model?
Direct-to-garment printing gets the products ready for your customers without any stress and hassle.
Most printing service providers have no minimum order restriction, so the production can be done on-demand after the customer has placed the order. You do not need additional space to store your printed stock either, as it can be directly shipped. DTG printing does offer bulk discounts, but if the order size is too huge, the printing will take sufficient time.
And since the whole design is printed in one go, unlike layer by layer in screen printing, the absence of any additional setup time makes DTG printing efficient, allowing you to start printing after the order has been placed. Thus if your design doesn’t get the traction you wanted, or maybe if it stops selling after some orders, you can simply discontinue and shift to a new design. It also gives you the freedom to test your creativity and try out new designs without any risk of losing money.
DTG printing vs screen printing: an overview
If done by skilled experts, both methods produce phenomenal and high-quality prints but differ in cost.
Screen printing is a labor-intensive method that produces more vibrant colors on your custom t-shirt but restricts you on the number of colors you can use. DTG, on the other hand, provides you more freedom to play with colors and intricate details.
Screen printing is done for bulk orders, whereas DTG printing can be done for small orders with little initial investment. Both methods provide bulk discounts, but DTG is more sustainable and provides on-demand fulfillment.
The final draw
The final decision of whether you want to go with DTG or screen printing is entirely up to you. But you should consider your brand image, design complexity, number of orders, and capital available to make the best decision possible.
The easier way is to choose DTG printing and go for on-demand production of your custom printed apparel. This method is risk-free and does not require storage space or additional investment to introduce a new design that your creative mind comes up with.
Using DTG printing saves you time – that you can better spend on marketing your custom printed t-shirts and increasing their reach to the general public. The eco-friendliness of DTG printing can also be used to market your product better and make it look more appealing to the common man.
The best approach would be to start with DTG printing and try out new designs. And once a specific design catches traction, and its demand increases, the production of that particular design can then be transferred to screen printing to produce in bulk.
To make the best decision for your business, understanding all these technical differences between the two custom apparel printing methods is essential. The specific conditions your business is operating in will influence your final decision. Still, we hope this article serves to provide the necessary background knowledge needed to make the optimum decision, scale your business and boost your sales.