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Direct-to-Garment versus Screen Printing, A Showdown!

There are many, many ways to put a design on a t-shirt. Which way is “correct” depends on a variety of factors: budget, quantity, number of colors, material, print location, and much more. Part of what we do at Evan Webster Ink is figure out the best option for you.  Today we’ll talk about direct-to-garment printing versus screen printing.

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is one of the newest (circa 2000 AD) technologies in the “apparel decoration industry”. Screen printing is one of the oldest (circa 900 AD). DTG is pretty amazing … the machine is a (highly) modified inkjet printer which uses ink made specifically for fiber and “spools” the t-shirt through the printer instead of a piece of paper. Check out this video to get an idea of how it works.

As you can see, pretty amazing. Good DTG printers cost six figures and can print white ink on dark apparel (a notoriously difficult thing to do).

So how does DTG printing compare to screen printing? It’s better for:

  • Low volume orders (under 12 pieces) because there’s a much shorter set-up time. (Check out this post about screen printing apparel samples, which mentions that DTG is a good way to get a sample and avoiding the high cost of screen printing a single item)
  • Full color printing (like printing a color photograph on a t-shirt) because it has print cartridges which can print full color as easily as a single color. In screen printing, you have to make a separate screen for each color of ink.
For the majority of projects that come to Evan Webster Ink, screen printing is the way to go. The colors are more vivid and the price is less when ordering over ~12 pieces. We’ve also found that the line quality is far superior in screen printing. See the pictures below:
DTG versus screen printing on t-shirts 1
The bottom image is a screen printed t-shirt, which appears to have crisper lines and a much darker black. Here’s another example:
DTG versus screen printing on t-shirts 2
Finally, a comparison of the dot and line thickness:
DTG versus screen printing on t-shirts 3
These pictures were taken with two different (but similar quality) cameras but no effort was made to make one style look better or worse than the other. Thanks to Adam LoRusso for sharing both t-shirts for this post. We wrote about his screen printed t-shirts here and about a fun beer-making adventure involving his t-shirt here.

If you’re interested in learning more about DTG printing or screen printing, drop us a line. We’d be happy to work with you to figure out which is the best for your project!