We’ve been in the printing business for quite some time now, and so far we’ve tried and dabbled with quite a few different techniques. We needed to know which was best, how it works, and how it would improve our business and customer satisfaction.

Nowadays, after utilizing the techniques for 16 years, we wanted to impart our knowledge of the different methods, and share them with you. So here are the biggest differences between screen and digital printing, and all the reasons you should know them.

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing has been around for ages, and it involves using a specific stencil on the fabric. The stencil is then applied in a few layers until the color opacity on the clothing matches the one on the original design.

However, since the printer needs to apply each color with a different stencil, the overall process is pretty time-consuming. That’s why a lot of manufacturers have a minimum order requirement for this technique. When there’s a smaller amount than the minimum, the price is much higher than it is for digital printing.

What Is Digital Printing?

Digital printing involves the use of some pretty complex computing, and it’s a fairly new technique. Innovative graphic design software is used to exactly transfer the desired image onto an item of clothing. Since there’s no need for stencils, the process is much faster than with screen printing.

Also, digital printing allows for extreme precision, which is why it’s ideal when it comes to complex images. However, digital printing still hasn’t come to the point where it can produce colors that are as bright as the ones in screen printing.

Screen vs. Digital Printing — Head to Head Battle

As we said before, both digital and screen printing have their faults and benefits. If you want to get the biggest bang for your buck, understanding their differences is key. So let’s get right into it.

1. Quantity

First, let’s start with the quantity consideration because we already hinted at who’s better in this category. You would probably think that digital printing would be better for larger orders because it’s so fast. However, once all the stencils are made, screen printing is a pretty fast process.

In turn, since it’s much faster to do bigger orders with screen printing, it also then becomes the cheaper option. Even though there’s no set number, the golden standard that makes screen printing well worth it is around 20 (or more) of the same articles of clothing.

2. Type of Fabric

Another thing that’ll influence your choice of the printing technique is the type of fabric you want. The first thing that you should know is that screen printing allows for a bit more choice. Essentially, the technique works well on almost any material, including polyester, synthetics, and all their various blends.

On the other hand, digital printing tends to look much better and brighter on 100% cotton and cotton blend items. So depending on your fabric, the choice for the best technique is pretty clear.

3. Color Vibrancy

Of course, the vibrancy, matching, and blending of colors on your apparel are going to be massive deciding factors. Starting with vibrancy first, screen printing definitely takes the cake here and is the superior option.

The higher vibrancy has nothing to do with the technique itself, but more with the colors used. Namely, screen printing uses plastisol ink, while digital printing relies on the CMYK color model.

4. Color Matching

Screen printing has digital printing beat when it comes to color matching, too. That’s because the ink can exactly match any color in the entire Pantone range. Also, if you don’t want a color that’s straight out of the can, you can ask for different shades and blends.

Of course, if you don’t mind going a shade or two down from what’s in the picture, digital printing is still a great, affordable choice. But if you’re printing apparel for a company, for example, getting exactly the right color is probably crucial.

5. Color Blending

When it comes to gradients and blending colors into one another for a seamless look, digital printing takes the lead. By blending fewer colors, digital printing is best when it comes to pulling off smooth transitions.

That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be done with screen printing, but it’s more difficult. Since each layer is applied separately, blending it all, in the end, is not as simple.

6. Design

Since digital printing can transfer any image to apparel easily, it’s a much better candidate for detail-oriented designs. If you wanted to put a photo directly onto a T-shirt, your best choice would be to go digital.

Again, we’re not saying that screen printing is totally out of the picture here, but it’s just never going to be as precise. Also, on highly detailed photos, you might see larger dots, which can easily make the design look messy.

7. Print Durability

It goes without saying, but how long a print stays on your clothing is one of the most important things in the entire printing process. Unfortunately, this category doesn’t have a clear winner because print durability will depend on many different things.

For example, which ink was used, what did the pretreatment process look like, how was it all cured, what is the under base? What’s more, it’s going to depend on how you wash and take care of your clothes.

Overall, the only thing that we can say here is that both screen-printed and digital-printed designs will start to fade after a while. But if you want to keep them in good shape for a long time, stay away from harsh detergents, high dryer temperature, and hot water.

Final Thoughts

There are clear differences between screen and digital printing, and they all come down to the technique itself. While screen printing involves stencils and layers, digital is much quicker because a machine does it all in one go.

But as you can see, giving a definitive answer on which is better, screen or digital printing, is impossible. They both shine in their separate categories and have their unique advantages and drawbacks.

With that said, if you want only a few pieces, and you’re on a deadline, go with digital prints. However, if you have a bigger order, and want the colors to pop, choose screen printing.