Lots of decorators offer multiple imprinting options, such as digital printing and screen printing. There are definite advantages to each, depending on the type of artwork you’re using, substrates you’re decorating and quantities your customer wants.
Here’s a quick rundown of when to use digital vs. screen printing. Remember, the more knowledgeable you are, the more likely your customers will be to order from you, on repeat.
When to Use DTG
Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing offers extensive color options, and you can easily print detailed designs and photorealistic images.
1. Smaller runs and one-offs. Your DTG printer loves smaller runs and onesies. You can advertise that your shop provides no (or low) minimums, and full-color prints on light or dark garments. Plus, if a customer asks for three to five or 10 more shirts, you can fill reorders quickly and easily with little to no setup time.
2. Precise, photorealistic images. A DTG printer lets you render images in high-resolution, high-quality details, and you have many color options.
3. Quicker turn time. Compared to other decorating methods, you can offer a quick turn time with DTG, with almost no setup costs, since you don’t have to color-separate or vectorize artwork. With DTG, you could prep, print and cure 10 shirts in under 30 minutes; comparatively, screen printing a five-color job on 10 shirts could take up to four hours, from separations to clean up.
4. Custom is your new first name. With customization and personalization trends continuing to be top of mind at retail, you can fulfill highly custom and personal orders with your DTG printer, competing with online T-shirt companies and even open your own online stores.
5. Start sampling. With a DTG printer, you can print lots of sample T-shirts and give them out to prospects and customers so they can literally wear your work and experience its quality.
6. Affordable investment costs. Depending on the type of DTG printer you purchase, your initial investment can start in the lower five figures. Obviously, as printers increase in price, they operate at higher speeds. Generally though, for your investment, you could see profit with the first 150 shirts you print. While DTG comes with a minimal upfront investment, DTG isn’t always the most cost-effective for very large runs.
When to Use Screen Printing
Screen printing is cost-effective for larger runs of simpler designs with fewer colors. However, this method isn’t as budget-conscious for multiple-color designs, and you can only print one design run per set of screens you set up. The upfront investment is also greater than other imprinting methods – for a small print shop that invests in a new manual press, flash unit, small conveyor dryer and a prep area, expect costs of $15,000 to $20,000.
1. Kick it with one-color designs. Screen printing is an ideal choice for simple designs with one color – like logos, graphics or text. Be aware that screen printing might not be the right fit for designs with a lot or colors or photographic accuracy. And while you can achieve fairly accurate and very vibrant spot colors, gradients or shades might be harder to achieve.
2. High-volume runs. With each color you add, setup takes more time, because screen printing has more steps than other digital printing methods, like DTG. However, the more T-shirts you print, for example, the lower your time, labor or other cost investments. Example: If you’re printing in bulk for a summer camp, sports team or big event, screen printing would be a great decorating method.
3. Works on lots of substrates. Screen printing allows you to print on almost any flat surface and material, including fabric, plastic, metal and wood. This means that the design you create can go onto T-shirts, signs, business forms and more.
4. Fast production. If you invest in an automatic screen-printing press, you can print a shirt and get it on a dryer belt every three to five seconds, if you’ve satisfied your pre-press requirements.
Today, it’s important for shops to diversify and offer multiple types of decorating options. We recommend that when you offer more than one type of printing, you’re very conversant in when to use each to benefit your customer – and your shop’s profitability.
Ed Levy has more than 25 years of apparel-decorating experience. Levy, who’s director of software technologies for Hirsch Solutions, is an in-demand speaker at trade shows and regular contributor to industry publications.