DTG VS screen printing: the duel

Let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of these two printing techniques.

TPOP, the eco-responsible printing service, helps you choose between screen and digital printing.

There is a famous saying that 'you don't change a winning team'. However, what happens when you find a competitor who is worthy of his level or even better? That's the million-dollar question.

Today, there are a large number of printing methods. However, two of them are still the most widely used in the customised textile market today: DTG and screen printing. Even if you're new to the business, you've probably already heard of them: these are the two obvious printing solutions that any entrepreneur will consider when creating their brand of customised clothing and goodies. Each of these techniques has its advantages and disadvantages and is suitable for some and not for others depending on budgets, aesthetics, business model and the logistical and storage capabilities of the entrepreneur.

To make it easier for you to make your decision, our team of enthusiasts and experts has put together a comparison of these two printing methods. Prepare yourself for a tug of war between the millennium-old behemoth (screen printing) and the ambitious new kid on the block (DTG).

The best choice between screen printing and DTG

Screen printing: tradition and mass production

When people talk about screen printing as being traditional, they are not joking: it is the oldest of all printing methods. A cultural anecdote to know to shine in society: its origins would be traced back to the Song dynasty in China, which was in place between the year 960 and 1279. It is therefore a technique that has had plenty of time to build its reputation. But can we say that it still lives up to our contemporary expectations?

How exactly does it work?

In simple terms, screen printing is a method based on the use of stencils. However, the reality is much more complex than that: this technique involves many steps and requires a lot of effort and work on the part of the printer.

Let's unpack this process a little...

First of all, it is necessary to engrave (create) the screens: after isolating the layers of colors from the visual (the "separation"), it is necessary to create as many screens as necessary.

There are several methods of engraving, the best known of which is to make a negative printed film of each layer.

On a frame supporting a mesh, each layer will be "insolated": the frame will therefore be a perfect negative of the visual.

This frame is then placed on an articulated carousel arm and the textile is threaded onto a tray.

Then, a doctor blade (automatic or manual depending on the equipment) will apply the inks directly into the mesh of the garment or accessory through the frame: this step can be quite long as the colors are applied one by one.

Finally, the freshly printed substrate should be put through a drying oven to ensure that the design adheres properly to the material.

Screen printing is a good solution for those who can store and invest.

The advantages of screen printing

Mass production

One of the biggest advantages of screen printing is that it makes it much easier to print large runs in a short time. For those who want to sell large quantities, who are confident that they can afford to stock them without ending up buried under mountains of unsold T-shirts in the middle of their living room, screen printing can be a viable and cost-effective solution. Although the preparation and printing steps may seem laborious, they are well suited to mass production of the same item.

A pleasant and lasting result

Let's talk about the results: when properly mastered, screen printing has a pleasant, slightly raised "hand" (i.e. the feel of the print). The inks soak the fibre well, allowing the print to last over time. The shades are vivid and saturated.

The disadvantages of screen printing

Although it has an excellent (and justified) reputation, believe us, screen printing does not have ONLY advantages.

Not suitable for beginners

Its biggest flaw is also its first quality: its perfect adaptation to quantity production. Indeed, the cost of its materials and the preparation time it requires: these two factors contribute to the fact that it is not an appropriate solution for entrepreneurs wishing to launch their brand without investing too much initially in large quantities, without the possibility of stocking their merchandise or the assurance of selling all their products at once. This technique is made particularly expensive by the fact that each ink has to be applied individually, each requiring its own stencil and screen. It is therefore out of the question to turn to screen printing for a product that is not guaranteed to be successful.

A limited print in detail

Also, given the need to proceed one color at a time, this technique will not be adequate for printing complex visuals with varied shades, but rather for plain or limited detail designs. Thus, even if your visuals conform to this description, opting for this method could limit the diversification of your aesthetic choices in the long run.

A resource-hungry technique

Another unfortunate point, especially through our eyes of commitment to the health of our planet, is that screen printing is not the most ecologically responsible printing solution, for several reasons.

First of all, water-based ink, an eco-friendly alternative to conventional inks, is not the standard in screen printing. Screen printers therefore usually stick to inks that often contain phthalates, PVC and other chemicals (known as plastisol) which are unfortunately much less eco-friendly than water-based ink.

Similarly, it should be noted that screen printing is a particularly resource-intensive technique, not very appropriate to our obvious need to take care of the environment... Water use in screen printing is estimated at 50-60 litres per metre, compared to only 2 litres per metre in digital printing (source: Texintel). One reason for this is that all ink contains water (yes, even the plastisol inks mentioned above), and screen printing requires that the inks be applied in thick layers to achieve a satisfactory end result. In addition, the screens have to be rinsed with water after each print... All this inevitably leads to a significant loss of resources.

The DTG: a newcomer with a very promising future

Compared to screen printing, DTG has only just emerged, but what a masterful arrival it was...

This printing method made its discreet appearance in the mid-1990s and was marketed more widely from 2005. Since then, it has continued to be improved to suit the needs of printing and textile professionals, and has become the marvellous and successful technique it is today. Its success in recent years has been nothing short of resounding, with a market growth rate of no less than 10.5% by 2021 (source: WhatTheyThink).

Now that the introductions are made, let's see how this technique works.

How exactly does it work?

The DTG is, after all, not very different from the printers we are used to using at home or in the workplace: it is a fully digital method working with inkjet technology. The main difference is that the DTG is specifically designed to print textiles, which are a little more versatile and require more attention during the process than paper.

The method is generally quite simple but requires the strict application of several steps: firstly, any textile other than white color will have to be pre-treated, i.e. a solution will be sprayed directly onto the desired location of the design to ensure the ink adheres.

The textile will then be positioned on a tray designed to hold it in place on the printer, which will then be fed into the machine for the printing phase of the textile, the visual having been previously transmitted in an entirely digital manner. This stage, although the one that could be described as the most crucial, is surprisingly fast: it takes only a few dozen seconds at most.

Finally, the printed product is passed through a drying oven (which takes the form of a tunnel where it is particularly hot) so that the ink can be permanently fixed to the fabric.

Eco-friendly inks used for digital printing (DTG) with TPOP.

The disadvantages of the DTG

We can't all be perfect... The DTG has a few small drawbacks that can be problematic depending on the path you want to take your business down.

Less profitable for very large quantities

Firstly, it should be noted that pre-treatment has to be done individually for each product and cannot be done in an assembly line in advance. It should also be noted that water-based ink is quite expensive. It can therefore be said that, although the most cost-effective for orders single or limited quantities, DTG may not be the preferred solution if you have the financial and storage resources to require the production of a large number of parts at a time.

Cotton favoured by the DTG

For an optimal result, fabrics with at least 70% cotton are preferred for DTG; otherwise, ink absorption and durability of the result is compromised. However, this can be easily overcome with a special pre-treatment of the textile before printing, regardless of the colour of the blank product.

The benefits of the DTG

As professionals who have been involved in the printing industry for a number of years, we can't help but praise the revolution that the DTG represents.

Ideal for printing small quantities

First of all, being almost entirely digital, it is for us THE best solution to produce in Print on Demand: it is perfectly adapted to an automated system like ours and allows a great fluidity and a minimum of steps between the reception of the visual and the end of the product production phase.

Unlike screen printing, DTG is also perfectly suited to the POD business model as it does not require the production of a minimum number of pieces to be profitable, and this is due in particular to a much less time-consuming preparation phase. This means that you don't have to clear out your garage to house your stock or spend money on a ton of T-shirts at once.

Perfect print quality

Let's move on to the aesthetic argument: here again, DTG has definitely proved its worth. This method makes it possible to print extremely complex visuals, such as photographs, for example. In terms of colors, there are no limitations: you can let your imagination run wild. Varied and distinctly separated shades, high renderingcolor... The result is visually pleasing, but not only: the hand is soft, without relief, almost imperceptible. The absorption of the ink is such that it offers indefinite durability. There is no doubt that this technique results in a beautiful print quality.

A gentle solution for the planet

Last but not least, the DTG is an example of eco-responsibility. This was one of the criteria that weighed heavily in the selection of our printing methods for our eco-friendly print-on-demand service.

First of all, this method allows the use of water-based inks certified by the OEKO-TEX® Eco Passport and the GOTS 5.0 label, which are much gentler on the environment and our health than most inks on the market, which are generally full of rather harsh chemical ingredients.

Secondly, unlike screen printing, this technique requires very few resources. First of all, digital printing is a water-saving method: thanks to its micro-droplet inkjet technology, but also because it does not involve a washing stage, unlike screen printing, where the rotary screens must be rinsed after each use, resulting in the evacuation of water contaminated by ink chemicals. According to FESPA, the professional printing association, using DTG saves 95% of water and 75% of electricity compared to screen printing. And yes: screen printing requires far more machinery than digital printing, which must be powered by electricity.

So it was really the best choice of printing technique for us, perfectly in line with our desire to have the least impact on our environment.

What to choose between screen printing and DTG?

Let's face it: screen printing and DTG are both very good ways of producing customised textiles. Both methods produce renderings with undeniable qualities. However, neither method is really the winner in this duel: the choice is really up to you, it all depends on your business model.

For those who want to get off to a flying start and produce in the hundreds, who are not afraid of investing a large sum of money, who do not need a complex palette of colors : screen printing is probably the option to favour.

However, if your brand is emerging and you are interested in the service-on-demand business model, if you prefer to start without a large initial capital investment, if you dream of products with a lot of bright colors ... Look no further: DTG is the best solution and clearly offers the best value for money.

For us, DTG seemed like the most natural choice when we created our print-on-demand service, for the simple reason that we wanted to give designers and entrepreneurs the opportunity to express themselves and launch their projects, without requiring large initial financial resources, the means to store large quantities and to manage the shipping of orders. Combining the ability to let young brands focus on design and marketing with premium print quality is more than a goal, it's a joy.