DTG vs Screenprinting

June 14, 2022

In our experience, many people have different preconceived notions as to which method of printing is better; direct to garment (DTG) or traditional screen printing. Here, we will do our best to make sure you understand the differences as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each.

The "best" printing method will depend on what it is that you are trying to accomplish. Your design and the type of garment will usually dictate which print method will yield the best result. We will always do our best to guide you in the direction that makes the most sense for your project and the following might be the reasons why.

First, we have to know what it is you're printing. Generally, since a screen print is not able to recreate a true color gradient, if you have a more photographic-type image, it would be much better suited for DTG. A DTG printer uses the same printing technology as an inkjet photo printer so it will be able to faithfully reproduce a photographic image on a t-shirt or similar fabric as well as it could on photo paper. So if you want to print a picture of someone or something with rainbows, we would typically guide you towards DTG printing. While illustrated images such as cartoon characters usually print best using spot colors, the amount of colors necessary may be prohibitive due to minimum order quantities with regard to screen printing. Since DTG does not have minimum order quantity restrictions, graphics with a wide range of colors, would usually be more cost-effective to print DTG.

Split Comparison between DTG and screen print
Split Comparison between DTG and Screen Print.

With higher quantities, the cost to print DTG may be a substantial factor in your decision making as DTG printer ink costs plateau at a certain quantity (usually over 100 pcs) and printing a large quantity may be worth the cost to have your image color-separated and screen printed. The graphic above is split diagonally from the top left to the bottom right so you can see the difference between the DTG printed version and a 6-color screen print. Since the DTG printer can reproduce gradients in millions of colors, you will notice that there is a wider range of color in the yellows and blues in the DTG printed version. The image below is another example of how much more color variation there is in a DTG print as compared to a screen printed version of the same graphic. When color separating artwork, we are distilling the image in to its core colors and using overlaid halftone dots to trick your eye into seeing more colors than are actually there. So, if you are printing hundreds of pieces, we may encourage you to screenprint your graphic in order to cut down on costs. As you can see, there is a difference in the final image though. Depending on what your priority is, that would dictate which printing method best suits your needs. If you need the most faithful recreation of your digital graphic (meaning you want it to looks as close to the way it does on your computer screen), it would be best to print DTG. If you are most concerned with overall cost, screen printing may allow you to save some money depending on the total quantity being printed.

2-color screen print vs dtg print
2-Color Screen Print vs DTG Print

We will be happy to present the two costs to you and let you decide which you feel fits your needs closest. Charging you more money is usually a direct result of more work, so we would always rather do less work and charge you less. ;-)

When printing DTG on dark garments, they require a pretreatment solution to be sprayed onto the fabric and allowed to dry in order to allow any white ink being printed to lay on the surface of the material rather than being soaked into the garment. This pretreatment solution may affect the coloring of certain dyes. This may result in a dark box around the printed image where the solution was sprayed. This is more likely to happen on blended fabrics than on 100% cotton. But even on the recommended 100% cotton garments, bright reds or blues may discolor after being exposed to the high temperatures required to cure the DTG ink. We always do our best to mitigate the possibility of this and let you know if your garments are at risk of this happening.

Another benefit to screen printing over DTG would be increased consistency in the printed graphic. Sometimes, the dyes and detergents used when manufacturing blank apparel can vary between batches. There are times where although you are using all the same brand, style and color of blank apparel, they may have been manufactured across different plants in totally different parts of the world. So while your order may contain all the same brand and style, the larges in your order may have been manufactured in Honduras and the mediums may have been manufactured in Bangladesh. While the difference may be unrecognizable when looking at the garment itself, the pretreatment solution sprayed on your garment may have a different chemical reaction to the dyes or detergents used to manufacture them. Unfortunately there is no way for us to know this ahead of time and a certain tolerance will need to be allowed when printing a large quantity of DTG garments. This seems to be more prevalent in garment dyed apparel like the example below.

DTG Printed Garment-Dyed T-shirts
DTG Printed Garment-Dyed T-shirts

Now as you may imagine, the texture of the garment will affect the clarity of the image being printed on it. The smoother and more tightly woven the cotton in the garment is, the more crisp the printed image will appear. An overly textured fabric like that of a knit sweatshirt or a "peached" fabric will affect the clarity of the printed image. The image below shows the exact same graphic over 3 different styles of black t-shirts. The differences, while minor are more noticeable when compared side by side. If you look closely, the color in both the outside samples is more consistent than the one in the center. The Gildan Hammer tees are peached to be softer to the touch, but the small fibers of the shirt create more texture differences and resulting in what looks like graining. A more extreme version of this would be on something much more textured like a terry cloth towel (pictured below). This gives a more exaggerated look at how the texture of the fabric affects the final print.

Graphic printed across 3 different blank styles.
DTG Print on Looped Terry Cloth
DTG Print on Looped Terry Cloth

Ultimately, the deciding factor on whether to print DTG or screen print will come down to personal preference. Printing is very much an artform, and like art it is very subjective. What some may find appealing, other may want to avoid. Where some might prefer the heavy plastisol feel, others might like the light handfeel of a DTG print. While some might want their graphic to appear to be faded and artificially "vintage" effects possible with DTG, others may want the bold, bright colors possible only through screen print like neons or other special effect inks like puff or glow-in-the-dark. In any event, you're not on your own, we'll be here to help you decide.