Digital Print vs Screen Print: Which is Best?

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Screen printing or digital printing are the two most common types of garment and graphic printing, and are a rival to sublimation printing. The variations in the finished result are often undetectable, but there are some notable differences that are worth exploring.

In short, and depending on your artwork, when comparing a digital print vs screen print:

  • Digital prints are best for small quantities and images that contain more fine detail, as this process is more like a standard home photo printer.
  • Screen prints are ideal for higher color vibrancy, thanks to the thicker application of inks, and for printing on a much wider variety of materials and surfaces, although you will generally have to make a larger number of prints to make this process economically viable.

But there are other considerations to bear in mind, which we will explore below, so that you can better understand whether screen prints or digital prints are best for you.


digital print vs screen print

The Difference Between Screen Printing and Digital Printing

The difference between screen printing and digital printing is that digital printing involves printing a design created on a computer directly onto a garment, very much like a home printer prints onto paper, while screen printing requires stencils to be created to mirror the design, which are then applied in layers of different colors to the garment.


What is Digital Printing?

This method is much more recent than screen printing, and it includes the use of specialist inkjet printers designed to use fabric inks, which work in a similar way to inkjets.

digital print

When a print demands higher detail, digital printing is often employed as this can really bring out the fine textures of an image, in a way that the more analog screen printing cannot.

Digital printing is more limited in that it is harder to use for non-flat objects (think mugs, for example), although because the labor and setup costs are much lower, individual prints can be easily made – there’s no real ecomony of scale savings to be made with digital printing.


Why Is Digital Printing in Demand?

In the art industry, “digital printing” would be more of a buzzword than a specific printing technology. “Digital printing” is commonly referred to as “direct to garment” in the realm of screen printing.

digital printing

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing has only been available for around 15 years, although screen printing has been here for decades.

Due to the obvious sensitivity and precision that you can achieve with DTG printing, the bulk of electronic on-demand printing businesses use this as their starting point.


What Are the Advantages of Using Digital Printing?

Even though screen printing has been around for a very long time, digital printing comes with its own set of pros that can make it superior to screen printing in the right contexts.

Specific Details

Patterns with a lot of detail, such as images, generally require a more exact and clear printing. These are the kinds of patterns that are more suited to digital printing.

Color Combining

Color mixes in images or complicated designs are more difficult to produce with screen printing, thus electronic prints are a preferable solution.

When produced electronically, your image is more likely to align throughout because the document is established by a machine and the pigment is disseminated at the same speed for every component.

Volume of Orders

Since digital printing need less set-up, they may be produced in considerably smaller quantities, whereas traditional digital printing has a fixed order number. It is the most crucial criterion that would ultimately decide which strategy is best for you.

Structure

Images or photos with a multitude of colors are usually best printed electronically. Screen printing may still be a possibility if you have a large number of shirts to design, but it will likely cost you more and may involve some tweaking to get the product to match with your conceptural design.


What is Screen Printing?

A blank silkscreen is the starting point in this production process. The dyes are added to the print bed one by one, color by color, and piece by piece, using stencils either cut by hand or machine, with each color layered on top of the next.

Screen printing is a widely used process that can be used to paint on a variety of materials including fabrics, plastics, and rubber.

screen print

Considering screen printing has been around for a great many years, it is the most well known and extensively utilized technique. Although quality control has improved with access to modern technologies, the basic functions have not altered: the ink is still applied through a stenciled panel.


Which Effects Can Be Accomplished Using Screen Printing?

Your printing needs can vary over time and require different levels of customization. Fortunately, screen printing allows for a wide range of effects that can be incorporated into the manufacturing process.

Below is a list of all the most interesting effects that can be made while using screen printing, although this list is really only the starting point.

Water-Based Effect

The design permeates into the material, making it very thin and delicate.

Discharge Effect

Chemically eliminates the color from the fabric’s hue. This gives a very artsy feel.

Puffy Effect

This ingredient extends as it cures, giving it a soft, elevated appearance. These are seen in custom logos.

Fluorescent Effect

DayGlo is used for very bright fluorescent colors. This makes the material look very retro.

screen printing advantages

Metallic-Effect

This gives a certain gleaming look. Among the most commonly utilized metals are gold, silver and rust-copper.

Glitter Effect

Glitter is frequently used in conjunction with a brush applicator.

Glow-In-The-Dark Effect

In this process, light-activated ink that shines in the darkness is used. The resultant design is almost transparent under a source of light.

Suede Effect

It’s comparable to the puffy effect, but it gives the surface a fuzzy, woolly feel. This is seen in luxury products.

High-Density effect

For a three-dimensional impression, this method produces elevated sheets of rubber-like pigment.

screen printing

Hand Effect

In this method, a compound is added for making the ink thinner and giving it a soft texture.

Transparent Gel Effect

This refers to a rich, lustrous finish that can be used alone or in conjunction with other materials.

Sparkle Effect

This produces a unique shimmering, shiny sheen.

In this process, the material is divided and split throughout the curing process providing a damaged appearance. The result gives a certain ‘hipster’ feel.

Plasticharge

Plastisol and discharge are combined in this process to create the final product.


What Are Some of the Advantages of Using Screen Printing?

The benefits associated with screen printing when compared with digital printing are:

Color Brightness

Although digital printing is restricted by the CMYK color gamut, screen printing uses plastisol dyes and water-based pigments. These are perhaps the brightest colors accessible. Screen printers can also replicate the color combination more easily, particularly while using the Pantone Matching System.

screen print colors

Longevity

When you wash your clothes, electronic prints can fade, specifically if you use hot water. Although screen printing can also have this issue, if implemented right, your design will last a long period and maintain its color and vitality.

Greater Choice

Screen printing gives you the flexibility to print on a variety of materials, clothing designs, print areas, and positions. Digital printing, on the other hand, has limitations in terms of cloth type and positioning.

screen printing pros

Specific Effects

There’s a special ink or chemical for everything from elevated print to roughness, gloss, glitter, or luminescence, and it can only be accomplished with screen printing. Specialized inks are now developed for digital printing, however, they are not as commonly available or as simple to use.


Digital vs Screen Printing: Which Should You Be Going For?

The optimal process for you is going to be determined by the type of print and the material. With digital printing, the appearance is distinct because digital printing produces a more exact, sharp, and comprehensive print, whereas screen printing produces a more realistic, smoother, and vintage appearance.

digital vs screen printing

As both strategies are effective and serve different reasons, there are a few key differences between digtial and screen printing to keep in mind before deciding.

Quantity

As mentioned already, this will be the prime factor behind choosing either digital printing or screen printing. Unlike screen printing, which requires a minimum number, digital printing enables a lower quantity to be produced.

Apparel

When it comes to cloth, screen printing offers additional options. Printing on 100 percent linen or other chosen textile mixes, and only printing particular colors is recommended for digital printing.

screen printing factory

Prices

Lastly, it is important for you to always calculate how much you will be making from this and how much would go into production. Screen printing is usually more expensive than its digital counterpart, especially if you do not have bulk orders.

Consider how much profit you would like to generate from this and work out a reasonable price, then check out some of the printing companies near you for prices – almost all will be able to produce both screen and digital prints, and will be able to give you more advice on the best option for you.


Read More:

What’s the cheapest sublimation printer?

What’s the best photo printer?

Sublimation vs inkjet printing

Follow Tim Daniels:

Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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