There are a couple main ways to customize a t-shirt and we’ll compare the two most popular methods here. Both techniques utilize different machinery and application processes but here’s our guide on which custom t-shirt printing method is better – Direct To Garment (DTG) vs screen printing.
This is a question we get asked quite often and while many people know (or have heard of screen printing), DTG is something they may not have heard of.
So, which is better? We’ll break it break down by category based on which one is better suited based on your particular needs for the job and we’ll also cover some frequently asked questions we receive from our clients.
First, let’s take a look at what Direct To Garment printing is.
Direct To Garment (or DTG) printing basically works like your printer at your home or office. But, rather than printing on paper, a DTG printer prints directly onto a shirt or other garments.
While this may sound like a no brainer that this would be the best route to take, there are still several factors you need to consider before simply choosing one method over the other.
Here is our breakdown and what we consider your best options to be in each category.
Price – Answer: Depends On Your Order
We know, we know. This is not the answer you wanted to see but this is one where it really just depends what your job entails – don’t worry, we’ll give you a general guideline below.
The three main factors to consider is: 1) The number of colors, 2) the design of your shirt and 3) the quantity you’ll be printing.
Number Of Colors
Screen printing prices are based off the number of colors you print. This is because we can put one color on one screen so if there are 3 colors in your design, there will be 3 different screens to process, set up, etc. The more colors you have in your design, the more it’s going to cost. Typically, anything within the 3-5 color range will still be good for screen printing. We can print 12+ colors on a shirt but for optimum amount of colors for screen printing, 5 colors and under is a good guideline.
Design Of Shirt
DTG pricing is based off how much ink it takes to print your design onto the shirt or garment. The bigger the design, the more ink it will take. If you’re printing on a black (or darker) shirt, we’ll need to use a white underbase, which essentially means we’ll print your shirt in two passes – once for the white underbase and then a second pass will actually print your design. This translates to the use of more ink.
The last thing you need to look at is quantity. It takes time to set up a screen printing press so it’s best to use those for larger orders. Typically, 36-48 pieces is where you’ll need to start looking at your job to see which way you want to go. Once you get into the 72+ pieces, you’ll generally want to go with screen printing.
The Bottom Line On Pricing
All of these factors need (along with other factors we’ll go over) need to be taken into consideration. However, here is a general guideline:
• 1-2 color design | > 12-36 pieces | DTG
• 1-2 color design |36+ pieces | Screen Printing
• 3-5/6 color design | > 48-72 pieces | DTG
• 3-5/6 color design | 72+ pieces | Screen Printing
• 6-12 color design | > 72 pieces | DTG
• 6-12 color design | 72+ pieces | Screen Printing
• Full color print – Most cases DTG unless you’re doing hundreds of pieces
Low Quantity Orders – Answer: DTG
We understand not everyone is a big business that will order thousands of shirts so that’s why we offer DTG to accommodate the smaller orders, whether it’s for business or personal use. In mostly all cases, low quantity orders (for example: 6 pieces, 12 pieces or even one offs) will always be best with DTG, especially if they have more colors in the design.
Vibrant Colors – Answer: Screen Printing
DTG pundits may argue our decision here but this is, again, based on several different factors. Don’t get us wrong – you can absolutely get bright, vibrant prints with DTG.
However, when it comes to vibrancy in general, there are more options available for us to get us that more vibrant “pop” effect with silk screening. In addition, we’re printing “on top” of the shirt whereas DTG prints into the shirt. This leads to a different feel when you rub your hand over the print and we’ll get into that later. But, because silk screening prints on top of the shirt, we can get more ink onto the shirt and can also use different types of high opacity white inks that are brighter.
Hand – Answer: Both
“Hand,” as it’s referred to in the industry, is when you take a shirt and rub your finger over the print design. Remember, silk screen printing prints onto the shirt so when you rub your hand over it, you will feel it “raised” off the shirt a bit, whereas, DTG prints into the shirt so when you rub your hand over it, you won’t have the raised feeling but pretty much be feeling the shirt itself. We refer to this as being a “soft hand.”
A lot of people don’t care one way or the other but if this is something that’s important to you, then be sure to talk with your printer about it. This is what we’re referring to when we’re speaking with our clients about the “look and feel” of the design – this is the “feel” part refers to how does the print feel to the touch.
Durability – Answer: Screen Printing
When it comes to durability, screen printing has the edge. Now keep in mind, both of these methods will start cracking or fading after being washed in the washing machine so many times. But, in general, we find that screen printed shirts will have more durability in the long run than shirts printed using DTG.
Production Time – Answer: DTG
Our standard production time is 7-10 business days for all orders but if you have a small, rush order, then DTG will be the best solution. DTG printing is perfect for one offs and small orders. However, keep in mind that we do run off a production schedule so don’t wait until the last minute to place your order. But, in general, if you have 3-4 pieces you want for a family vacation shirt, then DTG is the way to go.
While there’s loyalists on each side of the spectrum on the debate of Direct To Garment (DTG) vs screen printing, both methodologies have pros and cons that you’ll need to consider before moving forward. Your design, quantity of the order, look and feel all play a key role in your decision and it’s something you’ll need to rely on a good custom apparel shop to sit down with you and discuss the specific details of your job as no two jobs are the same. Contact us at (702) 664-1515 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get a quote for your custom t-shirt order today!