It’s a question we’re frequently asked. Print or embroider? The best choice for custom clothing and branded merchandise? Screen printing, embroidery or direct-to-garment printing. Whatever your project, start-up streetwear or established business, choosing the right option can make a huge difference to your production costs and the overall success of the project. Getting it right could be what sends your brand to the next level, the thing that promotes your company or communicates your idea in the most effective and professional manner.
There are a number of factors to consider. The people you want to wear or use your merchandise, the types of garments or products you need customised, the logo or design you need applying to them. Plus the limitations of each process. Printing and embroidery will sometimes be a choice based on which technique works best for a particular type of item and design. Here at Fifth Column we have years of experience creating high quality, bespoke printed and embroidered merchandise and wanted to put together a quick guide to give you a better idea of what’s involved.
There are basically two ways of customising clothing, getting your design on to a t-shirt or tote bag, jacket or hoody. Printing the image or artwork on to the garment or stitching the logo or design into the fabric. It’s worth taking a brief look at the different methods.
With screen printing, the artwork is applied to the surface of the material using ink. A stencil is prepared and placed on a fine mesh screen and the ink is then pushed through to transfer the pattern. This process is repeated for each of the colours that make up the design until the picture is complete. It’s a traditional method, tried and tested, that has been around for centuries. Over time, the process has been modernised and automated to varying degrees, but it still requires knowledge, experience and skilled printers to get the best results. We have been printing custom clothing in London since the 70s and these days, our state of the art machines can produce 600 t-shirts an hour.
Whilst still applying the design directly to the surface of the garment using ink, DTG printing is a more recent development in terms of custom clothing.
Direct to garment printing relies heavily on modern technology and uses digital printers to apply the ink to the fabric of the item being customised. Artwork is converted to image file format, the clothing prepared and the design printed straight onto the material.
It works in a similar way to the inkjet printer you probably have in your home and office. We just use material instead of paper.
Embroidery, the craft of decorating or embellishing a piece of cloth with patterns or pictures sewn onto it using needle and thread, has been with us since time immemorial. Modern embroidery has been around for about 200 years. Digitised embroidery is a more contemporary development still and originates in the 80s with the advent of computerised methods of embroidering apparel. This now entails your design being scanned, digitised and converted into stitches and colours with specialised software. The embroidery machines we have at Fifth Column can deliver super close stitching and we are proud to have one of the few wide format machines in the UK.
Printing and Embroidery – Dos and Don’ts
Here’s a summary. Some dos and don’ts for deciding whether to print or embroider your new range of custom clothing or next staff uniform. As with any customisation project, the price of the blank product and its suitability for any given process will have a bearing on the final costs.
Screen Printing is a great way of customising t-shirts, tote bags, hoodies, sportswear and workwear. Nowadays, modern methods mean that screen printed apparel stands up well to washing and wearing. Printing can accommodate a wide variety of images and designs, but it looks best on garments with a smooth surface. Organic cotton t-shirts, for example, can deliver stunning results.
The cost of screenprinting is based on the amount of colours in your design, how many print positions you have (front, back etc) and the total quantity of garments being printed with that design. So, bulk printing with fewer colours and in one place can be a highly cost-effective option.
DTG printing is mostly used for smaller print runs. Elaborate t-shirt designs with artwork that includes lots of colours. It can be an excellent option if you need a small batch of personalised garments and your budget isn’t the biggest consideration. In many ways, it’s reserved for individual, highly creative ventures.
Embroidery can be applied to a broad range of blank products such as t-shirts, hoodies, sportswear, workwear, shirts, sweaters, polo shirts, bags, caps and hats. It’s often used for smaller designs like logos and badges that benefit from the raised profile of the embroidery and the clean, solid feel of the finish. It’s an enduring favourite of clubs and organisations who value the professional impression it conveys.
Embroidering custom clothing does have constraints. The garments generally need to be thicker/have greater weight in order to avoid pulls. It can be more expensive, although many people argue that the longevity and premium feel of the finish justifies that initial cost.
There are plenty of variables to juggle with any sort of printing or embroidery, but here at Fifth Column we believe the most important thing is that you end up with an outstanding piece of merchandise. A product so good it sells itself, a band t-shirt that fans treasure, a polo shirt staff wear with pride.