DTG vs Screen Printing

DTG vs Screen Printing. What’s the difference?

Back in the Seventies, we started printing t-shirts by hand. Dried them in the Kilburn launderette and then sold them outside local gigs. That passion very quickly became how we earned our living. At the time, if you wanted to print t-shirts on a commercial basis, screen printing was the recognised method. We became experts in it and, over the years, have screen printed literally millions of garments. These days, we often get asked about DTG printing and screen printing and how to choose between the two. So, we thought it might be helpful to take a look at DTG vs screen printing DTG and the differences when it comes to custom printed t-shirts.

Is DTG better than screen printing?

Which is another commonly asked question. And the simple answer is no, not per se. Although it may be preferable depending on your project. In truth, the finished garments may often appear very similar. After all, a printed tee is a printed tee to most people. However, there are significant differences between the processes. These differences have an impact on the cost of your print run and, perhaps more importantly, what you can actually print. How the ink hits the cloth may not be something you’ve given a great deal of thought, but it is important. Below, we’ve put together a comparison of the two techniques.

DTG and screen printing.

Before we go too much further, it’s worth defining the terms. So, let’s begin with the basics, a brief explanation of what each process actually is and what it involves.

DTG vs Screen Printing.

DTG versus Screen Printing

Colour and Design Matters

Quantity and Cost Implications with DTG vs Screen Printing Guide.

Quantity and Cost Implications

DTG (Direct to Garment) printing.

DTG works in the same way as an inkjet printer, just like the ones in your office and home. The ink is simply applied to pre-treated fabric instead of paper. Injection printers were invented in the Fifties and were commonplace by the Eighties. It was a natural step for people to look at other applications for the technology. The first commercially available DTG printer appeared in the Nineties, invented by Matthew Rhome. Quite aptly named ‘Revolution’, it offered new possibilities – the birth of digital direct, straight to garment printing.

Screen printing.

Screen printing has been with us for thousands of years and remains the most popular way of customising clothes. The essential elements of the process have endured, although there have been huge technical advances in the machinery used by screen printers. Nowadays, our state of the art machines can produce hundreds of printed t-shirts in a single hour. The screen printing process itself involves transferring a stencilled design onto the garment using a mesh screen, ink and squeegee. Each colour of the design requires a different screen.

Comparing DTG and Screen Printing.

It’s true to say that DTG and screen printing t-shirts are both methods of getting your design printed onto a shirt. However, which one is the most suitable and which you choose will depend on a number of factors.


The blank, undecorated apparel that you pick may have a bearing on which printing method is chosen (or even possible). Direct to Garment printing works best on 100% cotton garments and this is what we recommend. Anything less runs the risk of poor results. The ink used with DTG is water based and thinner than that used in screen printing. This has environmental advantages and also facilitates designs with greater levels of detail. But it also means that the ink may not be properly absorbed by manmade materials such as polyester.


Screen printed designs tend to be more vibrant, something that can really jump off the fabric. This is due to the higher opacity of some screen printing inks. And if colour matching is vital to your branded merchandise, screen printing is also the best choice. The Pantone colour system has a definite edge and is a tried and tested way of achieving the most accurately matched colours.

Does DTG last as long as screen printing?

Another aspect to consider is the life span of the print. And the question of DTG vs screen printing durability is one that crops up a lot. Well, there’s no doubt that colours on expertly screen printed t-shirts will last. On the other hand, however well done, those on DTG printed clothing will fade with washing and time. Because the density of ink is subject to ageing.

Design differences.

Despite the above, in certain comparisons between DTG and screen printing t-shirts, DTG has benefits on the colour front. A good example is a design that contains photographic elements. When the image has super smooth gradient fades and subtle blending, lots of different shades and lots of tiny lines, DTG is the immediate choice. Partly down to the fact that there’s a limit to the number of colours that can be used on screen printed t-shirts. That’s to say, a maximum of 12 on white and 11 on dark t-shirts. Intricate, multi-coloured detail is a challenge best reserved for DTG.


Cost can rarely be ignored. It’s nearly always important and often a primary concern in most custom printing projects. Put simply, production costs matter and DTG is more expensive for larger orders. Small print-runs are comparable, depending on the quantity and design. However, screen printing is the most cost-effective option for higher volumes and bulk t-shirt printing. It’s worth talking to your designer if that’s what you need and your artwork is too complex. Because a good designer may be able to retain the concept but amend it in a way that works for screen printing.

Incidentally, there is an alternative to both DTG and screen printing for small orders. Custom direct to film (DTF) printing is an increasingly popular choice in such circumstances. That is, a printing technique that accommodates lower volumes and also more intricate artwork.


DTG has been a welcome addition to the garment printing world. It adds another dimension to what’s possible for specialised branding. And we’ll no doubt be happily doing more of it. Our industry is no different to everything else in life insofar as it constantly changes. And change, when handled intelligently, can be a good thing.

In many ways though, DTG is still the new kid on the block and destined to remain so for the foreseeable future. Screen printing may be harder work, but when done well it delivers consistently good results. It has history on its side. That said, every printing project is unique and demands its own solution.

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