The Differences between Digital Printing and Screen Printing


When it comes to ordering custom t shirts you might be wondering what kind of printing company to use. If you look around at the different services they offer you may notice a bunch of terms being thrown around like digital printing and silk screen printing. What are they? These are two different methods that are used to print a graphic or text onto a surface. Digital printing is newer, whereas silk screen printing is as old as the Chinese Song Dynasty. Let’s go over digital printing vs screen printing and what the difference is.

Screen Printing

Screen (or silk screen) printing is a method that involves using a mesh screen to transfer ink to a surface except in areas where the ink is blocked by a stencil. Several stencils (known as screens) are used to apply each colour needed in layers with thick ink, and each colour is applied one at a time. The ink is applied with a blade or squeegee that is moved over the screen to fill openings in the mesh. A reverse stroke is then used to wet the fabric with ink as the screen springs back after the blade passes through. Traditionally silk was used for the mesh but nowadays nylon is more commonly used.

It’s no surprise that silk-screening involves a lot more manual labour than its digital counterpart, but with the combination of automatic and manual equipment a professional can produce stunning results in a timely manner.

Digital Printing

Digital printing is the process of creating a digital design and directly getting it printed onto a variety of surfaces, including anything from paper to t shirts. Because the ink is directly applied, it’s better to print onto lighter colours or else details can get lost on darker coloured material.

Laser or inkjet printers are traditionally used for the job to produce on-demand prints. There’s a higher cost per page with a digital print, but the cost of equipment is lower and there’s less manual labour involved than with silk-screening. You can also only print one item at a time. For these reasons, digital prints are normally used for smaller jobs, whereas silk-screening is ideal for larger, bulk orders.

Which is Better?

Silk-screening is generally considered better, especially if you are looking for a quality finish with vibrant colours that are applied to last. Because the ink is applied in thick layers, they are less likely to fade, and can show more detail on dark colour material. So even if a custom design made from a digital printer is cheaper, it will not last as long as something that was silk screen printed.

There’s also the advantage that goes along with bulk orders. If you’re thinking about buying t shirts for your sports team, then you’ll want to go with a company that uses a screen printer, that way they can give you more affordable pricing. So while it depends on what you’re looking for, generally, silk-screening is the best way to go.