What is the difference between screen printing and digital printing?

  • Apr 30, 2021

The Difference Between Screen Printing And Digital Printing

You have two options for product designs and printing t-shirts, screen printing and digital printing. Both options have different advantages and disadvantages. You need to consider your budget, individual needs, and the final results. Although screen printing is the more traditional method, digital printing is consistently gaining in popularity.

What is Digital Printing?

The technique used for digital printing is more modern. A digital print image is created on a computer, then directly printed onto your material. The ink used is either from an inkjet or laserjet printer. The quality of your print is better with digital printing. The popularity is based on cost-effectiveness since you require a lot less pre-press artwork.

Pros and Cons of Digital Printing

Many people prefer digital printing for smaller quantities and one-off prints. This is because it is suitable for a wide range of options. The benefits include:

• Less expensive setup
• Photographic images can be transferred accurately
• You can customize prints in many different ways
• You can print easily with a large color range
• Preferred for short print runs and one-off prints
• Faster turn around
• Your design will not bulge from the material surface because it sits flat

The cons include:

• There is a more limited variety of printable fabrics
• You will generally be unable to reproduce white for your print
• Your print lacks durability
• Scaled reductions in cost are not available because your pricing is fixed

What is Screen Printing?

As a traditional printing technique, screen printing has been available for numerous years. You use a stencil design during the process of screen printing. You can use polyester fabric or fine mesh to create your design. You then push a few layers of ink through your stencil layout onto the printed material. A different screen stencil is necessary for each color of ink for your final print. You use an impermeable substance to covers areas you want to remain clear and prevent ink contamination.

Pros and Cons of Screen Printing

The key benefits of screen printing are cost-effectiveness and an excellent solution for printing bulk items. The additional benefits include:

• Output is higher than with digital prints
• Printing on specific parts of your material is easier
• You can print on an extremely wide variety of materials including wood and glass
• Prints are more durable and last longer

The cons include:

The main disadvantages are your initial cost for setup is much higher and more time is required for the printing process. The additional cons include:

• The amount of ink necessary can make the image appear higher than the material
• The range of colors is limited
• You will be unable to customize your work

Screen Printing vs Digital Printing

There has been a debate regarding whether screen printing or digital printing is better for many years. The best way to determine which one is right for you is to analyze the requirements of your project. You need to think about the number of items you want to have printed. If you are printing a bulk order containing thousands of items, the most cost-effective option is screen printing. If you are only printing a few items, your best option is most likely digital printing.

You also need to consider how quickly you will need your items. If time is of the essence, digital printing is the best choice since the production time is fast. Screen printing requires more time because the process is more involved. Individual screens are required of the printer for every color and image. The substrate must be inked manually and the ink heat dried.

Once your printing is complete, a lot of cleanups are necessary for the printer. New technology has resulted in automated processes enabling faster printing times. If speed is important, digital printing is your best option. If your concern is high-quality prints, consider screen printing.

The final factor is your budget. The cost is dependent on turnaround time, design and size. Start by figuring out exactly how much you have to spend. Then determine which aspects are the most important for your needs. If all you want are a couple of t-shirts, digital printing is your best option. If you have a bulk order, screen printing will save you money. If you choose screen printing for just a few items expect a higher cost due to the labor required for screen setup.

Differences Between Screen Printing and Digital Printing

Although no two situations will be exactly the same, there are some basic differences between digital and screen prints. Screen printing:

• Requires a thicker application of ink
• Includes high vibrancy
• Detail level is low
• Printed by hand
• Requires a minimal order
• Effective for dark and light materials
• Recommended for specialty items including mugs and frisbees

For digital printing, consider the following:

• Thinner application of ink
• Not effective for most specialty products such as golf balls
• Effective for lighter materials
• Hight detail level
• Low vibrancy
• Printed by computer
• No minimum is required

Order Quality and Cost

Digital printing was only established during the last 15 years. Despite this, there have been a lot of technological improvements. Prints are now higher-quality, less expensive, and faster. The setup process is still expensive. You can expect to pay a minimum of $15,000 for a good professional machine with some prices exceeding $800,000. You do not need a high-quality machine for low-quantity printing.

Most online printing companies use a digital printing machine. For higher quantity prints, most prefer traditional screen printing. Screen printing has been around for an incredibly long period of time. This process can be traced back to 1000 AD in China's Song Dynasty. Many people believe the process is even older. The popularity of screen printing in modern society exploded during the 1960s for several reasons.

This includes the artwork of Andy Warhol, the invention of a screen the print machine capable of rotating in multi-color, and the trend for printed t-shirts. Consistent improvements and advancements in technology resulted in better efficiency and quality. Despite this, the main concept has not changed. Ink is pushed through a metal stencil onto the substrate or fabric.

Screen printing is currently the most widely used and popular process for customized apparel. Digital printing is catching up quickly and becoming a major contender.

Color Blending

Color blending involves fewer colors to create a range of different colors and smooth gradients. This is the purpose of a direct-to-garment professional printer. Think of a digital printer as an extremely large type of inkjet printer like what you may have used in an office or purchased for your home. This difference is you can print on garments including t-shirts.

Although digital printing is referred to as full color, only four to six colors are required depending on the machine. The standard printing colors used are magenta, cyan, black and yellow. The colors are blended together resulting in a full spectrum of different colors. Smoothly transitioning gradients are important. This includes using smoke or a subtle element for fading into the material.

Skin tones require a precise blend of colors. For all of this, you are better off with digital printing since it offers more reliability than screen printing with very little required in the way of setup. At this point, the decision regarding the better method becomes complicated. Spot colors can be used with screen printing for the creation of a color spectrum. This technique is referred to as a simulated process.

The issue is the results are often mixed. The setup required is not as efficient, especially if you are printing a small order. The inks used for digital printing are more transparent and water-based. This means your ink can overlap resulting in an easier blending. Your gradients are smoother and more beautiful. For this reason, digital printing is recommended for color blending.


The combination of brightness and saturation can make screen printing too aggressive. If you are interested in a design that pops off the material and really stands out, screen printing is an excellent option. Despite all of the improvements in digital printing during the last few years, the appearance is still duller when compared to screen printing.

The difference is Plastisol ink is used for screen printing. The composition is suspended particles of PVC in a plasticizing emulsion. The result is extremely opaque. You receive a nice color range whether you are using a customized Pantone mix or colors directly from the bucket. Water-based inks are used for digital printing and lack the vibrancy and opaqueness of plastisol inks.

This is especially true for darker materials. Digital printing machines offer you a brighter under-base to improve the vibrancy of your print. In comparison to screen printing, your final result will not be nearly as good. Digital printing is dependent on process printing or the color model containing magenta, cyan, black and yellow to create different color shades.

You can still achieve saturated and bright colors also semi-transparent to make certain blending becomes easier.

For a variety of beautifully printed items, contact Good Promotional Products today at https://www.goodpromotionalproducts.com/.

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