DTG stands for “direct to garment” printing. It’s basically digital inkjet printing of special ink directly onto fabric.
Screen printing is a bit different. It’s hardly printing at all. This method involves pressing ink through a screen that has been prepped to act like a stencil. Some areas of the screen are blocked, preventing ink to penetrate and creating the design pattern.
Why would you choose one method over the other? Here are a couple of the major issues:
While it is possible to do multi-color printing with screen printing, to do so requires a screen to be made for each color to be used in the design. Each color is then “printed” separately. Three colors = three screens = three prints per garment.
With DTG, you can print millions of colors. Ink is mixed in the printhead and all colors are printed at the same time, without the need to do color separations or create separate screens.
If you have a full color photograph that you’d like to print on a garment, this cannot be done using the screen printing method. It simply must be done DTG.
Small batches, short runs
With screen printing, each color to be printed requires a screen to be made. So, for example, to print an American flag, you would create a screen for the red content and a screen for the blue content. If you were printing on a white shirt, you could use the white of the shirt for the stars and white stripes. If you were printing on a black or other colored shirt, you would need to create a third screen for the stars and white stripes. At $30 per screen on average, your first t-shirt would already cost $90, before the print process has begun!
With DTG, there are no screens to create. The design, no matter how complicated, can be printed as-is, straight from design software. This makes it possible to create the first shirt for the same cost as the 2nd and so on. That’s why with DTG there are no minimums. Prices generally decrease as quantity goes up, but short runs are not cost-prohibitive.
For full-color printing, you simply have to go with DTG. Same thing for designs that are customized for the user, such as adding names, titles or different content. For 1, 2, 3 or even 4 color printing, there may be a sweet spot (likely between 50-100 garments) where it could make sense to switch to screen printing.