One of the genuinely exciting things about the print on demand apparel industry is that the underlying technology continues to adapt and evolve. Tried-and-true printing techniques have been supplanted by digital methodologies, and those digital methodologies continue to grow more refined and effective.
While the advent of printing technologies is certainly good news, it can also be a little bit intimidating. Simply put, it can be challenging for print on demand sellers to keep abreast of their options, or to determine which printing method is right for them.
Here’s what you need to know for starters: The four most common printing options are screen printing, direct to garment (DTG), Digital Squeegee (also known as Digital Hybrid), and direct to film (DTF). While all four methods have pros and cons, they’re not necessarily created equal and each have their pros and cons and are applicable for certain scenarios such as type of artwork, print location, fabric composition, size of order etc. In this post, we’ll define these four options, and help you determine which makes the most sense for your project.
Screen Printing vs. DTG vs. Digital Squeegee vs. DTF: Defining the Terms
Screen printing is by far the oldest of the three methods, predating digital technology. In fact, the origins of screen printing are ancient. Basically, this method involves the use of a stencil, or “screen,” for each layer of color. These screens are used to carefully layer different hues, one at a time, onto a piece of fabric.
Screen printing is a cost-effective way to create durable and vibrant designs in large quantities, which is why it continues to be a go-to for bulk orders. And yet, when it comes to replicating intricate designs, it falls far short of its digital counterparts.
Speaking of digital methods, DTG printing is an established method within the print on demand field. Basically, DTG involves an image being printed directly on the garment itself. You can almost think of DTG as working in the same way that your home printer works… with the notable difference that, rather than printing onto a piece of paper, you’re printing onto a piece of fabric.
DTG was initially hailed as a revolution in print on demand apparel, and it’s not hard to understand why. It can produce vibrant colors and vivid details. While you could never Screen print a photograph (i.e. an image with a million colors) onto a t-shirt, DTG printing makes this possible. It also makes it easy to render more complicated images with accuracy and precision. And, because it doesn’t require a lot of advanced set-up, it’s the ideal solution for one-off or small-batch orders.
Digital Squeegee or Digital Hybrid
The Digital Squeegee method is indeed something of a hybrid: It involves screen printing techniques for base and solid areas, while colors are printed digitally. This can be a great option for bulk orders that require a lot of intricacy or a lot of color. In most cases, the typical user will not expressly ask for a digital squeegee print, but rather this is an option available to large print houses for orders between the low unit DTG option or large bulk Screen Printing option. In most cases, the final product will look and feel more like a DTG print.
The fourth option to consider is DTF printing. With this approach, the image is printed onto a special transfer film. That film is then heat-pressed onto the garment, allowing the inks to bond with the fabric itself.
While heat transfer technology has been around for decades, the latest you are hearing about DTF has been hailed as the “next big thing” in print on demand apparel, for a couple of reasons. One, it works well on a wide range of fabric types. Two, it excels at creating rich, vibrant, multi-colored designs. Three, printers love it because the process is less prone to expensive errors. As such, it allows print on demand sellers to significantly increase the versatility of their product lines.
Which Method is Right for Your Print on Demand Needs?
Together, these four printing methods represent a linear progression. The analog technologies used in screen printing have given way to DTG which has combined with screen printing into a digital hybrid model. DTF continues to advance and we see this emerging decoration method as a great complement to DTG and Digital Squeegee.
- If you’re filling a massive order that requires vibrant, durable colors, and doesn’t involve too much intricacy, screen printing may be your most economical choice. However, given the setup requirements, it’s really not well-suited for low-volume orders, and it’s also not the best option for any designs involving precise or complex color gradients. Screen printing can work on a variety of different fabric compositions (from 100% cotton to tri-blends to fleece), but does require special file setup and production setup. Each additional color will incur extra labor (and cost) and production can take up to a few weeks.
- Meanwhile, DTG printing is ideal for low-volume and customized orders, particularly those involving photographic replications or other highly intricate orders. Even so, print on demand sellers should know that the cost-per-unit of DTG tends to be a bit higher but this is usually offset with not having to pre-purchase inventory or be left with excess inventory in hard to move colors or sizes.
- And then there’s DTF printing, which continues to gain traction. The ability to decorate on a wider range of fabric compositions as well as a traditionally lower error rate will make this the go to decoration technique for branded and fashion merchandise.
Word of warning:
As with any new technology, especially one such as DTF which has a low cost of entry, we are seeing broad adoption across manufacturers. However through our extensive product testing and sampling process we do see a wide range in terms of quality, consistency and durability. We are excited and proud to offer DTF printing at Gooten and rest assured we are only working with the best vendors in the space.
Explore Best-in-Class Printing Techniques from Gooten
At Gooten, we’re committed to providing our print on demand partners with the best technologies, all to ensure the highest-quality products. We’re proud to offer top-tier solutions for print on demand apparel and are always happy to talk with our partners about what these solutions entail.
If you have any questions about print on demand technology we invite you to reach out to the Gooten team at any time.
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