My Educational Journey: Screen Printing vs. Digital Printing
“I want you to take my design, put it on this shirt and I’ll be wearing it out of here in time for lunch. What do you mean, ‘what kind of printing do I want to do?’ The t-shirt kind! Is my design a vector image? No, it’s a flower-dinosaurs aren’t really my thing.” This was the extent of my digital and screen printing knowledge, prior to T&H. You’re probably worried that someone this uneducated about printing is going near your beautifully crafted projects you bring to us. Have no fear, I have not, and will not be the one in charge of manning these machines any time this century. However, I must say that I have come a LONG way since when I first was introduced to these two printing techniques. If you are an expert on the subject matter, then I can assure you that this post is not for you, as I am still by no means an expert. As embarrassing as it might be to look back upon my idea of what customizing soft goods meant, I hope that by sharing my educational journey, it will help at least one other individual gain a better understanding of the processes of screen-printing vs digital-printing.
As you can tell, I was really starting at the bottom when it came to what I knew about screen printing and DTG printing (After a couple of weeks of using context clues, I learned that meant “Direct to Garment” or “Digital”). Once I started learning the basics of these two methods, my first impression was that screen printing was a terrifying process. Between the massive, spider-looking machine, the color limitations, and the time consumption involved in prepping the artwork properly, I pretty much wanted nothing to do with screen printing. At this point, digital printing seemed like my favorite by default. That is, until I realized that there is much more to digital printing than what meets the eye.
Digital printing seemed to me to be nothing more than a big printer for clothes. On an extremely high-level, my assumption wasn’t necessarily inaccurate, but there is so much more to it than that. A digital printer does exactly what it is told, which is both good and bad. The plus side to this, is that the actual printing of an item itself, does not require a significant amount of manual work. The downside, is that any image that is inputted into the machine, will come out just like that. This is problematic, for example, if the desired image has a white background, but a person wants the background to appear transparent. Being so technologically advanced compared to screen printing, I figured I can just tell the printer what kind of edits I wanted to make to the image and I would see instantaneous changes. In actuality, it requires good ol’ fashion manual work to alter the image and then resubmit it, which is where similarities between the two methods started to appear to me.
Although removing a background of an image, is not the same as vectorizing an entire image like what has to be done for screen printing, it still requires a separation of layers of the image, and a chunk of time. In separating layers of an image in both processes, it allows for machines to print specific aspects of a design to ensure that every part of the image is printed as specific as the machine allows, leading to the desired finished product. In screen printing, this means creating a separate screen for each layer (color), and in digital it means providing the printer an image that excludes the layers you do not want printed (such as the background).
Upon further investigation of similarities, I noticed that digital printing can be as time consuming as screen printing, if you are printing a large number of quantities. Since a digital printing machine can only print one item at a time, you must wait for that item to be complete, and then restart the entire process for the next item. In this sense, it could actually be more efficient to choose screen printing, as it is more equipped to handle large orders, as well as multiple units at a time. Another similarity, is that like screen printing, digital printing also has some limitations in regards to how precise a design can be to its original artwork. While screen printing produces more vibrant colors, it has limitations in regards to how many colors an image can have, as well as how much detail it can produce from the original image. On the other hand, digital printing produces images with exquisite detail, but can experience issues in exact color matching, and the colors could appear slightly dull. After all of these observations, it seemed that both methods had their imperfections, and there really is not a right or wrong method, it just depends on the project.
As technologically advanced as DTG printing might be to the printing industry, it is still very new and has a lot of room to grow before taking screen printing out of the game. While I no longer associate a vector image with the Jurassic period, I too still have a lot of room to grow this printing education of mine. For now, I am content with learning from the background and letting my design team take care of the rest. But who knows? Maybe by this time next year I’ll be blogging about my invention of the most revolutionary printing machine yet!
If you would like further explanation of the pros and cons of these two methods, check out this YouTube video from PSI Screen Printing! Screen Printing vs. Digital Printing
Images from: Sharprint.com, aliceayame.wordpress.com, redclaysoul.com