The Difference Between Screen Printing and Digital Printing

Screen printing and digital printing are two of the most common forms of printing on the planet. While digital printing is a relatively new innovation, Screen printing can trace its roots back as far as the Chinese Song Dynasty of 960 to 1279 AD, where textiles like clothing or decorative tapestries had designs printed on them using natural dyes. Some of the most common uses of screen printing and digital printing today are the application of a logo or design to a blank product like a t-shirt or a coffee mug. Both screen printing and digital printing have their own pros and cons, and we’ll explore the differences here. Let’s begin with digital printing.

Digital printing is a much newer process that involves your artwork being processed by a computer, and then printed directly onto the surface of your product. Digital printing is not a heat transfer or applique, as the ink is directly adhered to the fabric of your shirt. With digital printing, you need a trusty computer with Photoshop, the digital artwork, a Direct To Garment Machine and heat press, a product and the right ink.

Digital printing is best used for items that require high amounts of detail, and orders of a smaller quantity. The fact that the digital printer doesn’t use screens allows for a photographic print, with more detail than traditional screen printing. As the ink is applied thinner (to achieve such detail), digital printing is best used on lighter coloured shirts to allow the design to shine. The fact that the design is processed and printed digitally allows for a quantity of one, since there are no screens or physical setup.

Screen printing involves creating a stencil (printers call this a “screen”), and then using that stencil to apply layers of ink on the printing surface. Each colour is applied using a different stencil, one at a time, combined to achieve the final look.

Screen printing requires a number of different tools to create the final product. First a stencil, then the print, then attaching to a screen and placing this on the desired canvas (or shirt) and finally using ink to create the print. Tools include everything from a silk screen, squeegee and inks to exposure units, vector artwork, carousel and heat tunnel.

Screen printing is the best option for designs that require a high level of vibrancy, when printing on dark shirts, or for specialty products. The ink in screen printing is applied thicker than digital printing, which results in brighter colors even on darker shirts.

The fact that these products are printed by hand also allows for unique products like water bottles, pens, and mugs, as the printer can manually handle curved or uneven surfaces. The minimum order quantity on screen printed items exists because of the extra materials and labour time associated with this printing method.

Screen printing is still the most commonly used method today due to its scalability and generally lower price. It can achieve high quality results for whatever products you have in mind. R&P Prints is currently among the fastest growing printing companies in Canada. We’re dedicated to providing our clients with a full array of custom screen printing and embroidery services with top­ notch service for both businesses and individuals.