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Digital Printing vs Screen Printing

Updated: Feb 23

With the amount of garment printing techniques in our dynamic world of print production, it can be hard to acknowledge the differences between the printing methods and which one works best for your needs. However, two well-known techniques have emerged as the most popular and commonly used in the printing industry. Comparing digital printing vs screen printing can help you choose the most sustainable approach for your project and achieve your desired results.


With each method offering distinct advantages and limitations, choosing the right option is of utmost importance. Whether you’re embarking on a large-scale production project or a small-scale venture, you’ll need to undertake thoughtful considerations of many factors. This includes quality resolution, production time, and cost-effectiveness, among many more.


In this article, we’ll elaborate on the benefits and differences between digital printing and screen printing. By exploring these techniques, we aim to educate designers and businesses to make informed choices that align with their unique demands.


Digital Printing vs Screen Printing
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: KOKTARO

The Basics of Digital Printing


Digital printing is a method that harnesses the power of advanced technology and complex computing, offering a seamless and efficient way to produce printed products. This technique is relatively new and modern and uses computer and digital files to map and place small drops of ink.


The process begins by analyzing the image on the screen and then converting it into a format that can be transferred directly onto the substrate or surface required. Then, the digital image or design file is conveyed from a computer directly to the printer


By using digital technology, the printer applies the ink or toner onto the surface of a product in a series of small drops of ink or dots to recreate the design. Once these inks are combined, they create the desired image with exceptional quality and resolution.


Using digital printing, commercial printing services excel at producing rapid on-demand and short print runs cost-effectively. It’s typically used when the print requires a modern, crisp finish and more detailed resolution. 


As this method is extremely versatile, it can be used for nearly anything from solid flat materials to curved soft surfaces, making it an ideal platform for personalization and a quicker alternative than other printing methods.


The Basics of Screen Printing


Screen printing, also known as silk screen printing or serigraphy, is a traditional printing method that has been around for centuries. This technique relies on manual operation rather than digital and involves pushing ink through a stenciled mesh screen that’s placed above a garment, creating a printed design.


Screen printing’s unique process begins by creating a design that is then utilized in proper vector files that allow alteration without compromising the quality. The next step is creating the stenciled screen with the design to be printed, using photosensitive emulsion.


The stencil is then mounted on a frame, and ink is forced through the open areas of the stencil onto the surface below. This process is repeated using more stencils and different designs for each color until the final image is complete.


Screen printing is a relatively versatile technique used in a huge range of industries to create custom clothing, canvases, posters, artwork, and more. Designs can be applied to a variety of materials that come in various shapes, sizes, and thicknesses, resulting in extremely durable and vibrant prints.


Comparing Digital Printing vs Screen Printing


1. Quality and precision


Screen printing and digital printing both bring distinctive characteristics to prints when it comes to quality and resolution. While screen printing is renowned for delivering vibrant finishes and robust prints, digital printing is characterized by its precision and detail.


Digital prints utilize advanced technology that promotes designs with sharp edges and vibrant colors, making them suitable for projects demanding extreme detail. However, while screen printing is not as refined and precise as digital prints, it delivers a unique depth and boldness to each piece. The unique process of this method contributes to a distinctive texture and visual impact on prints like none other.


Moreover, many factors can influence the image clarity and color accuracy in digital print, including the type of printer used and the settings chosen. As for screen printing, screen printing expertise level, mesh count, and proper equipment are vital factors in determining quality and resolution.


Quality and precision
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: GEORGIY MARTYNOV

2. Color reproduction


When color is critical, digital printing leverages advanced technology, offering an extensive range of colors and accurate hues with precise, vibrant effects. On the other hand, screen printing is often overlooked for its ability to produce visually impactful color variations and excellent vibrancy. This is because screen printing ink utilizes spot colors, just like the Pantone Matching System (PMS), while digital print relies on the CMYK four-color process, offering many color variations.


While digital print produces accurate color hues, the presses may not produce as vibrant colors as screen printing. This is due to the fact that the ink is a solid color throughout the screen printing process and is applied with a thicker layer. So, screen printing really brings out the vibrancy in colors like reds, oranges, greys, and greens. But digital printing, due to many interventions and advancements in the past few years, has made those colors more accessible and vibrant, too.


3. Print complexity


When it comes to the print complexity of screen and digital printing, choosing between the two methods depends on the specific demands of a project.


While digital printing excels in reproducing intricate designs with fine details and a wide color spectrum, the process of screen printing may become more complex. This is because the screen method uses separate stencils for each color, while the process of digital prints doesn’t change no matter how many colors are present.


Simple screen-printed images almost always result in fine lines with refined edges, but more complex prints are likely better suited for digital printing. Detailed images and gradients are easily printed with digital presses, making this method a preferred option for intricate design.


Additionally, digital print allows mass customization and variable data, such as varying backgrounds, sequential numbering, colors, and text within the same print run.


4. Setup and production time


When it comes to setup and production time, digital printing takes the lead in terms of speed and turnaround time. Unlike screen printing, the absence of complex setup processes in digital print makes it an ideal choice for projects with tight deadlines. Its rapid production capabilities allow for multiple copies simultaneously, accelerating the production phase.


Screen printing is much more time-consuming with its requirements for stencils and drying time, especially for prints with multiple colors.


5. Cost considerations


When it comes to choosing between screen and digital print on a budget, many factors contribute to the final price, the primary being the quantity of your project.


If you’re looking for a small number of copies, digital printing offers a more cost-effective option due to its lower setup cost. It offers accessibility for complex and intricate designs, providing affordable and fast turnaround times.


On the contrary, while screen printing may have higher setup costs, it becomes a much more convenient and budget-friendly choice for larger projects. Once the screens are set up, and the screen printing machine has been calibrated, the cost per unit tends to decrease with screen printing as the quantity increases.


Furthermore, the number of colors you use in your project can also influence the cost per unit in these two printing methods. While in digital print, there’s no significant difference in the number of colors you choose, the cost can notably enhance screen printing. This is because the method requires a new screen for each color, resulting in additional costs.


Comparing Digital Printing vs Screen Printing
Source: shutterstock.com / Photo Contributor: DmyTo

Conclusion


In conclusion, digital printing and screen printing represent two of the most famous techniques and are the most commonly used in the printing industry. While they both serve the same purpose, their methods are quite distinctive, with their own advantages and limitations.


While digital print stands out for its precision, high quality, and cost-effectiveness for small batches, screen print excels in color reproduction, durability, and versatility. Ultimately, the decision between these two methods comes down to the specific characteristics and demands of your project. Knowing the differences and comparing digital printing vs screen printing will help you make an informed decision, achieving the results you desire.


Hopefully, this article has helped you gain a better understanding of these prominent methods of print in the printing industry.


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