Digital Printing vs Screen Printing

Our print shop is unique because we have the ability to print and manufacture products in two very different ways.

Digital printing is done using our brand-new, state-of-the-art digital printers. These brand-name printers cost thousands of dollars but produce some of the highest-quality printed products you can find. But some materials are best printed and manufactured in a more traditional manner.

Screen printing relies on a process that's existed for centuries. However, just because the technology is old doesn't mean it's no longer suitable for today's world. In fact, there are certain printing applications that are much better suited for a screen printer in comparison to a digital machine.

However, screen printing relies on a knowledgable professional to run the machine properly, more shop space to house the larger screen printers, and a longer turnaround time as the process takes longer.

We often get questions from customers about which printer they should use for their decals, t-shirts, and other printed products. Our team works closely with each customer to determine the best printer depending on the product, adhesive, and desired application. There's no one answer: it always depends on the specific client situation.

When measuring the positives and negatives of digital printing vs screen printing, how do you know which printer to use? Let's clarify this question once and for all by answering it from five different perspectives.

Print Quality

Screen printers create printed images using a large stencil and squeegee that applies ink - in layers - on a desired surface. The process is slow as different colors of the design must be screen printed one at a time, using different stencils.

However screen printing is usually limited to four colors, but when lined up appropriately, you are left with an extremely high-quality, long-lasting, durable image.

On the other hand, digital printers use computers and artwork processed in a graphic design program to render an image and print it directly onto a surface. The ink isn't transferred via heat or other process, the ink actually bonds with the surface of your product.

This is an incredibly highly-detailed print, with the ink applied in a thinner, more efficient manner in comparison to screen printers that lay on ink thick.

If you're looking to print a quick run of decals or stickers that display a complicated piece of artwork, a digital printer would be your best option.

A screen printer would be a much better choice for a larger printed piece or a product designed to last for a long period of time.

The Verdict: Screen printing.

Print Quantity

If your main concern is the number of products, you have to understand how the items are printed on digital printers and screen printers and how much it costs. For example, because digital printers print in such high detail and are better suited for smaller designs, high-quantity runs are typically expensive.

On the other hand, although screen printing requires more time and significant manual labor, there are usually minimum quantity requirements to ensure the print shop is getting properly compensated for their work.

The positive trade-off for the customer is it becomes extremely attractive - and inexpensive - to order screen printed products on a large scale. While you can do large runs on a digital printer, chances are you're not getting the best deal.

The Verdict: Screen printing.

Color Variation

One of the most important aspects of printing is ensuring colors will come out exactly as you hope they would. There's nothing worse than a customer receiving a product that doesn't match the color they imagined or had defined by CMYK color codes.

While our print shop ensures a perfect color match every time using the PANTONE color-matching system, we spend a diligent amount of time each time we deal with a customer because mistakes with colors are too easily made.

Digital printers have endless color possibilities and combinations, allowing you to print nearly any logo or design. The only limitation you have with a digital printer is you cannot print white ink, although this is slowly changing with the newest, state-of-the-art digital printers.

Screen printers are significantly more limited when it comes to colors. Because of the traditional process, applying color has to be done one-at-a-time, using a separate stencil and screen in order to avoid color mixing. When it comes to color detail and variation, digital printers are clearly the winner over screen printers.

The Verdict: Digital printing.

Print Cost

This is probably the hardest question to answer. There are so many variations between each customer order that it's difficult to qualify which printer is the cheapest.

For example, extremely high-volume runs - 25,000 decals or 10,000 posters - screen printing is clearly the more cost-effective option.

On the other hand, if you're printing 250 decals of a complicated piece of artwork you're  better off going with a high-quality digital printer that will create the decals in just a day or two.

Digital printing has benefited from advancements in technology that allow these machines to be more creative, print on a variety of different surfaces, and do it all very quickly.

However, there's a reason the screen printing method has been around for centuries. It's cost-effective approach is perfect for large scale orders and is tough to beat. The lower cost truly depends on each individual order you make.

The Verdict: It's a tie.

Product Capabilities

Promotional products open up endless possibilities for how you can print on a variety of different surfaces.

The traditional screen printing method is fantastic for any fabric, however digital printers can print on a variety of surfaces nearly as well or better: vinyl, t-shirts, plastic, leather, even wood!

Given how creative the printing industry has gotten in recent years, it's fair to assume that digital printers will only become even more flexible and continue to adapt to society's demands, wants, and needs. That's something that screen printing just can't keep up with.

Screen printing still has its place in printing and manufacturing - and likely always will - but digital provides more quality options now and in the future.

The Verdict: Digital printing.

The Best Printer for You

The digital printing vs screen printing debate is a common discussion within the printing and manufacturing industry.

It's a good discussion to have, but ultimately the best printer depends on your product, the quantity you're looking for, and the desired application.

As a print shop, we're happy we can offer both the digital and screen printing options because it best serves our customers.

If you've needed help deciding between the two print types, hopefully this in-depth comparison helps you make the right decision for your company's next printed product.

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