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Screen Print Vs Vinyl T-shirt Printing: Which One and Why?

I always get asked by customers which one is better between vinyl printing and screen printing for t-shirts, and depending on their artwork I may even suggest DTG (Direct to Garment.  Although all three methods offer high-quality, lasting results, I use vinyl printing for the majority and with this article, I will tell you why.

Before I reveal to you my reasons for choosing vinyl over the other two, let’s first have a quick comparison of the three methods.

VINYL PRINTING

Vinyl printing is all about heat transfer. You use a machine to cut out letters and designs from colored vinyl and heat-press them onto the t-shirt to transfer the color to it. Vinyl printing depends on a combination of pressure and heat.

SCREEN PRINTING

In this method, you need actual screens. Essentially, what you have to do is cut them to make templates for the designs. You then spread ink over each screen (only one ink color per screen) and let it pass through to the garment underneath; you will need several screens to come up with the final product.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

Now this is when there is more than just a few colours and cannot be done with either of the other methods.  Like is you wanted a shirt printed with your favorite pet or family this method is your best option.

Now, let’s take a look at the differences between screen, vinyl and DTG printing when customizing a t-shirt. Remember, they will all deliver quality, long lasting results if the garment is used correctly.

1. RUN TIME

Vinyl

Vinyl printing is suitable for very small runs of t-shirts. That’s due to the fact that the set-up time is little relative to that of screen printing. However, this method is much slower than screen printing as each t-shirt needs its own set up. This, therefore, makes it too time consuming and cost ineffective unless there is no other option or there is multiple customizing involved with each item such as sports team shirts.

Screen Printing

My MOQ (acronym for minimum order quality) for screen printing is 25 t-shirts. Setting up screen printing takes much longer compared to vinyl printing but as soon as the set-up in done, the printing process is swift. The high speed is because nothing needs to change from t-shirt to t-shirt, provided the designs remain the same. Screen printing is the right method if you’re looking to work on large orders.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

DTG is an relatively newer process that uses water based ink and prints directly into the fabrics of light coloured t-shirts and adheres to the pre-treatment on dark t-shirts that require white ink as a base.  Cost is higher than the other two options but allows for full colour printing where the other two options don’t really.

2. DETAIL AND COLOR

Vinyl

Vinyl printing is best suited for simple graphics. If you’re looking to create basic shapes or text-based designs, this is the method to use. Need to print jersey numbers for your high school soccer team? Excellent! Want a sleek photograph of the favorite pet on your t-shirt? This method just won’t cut it. With vinyl printing, there’s no way you can come up with true gradients (blending of colors); fine details will easily get lost.

Screen Printing

If you’re looking to print a large quantity of t-shirts screen printing can over this as well as a lower cost base on larger quantities.  It can be as simple as a 1 colour or up to 6-8 colour which would raise the price per item.

Direct to Garment

If you’re looking to print that photograph of the favorite pet on your shirt, DTG is the method that will do it for you. This method gives you access to a much high level of color and detail, making printing of photographs possible. As a matter of fact, complex designs come through effortlessly and definitely beautifully. Furthermore, DTG printing gives you access to a unlimited range of colors; you can mix whatever shades you prefer.

3. LIFESPAN

Under appropriate use, both methods should produce results that last for years. Here’s a look into the lifespans of the two methods and how to maximize it.

Vinyl

Under normal use, the design should last more than five years. I recommend following these care guidelines to maximize the lifespan:

  • Do not dry clean the garment. Rather, machine-wash it warm, with mild detergent.
  • Dry the t-shirt at normal setting.
  • Do not use chlorine bleach on the garment.

Screen Printing

The graphics produced through screen printing should last for the t-shirt’s life under normal, proper use. To make the graphic last the garment’s life, be sure to wash the garment inside out, with cold water only.

Direct to Garment

The ink printed should last for the t-shirt’s life under normal, proper use. To make the print last the garment’s life, be sure to wash the garment inside out, with cold water only.  On dark items that require pre treatment so the white ink can cure to it will have a slight tackiness to the print until washed and the print will get softer after a few washes.

WHY VINYL PRINTING BEST?

So, you might wonder why I use vinyl over screen printing and DTG despite all the benefits associated with the latter of the choices. I will tell you why.

First, screen printing and DTG are not cost effective for small jobs. A new screen has to be cut for every design and for DTG depending on the size of the print and the colour t-shirt it is going on can raise the cost per item. Actually, screen printing is suitable only when we’re talking of a minimum of around 50-100 t-shirts.

With this method, I can help my customers with small jobs of even 1 or 2 items. That way, I’m able to keep my costs low and my customers happy.

Ever had a t-shirt printed and after washing it several times noticed peelings, fading or cracking all over it? This is another annoying issue with screen printing when the garment is not used appropriately. Of course, the graphic should last the garment’s life but that is if you wash it inside out with cold water each time. But, who remembers to do that?

The best thing about vinyl printing is that the design will not fade or crack. In fact, I have a t-shirt that I always use as a sample when folks ask how my vinyl printing washes. I usually have one on as I always wear what I print and show them and tell them when I printed it and roughly how many times I have washed it.

After owning the t-shirts for around 6 years now, and cleaning it for more times than I cared to count, the print looks as new as the day I printed it.

Of course, there are numerous advantages of screen printing. Most importantly, it helps you complete the job much faster and with less toil and DTG if not printing on white or light coloured t-shirts than the cost per item is more expensive than any other method.  With vinyl printing, you have to cut each design from a vinyl roll and then weed out the unwanted parts, such as the inside of most letters including a, b, d, e and g. Moreover, you have to repeat the process for every color of the design for every shirt.

Final Word

Your choice of a printing method depends on the size of your orders and the complication of the designs you’re looking to create. If you’re hoping to do just a few orders with simple designs, I recommend going for vinyl printing but if you’re looking to do many orders (50-100) with complex picture designs and fonts, it’d be better to use screen printing and if it is the full high quality colour graphics than DTG would be the choice.