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Digital Printing VS Screen Printing, What’s the Difference?

Jan 30,2024 | ForemostHat

I. Introduction

Digital printing is the process of printing digital-based images directly onto a variety of media substrates. There is no need for a printing plate, unlike with offset printing.

Screen printing is a printing technique where a mesh is used to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil.

For today’s article, we will introduce some basics related to the difference between screen printing and digital printing, let’s dive in!!

II. Digital Printing

digital print

A. The digital printing process using computerized technology

Digital printing is a process of mapping out an image onto a chosen surface – a shirt, a custom tumbler, a beanie, a custom-printed tote bag, etc. – and using minute droplets of ink to transfer that image onto it.

B. Advantages of digital printing, such as:

1. Ability to produce high-resolution and complex designs
Anything 300 PPI or over is usually considered to be high resolution. DPI –Dots Per Inch, is a measurement to determine the resolution of an image for printing. High-resolution values for DPI are also generally considered to be 300 DPI or over.

2. Quick turnaround time and minimal setup requirements
This is sometimes tied to quantity because we use different technology for different quantities. Digital printing turnaround is usually between one to five business days. Offset printing varies depending on each project. It is generally two to five business days.

3. Cost-effective for small or custom print runs
Eliminating the need for costly setup processes like creating printing plates in offset printing, digital printing proves more cost-effective for small print runs or personalized printing. This is because there are no setup fees involved.

C. Common applications of digital printing in the industry

Some applications of note include: Desktop publishing – inexpensive home and office printing is only possible because of digital processes that bypass the need for printing plates. Commercial – Business Stationery - Including business cards, and letterheads.

III. Screen Printing

screen print

A. The screen printing process involves stencil and mesh screen

Screen printing is the process of transferring a stenciled design onto a flat surface using a mesh screen, ink, and a squeegee. Fabric and paper are the most commonly screen-printed surfaces, but with specialized inks, it's also possible to print onto wood, metal, plastic, and even glass.

B. Advantages of screen printing, such as:

1. High durability and long-lasting prints
Screen-printed shirts are long-lasting and durable if you take proper care of them. To avoid cracking, peeling, and fading of the ink, don't wash screen-printed garments in hot water, avoid bleach, and always turn them inside out before washing.

2. Vibrant colors and excellent color opacity

3. Cost-effectiveness for large print runs
Once the screens are prepared, the cost per unit decreases significantly for each additional item printed. This makes screen printing a cost-effective choice for bulk orders, such as promotional merchandise or team uniforms.

C. Common applications of screen printing in the industry

Screen printing is a popular printing method, using a process that presses ink through a mesh screen to create a printed design. It's used in a huge range of industries across the globe to create custom clothing, canvasses, artwork, posters, and more.

IV. Print Quality and Detail

A. Comparison of print quality between digital printing and screen printing

Where screen printing gives a more vibrant finish (especially when printing onto a darker surface), digital distribution is better suited to detailed work due to the layers of ink being thinner which assures the final print will turn out more precise.

B. Factors influencing print detail and resolution in each technique

A higher DPI measurement will result in higher print resolution, which gives you a better-quality printed image. The more dots you have packed into each square inch, the more detail you can achieve with your print and the sharper your image may appear.

C. Considerations for selecting the appropriate printing method based on the desired outcome

If you know you'll be printing at a high volume, industrial printers will get the job done. Typically larger in size and ruggedized, industrial printers should be able to handle 24/7 print jobs like those needed for logistics or manufacturing.

print picture

V. Color Options and Vibrancy

A. Comparison of color options and vibrancy in digital printing and screen printing

Screen printing uses Plastisol inks and water-based inks, which are the most vibrant colors available, while digital printing is limited by the CMYK color gamut. It is also easier for screen printers to match the exact color, especially when using the Pantone Matching System.

B. Factors influencing color accuracy and vibrancy in each technique

Here are several methods that can be used to make inkjet printer print better in color: choose high print quality, replace your ink cartridges, use genuine ink cartridges, do a printer clean and printer head alignment, do a printer head alignment, print as a JPG instead of a PDF file, change paper type & weight, etc.

VI. Fabric and Material Compatibility

A. Comparison of fabric and material compatibility in digital printing and screen printing

Because there's no screen involved, digital printing can print much more detailed and accurate designs than traditional screen printing. Digital Printing is also more versatile because you either print on specific placements or choose to print a repeated/ allover print onto the fabric yardage.

B. Limitations and considerations for selecting the appropriate printing method based on the substrate

These criteria are typically, maximum operating temperature (MOT), coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE), electrical insulation (resistivity), thermal conductivity, and relative permittivity.

C. Exploring both techniques' ability to print on various substrates, including textiles, paper, and plastics

Digital printing on plastic is a process that uses inkjet technology to print high-quality images onto plastic surfaces.

Screen printing or silk-screening is a highly specialized process used to print on flat and flexible plastic surfaces. This printing method is compatible with various types of plastic and produces bold, bright, firm, and metallic colors that make your designs stand out. Synthetic fibers, including nylon, acrylics, and polyester for example, are typically less porous than natural fibers, so one challenge can be getting the screen print ink to adhere to them as well as they do to cotton fiber.

screen print machine

VII. Cost Considerations

A. Comparison of cost considerations in digital printing and screen printing

Generally speaking, digital printing has a higher initial cost, as it requires a high-quality printer and often more expensive ink. However, screen printing costs more per unit, as each color requires a separate screen and setup process, making it less efficient for small orders.

B. Exploring factors influencing cost, such as print volume, complexity, and setup requirements

Print volume refers to the number of prints or copies an organization produces regularly, and it's typically measured in monthly increments, also known as prints per month. When searching for a new machine, you will likely see two ways of measuring print volume.

C. Considerations for selecting the appropriate printing method based on budget constraints

Screen printing is best for large-scale production runs of products such as t-shirts or banners.

VIII. Environmental Impact

A. Comparison of the environmental impact of digital printing and screen printing

Digital printing has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than analog, or conventional, printing, as it consumes less energy, produces less waste, and uses less energy in general. Printing digitally is the most environmentally friendly method of creating flexible packaging.

B. Considerations for selecting the appropriate printing method based on environmental considerations

Digital printing is a computer process that directly applies ink to a garment while screen printing pushes colors through a mesh screen one color at a time. Digital printing is a more recent method that research has proven to be more environmentally friendly. This is due to its ability to use significantly less water and energy while decreasing the amount of hazardous wastewater that is released into nearby waterways.

IX. Conclusion

In a general sense, screen printing is best for low-detailed, bulk orders, while digital printing is better for orders with higher amounts of concentrated detail. Screen printing is done by hand, while a computer handles digital printing.

Also, when selecting a printing method, it’s encouraged to consider factors such as print quality, color options, fabric compatibility, cost, customization, and environmental impact. Don’t forget to consult with printing professionals for expert advice and recommendations on the best printing technique for specific requirements.

That’s all for today, any new questions, please comment below and let us know!!