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When to Screen Print vs. When to Print DTG

When to Screen Print vs. When to Print DTG

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Each day I really enjoy the chance I get to connect with business owners in the apparel decorating industry. In each discussion, the opportunities and options to help shops grow and improve their business are by far my favorite. Direct to Garment (DTG) printing can be one option to grow & improve in a new way. For many shops, DTG is a great option, but you want to make sure you’re adding DTG for the right reasons. While many people start with DTG in their printing journey, the majority will start with screen printing and then add DTG into the mix when the time is right.

One question that is commonly asked (and should be) is how do I know whether to screen print or use DTG for a specific job. This is a great question and it’s what we’re going to focus on today.

In short, it’s all about the numbers and time. The brass tax reason a typical screen printing shop will add DTG is to save time and effort on low run or one-off jobs. If you can print the job on your DTG before you would have it set up on your screen printing press, you should most likely use DTG. In time, you’ll want to find the magic number of pieces in a job that will determine when you use DTG vs. screen printing. This is typically different from shop to shop, but is typically around 12 to 24 pieces. Depending on the artwork, anything below 12 or 24 pieces will most likely need to be put on the DTG. 

When I say “setup the job” I’m including everything that goes into screen printing a job like: separating the art, printing the film, coating the screen, exposing/washing the stencil out, post exposure (if you do it), registration, and the first strike off. I love screen printing and the challenge that all of these many, simple steps can bring… but no matter how much I love printing, that is way too many steps for just a couple of shirts!

Let’s say an order comes in as a two-color front and a two-color back… but they only want 6 pieces. You obviously wouldn’t want to screen print that, so we’ll put it on the DTG. Even if it’s a 2 color front on a dark garment, at 6 pieces you’ll still want to put this job on your DTG.

What about a one color design or and order in the range of 12 to 24? That’s where you’ll want to look at your shop and make the decision internally. Some shops will print one color designs on a screen printing press at 6 pieces or more, others won’t touch anything with a press unless it’s 24 pieces or above. 

At a certain point you’ll find what I call the “Plateau.” This is where the time it takes to print an order on your DTG vs. screen printing is about the same. This is where cost comes into play. Compare your total cost for screen printing the design vs. DTG and make sure to include the cost of your screen, ink, chemicals, and tape when doing the comparison. For DTG, you should be able to see your cost in the RIP you’re using for that design if you want to get really specific.

In the end, look to start with some general rules and tweak for your specific shop from there. These rules are:

  • DTG anything that is an order less than 12 pieces.
  • Screen print designs that are one to two colors if the quantity is 12 pieces or above.
  • Designs with three or more colors at less than 24 pieces can typically go faster on DTG and be less costly.
  • Average DTG print on a dark garment will be around $2.50 to $3.50 for ink and pretreat.
  • This is for an average 11x11” design printed on a black shirt using the Polyprint Echo2
  • Time is the most important factor in all of this. Make sure to be thinking about time while dialing this in for your shop.

Awesome that you read through all this, and we want to help answer any questions you might have.  We have a Free DTG Webinar on Tuesday, 10/29 where we will be diving deep into all the details.

Sign Up Now, we're looking forward to connecting with you Tuesday! 

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