There are a ton, we mean a ton of t-shirt printing options out there, each one offering something unique that makes it a great fit for some projects, but not so much for others. Picking the wrong t-shirt printer for what you’re trying to do can be like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
We’re going to break down two of the most popular printing services –– on-demand t-shirt printing and screen printing –– to help you figure out which one is best for you. Knowing the difference can save you a lot of time and money.
Screen printing works more or less like a giant stencil. You create your design and send it to your printing partner. They then burn it onto a screen, and push ink through it onto your garment using a squeegee.
Simple in theory, but can get really technical in practice. Especially when you start talking about automatic screen printing presses that can put out hundreds of shirts per hour.
There is more setup involved on the front end for screen printing, but once your screens are in place, screen printers can produce shirts at a rapid rate and a great price break.
Pros: Screen printing has a lot of pros, first being the high quality of the print. Your t-shirt prints are going to be more vibrant in color compared to on-demand printers. And if you’re using water-based ink, the print will feel softer and last a lot longer.
Screen printing is a perfect fit for anyone looking to order t-shirts in a bulk capacity (think 25 or more t-shirts). The same amount of setup goes in to printing one t-shirt as it does 1,000 –– so small orders are tough. But when ordering in bulk, your cost per shirt will be much less expensive.
Packing and shipping doesn’t have to be a hassle either. Find someone to handle your fulfillment and dropshipping, and you’ll still have the convenience of an on-demand printer.
Cons: The biggest knock on screen printing is how difficult it is to print a small run of shirts. Since there is a high amount of setup involved, most screen printers won’t print less than 20 shirts at once — not ideal if you’re just looking for shirts for your 10-person softball team or a family reunion.
Screen printing is also trickier for printing photorealistic images. It takes burning a lot of screens and delicate blending of colors to work. Find an expert and they’ll be able to print the image well, but DTG printing will usually make the image a little bit sharper.
When you’re ready to up your quality and your profit margin, screen printing is the way to go. The quality of the print is going to be on different level than an on-demand printer, and you’ll likely get better price breaks.
The only real exception here is if you need a very accurate photorealistic print. In that case, in could be worth looking into someone who will print that digitally for you.
But if you’re working at a company stocking up on employee gear, a church or non-profit ordering volunteer t-shirts, or a clothing line who has graduated from the trial phase and ready to start turning a profit, screen printing will be your best option, hands down.
Ready to get started with screen printing? Download our custom t-shirt design kit and start creating!
On-demand t-shirt printing is actually more of a service than a style. On-demand t-shirt printing services like Printful or teelaunch use a process called DTG (direct-to-garment)to print t-shirts. You can think of DTG printing as the t-shirt version of an inkjet office printer, printing on t-shirts the same way your printer at home prints on paper.
Since there is virtually no setup involved to print a shirt on a DTG printer, it allows you to produce smaller t-shirt runs and even one-off prints with little hassle.
On-demand printers typically sync up to your online store, and only once someone orders a shirt from your site will it get printed. Meaning minimal up-front investment on your end, and no chance of having leftover inventory of t-shirts.
Pros: Like we said, on-demand printers use DTG technology. For DTG printers, there is no real prep or setup involved, which makes it really easy to print small quantities and one-off t-shirts at a reasonable cost.
Also, since the print is done digitally and not with screens, DTG is great for high-detail and photorealistic prints.
Cons: On-demand printing is not ideal when you’re planning on ordering t-shirts in bulk. There usually aren’t price breaks for how many shirts you order, and the cost to produce one shirt is still pretty high, making it hard to turn a profit if you’re looking to sell your t-shirts.
The other major setback of on-demand is print quality. DTG printers don’t print quite as vibrantly as screen-printers do. A lot of DTG printers will even tell you not to print on dark t-shirts because the dark garment color will make the print too dull. DTG prints are prone to fade much quicker than screen printed t-shirts as well, so longevity can be an issue.
If you’re at the very beginning of launching a brand and want to test out a lot of designs and see what sticks, on-demand printing is a really good option. It’s convenient, there’s no commitment, and you’re not limited to any one or two designs.
If you’re looking to launch a side hustle that takes minimal effort and might make a small profit, on-demand is a good route to go.
We hope this guide helps you figure out which t-shirt printing option best fits your needs. At the end of the day, make sure you’re partnering with a printer that knows your vision, and is committed to helping you reach your long-term goals.
If you’d like to chat with a person and figure it out, give us a shout! We’d love to help you figure out which printing option is best for you.