Digital Printing vs. Screen Printing: Which Is Best?

Posted on August 3, 2022 | Updated on July 10, 2023

Digital printing and screen printing are the most popular methods of printing used today. Yet, everybody wants to know how the two compare and which one is best?

Knowing which is best will depend on your desired look and finish. Digital printing and screen printing have different pros and cons. 

Let’s explore the differences between these printing methods to decide which is best suited for your needs. 

What Is Digital Printing?

Digital printing is a much newer technology involving a complex computing process. This technology analyzes the image on the screen, converting it into a format where you can print it directly onto the surface. 

Many companies offer digital printing services when customers require a modern finish. For instance, many use it for product labels, direct mail or coupons. Therefore, this method is more detailed when compared to screen printing. 

You can use digital printing for practically anything often a better alternative for easy personalization and fast printing.

What Is Screen Printing?

The screen printing process uses a stencil or screen and layers of ink — applying each layer to the printing surface one at a time. For every color you use, a different screen is applied.

Screen printing is highly versatile. You can use this process to print on various types of material, including plastic, latex and textiles.

What’s excellent about this method is that the printing doesn’t require pressure. Therefore, many commonly use screen printing for products like clothing, balloons and wallpaper.

Digital Printing vs. Screen Printing: What’s the Difference?

Both methods of printing have numerous differences. For instance, screen printing can achieve a softer, more retro look. However, digital printing can provide a crisp, clean finish if you’re considering a modern look. 

Below will explain the differences between the two and highlight some of the benefits and drawbacks.

1. Color Vibrancy

When it comes to color saturation and brightness, screen printing is the method that works best. Even though digital printing has had significant advancements in recent years, it still creates a slightly duller appearance compared to screen printing. 

That’s because screen printing uses Plastisol ink. It is extremely opaque and can create a bright white under-base for darker garments. In addition, Plastisol inks come in various high vibrant colors and you can use them to mix your own custom color.

Meanwhile, digital printing uses water-based inks, which lack the vibrancy that Plastisol inks provide. However, newer machines have a wider color range using only four to six colors.

2. Blending

Digital printing allows for smoother color blending. It can print gradients and smaller colored details. It even enables elements to fade into the material, allowing colors to overlap, creating an easier transition between colors.

Meanwhile, screen printing can use the same amount of colors. It uses a simulated process that blends colors using halftones. Color blending with screen printing is more difficult to achieve, making it less cost-efficient if you require smaller orders.

3. Color Match

Screen prints can match any color you need with Pantones. On the other hand, digital printing uses the CMYK color model — cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

Therefore, digital prints can try to match the colors you require. Yet, the colors will most likely be off by a slight amount.

Still, screen printing’s ability to print every color in the world is guaranteed to give you what you want.

4. Durability

When it comes to digital printing, you can get a lightweight, soft print where you can hardly feel it on the shirt. The final product results use less ink buildup, so you have more airflow and flexibility with the fabric.

Screen prints are known to be stiffer and heavier on a shirt. In screen printing, the feel of the print is known as “hand.” You can use a “soft hand” with water-based ink. Or, you can use Plastisol using an additive to thin the ink and create a smoother, lightweight feel. 

Screen printing is also a great choice for achieving a vintage look. You’d create a softer hand by breaking up the ink and reducing the surface area. 

Which One Is Best?

With digital printing vs. screen printing, it depends on the results you look for in a final product. Each has its own qualities and it depends on how many are needed. For instance, screen printing is more cost-effective when you need a larger batch.

However, digital printing offers more flexibility when it comes to personalization. Find out your goal with the final look and how many you need first. Then, you can decide which printing technique will best suit your needs.

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About The Author

Coraline (Cora) Steiner is the Senior Editor of Designerly Magazine, as well as a freelance developer. Coraline particularly enjoys discussing the tech side of design, including IoT and web hosting topics. In her free time, Coraline enjoys creating digital art and is an amateur photographer.

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