What’s the difference between screen printing versus digital printing?

screen printing vs digital printing

The elements to consider before we hit print

When it comes to printing custom t-shirts and product designs, Print Locker offers two choices of printing methods – screen and digital printing. Each printing process has its strengths, but how do you know which of these techniques will meet your needs, budget, and ensure the desired results?

Our team will discuss all of this with you when deciding which to use for your design. Before you set off to create your own t-shirt design, here are the ins and outs of digital printing vs screen printing.

The difference between screen printing and digital printing

Digital printing works like a big inkjet printer for products. Your design is uploaded to a computer that then prints directly onto your merchandise. Meanwhile, screen printing involves custom stencil (screen) creation. Each colour requires a screen and applying thicker and multiple layers of ink to achieve the artwork detail.

Screen printing

Screen printing has been around for centuries. The ancient Egyptians used it, and it’s reported as early as 960AD in China. The Industrial Revolution then popularised the process for commercial fabric printing.

Screen printing custom t-shirts and products involve the use of stencils called screens. An individual screen is used to apply each separate layer of coloured ink to achieve a complete and final design. So what are the pros of choosing screen printing?

screen printing vs digital printing

Vibrant colour

When you need very vibrant colours, a softer or nostalgic appearance, then screen printing is perfect for the job. Screen printing involves a thick application of ink, which results in a brighter colour finish that is best suited to darker-coloured fabrics and speciality products.

Cost-effective for larger jobs

If you require a high volume or repeat batches of printed material and custom t-shirts, screen printing is ideal. The initial set up costs can be expensive, however, the more you order the more economical it becomes. If you’re going to need more down the track, the artwork is already done so provided there are no changes, you can do another run easily. There is minimum order quantity because of the extra materials to make the screens and labour time setting up.


Due to the thickness of ink used in this process, the printers can apply layers upon layers of ink to create unique effects. There is a broader range of inks and dyes available for screen printing than for digital printing to consider when you create your own t-shirt and products.


Screen printing works on all kinds of different materials, fabric and surfaces, not just cotton and cotton blends. The artwork can also be rearranged easily into different angles or positions on the product.

Digital printing

The printing industry has benefited from digital technology advances. Digital printing involves your artwork being processed by a computer and then converted to a format that prints directly onto the surface of your product.

Digital printing is not a heat transfer or applique, as the ink directly adheres to the fabric of your shirt. It’s become a hugely popular choice for advertising and personalised products, and here are some reasons why.

digital t-shirt printing design

Lower per-copy costs

High detail designs are best off using a digital printing method. If you have a small-scale printing job, digital printing is more economical as set-up costs are lower than they are for screen printing. If you only need a few, digital is generally the best solution.

Faster turnaround

Digital printing is faster because there are no screens to create and set up. Particularly with complex designs where many screens are needed, a digital design does it all in one. The ink is applied thinner, meaning so less drying time too.

Photographic print effects

Without the need for screens and the thinner ink application, digital printing gives a photographic print quality with more detail than the traditional screen process. If your design best suits a modern and crisp finish then digital printing may be the way to go. It’s worth knowing that lighter coloured shirts show up better with digital.

More flexible for changes

If you change your marketing material frequently or want items personalised, digital printing is the best option. If you’re going to make changes on your next print run, they can be incorporated easily over the screen printing process.

For digital and screen printing – talk to Print Locker

At Print Locker we go to great lengths to ensure we exceed your expectations, no matter which printing method you use. You’re not limited to custom t-shirt design; we have a range of products you can print your custom artwork on.

Not only are we Australian made and owned, but we also treat your artwork and products with meticulous quality control processes. You can be assured you will love your finished product.

Contact us for further advice and information on your design and print product needs.

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