Digital Printing Versus Screen Printing Fabric, Which is Better? - Pattern and Design

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Digital Printing Versus Screen Printing Fabric, Which is Better?

Digital printing versus screen printing fabric, which is better?

The process of creating a design and then getting it onto fabric can be quite overwhelming when you’re first starting out. Where do you begin? What processes are involved? What will give you the best outcome? It may even stop you moving forward.  To demystify the process, we’re going to have a look at the two main processes of printing fabric.

Digital Printing versus Screen Printing Fabric, Which is Better?

Both digital printing and screen printing processes involve taking your design and transferring it onto fabric. Digital printing and screen printing each use very different processes to achieve this, but there are two main mediums that are used to print with that are common to both.

They are pigments and dyes. 

Let’s have a quick look at some differences between pigments and dyes.

Pigments can be printed onto any fabric as they bond to the surface by heat. Fabrics printed with pigments are generally stiffer and some fabrics will lose their luster, however, the advantages of using pigments to print with are they are generally more colourfast and it’s generally a less expensive printing method.

Dyes are generally more expensive to use but give a soft hand to the fabric and generally achieve more vibrant colours. There are different types of dyes you can print with and this will be determined by the fabric you are printing on.

Fabrics are divided into 3 types: plant-based, animal-based or synthetic based. You would use Acid dyes to print on silk, wool and nylon fabrics (animal-based),  Reactive dyes to print on silk, wool, linen, cotton or rayon (plant and animal-based) and Disperse dyes (synthetic based) to print on Polyester. Once printed, in order for the design to be fixed, dyed fabrics need to be steamed.

Both digital and screen printed fabrics can be printed using dyes or pigments but the process will be different. Now let’s have look at the pros and cons of digital printing versus screen printing fabric. Which is better?

Digital Printing

The introduction of digital printing has brought great advancement in the process of printing onto fabric. As it’s a new process it’s also continually evolving. The basic process involves sending a digital file of your artwork from a computer to a specialised printer. This means you can create your artwork in Photoshop or Illustrator and prepare your file according to the digital printing companies specifications, send your file to them and have it directly printed onto the fabric. Each company will have their own requirements in regards to file format etc.

The two main types of printing used are dye sublimation and digital pigment printing. Each digital printing company will have their preferred method so it’s best to do some research and see which you prefer. Dye sublimation involves printing with dyes and digital pigment printing uses pigments. Your choice will depend on factors such as the fabric you want to print on and the end use of the fabric. 

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of digitally printed fabric.

Pros:

  • Less impact on the environment as there’s less dye wastage and the fabric is printed on demand (so there are no minimums)
  • You can print small amounts of fabric
  • There is usually a quick turnaround
  • There is a minimal setup time
  • You can use unlimited colours (this is probably one of the biggest pros for a designer)
  • You can print fine detail and detailed, complex work
  • Minimal upfront investment

Cons:

  • More expensive process (although costs are coming down)
  • As yet, you can’t create all printing methods e.g. devore, (burnout technique), discharge (bleach technique) and flocking
  • Some companies won’t do large runs of fabric

Screen Printing 

Screen printing fabric involves using a photographic process to transfer your design onto a silk screen. Each colour used within the design requires its own screen. Your artwork is copied onto transparent film and then transferred photographically onto a silk screen that is coated with photographic emulsion. The artwork is then exposed onto the screen.

To find out more about the process, have a look at my blog post   ‘How to Screen Print onto Fabric.’

Just as we discussed earlier, you can print with either pigments or dyes. Screen printing with pigments is a much quicker, cheaper and a more common option but personally, I love the look of fabric screen printed with dyes.

Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of screen printing fabric.

Pros:

  • You can use many more printing processes e.g. devore, flocking, discharge and relief printing
  • You are able to print large meterage of fabric easily
  • Cost effective for bulk orders
  • You have versatility with design placement
  • Inks are very durable 
  • Can be printed onto many different types of surfaces

Cons:

  • More impact on the environment with wastage of dyes and pigments and also the cleaning of screens with chemicals
  • The number of colours you can use will be limited by cost
  • Large upfront investment as you need to pay for each screen to be prepared with your artwork
  • Longer turnaround times

There are definitely advantages and disadvantages of both digital and screen printing methods.  Before you decide which is best for you ask yourself: 

  • What outcome am I after?
  • What product am I creating?
  • What type of surface/fabric do I want to print on?
  • How much am I willing to invest?
  • What quantities do I require?

The great news is that digital printing fabric is becoming a much more affordable option so if you are starting out you can easily get some samples made without having to spend a fortune. 

 

Digital Printing Versus Screen Printing Fabric, Which is Better?
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