Screen or Digital Printing? Here's How To Make The Right Choice

Screen Vs Digital Printing-02.jpg

This Post covers:

  • What is Screen Printing

  • What is Digital Printing

  • What to consider when selecting either of these methods

  • Bonus: Questions to ask you manufacturer before diving into a design brief

When starting a new print design brief with my clients, I always ask, 

“Are you screen or digitally printing this design?” The answer to this impacts both the way a design is created as well as the feasibility of producing your range.

I’ve put together a few important points to consider when making this decision for your brand, plus what you need to know before speaking to a designer about your artwork brief!

Screen printing

What is it?

There are two different methods of screen printing a repeat design onto fabric;

  • Flat Bed Screen Printing

  • Rotary Screen Printing

Your manufacturer may offer both or just one of these methods so it’s a good idea to ask which method they’ll be using. Flat bed printing is where large silk screens are created for each colour in a design and printed one by one onto the fabric, which is laid out on a long flat printing table. A squeegee is used to push the colour through the mesh and onto the fabric. This is great video if you want to see the process in action (skip to about 6 minutes) Rotary printing is very similar except instead of flat screens, each colour in a design is engraved onto large cylinder rollers. Check out what this looks like here

What to consider…

Screen printing is common amongst large fast fashion retailers and is the preferred method if you’re looking to make a bulk order of stock. Most manufacturers require large minimum order quantities because of the manual labor involved in the set up. 

So, the screen printing method is best suited to you if you're confident your design is going to be a sell out! Maybe you’ve received an amazing customer response from a short run or have had way more retailers than you thought ready to place orders on your designs. There’s nothing worse than having tons of old stock hanging around, so it’s important to have some level of confidence that the design is going to sell to make this method worth the cost and quantities.

You’ll also need to give some careful thought into the colours within a print design. With each new colour screen, the labour and therefore price increases.

A designer will need to know how many colours you want to go with for your design and will also need to colour separate your print for production. This can be quite a process especially if your print is going to be very detailed. 

When mixing colours for screen printing, your manufacturer should match these to your supplied Pantone colour codes. Having a reference to Pantone colours does minimise colour errors, however it is essential to get a sample or strike off to check before going into production.

Digital Printing

What is it?

Digital printing is the process where dyes are printed directly onto fabric using ink jet technology. It is the newest form of fabric printing and has recently become hugely popular within the fashion industry

What to consider…

The cost per metre for digital printing is higher than screen printing, but there is usually no large minimum order quantities as the manual labor and set up of screens is not required. This is a great option for you if you’re just starting out or looking to test the market with something new, as the risk of over ordering stock is minimised. Often brands may start out using the digital printing method to test a range and then move to screen printing to place a bulk order on the prints that sold really well. 

You can achieve a better result when digitally printing complex textile designs and it’s also a great option if your design vision involves using watercolours or photographic elements. A designer will love you if you’ve chosen this method, mostly because we don’t have to worry about colour limits or colour separations and can really get creative with detailed textures and elements in your artwork! It can however, be harder to match your colours to Pantone codes, but I would still advise to send what you can to your manufacturer so there is some form of colour reference that they can refer to. 

Bonus: What to ask your manufacturer

If you’re new to the print production process and working with factories, it can be difficult to know what questions to ask your manufacturer in order to provide the right technical information for your textile designer... So to ensure a smooth process, I’ve put together a list of key questions to ask before starting an artwork brief;

Questions for Screen Printing:

  • Are you using flat bed or rotary screen printing?

  • Is there a standard repeat size that will need to be considered? In my experience, 64cm seems to be the standard width for both flat bed and rotary printing, and divisions of this can be used (32, 16, 8cm). However it is always best to ask your manufacturer before getting started with a repeat design. 

  • What’s the colour limit? 12 colours seems to be pretty common, but again- always always ask!

  • What Pantone Colour book are you using? It’s a good idea to have the same colour book as your manufacturer so they’re able to refer to the codes you send them. If you have a recent edition and your manufacturer has an older one, they may be missing some of your references to new colours. I once worked with a company who would send over the same book they were using to their factory, so they knew they would be 100% on the same page. It may be an extra expense but it will definitely save time, confusion and mistakes in the long run!

  • What file formats do you accept? These include, Photoshop, Illustrator, JPG, TIFF, EPS & PDF. It’s important for a textile designer to know before starting any artwork

Questions for Digital Printing:

  • What is the maximum width of the digital printer? This will effect the repeat size of the artwork and also, some factories don’t yet have access to wider digital printers. This may effect the construction of your product/garment. For example, if you’re in the bedding industry and want to print fabric for a king size quilt cover, you’d have to make sure your factory has access to a digital printer that is wide enough to do so. 

  • And again, it’s best to ask what file formats are accepted- although there seems to be more flexibility with digital printing as there’s no colour separations for screen cutting required.

As you can see, there are lots of points to consider. I would advise to look at where your brand and business is at, your selling patterns, your collection budget as well as what your design vision is. I hope this post has simplified it for you a little more, but I’d love to hear from you if you have any more questions on this topic or any other questions on the print production process!

Christina xx