Screenprinting vs Supacolour vs DTG: Choosing The Best Method for Your T shirt Printing
The basics of printing techniques
If you’re looking order some t shirt printing (or any other custom merch), you have three main options: screen printing, direct to garment (DTG) or Supacolour heat press transfers. Each of these methods of t shirt printing has its strengths. Screen printing is one of the oldest (and most popular particularly for larger orders) methods around for t shirt printing. It involves creating a stencil of your design on a screen in which ink is printed through and onto the t shirt fabric. DTG is a more modern technology: it uses a modified inkjet printer to apply ink to the t shirt. Finally, Supacolour heat transfers are a digital/screenprint hybrid, these have only become readily available in New Zealand in the past few years. When you order Supacolours your design is printed onto a mylar which is then heat pressed onto the t shirt by one of our production team.
When you decide to place an order with us, one of our t shirt printing consultants will advise you on the best t shirt printing technique for printing your t shirts, however, it is always good to have some understanding of each printing technique. Below we've outlined some of the important considerations when deciding which branding method is the best for your t shirt printing job.
It is worth stating that we do not offer an in-house DTG t shirt printing service due to our minimum order being 20 units. Typically DTG t shirt printing is used for short production runs. Over the years we've considered purchasing a DTG printer so that we can offer this service, however as our business has grown and we've specialised in bulk production we decided to focus on screen printing & Supacolour. On several occasions, we have ordered DTG t shirt printing through other printers in New Zealand to test the vibrance of colours, the wash fastness and print quality to compare to our own t shirt screen prints or Supacolours. However, at this stage we are not satisfied with the quality of DTG t shirt printing to be confident to offer them to our customers. When DTG t shirt printing, you are somewhat limited with the fabric types that you're able to print onto, garments must be at least 80% cotton or the process will not work. We also are not satisfied with the quality of DTG prints on dark garments. Dark garments must be pretreated with a solution similar to a primer when painting your walls at home to prevent the ink from bleeding into the garment fabric. The pre-treatment process adds further steps to the process and significantly increases production time. It is easy to misregister DTG prints on dark garments and have issues with banding in the design caused by a clogged print head. By not offering DTG t shirt printing we do limit ourselves sometimes particularly if customers would like smaller orders however we believe that we can achieve outstanding print results with either screenprinting or Supacolour transfers for the majority of our customers.
How many t-shirts are you printing?
As we mentioned above if you’re doing a small run of t-shirts, direct to garment might be your best bet in which case we suggest touching base with a printer who specialises in DTG t shirt printing. However, if your order is above 20 units, screen printing or Supacolour would be good options for t shirt printing. Screen printing has a higher setup cost than Supacolour especially when printing multiple colours as each printed colour is printed through a separate screen, so it can be expensive if you're spreading this cost over only 20 units. With Supacolour transfers you can have an unlimited number of colours for the one setup cost. However, if it’s a larger order, then screen printing might be the best value. In most instances, screen printing becomes a cheaper option than Supacolour on orders over 100 units. However, the cost is only one of the factors to consider when choosing to go for screen print or Supacolour for your t shirt printing method.
Artwork considerations for t shirt printing
Generally speaking, screen printing is better suited to blocky, simple designs that use fewer colours. However, using halftone blending in your designs might give your the design the effect of more printed colours than using hard edges in your artwork. If you want to have your design appear to fade into the t shirt, screen printing would be a better option than Supacolour, this is because Supacolour has a thin glue layer that helps the print adhere to the garment, all Supacolour artwork must have a hard edge to the artwork to be printed. Supacolour is great at replicating gradients within a hard-edged printed shape, however, if this shape has a soft edge it will need to have a printed colour underneath it which might not suit the outcome you initially had.
Are you printing a photo?
Both screen printing and Supacolour are effective ways of t shirt printing for photographic designs. Typically Supacolour will have a heavier feeling print than screen printing so for large printed areas a screen print might be much nicer to wear. However, if there is a lot of colours in the photograph and you're wanting to print onto a dark or coloured garment, Supacolour prints might be significantly cheaper than screen printing to recreate a photograph on a t shirt. Supacolours tend to have a glossier finish than our water-based screen prints as well, some customers prefer a matte finish to their prints, if you are like this, we would recommend screen printing. As mentioned earlier in this paragraph Supacolours must have a hard edge to the artwork, you may have to use a shape such as a circle in Illustrator to create a clipping mask for your artwork to fit within. Whereas, with screen printing, we can use different Photoshop brushes and rubbers to have a softer and blended edge to your artwork.
What kind of garments are you printing on?
We always recommend using the best quality garments that will fit within your budget, this is because quality garments will yield much better print results, the garments will last much longer than cheaper items and will mean your t shirts will be more likely to be worn for longer rather than being thrown in the bin. Supacolour's can be printed on pretty much any garment and almost fabric type, the way that Supacolours are heat pressed onto garments offers a wide range of possible print placements because we can use different sized print platens that have flat and curved profiles. We would consider Supacolours to be a more suitable option for printing onto many types of sportswear garments, particularly as some performance fabrics can be difficult to achieve good results when screen-printing them. For garments that have a waffle texture, are 100% polyester and have an inner layer lining we recommend Supacolour as the t shirt printing method. If you own a streetwear or fashion brand more often than not we would recommend screen printing over Supacolour, if the garment permits, typically screen printing will last longer than Supacolour and has a softer handle to the print which are both important factors for fashion labels to consider when choose their t shirt printing method.
Pantone Colours or CMYK
A final consideration is one about colours, with screen printing we use the Pantone matching system and can do exact colour matches, however with Supacolour printing the prints are created in CMYK and are not as easy to create exact colour matches to your brand's colours. Sometimes the colours used for the t shirt printing may appear duller with Supacolours than they would have if they were printed with screen printing using the Pantone matching system.
Looking for someone to do your t shirt printing? Want to discuss which printing method would be best for your t-shirt? At The Print Room, we offer fast turnaround printing on t-shirts and an array of other merch for customers such as Garage Project, MTF Finance & Rhythm & Vines. Get in touch with one of our t shirt printing consultants to get your quote.