Digital kills the screen-printing star?

Screen-printing is the most commonly used and reliable method for getting a design from your brain to the front of a T-shirt. It yields fantastic results and is relatively cheap. However, there is a pretender to the throne. It is Direct To Garment printing.

Allow us to explain. Traditional screen-printing requires colour separation and a template for each colour used. Each screen, stretched over a frame, is completely non-porous, except for where a relevant colour needs to be applied to the shirt. The frame is filled with dye, and forced through onto the fabric below, gradually building up an image.

For large runs of shirts, it’s certainly cost-effective. For short runs, it is less so. That is where Direct To Garment (DTG) comes in handy. DTG technology is essentially modified inkjet printing, printing straight onto the fabric in question. Past incarnations of the technology have been less than wonderful, but recent advances have yielded very satisfactory results indeed.

Modern inks and heat treatment processes fix the ink better, so DTG printed shirts will withstand the rigours of 40-degree washing, even dry cleaning It is, in fact, the technology that enables Mysoti and more recently Spreadshirt to offer high quality, short run shirts. There’s no colour separation required, 16 million colours to choose from, and instant results.

Furthermore, DTG uses less ink, and relies on water-based, rather than plastic-based ink often used in screen-printing, which is certainly a draw as far as environmentally sensitive producers (and buyers) are concerned. A question remains on the robustness of DTG inks over time, after countless washes, but it’s clear that for this technology, the only way is up.