Brightly coloured ink dripping from screen printing squeegees

Digital Printing vs. Screen Printing

Brightly coloured ink dripping from screen printing squeegees

Which is better? Screen or Digital printing?

It’s a question we’re asked a lot, but it’s not a case of one method simply being better than the other.

Technology is continues to develop for both print methods. Improvements to artwork preparation, inks and print equipment have increased screen printing quality. However, the basics of the screen printing process have largely remained unchanged. At the same time, there has been a more noticeable progression in digital printing. These include developments in several areas such as material, inks and the printers themselves.

As with everything, there are advantages and disadvantages to both methods of printing. Choosing the best print method for your design is down to a few key factors. Quantity, number of colours and the design itself all have an effect. Our team are specially trained to be able to identify and advise the most suitable print method for a design. They offer information and guidance to our customers to get the best results for your designs.


Digital Printing

Digital press in action

Digital is often an ideal solution if you are looking to produce short print runs. So if you’re starting a new venture or testing out some new products, digital could be the best option. It’s perfect as well for limited edition prints or products.

Another consideration is the number of colours in your design. With digital, the design is printed in CMYK, so there’s no limit to the number of colours. The colours are made up from a mix of cyan, magenta, yellow and black inks. This is a great benefit, as the cost is not affected by the number of colours in a design. Shading and gradients can also be more easily reproduced with digital printing. This is an advantage with a variety of artwork such as photographs, illustrations and paintings.

In the initial development of digital printing there were some concerns surrounding quality. Also, there were issues with vibrancy and wash fastness compared to screen printing. These are no longer issues due to advances in technology. This includes improved inks and the availability of new materials. As a company we have worked over several years to address these important issues. Alongside our suppliers, we researched and tested several potential materials. This lead to the launch of our very popular Optimal material almost 2 years ago.

Screen Printing

Screen printing tea towel

Screen printing is generally used for longer print runs. In additional, it’s sometimes favoured due to it being a traditional print method. For each design and colour, a separate screen needs to be prepared. This process is usually referred to as the set-up. Because of this, screen printing isn’t as economical for short print runs of designs with several colours. For long print runs, with fewer colours, screen printing is still very popular and cost-effective.

Artwork is often designed specifically for screen printing. Designs are created using between 1 and 4 spot colours on average, although it is possible to use more. For screen printing, the inks are spot colours rather than a mix of CMYK. This can be seen as a benefit, as it allows greater control for designers and artists. Companies also often have branding guidelines, which require the use of specific colours. For screen printing, we offer to match closely to solid Uncoated Pantone references.

Although screen printed designs normally use solid colours, it is possible to print halftones as well. This is a method of creating a shaded effect by limiting the amount of ink that can be pushed through the screen in some areas. This is usually most effective in small areas or for elements of a design, rather than a large gradient image. Our artwork team are experienced with preparing designs with halftones. They can help with the creation and preparation for this type of print.

The future of textile printing

Rotary screen printing

There is still high demand for screen printed textiles. This includes individual artists, who are looking to print their latest design, through to promotional companies who want to promote a new kitchen gadget.

The popularity of artists experimenting with screen printing, onto different media, continues to grow. Companies are offering short courses for beginners, as well as printing equipment and work spaces to rent. At colleges and universities, the basic techniques of screen printing by hand are often still taught as part of art based courses. Along with its commercial popularity, this recognition of screen printing, shows that this traditional method is still relevant. This is why our company has a invested in a specially trained team.

Digital printing opens up a new way of working. It enables a greater variety of artwork to be reproduced onto textiles more easily. This is can be seen in fashion right through to homewares. The commercial demand for digital therefore is likely to steadily grow. However, as digital printing is comparatively new, the costs are currently higher. Costs are likely to reduce over time, as a greater choice of machinery and inks become available.

Many designer-makers and artists are embracing the advantages of short digital print runs. It allows them to react more easily to design, colour and pattern trends without investing in long print runs. Because of this, we believe that many of our customers will opt in the future to use a mixture of print methods. Screen will still be ideal for the most popular designs, but digital will allow further innovation and experimentation.

Further information and advice

We hope you’ve found this information useful. If there’s anything else you need to know please get in touch.

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