Screen Printing vs Direct to Garment vs Sublimation

March 27, 2016

First off, Happy Easter! This is a pretty common question, especially when people are looking for one or two t-shirts with a dozen or more colors. With direct-to-garment(DTG) printing, this is more than reasonable; with screen printing on the other hand, you’re looking at an outrageous amount of money for the same job. Let me break it down for you.

Screen Printing.

Screen printing is the process of screening ink through a silk(nowadays a synthetic fiber) mesh, combined with a stencil to reproduce an image on a substrate(t-shirt, poster, etc.). While the basic description makes screen printing seem relatively easy to accomplish, I promise you it is not. Nowadays the process is streamlined from start to finish to maximize time and material waste efficiency, but I will go through it step-by-step to enlighten you:

You start with a blank screen – a clean slate, completely clear of any chemical compounds, grease and dust. The blank screen must then be coated with a chemical called emulsion(a medium thickness gel that hardens when exposed to light) with a tool to ensure a flat, even coat.

After coating, the screen needs to completely dry(usually overnight) in an environment with controlled temperature and humidity at all times. Once the screen is dry it needs to be exposed to create the stencil. To expose the screen, we use transparent film positives that have special UV blocking ink, and a special light box to expose the emulsion, and film to the screen.

After exposure, using water from a soft shower head the parts of the emulsion covered by the ink on the film positive washes right out. Once the stencil is washed out, it needs to completely dry. The next few steps are simple on paper, the screen needs to be taped to cover parts of the screen that the emulsion didn’t cover, the screen needs to be clamped to the press and registered to where the t-shirts will be positioned(every color gets its own screen, so all the screens need to be lined up to each other with dead accuracy!).

After everything is registered, we run a test print, followed by the job! After the job is complete the screens need to be torn down, all the ink removed, all the tape removed, and then they need to be reclaimed. Reclaiming screens involves an assortment of (eco-friendly!)chemicals that break down any leftover ink, the emulsion and anything else that might have made it to the screen. That’s screen printing in a nutshell!



DTG printing is the process of printing directly to a t-shirt with a special inkjet printer. The process is relatively straight forward, and can be taught to someone in a very short amount of time. First off, you have the artwork on your computer. It’s imperative that the artwork is the highest quality possible(at least 300 dpi). You then place the t-shirt over the platen on the printer and press print! The printing process uses the same process as an inkjet printer typically 4 mostly transparent colors to reproduce any color of the rainbow. The printer takes up to a few minutes to print the design before it spits the t-shirt back out. You then apply heat from either a heat press or a conveyor dryer to set the specialized ink. That’s it!



Sublimation is a pretty useful technique. Basically, you use extreme heat to transfer a special type of ink to a substrate(100% poly t-shirts, mugs, mouse pads, etc.). The beginning of the process is similar to DTG. First you print your design onto a special type of transfer paper, and you use a heat press to press the paper to the substrate. That’s pretty much it!


So there you go! A comprehensive guide to understanding the different garment decorating techniques to help you get started with your order. I’d like to point out, Mutiny Ink only deals with screen printing. We firmly believe in the “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” concept.

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