Clothing, apparel, and accessories can be decorated, embellished, and customized using a number of different processes. The most popular methods for custom decoration are:

  • Screen Printing
  • Embroidery
  • Digital Printing
Each process has it’s advantages and disadvantages and being knowledgable about the pros and cons of each process can make all the difference.

How It Works

Digital printing on fabric is very similar to the way an inkjet photo printer prints on paper. There are cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) ink jets that spray the design onto a substrate. These inks are translucent and the amount of each color that is sprayed on the material determines the end color produced.

When printing digitally, re-creating the color you see on a computer monitor is a pretty easy process, mostly because the computer does all the calculations to determine the amount of cyan, magenta, yellow, or black needed to reproduce that color. By comparison, with screen printing a highly skilled color separator selects the amount of inks that will be transferred to the garment, and how they will be layered. It is a much more labor-intensive process.

When to Request Digital Printing 

Always consult with a decoration expert when you are considering digital printing. Sometimes small orders can be better for the budget if printed digitally, but the print quality will be considerably better as screen print. A common misconception is that digital printing is only suited for 36 pieces or less. Not true! Large orders can also be affordable and fast when printed direct-to garment.

For when you DO want Digital Printing:
  • your image or design is photographic or painterly
  • the order is small
  • you need the order quickly
  • you need a spec samples for a larger digital print order
  • the order involves customization of names or numbers
  • your order will be on 100% cotton
  • you want to print over zippers or buttons

For when you want to AVOID Digital Printing
  • you are decorating polyester, poly-blend, or stain resistant fabrics
  • your design has large solid fill area
  • your design has bright blues, purples, dark greens, or brown
  • you need spec samples for a larger screen print order
  • your design calls for exact Pantone matches

Fabrics for Digital Printing

100% cotton is by far the best material to use when it comes to digital printing. However, it is important to remember that all cotton tees are not created equal. The visual quality of the print is noticeably degraded when printing on the cheaper, rougher generic tees that are available. For the best looking print, you want to stick with the smoother, softer shirts. 

Other fabrics that will produce amazing digital results:
  • Twill
  • Canvas
  • Silk
  • Linen

Art for Digital Printing

Once you’ve got the right garment to print on, put some art on it! Any artwork, napkin drawings included, or art file can be printed on apparel digitally. It is simply a matter of converting the file to the proper format.
  • Adobe Illustrator (ai, eps, pdf) – Fonts should be converted to outlines and linked files embedded or supplied separately.
  • Adobe Photoshop (psd, eps, tiff, jpg) – Images must be created or scanned at a minimum of 150 dpi at the size images will print.
Digital printing on apparel is ideal for reproducing painterly designs and photographic images. Some solid fill areas print beautifully, but not all colors you view on your computer monitor are able to be replicated exactly when direct-to-garment printing. Bright blues, purples, browns, and dark greens tend to appear muddy. This is most noticeable when designs or logos have large fill areas of specific color

Digital Printing on Darks

Digital printing on dark t-shirts or garments is not quite the same as printing on white or light ones. The direct-to-garment process is similar to screen print in that a white foundation or white under base must be printed first,allowing the design colors to be visible. Color may not look quite as bright when an under base is used, and the feeling of the printed shirt is not as soft.Depending on the design, an under base can double the amount of time it takes to produce a digital print order. Although the pre-treat solution is non-toxic, it can leave a faint residue on the shirt, and it is strongly recommended that these shirts be washed before wearing.