Screen Printing Versus Digital Printing

What is Screen Printing?

Screen printing is done either with flat or cylindrical screens made of silk threads, nylon, polyester or metal. The printing paste or dye is poured on the screen and forced through its unblocked areas onto the fabric. Based on the type of the screen used, it is known as ‘flat screen printing’ or ‘rotary screen printing’.

screen printing
Fig: Screen printing

This type of printing has increased enormously in its use in recent years because of its versatility and the development of rotary screen printing machines which are capable of very high rates of production. An additional significant advantage is that heavy depths of shade can be produced by screen printing, a feature which has always been a limitation of roller printing because of the restriction to the amount of print paste which can be held in the shallow depth of the engraving on the print roller. Worldwide, about 61% of all printed textile fabric is produced by the rotary screen method and 23% by flat screen printing.

What is Digital Printing?

Digital printing is one of the most exciting developments in the textile industry. It not only opens up endless opportunities for customization, small run printing, prototyping and experimentation but it also puts textile printing within the budget of average illustrator. Digital textile printing can reproduce unlimited colors and shades but—as with most forms of printing—what one sees on screen is not necessarily what he gets back.

Digital textile printing is described as any inkjet-based method of printing colorants onto fabric. Digital textile printing is normally referred to when identifying either printing smaller designs onto garments (direct to garment) or printing larger designs onto large format rolls of textile. The latter is a growing trend in visual communication, where advertisement and corporate branding is printed onto polyester media such as flags, banners, signs and retail graphics.

Digital printing
Fig: Digital printing

Digital printing means that there is virtually no limit to the kinds of images that may accurately be reproduced using inkjet technology.

Digital textile printing can be divided into:

  1. Direct to garment
  2. Visual communication
  3. Interior decoration
  4. Fashion (the ‘Como’ industry)

Screen Printing Versus Digital Printing:

Digital inkjet textile printing or digital printing does not use screens or rollers as is the case with conven­tional textile printing or screen printing. Hence, all the costs related to screen making or roller engraving, paste making, strike-off, downtime and wastage do not exist. For short lengths of fabrics, the screen printing process is not economical due to its high preparatory costs, high costs of engraving and screen making, high wastage of fabric, and high cost for ink or paste preparation, the number labors involved and cost therein as well as cost and time spent on the preparation stages. Design sampling or proofing is a costly process in screen printing. Nowadays, the length of fabric printed for each design has decreased and the demand for a greater number of designs in the market has increased.

Screen Printing Versus Digital Printing

On the other hand, digital printing is not preferred for long lengths of printed fabrics as several obstacles are faced. Even though less labor is needed in digital printing, it requires high-tech talented personnel to operate the printer. The inkjet printheads are quite expansive. Their maintenance is more strin­gent and costly as compared to the screen printing machines. The digi­tal printers are, therefore, installed in a very clean place equipped with humidifier, air filter and conditioner to ensure the stability of printer. The inks used in digital inkjet textile printing are very delicate and should main­tain stringent quality standards. The prices of such inks are, therefore, much higher than the traditional print pastes.

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Advantages of screen printing:

When it comes to screen printing, one of the major benefits is that it’s an effec­tive solution for bulk printing, as it is extremely cost-efficient. Other benefits include:

  1. A higher quality output than digital prints.
  2. More durable prints that are needed over the long-term.
  3. Can be used on a variety of different print materials, including glass, wood, textiles, signs, banners, electronics, and much more.
  4. It’s easy to print on specified areas of the print material.

Limitations / Disadvantages of using screen printing:

Although screen printing offers many benefits, there are also many draw­backs such as low machine efficiency due to pattern changes and correcting printing problems. Common disadvantages of screen printing are point out below:

  1. One of the main disadvantages of screen printing is that it has a much higher initial setup cost than digital printing and takes more time.
  2. Limited color ranges available.
  3. The amount of ink used can make the design look as if it is raised from the print material.
  4. It cannot be customized in the manner of digital printing.

Advantages of digital printing:

Digital printing has perhaps four main advantages over traditional printing: speed of translation of the design onto the fabric; the ability to print intricate details and millions of colors; the possibility of producing very large-scale images; lessened impact on the environment. The main advantage of digital printing is the ability to do very small runs of each design (even less than 1 yd) because there are no screens to prepare. The advantages of digital printing are:

  1. Photographic and tonal graphics with multiple shades as well as colors can be printed.
  2. There is no limitation on a number of colors.
  3. There is no limitation on repeat size.
  4. It offers faster processing speed.
  5. Low cost set up and speed of turn around.
  6. Every yard printed can be completely customized and personalized.
  7. Transfers photographic images accurately.
  8. Quick response to the market.
  9. Cost-effective short to medium runs (up to 500 m).
  10. Minimal environmental wastes.
  11. Personalization and mass customization – prints can be customized in a variety of ways.
  12. Designs sit fat on the print material and do not bulge out from the surface.
  13. Flexibility in new design style (photographic, extreme tonal/extremely fine, unlimited use of color, simulation, graphic, digital effect).
  14. The designer can see how a particular piece of fabric or garment will look in different colors and shapes without having to commit to a final product.
  15. New business model.
  16. Eliminates the expense and time of preparing screen/block/engraved roller/stencils and so forth.
  17. It is cleaner, safer, and generally less wasteful, and less environmentally hazardous.

Limitations / Disadvantages of digital printing:

  1. The range of printable fabrics is more limited than with screen printing.
  2. The prints are not so durable.
  3. The color white cannot usually be reproduced within the print.
  4. Due to fixed pricing, bulk printing does not offer scaled cost reductions.

Benefits of Digital Printing Over Screen Printing:


  • Low energy consumption (electricity, water).
  • Minimum environmental impact.

Less Investment, Higher Savings:

  • Sampling costs dramatically reduced.
  • No more engraving departments.
  • No more cost and stock of screens.
  • No more color kitchens.
  • No set up costs.

Manpower Flexibility:

  • Easy training.
  • Reduced labor costs.
  • Quicker response to customer needs.


At present, the textile industry produces the majority of its printed textiles by screen printing. Screen printing excels in high-volume production, offering versatility with various inks and materials but comes with higher setup costs. But digital technology is the fastest growing method of printing textiles. However, gradually the developments in digital printing of paper are being adapted more and more for the textile market. Digital printing is more cost-effective for small runs, accommodating detailed designs quickly. The choice between them hinges on factors like production scale, design complexity, and budget considerations.


  1. Principles of Textile Printing by Asim Kumar Roy Choudhury
  2. Handbook of Value Addition Processes for Fabrics By B. Purushothama
  3. Digital Printing of Textiles Edited by H. Ujiie
  4. Digital Textile Design (Second Edition) By Melanie Bowles and Ceri Isaac

You may also like: List of Value Addition Processes in the Textile Industry

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