Digital vs Screen Printing: What’s Better?

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Screen printing has been around in Europe since the 18th century, with its first incarnation being found in France, where it was used for stencilling patterns onto shoes, fabrics and other items. It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that it became popular with artists, with the technology growing over time. The process had its heyday during the Pop Art movement of the sixties, and remains an extremely popular printing method, both in art and clothing. However, with the advent of digital printing, which first came to market in the early 1990s, some are beginning to wonder if screen printing has had its day.

It is true that digital printing has become the most dominant printing choice in recent times, screen printing is showing no signs of disappearing just yet. Fujifilm, for example, still reports a 50-50 split between sales of digital and screen printing inks. The crux of the matter is that each form of printing has its own advantages.

Digital printing is more suitable for short runs, keeping the cost down. It’s quick, has a wide range of inks available for a variety of substrates and applications, and gives excellent colour gamut and gradation at high speed.

Screen printing, on the other hand, is a much more hands-on process. Separate screens have to be created for each colour, with ink being built up one layer at a time until the complete image is created. It does take time and is more costly than digital printing, so is much better suited to high volume print runs. The biggest benefit is that the thick layers of ink create a much more vibrant image than you get with digital.

The two print techniques are not mutually exclusive, though. It’s relatively common to find images composed of both screen and digitally printed layers. White backgrounds and special effects will be produced by the screen printer, with the other colours and details added using a high speed flatbed. This minimises ink costs, whilst using each different technology for its relative strengths.

As a more mature printing technique, screen printing has not really developed all too much in terms of speed, resolution and general capability. This is also, somewhat, due to the very hands-on nature of the form. Nonetheless, with such incomparable colour saturation, opacity and amenability to special effects, it is still the favourite for many artists and printers from a range of different disciplines.

Screen printing allows for both hard and soft finishes, for deeper ridges and for ‘Braille’ effects. Inkjet printers are upping their game to try and compete, producing clear ink and varnish to try and mimic the tactile effects produced by screen printing. However, the result still doesn’t beat that of screen printing. Inkjet inks are simply not as thick, and are applied in a thinner layer, so the effect is just not the same.

To conclude: Digital printing currently completely dominates the graphics market, particularly for short run jobs. Screen printing plays an integral part in industrial manufacture and art, specifically where large runs are required, as it is more cost effective for bulk jobs.

Still not sure which technique is right for your printing needs? Get in touch with us today and we’ll be happy to talk it through with you!

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