Which should I use… screen printing or embroidery?

To be able to answer that question, we need to go back a step and understand what each process is first.

What is screen printing?

Screen printing involves taking a stencil and placing it onto a screen of mesh (e.g. silk) and then pushing ink through this mesh onto your garment. Each colour is done one at a time, such that the colours combine to create your finished look.

What is embroidery?

This is probably just what you’d expect it to be… a needle and thread, plus a clever machine. An embroidery machine can take a digitised logo and convert it into a program that it can then follow to embroider (stitch) the image into your fabric.

How do you decide which approach to use?

As you no doubt realise now, the two processes are very different and this means they look very different too on a finished product. Take a screen printed image on a t-shirt, for example. It effectively seems as though the material has been put through your printer; the image is two dimensional. Consider an embroidered logo on a polo shirt, though, and you instantly sense a more three dimensional look. The former printing method offers a lot of versatility, but the latter offers a more punch to the eye.

The pros and cons of using embroidery

A well-embroidered logo tends to look chic, professional, and nicely finished. It works particularly well on heavier fabrics such as those used for baseball caps and outerwear. However, intricate designs do not always translate very well from a digital design to a stitched finished product. It’s hard for the machine to colour match with the choice of stock threads it has, so logo pantones and subtle changes in shading, for example, can be very hard to get right. Plus there’s the physical size of a stitch to consider; very small text can simply be unreadable.

Also, because of the pull of thread on a fabric, thinner materials don’t always take stitching very well. The weight of the thread can create a buckled look and produce puckering at the sides. Therefore a large logo on a t-shirt, for example, may look better when screen printed.

The pros and cons of using screen printing

In times past, people were concerned that a screen printed image would fade. It’s durability when pitched against the rigours of a washing machine and detergent wasn’t great. However, modern techniques have gone a long way to mitigating this challenge, so it’s become less of a worry.

Also, as mentioned above, lighter materials such as those used for t-shirts offer a nice smooth surface on which a clean sharp image can be printed. Complex designs can be crisply copied, including the subtle shading that the embroidery method struggles to reproduce. And the almost infinite number of ink colour combinations available means that brand pantone-matching can be very precise. Plus there is one final benefit to screen printing, which is that the size of the image doesn’t affect how the material will hang once finished, unlike the weight of the thread on an embroidered version.

Is cost a consideration?

The reality is the more thread needed to embroider a product the more costly it is; it tends to be priced on stitch count. Thus if you’re wanting the 3D look of an embroidered logo, then to know that a large logo will simply cost more to embroider is useful and may sway you towards screen printing instead. Mind you, bulk orders do tend to attract meaningful discounts.

The costs associated with screen printing, on the other hand, tend to be in relation to how many garments you need and how many/which colours you want to use. The more colours, the more expensive.

So, in summary, perhaps a useful rule of thumb is that where high quality and durability is required, embroidery may be your best option. However, where complex images and/or lighter materials are a must… then focus your thoughts on screen printing.

If you’d like to find out more about the screen printing and embroidery options we can offer you at Braunston Print, then please give us a call!