Artwork for Direct-to-Garment Printing vs. Screen Printing

Although some of same graphic programs and file formats can be used, the artwork for these two types of printing are set-up very differently. The big noticeable difference is screen print artwork needs to be separated into individual spot colors and DTG artwork does not. Screen print artwork is limited to how many colors the press can print. The DTG printer can print as many CMYK (gamut) colors that exist (That is a lot-thousands and thousands).


When creating artwork for DTG Printing, you can be as creative as you want with a few exceptions. DTG Printers work similar to your inkjet printer at home except it prints on garments instead of paper. Beware, some only print on lights and white garments. However, more and more manufacturers are creating machines to print on darks. These printers have ink cartridges that print white ink as well as the usual CMYK cartridges. Most of your artwork issues will occur if you decide to print on dark garments. One issue is adjusting the white backer to print underneath properly. Fade offs (Colors fading into nothing on the garment) are the hardest to adjust the white backer. How you adjust the white backer depends on the software that comes with the printer. Each printer has it’s own proprietary software that tells the printer how to treat your artwork. Each printer also has certain file formats that the software will accept. Most accept pdf, tiff and some even accept Illustrator ai format. Check the manufacturer information to be sure. You can use whatever graphic program that can save your artwork into the proper file format. Some of the more commonly known programs are Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, CorelDraw and Corel PhotoPaint. Pricing usually depends on how much coverage of ink on the garment and how many garments printed. This is a great process for short runs because there is no lengthy press set-ups.

Screen Print

When creating artwork for screen printing, you must separate the colors into spot colors.   Each color is then printed separately onto the garment thru a screen attached to a machine called a press. Thus it is called Screen Printing. You are limited to how many screens the press can hold. With the use of halftone dots on the screen you can combine certain colors together to create other colors. However you are still more limited in colors than the DTG printing. The same graphic programs are used to create the artwork. However the colors are assigned spot colors, and can be separated by layers, colors or channels depending on how you or your printer outputs the films. Pricing usually depends on how many screens, what kind of ink used and how many garments printed. This is a great process for long runs because the cost is less per garment over large runs.

No matter which way you decide to have your artwork applied to the garment, the better the artwork quality, the better the output on the garment will be. That means if you use a raster (pixel based) file like in Adobe Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint, make sure to create and use a high resolution file (200-300 dpi). You don’t have to worry about resolution with vector (object based) file from Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw, because it is resolution independent.

Just another note on colors. If you need a special color, it is best to use Pantone colors. Each of the graphic programs has them in their software. Don’t depend on what you see on your monitor because it may not be calibrated properly for each printing output. Using the proper colors in your software will assure that your output is more accurate.

Cora Kromer
Qdigitizing Art