When deciding between digital printing on fabric and screen print for your next apparel run, it's important to understand the unique benefits each has to offer. Digital printing is typically favoured for those fast, low run, high colour count jobs; whereas, screen print will offer a better range of colour, more flexibility in what it can print on, better hand on darks and a much larger printable size range. As technology advances, the gap between these two methods will narrow.
If you're going for a standard full front design, digital and screen are good to go. If you're looking for something a little more non-traditional like an all over print, then there will be a clear choice. While there may be some minor limitations, screen printing can get this done with ease. Round one goes to screen printing.
In most cases a “feels like nothing's printed there” print can be achieved with screen print, even on dark shirts When printing digitally, while prints on white shirts are nice and soft, prints on dark colours tend to be a bit rubbery since there needs to be a rather significant under base to retain colours. Round 2 goes to the champ, who edged out the newcomer with its dark garment capabilities.
Printing on cotton is always the best no matter if you're going digital or screen. Screen print can handle polyester, nylon, Teflon coated fabrics, burlap, bamboo, and you name it. Digital is another story. It's more or less limited to 100% cotton and printing on polyester may work as long as no under base is needed. So, that means white or very light garments only. Round three again goes to the old school print.
Screen print looks great, always has, always will. Both Digital and screen will look nice, crisp and clear as long as the source art is good. So the determining factor is colour. Screen print is massively versatile in ink variations and technical capabilities. Digital printing's blues and violets just don't look good on an under base. It also doesn't have the specialty inks screen printing has like metallic, glow in the dark and UV sensitive colours. The colour range is more than adequate for most jobs, but in the end screen print wins out due to its better ability to match more of the visible spectrum and more accurately.
Screen print is a laborious and technique heavy endeavour, so it takes a while. It's worth the time and effort for sure, but if you're in a pinch and need ten tees printed now... Digital reigns supreme. While colour separations are needed for screen-print, digital can have the entire order printed and waiting for the customer. It's a clear and brutal victory for digital.