There are tons of ways to customize fabric, but two of the most popular are screen printing and embroidery. Both of these methods are used to add brand logos or decorative images to t-shirts, hats, jackets, tote bags, and more.
So, screen print vs embroidery, which is better? They’re both great ways to customize fabric. Screen printing is better for large designs, soft fabrics such as cotton t-shirts, laidback styles, and big order quantities. Embroidery is better for small designs, thicker fabrics, a more professional look, and smaller order quantities.
Both methods of decorating and customizing fabrics work great. They each have a good durability and can be cost effective, depending on your project. Let’s dive into the details to learn more.
Screen Printing Process, Pros, & Cons
Screen print, also sometimes referred to as silk screen, is the process of applying an image to a piece of fabric through mesh screens.
Ink is applied through the mesh screen, so a new screen is required for each color used in the design. The colors are layered together though each mesh screen. Once all colors are applied, the fabric is run through a dryer to fully cure the print.
Once cured, the ink is permanently in the fabric and cannot be removed. This type of longevity is just one of many reasons people love screen print for t-shirt designs.
Screen printing involves the mesh screens, inks, fabric, and machine that applies the ink. A person has to manually remove and reload for each color in the design.
One of the pros of screen printing is that it works great for large designs. You can cover the entire front or back of a t-shirt or hoodie, or the entire side of a canvas tote bag.
The designs are durable, since they’re permanent, though the ink does tend to start cracking and fading after years of wear and use.
Screen printing works better for soft fabrics because the ink will adhere better. Although you can try screen printing on a harder fabric like a baseball cap, it may not have the same good results.
In the business world, screen printing is seen as a cheaper and more laidback option. It won’t be the best choice for a professional polo or large corporate law firm, but it would work great for a team t-shirt for teachers at a school.
Take a look at the process below from Make Something on YouTube.
Embroidery Process, Pros, & Cons
Embroidery is the process of using a needle and thread to sew a design onto a piece of fabric. There are specific embroidery stitches used, such as a satin stitch, that can achieve a beautiful, soft, shiny, professional look.
It’s a much easier process. All it requires is the fabric, a needle, and some thread. Embroidery can be done by hand, though is usually done by machine for bulk custom orders.
Embroidery is great because it’s even more long lasting than screen printing. While screen printing can fade and crack over time, embroidery will not.
The only danger to embroidery is if it’s been snagged or one of the threads has been pulled when it gets caught on something. This doesn’t happen often, as embroidery threads are tight and secure in the fabric.
It also looks better when you’re getting a small design done. It has a more professional look that fits the corporate atmosphere better than screen printing.
However, embroidery can be tricky to achieve on large designs. The embroidered design tends to pull on the fabric and cause tension that isn’t a big deal for a small design, but may ruin the fabric on a big design.
This is also why embroidery is best for more stiff, thick fabrics such as on polo shirts, baseball caps, or outer wear like a vest or jacket.
A needle and thread can puncture through the fabric with ease to apply the design, and thicker fabric will handle the added weight and tension better.
On a lighter, softer fabric such as cotton, embroidery may end up pulling the fabric too much, causing a puckered look where the embroidered design rests.
Is Screen Printing Or Embroidery Easier?
Typically, embroidery is an easier process. It’s simply applied by sewing thread onto the fabric with a needle.
It’s so easy that it can be done by hand or by a machine. While using a machine is faster, doing it by hand can be a fun way to relax or unwind after work.
Screen printing is a multi-step process that involves a lot of specific equipment and machines. It has to be applied in a certain way, and it must be cured when finished.
This makes it a more difficult process for anyone out of their home to do for their own t-shirt designs. However, if you plan to order multiple custom t-shirts, bags, or hats, it can often be easier to do screen printing.
Screen printing is a much more common way to customize fabric, so you’ll be able to find tons of company with competitive rates to get the job done.
Embroidery can be a more specialized request and may take longer to receive your order, depending on the size and complexity of the design.
Is Screen Printing Or Embroidery Cheaper?
The price of each type of fabric customization varies greatly depending on several factors. In general, screen printing tends to be cheaper, but there can be exceptions.
Screen printing tends to be cheaper for large orders since companies will often give a discount for a bigger amount of garment customizations.
It’s also more readily available, as there are generally more companies offering custom screen printing than there are offering embroider. In order to stay competitive with the market, they often have lower prices.
However, if you only need a small batch of 10 shirts or less, it may be more cost effective to order embroidery.
Screen printing often has a minimum price no matter how many shirts you’re ordering, whereas with embroidery you often pay by the stitch or pay a flat rate, regardless of how many you’re ordering.
Embroidery can also be cheaper if you’re using multiple colors in your design. Screen printing often charges by color, so the more colors you use in your design, the more expensive it will be.
As we mentioned, embroidery is usually charged at a flat rate or by the stitch count, regardless of how many colors are used.
Durability Of Screen Printing Vs Embroidery
We talked a little bit about the durability of each method above. Generally, they will both have a long life span, but embroidery tends to be more durable than screen printing.
Embroidery is permanently sewn into the fabric with tight, secure stitches. These stitches are often made further secure by the addition of a stabilizer. Stabilizers are used while the embroidery design is being sewn onto the fabric.
They are sometimes water soluble and removed once embroidery is done. They can also be a permanent part of the fabric that helps give it more stability where the embroidered design may be pulling and adding tension.
This stabilizer will add an additional level of security to embroidery that helps maintain its longevity.
Screen printing is a permanent application to the fabric that can’t be simply washed away. However, like many other inks or paints, it will fade and even crack over time.
It usually takes 5-10 years for a screen printed design to start fading and cracking to a point that it’s really noticeable, but it can be sooner depending on the quality of the screen printing, the fabric it’s been applied to, and how the fabric has been washed.
How To Choose Screen Print Or Embroidery
It can be difficult to choose whether screen printing or embroidery is right for your custom garment design.
First, consider the price. It’s important to keep budget in mind. Don’t go over budget splurging on embroidery when you could possibly stay under budget with screen printing.
However, if you’re purchasing custom items for a professional atmosphere, it may be better to splurge on embroidery. Your employees and clients may appreciate the extra level of aesthetic that embroidered designs provide. Consider the longevity as well.
If you don’t mind the design beginning to crack and fade over time, since it’s being made for a temporary event, then screen printing is the best choice. It may be cheaper and you won’t need the shirt to look great forever.
On the other hand, if you’re having custom workplace shirts made with your company’s name on the upper corner, embroidery can be the better choice.
The shirts will last as long as your employees work there, even if that ends up being more than 15 years. The important thing is to consider the needs and aesthetic desires of your company and choose whatever will fit best.
For more help choosing, watch the video below from Hope Lyon. Their company Logo Pros can do screen printing and embroidery, so they often help their customers to figure out which method is right for them.