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Full Color Screen Printing may seem near impossible when you are checking quotes. However, two of the most popular t-shirt printing types available today are screen printing and direct-to-film, also known as DTF printing. Both methods allow you to transfer designs onto various surfaces, particularly textiles like t-shirts. However, you should consider their different characteristics when choosing which method to use. We’ll provide a detailed comparison of the two and help you determine which one better suites your t-shirt printing needs.

Direct-to-film PRINTING

Direct-to-film printing uses a specialized printer to directly apply ink onto a transfer film. You apply the design by heat-pressing the transfer film onto fabric. DTF printing allows you to print on to a wide range of substrates such as cotton, polyester, nylon, rayon, silk, leather, and more. This method is similar to direct-to-garment printing in some ways. DTF printing is a more economical printing method for smaller print runs. That’s because it’s not necessary to create separate screens for each color in a design. While Full Color Screen Printing may not seem possible, Direct to film gives a new option.

Direct-to-film printing is ideal for complex artwork with multiple colors.

Direct-to-film printing allows for easily printing more intricate designs with a wide range of colors, gradients, and shades. It’s ideal for printing photographs and complex artwork as it can reproduce fine details accurately. This method is quicker than screen printing when you’re working with multiple colors. Keep in mind that the durability of a DTF print can vary depending on the printer, ink, and transfer film used. Direct-to-film printing is also the better option for light-colored fabrics because the transfer can show up on dark-colored fabrics.


As one of the most popular printing methods in the t-shirt printing industry, screen printing is widely know for producing durable prints with vibrant, solid colors. The ink is transferred through a mesh screen and absorbed into the fabric creating a soft print that won’t easily crack or fade after numerous washes. Although screen printing is capable of handling detailed designs, it’s better suited for designs with fewer colors and larger areas of solid color.

The screen printing process involves a little more time and effort to set up. You have to create a stencil (screen) and align it for each color in the design. Creation of a stencil consists of blocking out portions of the screen, leaving only your design exposed. Unlike direct-to-film printing, screen printing is usually more cost-effective for larger print runs because you’re able to spread out the cost of creating the screens over the larger number of prints.

Check out this progression of a screen printing order we did at American Tees located in Glenpool, Oklahoma!


You should use direct-to-film printing when:

  • You’re producing a complex and detailed design with many colors, especially on light-colored fabrics.
  • You’re printing on demand or for custom orders.
  • You’re creating for small print runs.

You should use screen printing when:

  • You’re printing a design with large areas of solid color.
  • You have a large print run, making the time and cost of set up worthwhile.
  • You’re printing work uniforms or promotional items where durability is a primary concern.


Now you have all of the details for each method of t-shirt printing. We hope you feel more confident in choosing which method suits your printing needs. While there are pros and cons to each printing method, both methods have their place in the textile printing industry. Ultimately, choosing between direct-to-film printing and screen printing is dependent upon your specific printing needs, budget, design complexity, order quantity, and turnaround time. In some situations, you may find a combination of both methods to be appropriate for different parts of a project.

American Tees is proud to offer both direct-to-film printing and screen printing. We can help customers choose a printing method dependent upon their printing needs. If you have any further questions about each printing technique, reach out to us!

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