Digital Printing vs. Screen Printing


When you purchase signage, you want to get the best value for your dollar. This involves selecting the best printer (sign company) for the job. So do you use a Digital Printer or a Screen Printer?

What is the difference?

The main differences are colour availability, durability, and time to produce (turnaround).

While both methods produce nice prints, digital printing allows for an infinite number of colours, whereas screen printing is done for each colour individually.

If you’re using limited colours (ie. a red, white, and blue real estate sign), with no pictures, screen printing can be done relatively inexpensively. If you require a full range of colours or the use of pictures, the cost would increase with screen printing, whereas with digital printing the cost would remain the same.

It makes more sense if you understand how each process works:

Screen Printing Method

Involves creating a stencil of your design (called a “screen”), and then using that stencil to apply layers of ink on the printing surface. Each color is applied using a different stencil, one at a time, combined to achieve the final look. This is more labour-intensive and time-consuming, so turnaround may be longer.

54c865606ac46-imageScreen printing ink is applied to the substrate by placing the screen over the material. Ink with a paint-like consistency is placed onto the top of the screen. Ink is then forced through the fine mesh openings using a squeegee that is drawn across the scree, applying pressure thereby forcing the ink through the open areas of the screen. Ink will pass through only in areas where no stencil is applied, thus forming an image on the printing substrate.   — Printer’s National Environmental Assistance Center

Digital Printing Method

roland_vs-640iDigital printing basically involves a giant version of the desktop inkjet printer you may use at work or home, utilizing CMYK ink cartridges and developing colour blends digitally using a computer. This allows for a photographic print incorporating much more detail than traditional screen printing.

digital-printingDigitally printed signs are also laminated, which means the product can last much longer without fading and is more resistant to scratching and damage.

Which process should you use?

When determining the right process for your job, take into account the following factors:


For small quantities, digital printing is more cost effective due to the labour intensiveness of screen printing.

27e5616156_0For larger quantities, screen printing is typically more cost-effective, as the printing is done directly onto the substrate (ie. coroplast), not printed on vinyl and then applied to the substrate as with digital printing. This means the material cost is less for screen printing.


As previously mentioned, digital printers typically apply a clear laminate film over the print to protect it, making the sign last as long as the substrate will hold out.
Screen printing typically does not include this protective overlaminate, therefore the print is more susceptible to weather damage and wear-and-tear.


screen-printing-03Screen printing is the preferred method for substrates like t-shirts, flags, and other garments, as the ink in screen printing is applied thicker than digital printing, which results in brighter, more vibrant colours, even on darker fabrics.

Screen printers can apply directly to coroplast, making it a great choice for real estate signage, and other high-volume, high-turnover signage.

Digital prints can be applied to many different surfaces (basically anything you can properly adhere vinyl to). This makes digital printing the choice for vehicle wraps.

Some digital printers can also print directly to substrates such as fabrics, coroplast and banner materials, and its longevity can then be a determining factor for items such as real estate signage.


Here’s a handy cheat sheet:


You should now have an idea of each process, which can help you decide where to start looking to have your signage or marketing materials printed. If you still have any questions about which method is right for your business, please contact us or another reputable printing company to help guide you in the right direction.







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