Embroidery vs. Screen Printing

There are a number of methods to decorate apparel but by far the two most common are embroidery and screen printing (aka silk screen or serigraphic).  However, they are very different in terms of their application, benefits and situations in which you would use one over the other.

Embroidery is basically defined as decorating fabric using a needle and thread.  Screen printing is a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of silk or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance, and ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface, usually a t-shirt.

At Customized Guys, we do a form of direct embroidery on all logo apparel.  Direct embroidery is where the design or logo is woven or sewn directly into the material of the garment.  The embroidered design essentially becomes part of the material.  You might contrast direct embroidery with something like a patch where the logo is embroidered on a piece of material first and then the patch is placed on top of and merely attached to a garment.

An logo embroidered directly on a polo shirt material.

There are three major ways to compare and contrast embroidery and screen printing-how they look, how much each costs, and the applications for best using each method.

How They Look

A design screen printed on a t-shirt.

In general, embroidery is considered a nicer and classier way to present a design. An embroidered logo looks very nice and classy on the left chest of a shirt. It is the preferred way to decorate a shirt with a logo by many companies. Because thread has dimension, an embroidered logo ends up being three dimensional. In addition, embroidery thread is coated and therefore has a sheen that helps the colors pop to attention.

Screen printed designs look like they were painted or printed with an ink-jet printer on a shirt.  It is possible with screen printing to create designs or certain looks that could not be recreated in thread and embroidery.  The designs can be very colorful, but are one dimensional.  In general, screen printed items are considered by many to be less valuable and not as nice as embroidery.

The Best Applications

Logo embroidery is used most often for apparel that will be used for uniforms or promotions.  Millions of companies across the United States wear logo embroidered shirts to identify and promote their company logos and image.  Most embroidered logos are done on the left chest and look really good on polo shirts, button-down shirts, caps and hats, sweatshirts, jackets and bags.

Screen printed designs are usually best done on t-shirts and sweatshirts.  One reason for that is the finish on a t-shirt or sweatshirt is smooth and therefore provides a nice surface on which the ink can be applied.

If you need to do a large full-front or full-back design on a t-shirt for example, screen printing is the best choice.  Putting a large embroidered design on a t-shirt would spell disaster for both the shirt and the embroidered design.  The t-shirt material is too thin to properly hold all the embroidery stitches it would take to create a large design.  It would not look good or last very long.

Embroidery and screen printing are equally durable.  Often times, these decoration methods will outlast the garment they are printed on.

How Much They Cost

Pricing for each decoration method involves a number of variables that one should consider ahead of time.  Embroidery is most often priced by stitch count.  That is the number of stitches it takes to create a design in embroidery.  More stitches equal more cost. 

However, at Thread Logic, we created a flat pricing structure that includes the embroidery in the cost of the garment to simplify the pricing process for our customers.

The pricing for screen printing is completely different.  It is driven by three variables including the number of shirts, the number of colors in the design and the number of different locations (i.e. front and back) printed on a shirt.

The more shirts you have to print, the lower the printing cost per shirt.  However, more colors in a design drives up the printing cost.  Similarly, if you want a design on the front of a shirt and one on the back, that also adds cost to the item.

Hopefully we have been able to provide some basic information about the difference between embroidery and screen printing.  Both decoration methods have their advantages and disadvantages.  If you have any additional questions, please contact us for more information.

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