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  • Olivia Stalker

Digital printing vs Traditional methods

Commercial printing can be completed in a handful of different ways. There are several traditional printing methods which have been used by the fashion industry for ages, as well as the new and innovative method of digital printing. While both accomplish the same task, the ways in which they print vary tremendously, and both have their pros and cons. Read on for a brief synopsis of some of the differences of the most common kinds of textile printing and don't miss the link at the end to our handy google doc with our own research on some digital printing resources.

Digital printing is a technology that has revolutionized the textile industry.

Traditional printing Although there are many methods of printing designs onto textiles, block, screen, and roller printing are the three most common methods of traditional printing for commercial textile production.

Block printing being completed by hand.

Block printing was the first method developed and is the simplest yet slowest way to print. Incised wooden blocks are used to transfer a design onto the fabric and each color is imprinted individually. This slow and tedious process delivers detailed and artistic prints.

textile screen printing

Screen printing is the most common traditional printing technique used today. It involves squeezing ink or a printing paste through small openings on a flat or rotary screen, leaving a specific design. Each color is squeezed through a different screen.

engraved roller for rotary printed fabric

Roller printing is a more efficient method and still very commonly used technique for printing long bolts of fabric. This technique uses an engraved metal roller to apply printing paste directly onto the fabric as it is fed through the machine. There is a roller used for each color in the design.


While traditional offset printing delivers the most quality, in the world of fast fashion where fads are constantly coming and going, innovation was a necessity. A new printing technique needed to be developed to accommodate the fast-shifting trends. Along with being significantly faster than traditional offset printing, digital printing comes at a lower cost if producing low volume print runs. Therefore, beyond the large fast fashion companies such as Forever 21 and H&M utilizing this new technology, small companies requiring low minimums on print orders benefit immensely from digital printing.


Digital Printing

For production with a fast turnaround, digital printing is ideal. In the worlds of fashion and textiles, as well as many other product manufacturing industries, the agility and speed of digital printing are desirable assets. Designs can even be altered during the digital printing process without significantly slowing down production. These attributes allow companies to create prototypes very close to the desired end product, and if these proto samples do not turn out as intended, or need further revision, the designers do not need to stress about significant setbacks in their production calendar.

Designers can also rely on this new system when creating small quantities because they can do so at a lower cost since order minimums are extremely low unlike other kinds of printing which may require setup charges and longer lead times. In addition, digital printing does not have limitations to design size, repeat, or quantity of colors, which one could run into using some of the traditional methods mentioned above. It is so easy to use in fact, that an entire industry has sprung up around digital printing itself - the Print On Demand industry (POD) has opened the doors to creating personalized custom prints on various products to the average consumer.

All these benefits make this modern form of printing an attractive option. Many up-and-coming designers ​around the world have used digital printing to take their business to the next level.

digital printer for textiles

While digital printing does appear to be the holy grail in the world of printing, the new process does have its

fair share of cons. For instance, digital printing does not have the ability to match the exact shade of color standard as accurately as traditional offset printing methods. Since the ink does not fully absorb into the fabric, cracks can often be seen along the edges of the design. In addition, if you are planning to order a large bundle, digital printing may not be the most cost effective option; in traditional onset printing as the quantity ordered goes up, the price per unit dwindles down. Often designers are forced to weight these concessions against all the benefits of digital printing. For high-end designers in pursuit of upmost quality and perfection, digital printing often does not suffice.

Depending on your end use, budget, timeline, and standards, digital printing may be a revolutionary discovery for your company. But make sure to fully understand the process' pros and cons before deciding on your final printing method.


Here are some examples of designers who have built a business using the new technology of digital printing!

We have had so many clients and customers asking if we have some good resources for digital printing. We have accumulated this into a handy Google spreadsheet which we are happy to share here. If you have any information to add, please contact us and we can include it in our doc.

Have you noticed any designers thriving with digital printing? Have you incorporated it as an integral part of your production? Let us know your experience with this relatively new technology!


Sources: Make Works Blog | Just Creative | IM Dye Chem | Wikipedia | Craftsy | JV Digital Printing | Ethical Fashion Forum | Sun Protection

* We intend no copyright infringement by displaying images from other sources on our site. Unless otherwise noted, all images are the property of their respective owners.

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