Puff Print vs. Screen Print vs. Direct-to-Garment (DTG)

Medha Mehta

Medha Mehta

Puff Print vs. Screen Print vs. Direct-to-Garment (DTG)

Which Printing Technique is Best for Your Custom Merchandise?

When it comes to creating custom merchandise, selecting the right printing technique is essential for achieving your desired results. For those planning to place large orders, factors such as cost-efficiency, quality, and suitability of the printing method come into play. This article explores puff printing vs. screen printing vs. direct-to-garment (DTG) printing—highlighting their pros and cons to help you make an informed decision.

Key Takeaway

Here are the main differences between puff print, screen print, and direct-to-garment printing.

FeatureDirect-to-Garment (DTG)Screen PrintPuff Print
TechnicPrinting directly onto the fabric using a specialized inkjet printerScreen printing involves creating a stencil (or screen) for each color in the design. Ink is then pushed through the screen onto the fabric, layer by layer.It is a type of screen printing where an extra chemical called Puff Additive is added to the regular screen printing ink to give a 3D effect.
ImplementationEasy and fast method.More labor-intensive, especially for designs with multiple colors.More labor-intensive, especially for designs with multiple colors.
PricingMost cost-effective, ideal for small quantitiesHigher setup costs, more cost-effective for large ordersMost expensive due to puff additive cost ($190-$250 per gallon)
Business TypesSuitable for print-on-demand businesses with no minimum order quantity requirement.Best for drop-shipping and 3PL businesses. A minimum order quantity is generally required.Similar to Screen printing.
Design ComplexityExcels with complex, multi-colored designsBest for designs with limited solid colorsSuitable for simple, noncomplicated designs
Durabilityfades or cracks over time, less durable, especially on dark fabricsKnown for durability, and vibrant colors, lasts many washesHighest durability.
Environmental ImpactUses water-based inks, less waste, high energy use, pretreatment chemicalsNot environment friendly. Uses plastisol inks (PVC, phthalates), generates waste from screens, and excess inkLess eco-friendly due to plastisol inks, and Puff additive chemicals

Now, let’s understand each printing technique and its pros and cons in detail.

Puff Printing

Puff printing is one of the specialized types of screen printing techniques. It involves adding an extra chemical called Puff additive to the regular screen printing ink, which causes the ink to expand and rise when exposed to heat. This creates a three-dimensional (3D), textured effect on the fabric.

Puff additive: In general, puff additive can be used at 15%–20% by the ink’s weight. Popular Puff additive brands are Jacquard, FN-INK, and KolorMatrix. Puff additives generally cost $190 to $250 per gallon. Printers can add puff additive to white ink to create a puff under-base or mix it with colored inks.

Here is an example of a puff-printed shirt. 

Image source: Pinterest

Pros of Puff Printing

  1. Unique Aesthetic: Puff printing offers a distinctive, raised texture that adds depth to designs, making them visually striking and tactile.

  2. Durability: Puff prints are generally resistant to cracking and fading, maintaining their appearance through multiple washes.

  3. Visual Impact: Ideal for logos and branding, puff printing makes designs stand out prominently.

Cons of Puff Printing

  1. Cost: Puff printing can be more expensive than traditional screen printing due to the additional materials and processing steps required.

  2. Design Limitations: This technique is better suited for simpler designs where the raised effect can be fully appreciated.

  3. Limited Color Range: Puff printing typically involves fewer colors compared to other techniques.

Screen Printing

Screen printing, also known as silkscreen printing, is a widely used method that involves creating a stencil (or screen) and applying layers of ink on the printing surface. Each color in the design requires a separate screen. The screen is placed over the item to be printed, such as a t-shirt. The areas where the stencil is open will let the ink pass through. Once the ink is applied, the item is usually heated to cure the ink, making it durable and washable.

At Stitchi, we provide the best screen printing services at a 30% lower cost.

Check this out: Screen printing process

Types of Screen Printing

Screen printing comes in various types, each suited for different effects and materials. Here are some of the popular types:

  1. Spot Color Screen Printing: This is the most common type, using individual screens for each color in the design. It produces vibrant, solid colors.

  2. Halftone Printing: Uses tiny dots of varying sizes to create gradients and shading. It's great for creating the illusion of more colors and details with fewer screens.

  3. Grayscale Printing: Similar to halftone, it uses different shades of gray to create detailed, photographic-like images.

  4. Duotone Printing: Involves printing an image using two colors, usually black and another color, to create a more complex look than grayscale.

  5. CMYK (4-Color Process) Printing: Uses four screens (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) to recreate full-color images. This method is ideal for printing photographs and detailed artwork.

  6. Simulated Process Printing: Combines spot colors and halftones to mimic the look of CMYK printing but uses more colors for greater accuracy and vibrancy, especially on dark garments.

  7. Discharge Printing: Removes the dye from the fabric where the design is printed, creating a soft and breathable print. It works best on dark, 100% cotton fabrics.

  8. Water-Based Printing: Uses water-based inks that soak into the fabric, resulting in a softer feel. It's eco-friendly and great for printing on lighter-colored garments.

  9. Plastisol Printing: Uses plastisol ink, which sits on top of the fabric, creating a slightly raised print with vibrant colors and great durability.

  10. Puff Printing: Adds a puff additive to the ink, causing it to rise and create a three-dimensional, textured effect when heated.

Pros of Screen Printing

  1. Vibrant Colors: Screen printing produces rich, vibrant colors that are hard to achieve with other printing techniques.

  2. Durability: Screen prints are known for their longevity and can withstand repeated washing without significant fading.

  3. Versatility: This method can be used on various materials, including fabric, paper, wood, and plastic.

Cons of Screen Printing

  1. Setup Cost: The initial setup cost for creating screens can be high, making it less cost-effective for small orders.

  2. Design Complexity: Each color in the design requires a separate screen, which can complicate the process for multi-colored designs.

  3. Environmental Impact: Screen printing involves the use of chemicals and water, which can be less environmentally friendly.

Direct-to-Garment (DTG) Printing

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is a modern technique that uses specialized inkjet technology to print designs directly onto the fabric. This method allows for high-resolution, full-color prints.

How it works: In the DTG printing technique, the design is created on a computer. The t-shirt or other fabric item is placed in the DTG printer, similar to how you would load paper into a regular printer. The DTG printer works like an inkjet printer, spraying the ink directly onto the fabric. It prints the design exactly as it appears on the computer, with all the colors and details.

Image source: Pinterest

Pros of DTG Printing

  1. High Detail and Quality: DTG printing is capable of producing highly detailed, photo-quality images with a wide color range.

  2. No Setup Cost: Unlike screen printing, there is no need for screens, making it cost-effective for small orders and one-off designs.

  3. Quick Turnaround: The digital nature of DTG printing allows for faster production times, ideal for on-demand printing.

Cons of DTG Printing

  1. Cost for Large Orders: While DTG is excellent for small runs, the cost per unit can be higher compared to screen printing for large orders.

  2. Fabric Limitations: DTG works best on 100% cotton fabrics and may not be suitable for all materials.

  3. Durability: DTG prints may not be as durable as screen prints, particularly on dark fabrics, where they can fade more quickly over time.

Puff Print vs. Screen Print vs. Direct-to-Garment (DTG)

There are main four differences between puff print, screen print, and direct-to-garment (DTG). Let’s explore them.


Direct to Garment (DTG) printing is the most cost-effective printing technique. In contrast, traditional screen printing involves higher setup costs, making it nearly twice as expensive as DTG for small runs. Puff printing is the most expensive of the three methods, as it requires a puff additive, which costs between $190 to $250 per gallon.

For small quantities, DTG is highly economical. This is why many print-on-demand businesses, where garments are printed as orders are received, prefer DTG. On the other hand, businesses that require a minimum order quantity may offer options for screen printing or puff printing. Due to the high initial setup costs, these methods become more cost-effective as the order size increases.

Design Complexity

DTG printing excels in producing detailed, multi-colored designs with high resolution. DTG printers can handle designs with a wide range of colors and intricate details without additional setup costs. This makes DTG ideal for printing photorealistic images or designs with gradients and shading. The color range is virtually unlimited since DTG printers mix colors on the fly, similar to a home inkjet printer. 

Screen printing and puff printing are best suited for designs with a limited number of solid colors. Each color requires a separate screen, which can become costly and complex for designs with many colors. While screen printing can produce vibrant and durable prints, it’s less effective for designs with gradients or subtle color variations.


DTG prints may not last as long as screen prints, especially on darker fabrics. DTG prints tend to have a softer feel because the ink is absorbed into the fabric rather than sitting on top of it. However, the durability of DTG prints can vary depending on the quality of the printer and ink used. Over time, DTG prints may fade or crack, especially if not properly cared for.

Screen prints and puff prints are known for their durability and vibrant colors. The ink used in screen printing is typically thicker and sits on top of the fabric, creating a more robust print. Properly done screen prints can last for many washes without significant fading or cracking.

Environmental Impact

DTG printing generally uses water-based inks, which are considered more environmentally friendly than the plastisol inks often used in screen printing. The process also generates less waste since there’s no need for screens or excess ink.

However, DTG printers require a lot of energy, and the pretreatment process can involve chemicals.

Screen printing and puff printing can be less eco-friendly due to the use of plastisol inks, which contain PVC and phthalates. Additionally, the process generates waste from screens and excess ink.


Each printing technique has its unique advantages and best-use scenarios. For large orders, screen printing is often the most cost-effective and durable option. Puff printing is excellent for creating standout, textured designs that add a unique visual and tactile element to your merchandise. DTG printing is ideal for small orders and complex, multi-colored designs requiring high detail and quality.

By understanding the pros and cons of each method, you can choose the right printing technique to meet your specific needs, ensuring your custom merchandise looks great and meets your budget requirements.

Get the latest from Stitchi