Embroidery or Screen Printing?
Last Updated: 02/13/2021
Screen printing and embroidery are perhaps the most common methods of creating an image on shirts, caps, or other fabric items. Screen printing is the cheapest and most common, but embroidery works better for certain uses, and feels more formal.
Put simply, embroidery is the art of embellishing fabric with decorative stitches. It may also include applied items like sequins and beads, but this is less common in commercial methods. Lots of different materials and methods have been used throughout history to create embroidery, and even leather and fur have been embroidered. Some of the fanciest embroidery was done with silk and gold thread. This art is probably as old as sewing itself.
These days, embroidery is not done by hand on a commercial scale. Instead, automated sewing or specialized embroidery machines are used. These are great for adding a variable design to an item, such as a monogram. Sequinning and buttoning can also be done by some embroiderers.
Embroidery often goes hand in hand with screen printing, a method where ink is forced through a stencil on fabric or mesh, to create a design on the surface to be printed. Originally, silk was used as the support for the stencil, but nylon and polyester are now a lot more common. You can screen print on fabric, vinyl, or a number of other surfaces if you use the right ink.
While screen printing used to be a small batch method, automation and technological advances have made it possible to print thousands of very detailed, multi-color images on all kinds of different surfaces. Screen printing is also used to make art prints, but in this context, it is referred to as serigraphy.
Which One Should I Choose?
In the past, huge embroideries were done by hand, from tapestries to copies of paintings. This was often a community effort. Those times are past, and embroidery is usually done by machine on a smaller scale. It works well for monograms, custom logos, and dressier imaging. Some shops will even personalize items like caps and towels while you wait, and the per item fee for small objects is less for embroidery than for screen printing.
Silk screening can be done on a larger scale, and some very large banners or signs are produced this way. However, most prints are done in a smaller area - about the size of the front of a tee shirt. Very small screens are uncommon, and tiny designs may be placed so that many are on one screen, to save time and money. Silk screening is less costly for mass production, but it makes customization very difficult.
There are a lot of differences between embroidery and silk screening, but both put an image on fabric. Which one you choose will depend on what you need to produce.