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Printing vs. Embroidery

Friday, December 13, 2019
direct to garment t-shirt printer - epson f2100

Creating eye-catching designs isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Depending on the product you’re working with and the desired aesthetic, you may need to switch between printing and embroidery. To help you determine which method is best for your current project, we’re covering the pros and cons of printing and embroidery. 


Embroidery refers to patterns or logos stitched into the fabric using thread. This method is ideal for thicker fabrics, like polo shirts, hoodies, sweaters, outdoor apparel, and baseball caps. Embroidered designs are often considered more professional than printed logos, so many business owners choose to embroider uniforms or branded clothing worn by their staff. Since embroidery adds a 3D element to garments, the designs stand out on the fabric with clean, crisp lines. When done correctly, embroidery is long-lasting and won’t fade or snag, even after continuous washing. 

However, embroidery is not a good choice for heavy gradients or large designs. It’s difficult to achieve a true gradient with thread, and large designs can quickly become expensive. Embroidery is also not recommended for hand drawn designs or patterns that call for complicated color palettes. When used on thinner garments, like t shirts, this method may cause “puckering” due to thread tension. 


There are many ways to print a design onto garments, including screen printing and direct to garment printing. Screen printing required you to “burn” a negative image of your design into a nylon mesh screen and press the ink through the openings to create your artwork. Direct to garment printing is a newer method that prints the design directly onto the fabric. 

When compared to embroidery, both types of printing allow you to create more complicated artwork and are ideal for large designs, complicated pieces, and gradients. Printing showcases bright colors much better than embroidery, so many companies choose printing when using vibrant patterns. Printing works best on items such as t shirts and cotton sweatshirts, since it won’t pull the thin fabric. Printing is extremely cost-effective when you print a large batch of the same design.

However, not all items can be printed. The method doesn’t work well on thick or fuzzy materials, like fleece or jackets. Depending on the method and the product you’re printing on, you may have more setup time than traditional embroidery. With the direct to garment method, you may need to “pre-treat” garments to ensure your design comes out correctly. With screen printing, you’ll need to spend time creating the mesh screen, which can become costly if you’re printing small quantity orders. 

The Best Of Both Worlds

With some fabrics, like thicker shirts or polos, you don’t have to choose between embroidery and printing. Mixed media designs combine both methods to give your product a  modern and unique look. To create mixed media products, you’ll print large, colorful, or complicated areas of your design first. Then, you’ll embroider details on top of the print. Thanks to Melco’s exclusive Laser Alignment technology, creating these designs is easy - you’ll be able to perfectly embroider over printed graphics with precision and speed. You can buy digital printing machines and compatible embroidery machines direct from Melco. When you order, you’ll also receive comprehensive on-site training to perfect your technique and ongoing support through the comprehensive online knowledge base.