Screen Printing vs Embroidery for Custom Apparel

At PDQ Printing, we are expert in producing custom apparel of all types. In our decades of experience, we have identified very specific best practices in the planning and production phases. We know that there are many factors to understand. As such, we have compiled this overview of the two most common means of custom apparel production.

When you're designing your custom printed apparel, you have two distinct options for the application of the artwork: screen printing and embroidery. Each option has distinct benefits and considerations, which are briefly outlined here.

Screen Printing

Screen Printing is a technique that uses a permeable screen with an ink-blocking stencil. Each screen produces a single color area that is visible on the substrate after the ink is squeegeed through the screen. This process is repeated for each color required in the design.


Embroidery is a technique that uses a needle and thread to render the image on the garment. The art file is first digitized and sent to a computer driven embroidery machine. The embroidery machine sews the digitized image, often requiring several thousand stitches, until the final design is complete.

Things to Consider

There are several factors that determine whether screen printing or embroidery is appropriate for any particular job. These considerations include (but are not limited to):

  • Image Size
    Generally, large images are better suited to screen printing. This is due to the weight of the thread used in the embroidered design and the puckering and fabric distortion that could occur over large areas of stitching.

    Additionally, very small images are better suited to screen printing. It is difficult for very small text and images to be recognizable in embroidered designs.


  • Surfaces
    Rough, fuzzy, or thick materials are not ideal for screen printing. This includes 6-panel caps, knit fabrics, terry cloth towels, and polar fleece. Irregular or open-weave surfaces are not a good medium for screen printing ink to adhere. When using these materials, embroidery is probably the best option.

    Screen printing is well-suited for thin, smooth surfaces. These surfaces result in excellent ink adhesion and clarity. This is why t-shirts are such a common screen printing application.


  • Image Quality
    Screen printing allows for designs incorporating crisp lines, shading, distressed effects and gradience. Screen printing ink absorbs into the fabric, so a smooth effect is achieved.

    Embroidery tends to result in a more professional look. There is less flexibility in the design area, and the threads produce a slight stand-off effect. The stitching is much less likely to be distorted or stretched over time.


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