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Digital Printing vs. Screen Printing: A Quoting Quandary?

(September 2006) posted on Tue Oct 03, 2006

Estimating whether a job should be printed digitally or produced with screen printing involves more considerations than cost alone. Mandel explores other factors to keep in mind when recommending production methods and setting prices.


By Rick Mandel

Quotes for screen printing tend to be itemized in great detail—prepress, screen making, make ready, and printing. In digital, the costs of prepress and make ready are usually absorbed into the printing costs. Cost per square foot is gospel in digital, but this model has ruined our market. I know we can blame some segment of the graphics industry that introduced that hideous box that our clients throw us all into for quick comparison. Square footage will always stay the same. It's the prepress/setup costs that actually are added. So, what is the setup cost? Is it the same for every job? That box feels oh so confining.

Timing Timing can be a substantial influence in our decision about whether to screen print a job or produce it digitally. The number of versions, type and number of proofs required, prepress and press-setup concerns, and the final due date are all important considerations. Knowing the time requirements of the job when we sit down to estimate the price not only helps us determine which imaging method is better suited, but also allows us to explore other ways of adding value to the project.

How some shops decide

I recently polled four types of screen printers who also have digital-imaging capabilities to see how they decide which technology to use. My survey was certainly unscientific, but all four shops have high-end digital and screen equipment.

The fleet-graphics printer quotes all four-color jobs as digital. Screen printing becomes an option only when the number of trucks jumps. He believes that process-color screen printing is more technically demanding and must be practiced daily in order to achieve the best results. Because most full-color fleet jobs don't have the quantities to justify screen printing, he finds it more sensible to use digital imaging for all fleet work.

He mentioned two concepts that back up his reasoning: panel matching and generation of press proofs. Both require a degree of accuracy and repeatability that can be achieved much more easily with digital printing.

The P-O-P printer I contacted uses digital imaging to service clients' short runs and customized jobs. This printer won't even look at her screen-printing equipment when run sizes are fewer than 200 large sheets. She doesn't want to tie up her inline presses for small quantities.


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