Printing and embroidery essentially do the same thing: embellish a piece of clothing. The right kind of printing or embroidery can take a simple plain piece of cloth to the next level.

How they each do that differs significantly. Printing and embroidering are very different processes, each of which works better for different fabrics, types of clothing, complexity of the design and budgets. And even after considering all that, sometimes it still comes down to which you prefer most.

There’s no straight answer to whether you should choose embroidery or printing. If anyone tells you otherwise without first having a detailed conversation about what you need, you should probably go somewhere else. For now, let’s walk through some of the important things to consider.

What type of garment are you customizing?

Polo shirts and t-shirts are two of the most common clothing articles that people want customized for their team, club or company. Both are strongly associated with one form of customization: polo shirts are usually embroidered, while t-shirts normally have printed designs. Not always, but it’s a good starting point.

Embroidery adds weight to the garment because you’re adding thread to the fabric. For larger designs, which require a higher stitch count, the fabric of the shirt will suffer. The threads will become stretched and may fray, the fabric may not hang smoothly on your body, and the area around the embroidery may sag under the weight, causing all sorts of distortions.

Anything with heavy material will allow for both printing and embroidery. Hoodies are no different. For fleece garments, embroidery is encouraged; whereas for waterproof garments, printing is the better choice.

For lightweight fabrics, then, like t-shirts, printing is better, although you could still embroider a small, simple design.

What will you be doing in your printed or embroidered clothes?

Embroidery is more professional looking and has a longer life. It can withstand more wears and more washes than printing. If you’re designing something for a corporate golf outing, for example, embroidery will make the right impression. The traditional and chic statement of an embroidered polo shirt sums up why it’s the perfect match between apparel, use and technique.

T-shirts and other promotional clothing, on the other hand, often have big designs to promote brands. The purpose is more about making a bold impression, a loud statement. For larger designs, printing is preferred over embroidery. Printing also lends itself to the larger scale of the order: the more you have to order, the more the cost will push you towards printing.

Uniforms generally have small features, like team crests, player names and numbers. The tight detail and necessary contrasts lend themselves to embroidering the garment and letting the needlework bring out the details.

Sport jerseys are a hybrid of print and embroidery. Some features are more prominent and represent the permanence of the club, while other aspects like sponsor names and logos may need to be printed on just before the season starts. The weight aspect we mentioned above also factors in here: the more embroidery, the heavier the garment, and players will not want to feel weighed down by all the extra thread.

What type of design needs printing?

Printing accommodates intricate designs that will be difficult with embroidery. If design precision is a cause of concern, printing is better. Color gradients in the design also lend themselves to printing. Embroidering a gradient is not impossible, but it is difficult. A custom clothing business often will ask you either to change the design or the method if the design proves to be difficult for embroiders.

In the case of text, either printing or embroidery will do, but it needs to be large enough to be visible. Again, this is where weight becomes a factor.

You can opt to get the smaller designs printed or embroidered. If the garment is lacking some weight and texture, opt for embroidery. If not, then print will do.

What do you prefer and what do you care most about?

Custom embroidery is more expensive compared to print. If you’re designing a t-shirt that you don’t expect people to wear many times, embroidery will not be a good use of your money. But if you want your creation to last, embroidery provides the longer lifespan.

Because of the detailed work involved, embroidery also takes longer than printing. If you are on a compressed timetable, printing may be the way to go to ensure you have what you need, in the quantity you need, when you need it.

Whatever your project, you should find the right match between the fabric, design and customization technique. Know what the options are so you can work around whatever constraints the project throws at you. For example, if you have to have a t-shirt embroidered, spend the extra money for a fabric that is compatible with embroidery. If it’s a requirement that the garment is waterproof, opt for printing, as embroidery can compromise the cloth and its waterproof characteristics.

Hopefully, this information provides you enough clarity to figure out what will work best for you. The life and quality of the end product should be your main concern at the end of the day.

You can always call us to ask our opinion based on years of experience and thousands of printed and embroidered garments. We’d be happy to hear from you and would do everything we can to help you make the right decision.