…and how to choose between the two

There are many elaborate ways you can draw attention to your project, from skywriting to a wallet-busting social media campaign, but few drives for brand recognition are as cheap, simple and effective as branded merchandise.

If you’ve got a great logo, and we’re sure you do, you’ll be wanting as many people to see it as possible. Get it on stickers, tote bags, patches, mugs and, best of all, clothes. Have people wear you in their world, introducing your brand to everyone they meet.

Whether you’re trying to promote your new brand or an innovative start up, there are two popular ways to customise clothing: screen printing and embroidery. Though the end result is similar, they are different in terms of use, cost and application.

Here we’ll run through the differences between the two, and help you work out which is best for your marketing plans.

icon printing embroidery

What is the difference between screen printing and embroidery?

Screen printing

Screen printing is a method of printing where a design is printed onto a surface with ink. A stencil is made of your design and placed onto a screen of mesh, often silk. Ink is pushed through the mesh onto the printing surface and this process is repeated for each colour in the image. These combine to create a finished product.


Embroidery is the modern update of the classic needle and thread. Your design is digitised and turned into a program for an embroidery machine. This uses needles to automatically stitch the image onto fabric.

Choosing between screen printing and embroidery

There are several factors to consider when deciding which technique you should use for your merchandise or uniform: how they look, how they’ll be used, and which is more cost-effective depending on your needs.

How does it look?

Embroidery is generally used for logos, because it looks clean, crisp and professional. This is because the thread creates a 3D effect which jumps out at the viewer, leaving a memorable impression. 

Screen printed images are flat upon the garment. They look like the t-shirt or garment was run through an inkjet printer. While you may think two-dimensional screen print designs are less striking, screen printing is a far more versatile method.

When does embroidery look best?

The classic use for embroidery is to place a logo on work uniforms and branded clothing. Because of the 3D look, it is generally considered a classier look, particularly when a logo is embroidered over the breast of a shirt or polo shirt — you’ll see this in many shops and restaurants. Because it is done with physical thread, embroidery is much more effective for transferring designs onto heavier fabrics such as caps, denim and outerwear.

However, there are some circumstances where embroidery is not the best choice. It’s not ideal for complex designs, because the shading of colour and light in an image is difficult to recreate with thread. It might be difficult to embroider very small text on a logo while remaining legible.

Embroidery is also not recommended for lighter materials such as t-shirts. If the design has a high stitch count, meaning lots of thread is used, the weight could pull down the fabric and cause a wrinkled effect or ‘puckering’ around the logo. As such, a larger logo might look better screen printed.

When does screen printing look best?

Screen printing was once considered less durable than embroidery, but with modern machinery it can last just as long. This technique is ideal for lighter fabrics and cotton, such as t-shirts and hoodies. The smooth surface of these garments means the ink is easy to apply evenly. Screen printing can also be used for a wider range of images: it can create complex designs with subtle shading, or very detailed or large logos. 

You can’t embroider thread into much besides fabric, but ink isn’t so limited. You can screen print your image onto many types of surfaces, including coffee cups, tote bags and stationery.

Cost considerations

If you’re on the fence about which technique will be more appropriate for your brand, consider which will be more cost-effective. Embroidery tends to be more expensive, particularly for big designs, but is not that costly for small, pocket-sized logos.

There are a number of variables that affect the pricing of each technique. Embroidery is priced by stitch count so smaller, less complex designs will cost less. However prices tend to decrease when you order in bulk, and some embroidery machines have multiple heads, enabling the speedy stitching of multiple garments at once.

Meanwhile screen print costs depend on the number of garments printed and colours used. If you print in bulk or use fewer colours, costs decrease significantly. Another factor is the number of locations of your design – it will cost more to print on the front and back of a garment, for example, or to add something extra on the sleeve.


Both screen printing and embroidery have distinct advantages and disadvantages, but are important to understand your next step in spreading the word about your products and brands. Every merch job is unique, but in general embroidery is a fantastic way to have a quality, durable logo design on a t-shirt or cap – perfect for a staff uniform or workwear. Screen printing offer an affordable way to print more elaborate – and scalable – graphic designs and images on a wide range of garments, but can lack the durability that an embroidered logo will provide. 

Designing a uniform, branded t-shirts or accessories for your business? At ICON Printing we offer fast turnaround printing and embroidery with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online.