Ancient Greeks and Romans colored fabric red with dye made from lichen. The people of the South Pacific crafted patterned cloth from hand-beaten bark and earth pigments. Archeologists have found bone sewing needles more than 50,000 years old.

Humans, it seems, have been decorating their clothing since the dawn of civilization.

Today, we have all manner of textile crafts at our disposal to personalize what we wear, what we decorate our homes with, and what we sleep on. From cushion covers to sports caps, ornamented fabrics add meaning to our lives.

Below, we explore two of the most popular ways to customize clothing, printing or embroidery, and help you decide which is best for your textile project.

What Is Embroidery?

Embroidery is an ancient type of textile embellishment. Practitioners use a needle and thread to stitch patterns–from simple initials to intricate landscapes–into clothing, wall hangings, and table and bed linen.

The craft appears in one form or another in almost every culture in the world.

Since the industrial revolution, machines have replaced hand embroidery. For example, if you order a box of company t-shirts with your logo stitched on them, they’ll be made using a machine.

There’s a passionate set of hobbyists and fine dressmakers keeping the craft alive. History even influences contemporary artists, who stitch vibrant embroidered artworks.

When Should You Use Embroidery?

It can be confusing to know when embroidery is the right decorative touch for your clothing or textiles. Turn to embroidery when you want something exclusive yet hard-wearing.

You Want Something Unique

Dr. Jill Biden’s 2020 white Gabriela Hearst inauguration gown was garnished with flowers representing the American states. Only a skilled embroiderer can achieve this kind of bespoke textile decoration.

Embroidery offers a chance for customization that lasts. As a customer or creator, you can have full control over the look of the embroidered design. Whether created by hand or machine, an embroidered image is made to your specifications–from color to size to layout.

Not only that but because you build a custom embroidery image stitch-by-stitch, you can use this method on oddly shaped fabric items like caps and shoes.

You Need Durable Designs

You literally stitch embroidered designs into the fabric they’re applied to, so they’re very hard-wearing.

So long as the practitioner uses good quality thread, strong backing material, and a sharp needle, you can expect an embroidered pattern to last many years–likely longer than the fabric it’s stitched onto!

We dare you to wear an embroidered cap out rock climbing or mountain biking. When you get back at the end of the day, simply throw it in the washing machine. No matter how dirty and battered it was, the embroidered logo will come out looking like new.

You Need Branded Clothing

Over 80 percent of consumers remember the company of a branded item compared with less than 10 percent after seeing a TV advertisement. Turn a shirt, cap, or gym towel into a walking advertisement by adding an embroidered logo. Get your business name out there!

Psychologically, it also makes the team members feel more bonded, in much the same way that wearing designer clothing can inspire confidence.

From custom hat embroidery to embroidery-adorned polos, getting your staff, volunteers, or school sports team members in matching clothing with a clear logo sends a unified, memorable message.

What Is Printing?

Depending on what finish or effect you’re looking for, there are a few different options when it comes to printing onto fabric.

Two of the most commonly used commercial methods are screen printing and DTG (Direct to Garments) printing. Both are fast and relatively inexpensive. They ensure a longer-lasting, more detailed print. While there are few downsides to screen printing (also called silk printing), DTG can sometimes result in low-quality images marred with obvious dots.

Other printing methods like dye sublimation, heat press or transfer printing, and vinyl cutting are only used for specialty applications nowadays. The 1980s heyday of ironing the name of your favorite rock band onto your denim jacket is well and truly over.

When Should You Use Printing?

In most cases, printing is a cheaper option compared with embroidery. If you are creating one-use items or low-cost merchandise, you’ll probably be better off choosing to print.

You Want a Large Design

If you want to print a design onto something big, like a flag, or have a large image you want to replicate on t-shirts, printing is the way to go.

Most merchandise printing companies can handle printed designs up to 30 cm in width. If you’re looking to go larger (“large format” is considered more than 1 meter wide), you might have to look for a specialist textile printer.

Why is printing better than embroidery in this instance? It merely comes down to the cost. Trying to create a 30 cm or more significant embroidery design will cost a fortune if by hand or machine.

Your Design Has a Lot of Detail

When it comes to hand-drawn or photographs with a lot of detail and color, your best choice is DTG printing.

DTG printers work very similarly to the inkjet printer you probably have in your home office, but it is a very advanced version. Printing shirts in this way not only provides a lot of detail to the image, but it’s also the cheapest option. There’s not the same set-up time as, say, screen printing, so even small print runs are cost-effective.

This type of printing is durable, but be sure to ask the printing company for samples before signing on with them. Some companies use higher quality printers than others.

You Don’t Have Big Budget

As we mentioned above, almost all types of textile printing are typically lower cost than embroidery.

If you want to brand a small amount of merchandise or decorate clothing items that you only plan to use once, or the things you’re adorning are cheap. Often, there’s no setup fee for printing, whereas there’s usually a charge for embroidery.

Even if you want something more durable, screen printing could be a more cost-effective option. Sure, a screen-printed tee will eventually fade, but it’s still going to last through hundreds of washes.

Printing or Embroidery: Which Will You Choose?

Whether you’re creating branded caps for merchandise or adding a logo to a t-shirt, printing or embroidery are both excellent options. Consider durability, photo quality, and budget when deciding which is the right method for your project.

Are you keen on more fashion tips? Head back to our blog to read the other informative articles.