Digital Vs. Screen Printed Graphics... What's the Difference?
When it comes to reproduction Arcade graphics - there's little debate that Screen Printed Graphics are the only way to accurately represent yesterday's coin-op classics. Why? - well, let's examine the differences.
To begin, 99% of all Classic Arcade graphics originally employed Screen Printing technology. Although it's true technology has come a long way since the late 70's and early 80's, screen printing remains fundamentally the same, and the most accurate means of recreating these graphics. Yes, Screen Printing has changed over the years, but these changes manifest in product rather than process improvements.
The most important of these processes is the ability to mix "spot" colors "off press" (or in the ink bucket) to match an NOS, or "New Old Stock" graphic. Although the digital market and the technology it employs continues to evolve on an almost daily basis, fundamentally, digital technology does not print continuous tone spot colors - rather approximates colors using three or four primary colors. You are probably familiar with this concept - as whether inkjet or sublimation (or most any digital process in between), digital technology uses percentage dot combinations of magenta, yellow, cyan, and usually black. To contrast, spot color matching involves ink matching similar to the pigmentation process commonly used to tint paints. Just go to Lowes and ask for a gallon of paint to match the color of your favorite t-shirt (or in this case NOS art), and you'll get a first-hand demonstration of the process. You start with a base color, and add pigments, test, re-pigment, and repeat until the proper color is achieved. This will allow the painter (or screen printer) to paint (or print) a continuous tone of that color without approximating with a bunch of dots.
Screen Printed inks also provide longevity and resistance to abrasion that digital process only try to imitate by applying protective laminates. Depending upon the application and digital technology employed, these laminates at times may help to protect and extend the life of digital work - but in the end still fall short of the durability and longevity provided with screen printing inks. Most digital products significantly fade over time - ESPECIALLY when exposed to direct UV light (or sunlight).
Finally, because the digital process prints ink in tiny dots that soak into the substrate to varying degrees - and continuous tone spot screen print inks are laid on the material surface, the luster and color intensity of these inks by nature far out perform that of digital work. Again, you can coat digital work with laminates to protect, and increase color brilliance, but this technique still does not provide the luster of screen inks. ...and in the end, if it fades - who cares how "close" the approximation is or how shiny that faded red is?
Digital processes do have their application (short runs, prototypes, photographic original work) - but make no mistake, because of these factors - digital simply does not compare to the real thing.
As a footnote, it must be said that it is NOT necessary to recreate Vector art to employ digital technology - and this process IS necessary for Screen Printing. Theoretically, this empowers anyone to scan their buddy's NOS "xxx" CPO, digitally print it, and offer it to the market as a "reproduction". More accurately, this should be called what it is: "a re-print of a scan". Maybe it's touched up (or digitally "fixed") - maybe it's not. Maybe the colors on the original NOS have aged well, maybe not. Maybe it's a quality scan, maybe not. Maybe the guy that did it knows what he's doing, maybe not. In today's world, everyone's a self-professed digital guru ...or maybe we just know enough to get by - AND if you were the latter and trying to sell reprints, would YOU openly admit it? In both the Screen Print, and Digital worlds - BOTH the quality of art recreation (if done at all digitally) and the quality of the print production is of paramount importance. At the very least, know who you're buying from - and know how they're "printing" it - as truly, not all "re"productions are created equal.