I have one of each. I like the applied much more. The painted on or printed indices make a watch look cheap to me. I don't think I will buy anymore watches with painted or printed dials or at least anything over $500.
Well done paint/printing can be amazing. I have both types and a watch with painted and applied indices (Monta triumph). I can’t stop staring at my Doxa searambler dial, mostly due to the painted on indices. It can be done well.
I genuinely think it varies from watch to watch. On a very simple dial applied indices might always look best, but on my 1999 Omega SMP with the wave dial it looks perfect with printed/painted indices and the contrast against the wave texture works really well. I prefer the 2500 Planet Ocean over later iterations for a lot of reasons, and part of that is that the 2500 has painted numerals and to my eye the later applied numerals make it look too busy, and as if every aspect of the dial is vying for attention at the same volume. On the Seiko Marinemaster the applied indices are one of the stand out features that make it what it is, and when they catch the light I feel like the flash should be audible - it’s so dramatic. Horses for courses.
Whether a watch's dial has either painted or applied indices is irrelevant to me for I have both in my collection. What I look for when it comes to a watch's indices is the overall aesthetics it contributes to the watch.
I prefer Applied in most cases. But to be honest, I've seen some gorgeous Printed indices and script. How they get it soo freakin' perfect I have no idea. I've seen the "balloon process" but still hard to believe it can be that perfect.
I find that many watches are artistic masterpieces in miniature!
Certain styles of watch, printed works better. A deck watch with applied indices would just look wrong.
I prefer applied and tend to prefer watch styles where applied indices look appropriate (deck watches aren't my thing). I find applied indices more legible in more lighting conditions. I think they look more expensive or upscale in most cases, especially when they catch the light and sparkle. And I find the depth and texture they lend to a dial more visually interesting.
I much prefer printed dials. They are generally cleaner looking - more legible, less blingy and easier to read for me. I find a lot of applied indices look cheap or gaudy and remind me of shiny plastic (which I suspect is the case in many cheaper watches). Also, a printed dial will never have an index fall off the dial. It's not a common issue but it does happen. Finally, if you find printed dials "cheap" looking perhaps you are looking at dials on watches that are cheaply made. A quality watch will have a quality dial.
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