Heat Transfer vs. Screen Printing & What The Difference?

When shopping for a custom bag, t-shirts, or tablecloths, you may have noticed several printing designs that look attractive.

However, one thing that may interest you is that in as much all designs look the same they may have undergone different printing processes.

The most common printing options that are available are the heat transfer and screen-printing. We will guide you on what is the best process by highlighting different characteristics.

Heat Transfer vs. Screen Printing


When a printing design is done through the screen printing method means that a screen is cut to make a stencil for the design.

The ink is later on spread over the screen, and this allows the ink to spread only on areas that you want it to be.

In most cases, you can use one color per screen. However, the number of colors that you have determines the number of screens you need to get the final design.

The heat transfer process uses a custom design to t-shirts or tablecloths through using a combination of both heat and pressure. The common printing method that uses heat transfer includes a vinyl heat transfer and a digital print heat transfer.

The vinyl heat transfer uses a machine to cut the screen-printing designs and some colored vinyl. Then you introduce a heat press to transfer the color design onto the fabric.

The digital heat transfer uses a graphic that is printed on solvent ink. The ink is what makes it possible to transfer the design to a paper and then to the fabric.

These two types of heat transfer need a heat press machine to transfer the graphic from the vinyl or digital printing design to the fabric. All the designs move by transfer when heat and pressure are combined.

From AkoTaq another very informative content on: How to Shrink Polyester – The Best Way

Which Printing Design is good for you?

The type of printing you choose depends on the type of material and the total number of items you have in the production line. Every unique design needs to cut for different color use in screen-printing, this sounds to be cost-effective and suitable for large-scale production.

On the other hand, the heat transfer process uses the same approach with every print made, so making the initial design does not cost so much on your investment.

When to Screen Print?

Most custom-made garment prints use screen-printing because of the many advantages though with some limitations. Screen-printing should take place in a dedicated room because it takes a lot of time to complete.

Screen-printing involves the creation of the artwork, exposing the screen, laying down and curing prints, and setting the press. All these stages require a lot of labor and time.

Because of the intensity of labor and equipment, used screen-printing has a limitation that is expensive when printing in small batches. Nevertheless, here are some scenarios that you can use screen-printing:

Printing in large scale: large printing press has to be made in the most cost-effective method compared to the heat transfer process. In general, screen-printing is cost effective when the press runs do not go beyond 100 units to print.

Printing for special effects: whether you want to apply filter or glitter, using puff ink or creating a photorealistic image, or images that go beyond the basics of screen-printing

Printing vibrant or dark colors: in most cases, heat transfers in bright or dark colors do not come out well and are prone to fading over time.

When you need soft printing: using heat transfer is heavy and uses many plastics. For a soft feel on the prints, you need to rely on screen-printing.

When to Use Heat Transfer?

Heat transfer is achieved in several ways; by use of screen printing press to generate heat. You can use this printing technique to create small batches using a vinyl clutter or inkjet printer enable a quick heat transfer at a reduced cost.

However, some printers prefer to use heat transfers when they have printing jobs in small batches.

The limitation to heat transfer is their labor intensity, and time it takes when handling large printing jobs. Depending on your preferred method of transfer, you may end up with colors that are not as bright as you would expect.

Heat transfers tend to break faster than screen prints. However, heat transfers are appropriate in the following circumstances:

Printing in small batches: heat transfer offer so many capabilities that can help turn small print jobs profitable with minimal effort.

Personalization of fabric: you can print player jerseys by printing a name or number.

Print on oddly shaped materials: printing on items such as bags, caps, and any other item with a unique shape is a challenge. With heat transfer, process printing on such surfaces now becomes an easy undertaking.

Quick printing: If you need print materials that are appropriate for events, concerts, and festivals, using heat transfer is the best option. You can pre-cut or print the artwork and apply heat transfer using a small heating press.

Also read: How to Laminate Paper at Home – At any time!

The Debate Ends

We can carry on with this debate, but it is up to you as a printer to look at the prevailing conditions and the materials you have to get the best printing technique that will enhance productivity and profitability

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