Heat Transfer Vs Screen Print – What’s The Difference?

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There are a couple of different methods to placing graphics onto a t-shirt; screen printing and heat vinyl transfers. You are probably wondering which is better and the short answer is heat transfer vinyl tend to dominate. Heat transfer vinyl is bonded to the fabric and is more durable. Screen printing ink is directly applied to the t-shirt but can fade over time. There are of course many more differences between the two which will be explored in this article. Let’s get started!


Screen Printing Fades and Can Wash Out


Screen printing, while it uses special inks to create the permanent design you want, it will fade over time and with each successive washing. If you apply heat via iron or dryer after you have air-dried the screen-printed shirt first, the inks will become a little more permanent prior to the first washing.

However, that does not compare with vinyl transfers. Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) utilizes a special type of material that forms a very strong bond with the cloth of the t-shirt. The adhesive backing on much of the vinyl transfer material tends to fill in the spaces in the t-shirt fabric and quickly forms a seal between the vinyl material and the t-shirt material. You could wash this t-shirt thousands of times until it gets holes in it and the vinyl design would never come off. It doesn’t even crack because it is used to the heat necessary to adhere the vinyl to the t-shirt.


Speed of Printing 


With screen printing, individual screens have to prepared for each color. The problem is that prepping each screen takes time, but once the screens are prepared, the printing takes place efficiently.

If you’re only printing a few t-shirts, you’ll find screen printing extremely time-consuming especially where many colors are involved but if you’re printing in bulk, say 500 or more t-shirts, screen-printing will be very time-efficient, especially where one or just a few colors are involved.

The time you will take to so each heat transfer will remain the same especially if you’re using colored vinyl. In the event that you’re only printing a few garments, you will find this method more time-efficient than screen-printing but if you’re printing in bulk, say a hundred or more garments, you will find it too time-consuming.

heat transfer printing

Cost Effectiveness


The cost effectiveness of each method depends on the number of apparels being printed.

Screens are expensive to produce, but they are reusable. So, if you’re only printing a few garments, say 500 or fewer units, screen printing will not be the best method with regards to cost.

If, however, you’re printing 500 or more t-shirts, screen printing will be very appropriate as the cost of each screen will be spread across the number of garments being printed.

The bottom line is that screen printing is cost effective only when printing in bulk.

With heat transfer, the cost stays constant, as the cost of the vinyl essentially stays the same. And again, the vinyl that’s used on one apparel cannot be used on another apparel. But if you’re doing digital heat transfer, you might be able to reuse transfer papers and thus reduce the cost as you print more garments.

All in all, with cost efficiency in mind, heat transfer is often suited for small runs rather than long runs.

Are you a buyer wondering which one between screen-printed and heat-pressed t-shirts are less expensive?

Well, it depends on the number of t-shirts you’re looking to purchase, and of course, you’ll have to consider the manufacturer’s cost of production.

Think of it this way – if the manufacturer is using screen printing, the more the t-shirts, the less the cost, but with heat transfer, the fewer the t-shirts, the less the cost.

So, if you’re only buying a few t-shirts, it would be cheaper to buy heat-pressed ones, but if you’re buying in bulk, you’d better buy screen-printed t-shirts if you want to save some cash.


Size of Printings


Screens are normally not so huge; they’re typically only big enough to cover t-shirts. When it comes to huge items like tablecloths, screens might be a little too small unless you’re placing small printings.

Conversely, there are large, industrial-size heat transfer machines that allow you to print huge graphics that can even fill a tablecloth.




There you have it, the difference between heat transfer and screen printing. Screen printing is old school although better tools and equipment are coming out to help you design the fabrics.

For multi-color designs, heat transfer is ideal; however, you will need to inspect the quality of machine. However, most of its designs are fairly durable.

For quality and long-lasting designs, screen printing is ideal but one problem. You can produce multi-color graphic designs on print. It is not ideal for sophisticated designs. If you were to go this route, you will need lots of screens.

With improvement in technology, this will change. Unlike heat press, screen printing produce lots high quality garment when used with a single color design. 

If you have more questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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