Screen Printing vs Heat Press for T-Shirts: What’s the Difference?

The customized merchandise business has seen a massive boom over the last few years. It seems like every Instagram and YouTube star has custom merch for sale.

There are tons of other organizations that utilize custom designs on t-shirts, hats, towels, and other items. These products are almost all made one of two ways: screen printing vs heat press.

Screen printing and heat transfer printing are the two main ways to customize t-shirts and other apparel. Both methods achieve the same end, which is transferring a logo or other artwork onto fabric.

Although they effectively do the same thing, there are many differences between these two forms of printing. Each method also has its advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s break them down.

Screen Printing T-Shirts

T-shirt screen printing also called silk screening, uses screens and ink to transfer images onto apparel.

The first step of this process is making a cutout in a screen to create a stencil of a particular design. The screen is laid on top of the t-shirt or other apparel.

The next step is spreading ink over the screen with a squeegee-like device. The ink passes through the screen to the t-shirt beneath.

With this method, each screen can only transfer one color onto the product. If your design has multiple colors, you’ll need to use multiple screens.

If you’re searching for more to read on screen printing and how to make custom shirts, check out this LA company that is making waves in the screen printing industry.

Pros and Cons

Screen-printed designs last longer and are more durable than heat-pressed ones. They are not prone to peeling off or fading over time. The fabric of the final products also feels much softer than those printed with heat press methods.

Screen printing is also very cost-effective for large orders. If you need more than 500 shirts made, screen printing is going to be much cheaper per unit than heat pressing.

Finally, screen printing is able to produce vibrantly colored designs, even on dark fabrics. If you’re printing on dark colors, screen printing ensures that your design looks vibrant and clean.

On the other hand, because a new screen is needed for every color, screen-printing limits you to only being able to use one to three colors. Using more than that quickly gets expensive.

Screen printing also uses more chemicals and equipment than heat transfers do. Unfortunately, this makes it the less environmentally friendly of the two processes.

Heat Press T-shirts

Heat Pressing is a process that involves using a combination of heat and pressure to transfer images onto apparel. T-shirts are the most popular apparel used in heat pressing, but other items such as hats and towels can be printed this way as well.

Vinyl and digital print are the two primary heat transform methods. A heat press machine is required for both methods.

Vinyl Heat Transfer

The first step of a vinyl heat transfer is using a machine to cut out letters and designs from colored vinyl. The design is then assembled piece by piece on the t-shirt or apparel item. Finally, a heat press machine is used to meld the vinyl to the fabric.

This method works very well for printing jerseys, slogans, and small multi-colored graphics.

Digital Print Heat Transfer

The digital print heat transfer process can be compared to using a paper printer.

The image that you want on the shirt is designed digitally and printed onto high-quality paper. This process uses a special solvent ink.

The printed paper is then pressed with heat into the t-shirt or other apparel item. The ink adheres to the fabric and transfers the full image onto the product.

Complex designs with many colors are perfect for this printing method. It is capable of transferring high-resolution designs with ease.

Pros and Cons

Heat transfers are perfect for smaller print jobs and orders. This method makes it easy to print graphics that contain complex designs and multiple colors. It also produces extremely high-quality images.

Heat transfers also make it easy to customize individual shirts. If you run a volunteer group and want a shirt with each volunteer’s name on it, that’s absolutely possible. The process is also clean and environmentally friendly.

On the other hand, heat transfer doesn’t work as well on dark shirts. The printed designs are prone to peeling and fading over time.

Heat transfer also results in the fabric feeling stiffer. Colors also won’t come out as bright as they do on screen printed shirts.

Overall, heat transfer is great for small orders with complex designs that utilize more than two or three colors.

Screen Printing vs Heat Press: Which One Should I Use?

As we mentioned above, screen printing vs heat press printing are great for different reasons. There are specific situations in which one is the better or more cost-effective option. Let’s break some of them down.

If your graphic or image has a complex or detailed design, chose heat transfer.

If your image contains three colors or less, chose screen printing.

If you are printing on dark fabric, use screen printing for a brighter image. If you are printing on light fabric, go with heat transfer instead.

If you are ordering less than 500 items, heat transfer is more cost-effective. If your order exceeds 500, screen printing is more economical.

If your target audience values products that are environmentally friendly, heat transfer is the better option.

If your target audience prefers long-lasting items that won’t deteriorate over time, screen printing is the better option.

Making Custom Apparel Is Easy

Both printing methods have their pros and cons. Ultimately, the deciding factor for which method is better depends on the details of your order.

Now that you know the difference between screen printing vs heat press, you can determine which one is right for you and your needs. If our article helped you out – check out the rest of this section for more handy tips.

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