Screen Printing vs Heat Press Transfer Printing

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Are you into t-shirt printing business? Or are you a fanatic of t-shirt printing? So if you find interest in t-shirt printing, you undoubtedly understand that there exist two major printing methods i.e. Screen Printing vs Heat Press.

Probably you have torn apart between which is ideal for you. Well, do not worry because we will be discussing each of these in details so that you have all the information you need about each.

Here we will highlight each printing techniques highlighting how they work. We will also give the various advantages of each.

Screen Printing

Screen printing traces its origin from the Chinese people. Initially, they used silk to achieve the task and thus the process is also termed silk screening.

Silk screening is a very old technique that has existed for thousands of years. Despite its age, screen printing still finds wide application in the modern world thanks to its efficiency.

In very simple terms, screen printing is the art of applying ink on to objects via screens. Screen printing is not limited to clothing only; you can print on an array surfaces and products including hats, pens, bottles and business cards just to mention a few examples.

Screen Printing Method

Silk printing is a rather complex process requiring more input in terms of equipment and chemical. Here are some requirements:

  • You will need to create a screen using emulsion.
  • You will need an emulsion remover, dehaze, and ink thinner to clean the screen after a single use.
  • You will need a wash out booth for cleaning as well as creating screens.
  • A dark room is inevitable if you are storing screens and you will need a light machine for burning screens.
  • You will need to install flash and conveyor belt dryers, both for dying screens.
  • Lastly, you will need a printing machine to carry out the actual printing.

Other necessities include squeegees, tape, films, scrubbers and a minimum of 20 screens of different mesh size. You will also need plastisol inks of various colors and a printer for burning films.

Screen printing utilizes water-based inks or plastisol ink

Screen printing offers you two ink choices i.e. water based ink and plastisol inks.

Water Based Ink Screen Printing

Water based ink embed into the fabric and produce a soft feel on touching. Furthermore, these inks are eco-friendly causing minimal harm to the environment.

Designs from water-based inks are neither prone to cracking nor fading. However, the ink produces best results on some materials such as pure cotton fabrics, towels and lightweight stretch materials such as bamboo and rib.

The common water-based ink has low opacity meaning they produce bright colors on dark t-shirts than on dark t-shirts. To improve on this, we use high opacity ink that produces better results on dark colored apparels while retaining the soft touch feel.

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Discharge ink is another water-based ink that is specifically formulated to produce best results on dark colored fabrics. The type of fabric, as well as manufacturer’s specifications, can determine the type of ink to use.

Plastisol Ink Screen Printing

Plastisol ink sits on top of the fabric rather that embedding on the fabric. While they ink may not be friendly to the environment, the major downfall is that designs done printed using plastisol ink are prone to cracking and fading.

Advantages of Screen Printing

  • Screen printing process is simple and cost-friendly involving a relatively straightforward process when you start with the basics. However, there are advanced machines that improve your output, but you leave this for later.
  • Screen print produces high-quality prints that are solid and clean. The method produces bright quality images on dark backgrounds.
  • The method produces Durable prints that can last up to twice the duration of prints produced by heat transfer.
  • Economical for mass production offering an efficient way of bulk production that consequently minimizes the printing price. Thus we do not recommend the method for single printing or small enterprises.
  • You can store the stencils just in case you need to reprint the design in future.
  • Offers an excellent method of printing logos and texts.
  • Produces very professional results.
  • It is probably the most widely used technique in t-shirt printing.

Disadvantages of Screen Printing

  • It is time-consuming because you will prepare each color on a separate screen. It requires a considerable amount of time and energy to set up the screens as well as cleaning the equipment.
  • With limited colors, the process gets complicated particularly when your design features many different colors.
  • You need to print many t-shirts with the same color to ensure cost effectiveness.
  • The process can be costly because you will need to make several screens for a single design. The screen number is influenced by the number of colors in the design.
  • The whole process can be messy and consume a lot of time.
  • It does not offer the best quality prints when transferring photographs. For printing photographs on a t-shirt, there are dedicated t-shirt printing transfers whose design focuses specifically on this task.

Heat Press Printing

Heat press refers to a machine that has a plate that gets very hot. The heat press has several controls such as pressure, time and temperature.

The controls allow you to set the precise conditions necessary to apply a print onto a garment correctly. The plate on the machine has a wide area to facilitate printing on various-sized t-shirts.

The heat press machine facilitates heat transfer process of designs onto the printing medium.

Heat transfer is a printing process that utilizes heat and pressure to transfer a design from a paper to a garment. The process initiates with you creating the artwork on a special paper using special ink and culminates when you transfer the artwork to a cloth by applying heat and pressure.

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Heat Transfer Method

There are different kinds and sources of transfer. The transfer entails a carrier paper and ink.

The ink is transferred to the print object when heat and pressure give to the transfer. Topical transfers adhere to the surface of the material while sublimation transfers absorb into the fiber of the material.

Vinyl Heat Transfer

Vinyl is the material frequently used with this machine. At high temperatures, the vinyl cloth acts as an adhesive at high temperatures.

For vinyl transfer, a machine cuts out the desired design or pieces of colored vinyl. The heat press is then applied to transfer the vinyl design onto printing object.

The vinyl material melts onto the apparel on which it is placed. This way, it adheres to the cloth and will endure many washes.

The heat press machine is the best choice for small orders of less than twelve pieces. The setup time is minimized making it affordable and time efficient.

Vinyl and heat press offers the best results for customized jerseys.

Digital Heat Transfer

The first step in digital design is printing the digital image on a heat transfer paper using special solvent ink. The special ink allows the transfer of printed design from the paper to the t-shirt by application of heat and pressure.

Vinyl printing, last long and you can prolong their lifespan by following the instructions on the cloth. The instructions show how to wash at what temperature and forbid ironing.

Use the heat press machine to transfer the design either vinyl or digitally printed, to the print surface.

Advantages of Heat Press Transfer

  • A heat press is easy to use. Even if you lack prior experience, you can quickly and easily learn how to use the machine.
  • The machine saves space by utilizing very little room in your shop and allowing you to print of different parts of clothing. For example, you can achieve wraparound prints.
  • The heat press machine is less messy when compared to the screen print machine that requires the utilization of solvents and dyes. The device minimizes ink spills to t-shirts because you can prepare your transferable image elsewhere and bring it your studio for printing.
  • The heat press method produces high-quality prints. The machine can print complex, clear and full-color images with excellent image resolutions.
  • The heat press machines offer an affordable cost for small runs. The heat press machine is also relatively cost friendly, and you can quickly recover the cost depending on the volume of operations.
  • The machine can use several colors provided they do not overlap.
  • Heat press machine offers versatility with regard to the type of material and printing surface. You can print on different fabrics including satin and cotton and on hard surfaces such as provided by ceramics. You can also print on synthetic material such as spandex.
  • With Versatility, you can print on various types of clothing, tiles, mugs, umbrellas, mouse pads and other products as well as different parts of clothing.
  • You can print at a very fast rate thanks to the easy to use control panel featured on the machine. The controls allow you to program your process and the machine implements it quickly and efficiently.
  • The installed software and advanced graphics give you control enabling you to establish the best results.
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Disadvantages of heat press Transfer

  • The heat press is not the best option for bulk printing because of cost.
  • Not suitable for layered colors because this may feel bulky and heavy on the t-shirt.
  • The quality of the print is relatively not durable and tends to fade away with continuous washing.
  • The professional appeal of the printed images is compromised.
  • It does not produce good results on dark t-shirts limiting the heat press to printing only on bright colored t-shirts.
  • The print inhibits air circulation which may consequently trigger sweating.
  • The result is a stiff print that may not be very precise.
  • Ironing damages the prints.


However, when it comes to the cost of operation, you need to decide depending on the number of clients and startup cost.

For a small business printing a small number of customized t-shirts, the heat press does well. A heat press machine is cheaper to start with, but there are advanced variants that are costly.

With heat press, each print consumes roughly 3 minutes. It is therefore not economical to the time when printing a large number of objects.

Screen printing is the best choice for bulk production of a single design on multiple t-shirts. Screen printing is expensive for small orders.

However, with large orders, you save both time and money. This is because the setup cost remains constant regardless of the number of prints you want to make.

With regards to business, many clients purchasing printed t-shirts are not aware of the printing methods. A majority of them will opt for the design with not regards to printing technique.

However, some clients prefer the look and feel of heat press design while others prefer silk print designs. Ultimately, the choice is a matter of preference.

Heat press and screen print both produce quality results. With the information above, you can now make an informed decision whether as a t-shirt enthusiast or as an entrepreneur venturing into t-shirt printing business.

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