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Screen Printing Vs Heat Press

Screen Printing Vs Heat Press: Make The Right Choice

Custom-printed T-shirts and fabric pieces are a trend now. They have widespread purposes as business merchandise, marketing collaterals, or apparel that expresses one’s personal opinion.

The first thing that comes to your mind with the idea of customized t-shirt printing is – how is it done. Well, there are two most popular and convenient of doing that. Screen Printing and Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) Printing or simply, Heat Press Printing.

While both methods of shirt printing have their sets of pros and cons, you might want to know which is better. It will help you with the next printing venture for your business or personal use.

You’re on the right page. As a renowned custom apparel manufacturing company leveraging both printing techniques, we can tell you which is good for you!

Take a read through this comprehensive post where we discussed screen printing vs heat press methods. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of the respective methods to learn, which is apt for your purpose.

Screen Printing Vs Heat Press – What Are They And How Do They Differ?

The debate between screen printing and heat transfer methods is never-ending. Some say heat transfer gives clearer or higher-resolution images of the fabric. While for others screen printing works best for bulk printing. While one of the methods is costly, the other one is more time-consuming.

Not to mention, both methods have benefits and drawbacks and deliver different results on the fabric or t-shirts. Take a look here at our detailed comparative discussion on heat press vs. screen print to make an informed decision next.

What Is Screen Printing?

Screen printing is one of the age-old methods known for apparel printing. It prints a design on the fabric by pressing ink through a mesh screen. The stencil, cut earlier in the shape of the design to be printed, functions as the screen.

The squeegee spreads and presses the ink all over the screen. It then gets through the apparel in the desired design.

It uses a squeegee for pressing. The process is quite common today for printing on poster materials, plastic, metal surfaces, or anything flat. However, primarily, it was only the method for printing apparel.

A Brief History:

Screen printing was one of the oldest methods known for printing, which originated during the 10th to 12th centuries. Chinese artisans were the first to use the technique for transferring desired designs to different fabrics. Later the screen printing method gradually spread to other regions of the world for textile manufacturing. It became widely popular in Europe in the 18th century.

Much later, during the 1960s, pop artists commercialized the screen printing method when they started using it.

The need for multi-color garment printing was another reason that made this technique further demanding and mainstream in the textile industry.

The Detailed Process Of Screen Printing Method

The difference between screen printing vs heat press printing primarily lies in their distinctive procedures. To learn how they are different, you need to know first how each of them works.

Here’s how the screen printing process takes place.

Step 1:

The process starts with getting a screen printer and a mesh screen made of silk. Apparently, for this reason, many call this printing method as silk screen printing. Today, manufacturers use various materials, including polyester, for the screens.

Step 2:

The operator first cuts the screen to create a stencil, essential for the design of the apparel. The stencil will help in the easy and squeaky-clean application of the ink on the apparel.

Photo emulsion is the process of stenciling. It is the process where the printing person takes a transparent form of the design and coats the screen with emulsion. By placing the transparency on the top of the screen, the person exposes a good light source (UV light) on it.

This dries and hardens the area around the design and leaves the design area. The person rinses the mesh screen next to remove the unhardened emulsion and gets the plain cut-out design or stencil.

Step 3:

This is the main stage of screen printing. The printing machine uses a squeegee to gradually spread the ink over the screen. The ink passes through the cutouts of the stencil to the apparel placed underneath.

Every color needs its mesh screen. The number of screens you need for your apparel printing depends on the number of colors in your design.

Step 4:

The machine then delicately applies the stencil along with the ink to the apparel and prints the design on it. Since each screen handles a color, this process continues by applying one screen after another. It continues until the machine transfers the whole design to the shirt.

Top Advantages You Get In Screen Printing Technique

In the debate of t-shirt screen printing vs heat press methods, you need to learn their benefits. While we will discuss the pros of heat transfer methods later, here are the notable advantages of screen printing. Take a look.

1. Durable

Due to the thickness of the inks applied, screen-printed apparels are more long-lasting. The process needs several layers of ink. It makes the print can withstand repeat uses for a long time without losing its quality. The print does not easily crack or fade!

2. Versatile

You can use this printing technique for not just fabrics but other materials like wood, glass, plastic, and metal. So, businesses can use this for printing merchandised apparel as well as marketing materials like posters, flyers, banners, etc.

Related: Check-out these impactful marketing materials for small business in our list post.

3. Large-order friendly

You might have to use different screens to print various colors. But it is never going to be time-consuming. Once the stencils for all colors are ready, you can print a large number of shirts at a time.

4. High finish

The screen printing technique results in vibrant colors that are hard to produce through other techniques. The colors of the design have a great finish because you apply the ink directly on the fabric. Other techniques like Direct to Garment (DTG) use color dots like cyan, black, magenta, and yellow. It creates designs, which turn pale or blur out with stress.

Further reading: explore the differences between DTG and DTF printing methods.

5. Thick ink

You need to do screen printing with thick layers of ink. It is the reason behind the better finish of the prints. Screen printing is, therefore, more durable than any other technique of printing.

6. Simple to apply

There is no other as straightforward method as screen printing. Whether you do it manually or with a printing machine, the process remains as easy as it is. Moreover, tools are not that difficult to procure and are not the ones to become obsolete.

A Few Disadvantages of Screen Printing

Despite being the most convenient method for custom printing t-shirts or apparel, screen printing is still not without cons. If you are keen on learning about screen printing vs heat press methods, then are the disadvantages you should consider.

1. Costly for small orders:

Screen printing is not a great method for printing a few garments. It needs more preparation time! You need to apply different ink on different mesh screens for colors to print a shirt/fabric piece.

If there are no further orders, all the screen setup will go to waste. Also, the tedious setup process does not make it a suitable printing technique for on-demand custom t-shirt printing. This is a huge con in today’s textile industry.

2. More colors mean more costs:

Each color of ink needs a separate mesh screen. Screen printing becomes costly if your design is intricate and includes lots of colors. Needless to say, a pretty colorful design will look good. It makes the printing process complex, more time-consuming, and subsequently, costlier.

That’s why you need to rethink the design before printing. Learning the basics of the color wheel will help you get a great design.

3. Not eco-friendly:

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of screen printing technology is that it is not environment-friendly. This technique uses a lot of water to mix up the ink and also to wash the mesh screens. While printing garments in bulk, manufacturers naturally have to waste too much water, which adds up to an environmental loss.

4. Doing it on your own is challenging:

Screen printing and setting it up at your home can be time-consuming. You will require a larger space to keep the printing machine and other materials. Buying them is also a costly affair. For this, we suggest going to a reliable custom printing company.

How Long-lasting is Screen Printing?

To determine heat press vs. screen print quality, the best thing to gauge is the long-lasting aspect or durability.

After encountering different experiences by users of screen-printed apparel, we found that the screen-printing technique creates comparatively durable designs. They can withstand as much as 40 to 50 washes in the long run.

It is due to the ink thickness and clear-cut finishes that make the screen-printed shirts long-lasting. The ink penetrates deep into the fabric. If you carefully wash them with your hands or a gentle cycle/delicate mode on the machine, it lasts even longer.

What is Heat Press Transfer Printing?

Heat press transfer printing, also known as heat transfer vinyl (HTV) technique is the next best popular method for printing designs. It is similarly a complex process but comes with a vast range of colors and textures. This allows more versatile prints on apparel or shirts.

Many refer to the heat press method as thermal-transfer printing, thermal-wax transfer, or simply, thermal printing. It uses heat to transfer the print to the fabrics, and that’s why such names!

Heat transfer refers to the use of both heat and pressure for printing images on t-shirts or other apparel.

A Brief History:

This method of transferring images to fabrics became prominent lately, in the last 20 years. However, there were no radical changes in the history of this method. It happened with screen printing, which became prevalent after its use by pop artists.

The heat press technique only gradually arrived in the industry after the discovery of heat press machines. It was much later screen printing machine came into existence.

Common Types of Heat Transfer Printing

A key difference between screen printing vs. heat transfer printing is that the latter has two types.

You can choose from Vinyl heat transfer and Digital heat transfer methods to print your shirts or apparel. Let’s find out how the two types of heat press printing differ!

1. Vinyl heat transfer:

It is more widespread as you cut vinyl letters, images, or designs with a machine. You need to assemble them to get the desired print on the shirt. Later, transfer those vinyl cutouts to the fabric using a heat press. This needs a great amount of pressure.

2. Digital heat transfer:

In this method, you need a specifically-designed heat transfer paper and put the designs onto it. This machine then transfers the design altogether from paper to the apparel using a heat press. It means this type is pretty much less time-consuming and hassle-free. In other words, it works typically like the printing process of computers.

Process Of Vinyl Heat Transfer Printing

The vinyl heat transfer printing process operates straightforwardly and finds extensive use in creating custom-printed apparel. This is how the process works.

  1. Design mock-up: Prepare the design for your custom t-shirt or business apparel. It uses a graphic design application on a computer or laptop.
  2. Print the design: Get the design printout onto a special vinyl heat transfer sheet using any form of ink. Decide the type of ink to use based on the fabric of the apparel.
  3. Pre-wash the apparel: It is necessary to wash and dry the apparel. before printing as the fabric has a chance to distort the design.
  4. Apply the heat press: It’s time to fire up the heat press. It is done by opening and separating the heat plate from the heat pad. The heat press is left open until it reaches a temperature of 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  5. Set a pressure: Depending on the thickness of the clothing, set the pressure of the heat press. The thicker the fabric, the more pressure it needs.
  6. Timer setup: The heat press method needs approximately 45-60 seconds to transfer the design. You need to set the time on the machine.
  7. Place the apparel and transfer paper: On the plate of the heat press, place your apparel with its face up. Also, keep the vinyl transfer paper face-up. Place a thin cloth under it for extra protection.
  8. Time to press: Next, it is time to close down the press and clamp it. Just start the heat press on the machine and it will work according to the set time, temperature, and pressure.
  9. Peel off the film: Peel off the vinyl transfer sheet from the apparel surface and the design will reveal.
  10. The product is ready: Your business apparel or t-shirt is ready with a custom design. Flaunt it with style!

Process Of Digital Print Heat Transfer

The digital print heat transfer process makes use of ink-jet printing technology. It embosses your desired graphics, image, or design on the apparel. It is a pretty quick and state-of-the-art printing process that blends digital printing techniques with film application technology. This is how it works.

  1. Get a digital print: It starts by getting a digital design print. It can be an image or graphics on a proprietary film.
  2. Preparing of rolls: Through the press, pass the film and treat it with a special adhesive. It is then slit and prepared into handy rolls. These rolls help in preparing decals carefully, which will then go to the printing person. The printing person will then use them in a heat transfer machine to apply prints on the apparel.
  3. Heat transfer process: You need to position the decals according to the apparel or where you want the design. Then, unwind the decals using a transfer head and pull them toward a heated surface.
  4. Printing is pressed: Press the heated silicone plate onto the apparel surface and activate the print. Before this process starts, make sure to adjust the dwell time, required pressure, and temperature settings on the machine.
  5. Your design is ready: Right now, your design on the apparel is ready. Subsequently, you can rewind the blank film into an empty roll so that you can use it again later.

Top Advantages of Heat Press Printing Technique

It’s time to compare the advantages of screen print vs. vinyl heat press printing methods. Both of them have their sets of advantages that make them popular in the printing industry. These are the absolute perks or advantages of heat press printing methods.

1. Useful for small orders

The heat press method enables you to deal with small orders. It makes even printing 1 shirt cost-effective. That’s why it is a great method for printing customized t-shirts for gifting purposes.

2. Makes multicolor design printing easier

Heat press printing gives you enough liberty in choosing multicolored designs or images. You also do not have to worry about the costs when there are more colors in the design.

3. Affordable setup cost

Thermal press printing process has the lowest setup costs. It also needs very less space for the printing process to take place. This is a prime reason that small garment manufacturers prefer any type of heat press printing method.

4. Eco-friendly

Both types of heat press techniques create less waste, which means creating less impact on the environment. There is no need for water in the process. Plus, there is also no requirement for pigments and no release of waste chemicals after the process. This makes it a clean and environment-friendly printing technique.

A Few Disadvantages of Heat Press Printing?

Just like the screen printing method, the heat press method also has some cons too! Before you consider it for printing your business apparel or personalized t-shirts, make note of these disadvantages.

1. Non-durable

This disappoints you a bit but it is a proven fact. The prints on any fabric produced using a heat press tend to crack or fade with time. It’s because the printing technique does not strongly place and bind the colors into the fabrics. The colors just stick to the fabric and hence begin to disappear or crack bit by bit with every washing.

2. Fabric becomes uncomfortable

With vinyl or digital heat press printing, the fabric gets a little heavy and uncomfortable. That is due to the additional layer or coating on the fabric. Since the fabric bulky and non-breathable, we suggest never choose this printing for sports or professional apparel.

3. Not useful for larger orders

It is not a convenient process for bulk ordering. Since you need to position the apparel and print transfer sheets for every order. The prep time is more, which makes it time-consuming and hectic for bulk order delivery.

Screen Printing Vs Heat Press Transfer: Which One To Choose For Printing Your T-shirts?

Now you are quite clear about screen printing vs heat press printing. It’s time to decide which one is the right choice for your business.

Well, to choose between these two, you need to assess several factors.

1. Quantity

Screen printing has a long preparation time but printing is faster later on. You need to prepare different mesh screens for different colors. The screens are then used one by one to get the complete design. The
same screens are used for the next apparel, and so on.

This is the main reason it is appropriate for printing multiple shirts at a stretch. However, for the same reason, it is costlier to print just one or two shirts with the screen printing technique.

For the heat press printing method, the preparation and printing time are long for every piece of apparel. The heat transfer machine cutting vinyl letters and images for creating the full design is quite time-taking.

You need to do this for every order! It is hence great for small quantities of orders. Big orders are too much hectic to deliver besides being costlier. If you need to print apparel in bulk for your employees or corporate merchandise, go for screen printing.

Heat transfer printing is the right option for custom printing shirts or printing in bulk.

2. Design Complexity

The design complexity is another crucial factor that determines which printing technique is convenient for your requirement.

If your design has too many colors and design is intricate, screen printing becomes challenging as well as costly. You will need more screens to prepare the stencils equivalent to the number of colors present in your design. Then, you have to layer colors one by one to get the detailed designs and that is too much time-consuming.

Contrary to this, heat transfer printing does not get challenging or complex with the intricacy of your design. Heat press printing will produce a high-quality and high-resolution design in the apparel.

3. Quality

Many would debate the quality of heat press vs. screen printing. However, according to our printing experts, it is always screen printing that has an upper hand in this aspect.

Firstly, screen printing helps to produce more vivid designs as the colors bind with the fabric. On the other hand, the heat press allows such vivid prints only on light-colored fabrics. It is partly because screen printing involves layered colors. For this, the design appears brighter and clearer, which does not happen with the heat press printing method.

Even with screen printing, you can print realistic photos or images that need a few vibrant colors. It creates ultra-chic t-shirts or tees.

4. Budget

There is no doubt that screen printing being the oldest and most well-improved technique is the cost-efficient one today. There are reasons for that.

Screen printing allows you to reuse the screens as many times as you want and print larger lots at lower costs.

This isn’t the case for heat press printing. The basic supplies used for this method also cost much more than the ink and basic mixes used in screen printing. Given this, printing just one or two shirts is much more cost-effective while printing bulk orders is not.

So, without a second thought, go for screen printing if you want to print promotional shirts for your employees in bulk.

5. Durability

Again, screen printing is a sure-shot winner in the matter of durability.

Durability depends on the nature of the print. In screen printing, the ink soaks into the fabric making the design deeply embossed on it. As a result, the design will last longer even after multiple washes. The use of quality heat-set plastisol ink for screen printing will make the apparel last for years.

Contrary to this, vinyl has longer life but not more than screen printing. The vinyl print will crack over time and will fade away.

The print does not soak into the fabric. It is just layered over the surface of the shirts. However, by using quality vinyl, a heat press design shirt can also last longer with proper wash care.

6. Time for manufacturing

If you understood well the stages of screen print vs. vinyl heat press prints, it is easy to conclude which process will take time.

Screen printing needs you to go for the time-intensive preparation or setup process once. After it is done, you can carry on printing multiple shirts quickly. You can even print 100 shirts in just one hour!

This is not the case with vinyl heat press printing. You need to go through the entire setup process for printing every order. Every time you need to cut a new piece of vinyl and proceed with printing. That’s truly tiring!

Summing it up, screen printing will deliver you a bulk order pretty fast than the heat press method.

7. Basic supplies

  • A great difference between screen printing vs heat press printing methods lies in their supplies.
  • The basic supplies one needs for screen printing are:
  • A printing press
  • A flash dryer to cure designs
  • Printing positives for making screens
  • Mesh screens
  • Screen print ink and emulsions
  • Tools for application of ink
  • Software for advanced designs


On the other hand, the essentials one needs for heat transfer printing.

  • Heat press machine
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Heat transfer vinyl

Screen printing needs much more supplies than heat transfer printing. This is one more reason screen printing is an expensive choice for small orders!

8. Suitability

Not all designs or images are suitable for both printing methods. When it comes to printing black-and-white images or photographs, screen printing is the best way.

For designs with too many colors, heat transfer is not appropriate too! It will cause a thick layer of the colors causing a lump on the fabric. It will make the t-shirt or apparel uncomfortable to wear.

Putting it simply, screen printing is best suitable for – a few color designs, photographs (black-and-white or with a few colors), shirts for regular long use, large orders, and any colored fabrics/apparel.

Heat transfer printing is best suitable for – multicolor designs or photographs, small orders, shirts for one-time or specific uses, and dark-colored fabrics/apparel.

Screen Printing Vs Heat Press Transfer: Decide Wisely With Tampa Clothing!

Both screen printing and heat press methods are great in their respective aspects. Screen printing will give you durable and high-quality shirts in bulk with vivid designs. Heat press print will cater to your specific requirements like a customized t-shirt with a favorite photograph for gifting.

There are also certain cons for both these printing techniques. While setup for screen printing is time-intensive, heat transfer printing is a backbreaking process as a whole. The latter is not suitable for larger orders for this reason.

Screen printing needs more investment for setup and supplies but results in cost-effective printing of bulk orders. Heat transfer needs fewer supplies and lower setup costs but at the same time, makes large orders highly costly!

The purpose of presenting this comparative study of screen printing vs heat press is to help you make a decision wisely. When it’s time for you to get custom-printed shirts for your business, making an affordable decision is necessary. Hope this guide assists you.

If you are still confused, get in touch with Tampa Clothing, a leading agency offering custom apparel design services to businesses and individuals. Whether you have one shirt to design or need 100s of them with a custom design, we will get it printed using the right method.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What lasts longer screen printing or heat press?

Screen printing stays on clothes for a longer time compared to heat transfer. It is because the ink goes inside the fabric in screen printing, while it just sits on the surface in heat transfer. For this reason, fabrics like polyester and spandex are tricky for screen printing. Heat press or sublimation works better for these materials.

2. Is screen printing more expensive than heat press?

The set-up procedure for screen printing takes more time than preparing for a heat transfer. This makes heat transfers cheaper when you’re printing a small number of items. But if you’re making a lot of items, screen printing becomes cheaper.

3. What is better a heat press or screen printing?

That depends on several factors! You cannot just simply decide which one is better. Both have their sets of pros and cons. After considering them carefully and then evaluating your printing requirements, you can decide which one is better.

For instance, screen printing is useful for larger or bulk orders. But, it can only print simple designs, and hence best for printing professional logos or brand name prints on apparel. On the other hand, the heat press is suitable for detailed images, complex designs, or even photographs.

4. Do screen print transfers crack?

No! This is one of the major advantages of the screen printing technique. It’s due to the nature of the printing process where the inks applied are thicker and they settle deep into the fabric of the garment. Therefore, after several washes, they do not crack or fade.

5. What is the downside of heat press printing?

A major downside of the heat press method is that it cannot withstand many washes as the print fades away easily. The print applied with heat press generally does not bind with the fabric and that is why they crack or fade out.

6. Are heat presses worth it?

When it comes to evaluating the worth of screen print vs. vinyl heat press, quality and cost are the prime factor to consider. If you are getting a high-quality printed product at a lower cost, it is worthy. Unfortunately, that is not the case with the heat press method. Screen printing is worthy and can produce multiple high-quality shirts at lower costs.

However, the heat press method is worth it when you have just one or two shirts to print with custom intricate designs.

7. Can screen-printed transfers go on any shirt?

Yes. Screen print transfers allow versatility. You can use screen printing for your design on a range of fabrics, including nylon, cotton, poly-cotton, or 100% cotton.

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.
Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.
Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.