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Heat Transfer or Screen Print?

Posted by Harvey Cole - Outside Sales on 9/9/2015

When should you choose to Screen Print your products, and when should you choose to use the Heat Transfer Method - and what is the difference between the two?

Whenever you begin to shop t-shirts, tablecloths, or tote bags, you may see many foreign sounding printing types available on various printers’ websites. You’re probably wondering what the difference is between all these very similar sounding printing options - like heat transfer vs screen printing. I will try to help you decide which printing process is best for you by breaking down the differences between these two common printing types.

Screen Printing vs Heat Transfer

When a design is produced using the screen printing method, actual screens are used in the process.  Essentially, this screen is cut to make a stencil for the design. Ink is then spread over the screen, passing through to the object underneath only in the areas you want it to be. Only one color per screen can be used - so depending on the number of colors in the design, you’ll need multiple screens to produce the final item, and of course the proper screen printing equipment.

The heat transfer printing method applies custom designs to items like t-shirts or tablecloths through a process that uses a combination of heat and pressure. Common kinds of heat transfer printing include vinyl heat transfer and digital print heat transfer. With the vinyl heat transfer process, a machine is used to cut out designs and letters in pieces of colored vinyl. A heat press is then used to transfer each vinyl color of the design onto the object being printed. With digital print heat transfer, the desired graphic is first digitally printed on special heat transfer paper using a solvent ink. This type of ink allows the design to be transferred from the paper to the item being printed when pressed with heat. With both these types of heat transfer, a heat press machine will be needed to transfer the graphic, either vinyl or digitally printed, from one surface to another. It’s the actual combination of heat and pressure that transfers the design.

Which Printing Type Should You Choose?

The best printing type for you depends on what type of item you are customizing and how many you would like in total. Because unique screens need to be cut for each color of a screen printed design, it is much more cost effective to produce a larger number of items with this method, versus just a few at a time. Conversely, the heat transfer process is the same with every print made, so you can order just a couple items at a time without costs ballooning.

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