Screen Printing Vs Heat Press [Comparison & Ideas]

To print beautiful designs on your t-shirt, you can either take help of a heat press or screen printing machine

You might be on a quest to design professional-looking garments. But, depending on whether you want to print it for a friend or start a small Etsy business, you will have to select the best method. This often leads to the most debated question: which is the winner in screen print vs. DTG

To be honest, both the methods come with their fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Which method you should opt for depends on a range of things such as the volume of work, cost-effectiveness, speed, image quality, etc. 

And today, in this guide, we will take you through both the methods and compare the two. We will also tell you about related aspects like how to make a screen for printing, the best screen printing machine, and the right heat press method. 

So, let’s begin! 

What Is Screen Printing?

Serigraphy silk screen print process at clothes factory. Frame, squeegee and plastisol color paints. What is screen printing.

The screen printing method is quite popular among artists, and it involves creating a raised design on a piece of fabric using thick ink. This ink is first layered over a stencil, and in the next step it is put on a mesh screen. In this process, the ink is pushed through the stencil, and you will find the desired design printed on the garment in no time. 

This method is also popularly known as silk screening. 

Screen printing can be easily done at home with just a few basic supplies and the right solvent ink. However, if you have a t-shirt business and want to print garments on a large scale, you will require large machines and multiple screens to get the job done. 

When you screen print, keep in mind that it will be a bit difficult to play with many colors as layering stencils is not an easy job. Designs that are made using the screen printing method have a thick and raised look. And, in most cases, a screen-printed design will only have a single or a few colors in them. 

What Is Heat Press Transfer?

A heat transfer method usually uses a vinyl heat transfer process to create an impressive and raised design on a material. The vinyl heat transfer process can be done using a range of colors and textures.

Before you begin with the printing process, first, you will have to prepare the designs. You can find a range of designing software on the internet which can be of help to you. Once you have the design cutout prepared, you need to place it correctly on the garment and put it in the machine for the adhesive to get activated. 

This is how digital print heat transfer is done. Remember that there will be a layer of adhesive on the heat transfer vinyl, and it will get activated the moment you enter it into the heat press machine. 

Once completed, the garment will have a beautiful design printed on it, which will be a bit raised, and will have a slightly plasticky feel to it. Unless you have proper experience working with heat transfers, we suggest that you do not play with too many colors. It can create a bumpy feel, which can ruin the design. 

Difference Between Screen Printing And Heat Press Transfer

Now that you have a better understanding of the two printing processes, how do you select which one to go for? To help you out, we will compare both the methods on key categories, and that will help you decide which one would be the best bet. 

1. Difficulty

If you are printing t-shirts, then the heat press method can be easier to use than a screen print method. That said, the complexity of the work will vary greatly depending on the design and if you are using single or multiple colors. But, we have to agree that even if screen prints seem to be a bit difficult to do, the results will be top-notch. 

Now, let’s move on to the amount of setup both the methods require. 

If you choose screen printing and take it up as a business endeavor, you will require quite a few materials and complicated equipment. When working in the professional printing business, screen printing requires quite some time to set up. However, if you take the load, the best part is that you will be able to print garments in bulk. Once the screen is set up, you can start printing t-shirts in bulk. 

On the other hand, heat transfer printing does not take too much effort to set up. As we have mentioned before, you first have to prepare the design and then use a design cutter to get high-quality images. Once you have the images with you, get hold of a transfer paper and then put the vinyl on the t-shirt. 

After that, you will just need to put the garment in the heat pressing device and set the right time to ensure that the design comes out well. 

2. Durability

We get this question a lot—are screen-printed t-shirts more durable than ones made using heat transfer methods? When compared to vinyl transfer, designs that are made using the screen printing process tend to last longer. 

For digitally printed designs, a screen printing machine is a better choice any day, as they will last the longest. On the other hand, custom designs made using a heat press machine can fade and crack with time. Let us tell you why this happens. 

When you print high-resolution images using the screen printing method, the ink soaks into the fabric, and because of that, the durability is enhanced manifold. However, when you are using a heat transfer method on a garment, the design is just printed on the surface. So, there’s a higher chance of it cracking soon. 

In the long run, screen printers are a safer bet because the designs you make with them will not crack easily and can even last up to 50 washes. When maintained properly, the designs can even last as long as the fabric. 

Pro Tip: To ensure that heat color-changing vinyl lasts for a long time, always turn the garment inside out before machine washing. 

3. Quality Of Printing

There seem to be quite some disagreements over this. However, more artists are inclined towards believing that screen printing delivers higher quality designs. When it comes to heat press vs. screen printing, many people prefer the latter as it allows them to layer colors better. Most screen printers are designed in a way that they deliver beautiful and vivid colors. 

Moving on, investing in a screen printer can be a more cost-effective option, given you can print on both dark and light-colored garments. However, if you use the heat press method to print customized designs, you will have to stick to light-colored fabrics only. 

4. Cost Efficiency

What is more cost-efficient, screen printing or heat press? To be honest, this one is a bit difficult to answer. If you consider the supplies required for both types of printing, you will see that heat transfer supplies are a lot cheaper than the ones required for screen printing. The plastisol ink, chemicals, and other supplies required for screen printing make it a costly affair. 

But, there’s another thing to take into consideration. If you are printing in small quantities, using the heat transfer method is more cost-effective. 

On the other hand, if you are running a t-shirt business and printing on a large scale, screen printing is a more cost-effective option. When you are printing a large number of t-shirts using the screen printing method, the cost of production will be significantly low. 

5. Speed

If you are comparing the speed of printing, both methods come with their unique sets of advantages. It is true that setting up a screen printing method can be tedious and time-consuming. Nonetheless, once it is done, you can print t-shirts in bulk in a short span. 

But, as we have already said, screen printing takes quite some time to set up. For example, if you just want to print one t-shirt, all the extra time that you spend setting up the screen printing will go down the drain. 

In such cases, the heat press method is the best. To put it simply, which method has a better speed completely depends on how many t-shirts you are planning to print. 

Man worker in glasses back using heat thermal textile application transfer machine. Printing application art design black t-shirt. Printing house office offset equipment. Manufacturing business label. Screen printing vs heat press frequently asked questions.

Screen Printing Vs Heat Press Frequently Asked Questions ?

Which method is better for printing complex designs?

Screen printing uses multiple screens and as a result, it is easier to create complex designs. That said, it is not impossible to create complex designs on t-shirts using the heat press method either. You just have to make sure that you are using other forms of printing for heat transferring directly to the garment and not using vinyl.   

Unless you are a professional artist, you might face difficulty in using more than three colors for screen printing. You will need the right expertise to know how to layer multiple screens to make use of complicated stencils and create more complex designs.

However, we have to say that it is not a foolproof process and comes with a certain disadvantage. These types of heat transfer designs run the risk of fading and cracking as the ink used in the process does not soak but sticks to the surface of the fabric. So, the more you wash the garment, the more you will find the design to be fading. 

Is screen printing more suited for bulk printing?

For people who are planning to start a t-shirt business, it is essential that they opt for a technique that allows them to print on multiple garments in a small time span. When taking assignments for bulk orders, it is best that you go with the screen printing method. 

In case you opt for the vinyl heat transfer method, you will require to cut out a new piece of vinyl for every t-shirt. It is true that the design can be made within minutes. However, you will have to repeat the process for all the garments. This method is most suitable when you are printing in small-scale and your order is not above 100 pieces. 

Screen printing, on the other hand, does take up a lot of time to set up. Nonetheless, once everything is put in place, you can print a large number of t-shirts at a go. On an average, you can print as many as 100 t-shirts within a span of 60 minutes. 

If you have a professional setup with large screen printing equipment, you can easily print hundreds of t-shirts in record time. 

Serigraphy silk screen print process at clothes factory. Frame, squeegee and plastisol color paints. Screen printing vs heat press final words.

Screen Printing Vs Heat Press Final Words

With that, we have reached the end of this informative guide!

We hope that by now, you have a better understanding of heat press vs. screen printing. To answer the question about which method is better, first look into your requirements and the kind of project that you have in hand. 

If you are using a very costly fabric and want the designs to last for a significant amount of time, it is best to opt for screen printing. 

However, for more simple, customizable small-scale orders, there’s nothing better than using the heat press method. Also, setting up a heat press requires a smaller investment and is best for small-scale designers and traders. If you liked reading this guide, do not forget to keep a watch on this space.

Until next time, happy printing!

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