Two of the most popular garment decoration methods both have their benefits. Which is best for your project?

Knowing which situations are best suited to which type of decoration can help your business become more efficient, better serve your customers and save money.

When to Screen Print

For decades, screen printing has been the go-to process for creating custom garment prints. While screen printing still boasts many advantages, there are some limitations. In order to screen print in any kind of volume, it must be done in a dedicated space, and it can be time consuming. From creating artwork to exposing screens, setting up the press, laying down and curing prints, a lot of labor goes into each custom garment.

Because of the labor and equipment involved, screen printing’s biggest limitation is that it isn’t as cost effective to print small batches of custom apparel. Nevertheless, some jobs that call for screen printing include:

  • Large batches of prints. How large a press run needs to be to make it cost effective versus heat transfers will depend on your heat transfer process, but generally screen printing is most cost effective when press runs are around 100 garments, minimum.
  • Special effects printing. Whether it’s applying glitter, using puff ink or creating a photorealistic process image, images that go beyond the basics generally call for screen printing.
  • Jobs that call for vibrant or dark colors. Often, heat transfers in bright or dark colors don’t transfer well, and they’re prone to fading over time.
  • Prints with a soft hand. Heat transfers can be heavy and plastic-y. If you or your customer wants garments that have a soft hand feel, you generally will need to rely on screen printing.

When to Heat Transfer

Heat transfers can be achieved in several different ways. You can use your screen printing press to generate plastisol heat transfers to keep on hand for return customers. You can create small batches of designs with a vinyl cutter or inkjet printer to heat transfer quickly and at a relatively low cost. Still, other shops prefer to order heat transfers when they need to create a small-batch job for a customer.

Screen Printing or Heat Transfer 01

Anatol’s Two Station Automatic Heat Transfer Press will help you boost your
productivity if you plan on offering heat transfers in larger volumes.

If there are limitations to heat transfers, it’s that they can becorme labor intensive and time consuming for large printing jobs. Depending on your transfer method, some heat transfers won’t lay down as bright of colors, and heat transfers tend to break down faster than screen prints.

There are plenty of opportunities to put heat transfers to good use, however. These opportunities include:

  • Small batch printing. With heat transfer capabilities, your shop can profitably turn around small batch jobs, without using a lot of labor or tying up your screen printing presses.
  • Jerseys or personalized apparel. With heat transfers, you can customize each garment with a name and/or number quickly and easily. Many heat transfer companies even sell letters and numbers just for these types of jobs.
  • Oddly shaped substrates. Screen printing on bags, ball caps and other irregularly shaped can be challenging to work with on a screen printing press. Heat transfers allow you to easily lay down prints on the most awkward of substrates, and there are many pallets made to hold these hard-to-print substrates.
  • Custom artwork. If you want to sell one-off garments featuring custom artwork, heat transfers allow you to create the design in advance, and then apply them to the right size and color garment as orders roll in.
  • On-the-go printing. If you are looking to sell custom designs at events, like concerts or festivals, heat transfers allow you to take printing on the go. You just pre-cut or print your artwork, and apply the heat transfers on demand and on the spot with a small heat transfer press.

Ending the Debate

Rather than continuing the debate between screen printers and heat transfer shops, it’s time for garment decorators to embrace the merits each type of printing. In doing so, you can utilize the right method for every job to maximize your business’s production and profitability.