Screen Printing vs Heat Transfer: Know The Real Difference

In this write-up, you will learn more about screen printing vs heat transfer which needs to be favored a lot more.

This distinction will undoubtedly aid you in establishing which printing service is superb for your task. Both printing techniques are best, yet it will certainly depend on the objective you wish to attain with the job.

Whether we intend to acquire customized tees or publish any t-shirts, we are entrusted with a couple of choices for printing.

As a result, you should be familiar with heat transfer and screen printing, two procedures that can be useful if you want to print a t-shirt or standardize it temporarily. Before we jump to compare Screen Printing vs Heat Transfer, we have to know what is Screen printing and heat transfer. 

What is screen printing?

Screen printing is the process of transferring a stencil onto a flat surface using fabric, ink, and a squeegee. Usually, it is printed on fabric or paper, but it can also be printed on wood, metal, plastic, and glass with special inks.

The basic process is to create a design on a fine screen, extrude the ink (or paint in the case of artwork and posters), and print the design onto the substrate.

This process is sometimes referred to as “screen printing” or “silk-screening,” Although the actual printing process is always quite similar, the way the stencil is created depends on the material used.

The various stenciling techniques include.

  • Using masking tape or vinyl to cover the desired area of the screen.
  • Using “screen blockers” such as adhesives or varnishes to apply the stencil to the screen.
  • Create the stencil with a light-sensitive emulsion and develop it like a photograph.
  • A screen-printed design can have one or more inks. For multi-color designs, create a stencil for each color and superimpose the colors.

What is heat transfer printing?

Thermal printing (e.g., thermal transfer printing, thermal printing) uses heat to transfer an image or design from a heated material to a substrate.

The substrate is the basis for printing and decorating the image or design on the heated material, anything that can withstand heat, such as T-shirts, bags, hats, badges, and certificates.

Heat transfer printing is the cheapest printing method on fabrics and can be done with a heat transfer device (iron or heat press).

The hot applied material has an adhesive on one side that activates only through heat.

By applying heat with the heat transfer device, the adhesive is activated and can adhere to the object (substrate) to be decorated.

Screen printing vs. heat transfer

Advantages and Disadvantages of Screen Printing


  • When you have a large project, such as printing 1000 sheets, screen printing is the most cost-effective option. Unlike other printing technologies, there are no size restrictions.
  • Fabrics printed using screen printing can be lustrous and soft to the touch. Screen-printed clothing is long-lasting and resistant to the rigors of any washing machine.


  • Screen printing is not ideal for short runs, and if you own a clothing business, screen printing will be costly. As a result, if you need to print 500 or more pieces, screen printing is the ideal alternative.
  • Screen printing has the drawback of not being able to handle multi-color designs that are intricate. Only one or two colors can usually be used. This means that each screen must have a single hue.
  • We’d need up to 20 displays for the machine to cycle between if we wanted to employ numerous colors.
  • Screen printing can cause considerable delays in delivery time when working with complex colors.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Heat Transfer Printing


  • Unlike screen printing, heat transfer is non-toxic and Eco-friendly. If you are concerned about your health, the screen printing process involves several chemical combinations that can be deadly.
  • The garment is assured to be of great quality thanks to a sophisticated graphics software package and unique inks used in heat transfer printing. This makes the process more convenient and adaptable.
  • Unlike screen printing, which can only utilize one color, the heat transfer procedure may employ a wide range of colors.
  • Heat transfers are inexpensive and simple to set up. It’s a printing method that can be carried out at home. Screen printing is more expensive since it necessitates the use of more expensive equipment and chemicals.


  • The process of mass-producing clothing is likely to take a long time.
  • The majority of the clothing created does not last long, the t-shirts are heavy, and it is hard to have several overlapping colors.

Screen printing vs. heat transfer durability?

Both screen printing and heat press can produce excellent t-shirt transfers, but there are significant differences between the designs produced by the two processes.

  • With bespoke screen printing, the ink sits thinner on the cloth, resulting in a more durable and resilient picture. In thermal transfer printing, however, the ink is transferred thickly to the fabric and remains there.
  • Heat transfer is more prone to fading and cracking over time and is less washable than screen printing since the imprint is fused to the cloth.
  • This does not imply that screen printing is superior. Certainly not. Because each color must be produced separately on the screen, it is better suited to simple designs with few colors.
  • Because it takes longer to prepare than heat transfer, heat transfer is less expensive for small quantities than screen printing.
  • Custom heat transfer, on the other hand, allows you to print multiple colors at once. Because designs and text may be swapped out, it’s easier to personalize t-shirts.
  • Heat transfers can also be utilized for more complicated designs that are difficult to accomplish with screen printing, such as photographic reproductions. The resolution of thermal transfer printing is higher than that of screen printing, but it is less cost-effective in big quantities.

When deciding on custom heat transfer or screen printing for t-shirt transfers, factors include design complexity, color, durability, fabric choice, and job size.

Here we will discuss when heat transfer printing t-shirt printing should be used and when screen printing should be used.

Screen printing Application

Screen printing has been used for decades to print personalized clothing. While screen printing offers many advantages, it also has some limitations.

Screen printing in large quantities is time-consuming and must be done in a dedicated room.
From creating the artwork to exposing the screen, setting up the press, placing the print, and curing, a lot of work goes into each custom garment.

Because of the time and equipment involved, the main disadvantage of screen printing is that it is not cost-effective for short printing runs of custom garments.

However, there are a number of jobs that do require screen printing, including

  • High volume printing: The number of pieces you need to print compared to thermal transfer printing depends on the thermal transfer process, but in general, screen printing is more cost-effective for quantities of 100 or more.
  • Printing of special effects. Screen printing is necessary for images beyond the basics, such as glitter, puffy ink, or photo-realistic processed images.
    Work with light or dark colors. Heat transfers in light or dark colors often transfer poorly and fade over time.
  • Print with a soft hand. Thermal transfers are heavy and look like plastic. If you or your customers want a soft garment to the touch, you will usually have to resort to screen printing.

Heat Transfer Application

Heat transfer can be done in several ways. You can use a screen printer to create plastic heat transfers and have them ready for regular customers.

Alternatively, a vinyl cutter or inkjet printer can create small batches of designs that can then be heat transferred quickly and relatively inexpensively.

However, some stores order heat transfers when making small quantities for their customers.
One of the limitations of heat transfer is the time and labor required to produce large prints.

Also, depending on the transfer method, the ink may not be as good or may rub off more quickly than with screen printing.

However, there are many ways to use heat transfer. Here are some of them

  • Short-run printing: The ability to use heat transfer allows you to cost-effectively process small batches without the need for screen printing machines and a lot of labor.
  • Customized t-shirts and garments: With heat transfer, you can quickly and easily personalize any garment with a name or number. Many heat transfer suppliers sell letters and numbers for this type of work.
  • Unusually shaped materials: Screen printing on irregularly shaped materials such as bags and closures is a difficult task for screen printers. The thermal transfer makes it easy to print on these awkward materials. There are also a number of pallets that are suitable for this type of material.
  • Custom artwork.: If you sell unique garments with custom artwork, you can create the design in advance and apply it to the garment in the correct size and color once the order is placed.
  • Print on the fly: If you want to sell your custom design at an event like a concert or festival, thermal transfer printing allows you to print during the event. Cut out or print your design, then apply for the heat transfer in place, using a small heat transfer press if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Q. Can you heat press screen printing?

A. Yes, of course, heat press can be an outstanding enhancement to any screen printing technique. It can be utilized to smooth the blurry prints down.

Q. Screen printing vs heat transfer quality?

A. Screen printing is best for artwork with strong shades, non-photographic, and a minimal variety of shades. If there are great deals of tones of numerous shades and also fades, and so on, or if the visuals are photo-realistic, after that, you desire to look right into various other methods. When contrasted with screening printing, heat transfers can likewise be utilized for photo-realistic prints yet often do not have resilience.

Q. Which one produces more comfortable prints of compare Screen Printing vs Heat Transfer?

A. Screen printing produces more comfortable prints as the ink becomes part of the fabric.

Q. Which would last the longest on the fabrics/shirts through washing or drying?

A. Heat-transfers do not stand up also to maker drying out and also cleaning. They might discolor and also break-in time, whereas screen printing tends to hold real and also rapid.

Q. Does the printed image have a complex and detailed design?

A. Yes, Thermal transfer printing is a cost-effective way to produce a clear image.

Q. Does the print feature more than two or three colors?

A. Yes, Thermal transfer is more cost-effective

Q. What color is the t-shirt fabric to be printed?

A. Darker screen printing results in a more vibrant print.Lighter, heat transfer results in a more vibrant image.

Q. Do your target groups appreciate environmentally friendly products?

A. Yes, heat transfer adds value

Q. How many T-shirts or promotional items will you order?

A. Less than 500 T-shirts, heat transfer, is more cost-effective


Some of the distinctions between heat transfer and screen printing are as follows. Screen printing has been around for a long time, but today’s techniques and equipment can help you design your fabric more effectively.

A heat press is suitable for multi-color printing, but the machine’s quality must be examined. The majority of models, on the other hand, are quite long-lasting.

Screen printing is perfect for high-quality, long-lasting patterns, but there is one drawback. In print, it is possible to produce multi-color graphic designs. It is not appropriate for complex designs. We’d need a lot of screens if we went down this road.

This, however, will alter as technology advances. Screen printing, unlike heat transfer printing, can generate a huge number of high-quality single-color designs in a short amount of time.

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