What Is the Difference Between Screen Printing and Heat Press Transfer? Update 06/2022

T-shirts embellished with screen printing and heat transfer graphics are both unique and fun to wear. Is there a more professional-looking shirt design method? Heat press transfer vs. screen printing: what’s the best method for creating customised tees or selling t-shirts on Etsy?

Screen printing, on the other hand, has a considerably longer lifespan than heat transfer designs since it is absorbed into the cloth. The process of screen printing involves applying many coats of ink to a piece of fabric using a mesh screen. To apply a vinyl design, heat transfer uses a heat press to adhere the vinyl to the shirt’s fabric.

Screen printing and heat press transfers are explained in this article. You’ll learn exactly what you need for each technique. Last but not least, you’ll learn how to figure out which method is right for you.

What is Screen Printing?

What is Screen Printing

Using a mesh screen and a stencil, screen printing generates a raised image on the fabric. The ink is forced through the stencil and onto the garment in the desired design. Silk screening is another name for this technique.

DTG, or direct to garment printing, is not used in this method at all. In the same way that a laser printer prints on paper, a DTG printer prints on fabric. While this approach is quick and easy to use, it lacks the raised ink that screen-printed images have and does not stay as long.

With a few basic supplies and an unique Plastisol ink, you can make this style of print at home. Large printing machines with several arms, each holding screens, are used by professional printing companies to generate multi-colored graphics.

A t-shirt with a screenprinted graphic has a raised, thick appearance. Because it’s difficult to layer stencils on top of each other, these patterns often only employ a few colors, if any at all. Screen printing, on the other hand, can be used to generate graphics and photos.

What is Heat Press Transfer?

What is Heat Press Transfer

A raised design is created on fabric using a heat press transfer and a substance called heat transfer vinyl, or HTV. The adhesive coating on the back of Heat Transfer Vinyl can be found in a variety of colors and textures. When heated, this glue bonds the vinyl to the fabric permanently.

In order to manufacture vinyl transfer cutouts, the majority of artists rely on computer applications like Cricut’s Design Space. Using an electronic cutting machine, a lettered brand, image, or amusing saying can be cut out. A heat press is used to activate the adhesive on the back of the vinyl once the HTV is cut out and positioned on the garment.

Pressed between two heated plates, the vinyl and cloth are sewed together. With a heat press, you’ll be able to choose from a variety of sizes and features.

T-shirt designs cut from HTV are frequently created by hand using a Cricut and its Easy Press. The Silhouette and Brother’s ScanNCut are two additional popular brands.

Even digital or screen-printed graphics can be heat pressed onto the fabric using more complex processes, such as multi-colored vinyl on a transfer for accurate placement on the garment.

Shirts with finished HTV designs have a raised, plastic appearance and feel. It features sharp corners and is visually appealing, but is usually limited to a single hue. However, in other circumstances, an accomplished artist can arrange many colors side by side to great effect by layering them on top of each other.

Screen Printing vs Heat Press Transfer: Key Points

Here’s a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of screen printing and heat press transfer before going into the nitty gritty.

Screen PrintingHeat Press
DurabilityLasts longer because ink soaks into the fabric.Lasts for up to 50 washes, but will eventually crack and fade.
DifficultyRequires much more setup and many more supplies.Needs few supplies and minimal setup.
Cost EfficiencyMore cost-efficient for bulk orders, but less cost-efficient for small orders.More cost-efficient for small or customizable orders, but not cost-efficient for large orders.
QualityMore vivid colors and more complex designs make higher quality printsGood quality for one or two color designs, but less vivid colors
Multi-Colored DesignsWith advanced equipment, can create photographs and complex imagesBest suited to one or two color designs and cannot layer colors
SpeedAfter setup can print more than 100 of the same design in an hourVery slow process, one shirt at a time
Size of PrintingsAs many as wanted, after the set upSmall printings work better
Photographs and ImagesCan create complex images using complicated stenciling methods and layered colorsBest suited to simpler designs or logos
Suitable forMore than 100 unitsLess than 100 units
Best forT-shirts or any items with a flat expanse of fabric such as tablecloths or skirtsT-shirts caps, bags, or anything that can fit in the heat press
SuppliesMany supplies needed, including ink, emulsions, meshes, and a press.Few supplies needed, primarily HTV and a heat press.
Average Cost per Shirt$5-$10$10-$25

What’s the Difference Between Screen Printing and Heat Press Transfer?

Difference Between Screen Printing and Heat Press Transfer

What’s the difference between screen printing and heat press transfer designs now that you have a general understanding of how each design approach works? Is it more difficult to create a screen printed design or a heat press design? Here, you’ll learn how each design approach stacks up in terms of such important criteria as long-term usability, low cost, and overall quality.


Vinyl vs. screen printing: Which is more durable? In almost every case, screen printing outlasts vinyl printing. VInyl has a lengthy lifespan, but it will ultimately crack and fade, making it less durable than a DTG print.

When it comes to durability, screen printing soaks ink into the fabric, whereas HTV designs remain on the surface of the cloth, which is more susceptible to cracking and fading.

While screen printing can fracture and peel after many years of exposure to sunlight, when done correctly with properly heat-set plastisol ink, it should remain permanently indelible. There are some firms who say that a screen print should only last for 50 washes in the washing machine, while there are others who say that it should endure for the life of the garment!

Eventually, HTV will begin to thin, crack, and fade, although it should last for at least a few years before it begins to degrade or lose its color. A heat-transfer design’s durability can also be affected by the quality of the vinyl utilized. A decent HTV design should be able to withstand at least 50 washings.

Screen printed or heat transfer vinyl (HTV) t-shirts should always be washed inside out. This will prolong the life of the design by shielding it from the harsh conditions of the washing machine.


With a heat press, it is considerably easier to apply an HTV design to an item of clothing than it is to screen print an item of clothing. Of course, the complexity of the print and the type of transfer design have a significant impact on this. While vinyl is the most convenient alternative, screen printing produces a slightly better design.

This boils down to the time and effort required for each approach to get up and running.

The setup time for a heat press is short. It’s as simple as sending the computer design to your electronic cutter and then arranging the vinyl on your garment with transfer paper. Afterwards, all that’s left is to apply the heat press sealant for the specified period of time to your design.

If you wish to make multiples of the same design, you may just keep cutting out vinyl forms from your computer design.

Screen printing, on the other hand, necessitates a significant investment in time and resources in order to do at a professional level. Once you’ve completed the initial setup, you’ll be able to print in bulk and continue to use your screens. Screen printing, on the other hand, needs far more effort than HTV.

Cost Efficiency

Is screen printing less expensive than using a heat press? In general, screen printing is more cost-effective than heat transfer designs since you may reuse your screens numerous times to produce a larger quantity of shirts at a lesser cost than with heat transfer.

While plastisol ink and other chemicals for screen printing might cost a lot of money, basic heat transfer supplies like vinyl are a lot less expensive. Heat transfer designs are substantially more affordable if you only need a few shirts made. It’s considerably more cost-effective if you run a business and produce a lot of t-shirts!


There is a better case to be made for the superiority of screen printing over heat transfer designs, even if not everyone agrees. It’s easier to layer colors in screen printing than with Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV). A further advantage of screenprinting over heat transfer is the ability to get richer, more vibrant colors.

On top of that, light-colored shirts are the greatest for showing off heat transfer graphics. With the right color ink, you may successfully screen print on both light and dark clothes.

Layered colors and more complicated designs are possible with screen printing. A black-and-white photograph, in particular, can produce remarkably lifelike results. It can look nice on light or dark-colored clothing because of the vivid, bright colors it uses.

Although single-color HTV designs appear great, they lack the depth and vibrancy of screen print designs.

Multi-Colored and Complex Designs

Heat tranfer printing

Screen printing is a better option for creating multi-colored or complicated designs than heat transfer. However, if you like, you can utilize a printing method and then heat transfer it onto the fabric. For more complicated images, you can also employ a heat-transfer design in this situation.

With this design, ink sits on top of fabric rather than being absorbed into it like a screen print would be. It’s flimsier and more easily destroyed when washed.

It becomes difficult to screen print with more than one to three inks. However, you can build detailed stencils on screens using a process akin to developing photographs, allowing you to overlay colors and create complex shapes.


You can set up a screen print in less than half the time it takes to generate one or two HTV designs. As an alternative, you may print in mass utilizing screen printing and produce numerous shirts at a time much more quickly than you could using the heat transfer approach!

HTV will save you time if you only need to create a few shirts. Screen printing is a good option if you need a large quantity of shirts quickly printed.

Size of Printings

Screen printing is a great way to print huge quantities of products, but every HTV design requires the same amount of time and effort, making it impossible to produce vast quantities.

When you use vinyl, you have to cut out a new piece of vinyl for each new tee-shirt. Although you may reuse the digital design by hitting a button, you’ll have to cut, transfer, and heat press each shirt manually.

Once you complete the time-consuming setup, you may print as many as 100 shirts in an hour with screen printing!

Screen printing can be used to satisfy huge orders of 100 or even 1,000 shirts if you have the proper equipment. Vinyl heat transfer, on the other hand, works well with orders under 100.

Photographs and Images

However, HTV is often only suitable for printing simple black-and-white photographs rather than sophisticated photos. Heat transfer designs can’t be layered without generating a big lump and making the fabric feel rigid and uncomfortable!

It is possible to screen print images into textiles, however black and white photos are preferred. To generate detailed screenprint stencils on mesh screens, you can employ a method similar to the one used by old-school photographers to develop negatives. You can now create sophisticated, multi-layered screen printing designs using this technology.

Suitable for

Most screen printers prefer to print at least 12 to 24 units at a time for cost effectiveness, although professional equipment may print close to 200 units in an hour. Small orders are more suited to heat transfer designs than large orders. One or two HTV designs at a time are simple to manufacture, but creating multiples of the same pattern is time consuming and labor intensive.

The cost of printing in bulk saves screen printers a lot of time and money, therefore manufacturing 500 shirts may cost less per shirt than printing just 100 of them. Because the time it takes to make each heat transfer shirt is the same, buying in bulk doesn’t save you money.

Best for

There are advantages and disadvantages to screen printing as well as vinyl heat transfer, as you’ve seen here. Is there a method that works better for you?

It’s better to use screen printing for the following:

  • Although you can use up to six colors and make photographic designs, you should stick to one to three colors.
  • T-shirts that will hold up to repeated washings
  • huge shipments
  • Any type of clothing or material, regardless of hue.

heat transfer with vinyl

  • Designs with one or two colors
  • Small purchases
  • Items like caps and bags that don’t require as much washing
  • Wearing dark-colored clothing or textiles


Screen print transfers

Screen printing at home or starting a vinyl t-shirt business necessitates a large amount of equipment. That said, the materials you’ll need will differ greatly depending on whether you’re making a few shirts for yourself or hundreds to sell.

You’ll notice straight away that screen printing requires a lot more supplies than heat transfer printing!!

Basic heat transfer design supplies include the following:

  • A machine that heats up. Large industrial presses are available, as well as small 4-inch square personal ones. There are clamshell and swing-away models of professional heat presses. Obviously, the price varies according on the type of press you desire.
  • It’s a vinyl cutter You have the option of using a small, at-home cutter like a Cricut or a large, industrial-sized cutter that cuts large rolls of vinyl at a time.
  • Vinyl that can be heated to a high temperature (HTV). You must have the HTV in order to design a heat transfer system! Craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michaels carry HTV in tiny quantities. HTV can be purchased in quantity online for professional use.
  • For printing, you’ll need T-shirts, bags, or hats. If you don’t have a fabric on which to print your design, you can’t make anything!

The following are the necessities for beginning screen printing:

  • A press for printing. If you’re only going to screenprint for fun, you probably don’t need this. For professional screen printing, you may buy anything from a simple one-screen press to complex machines that allow you to overlay many screens onto a single design.
  • Fast-drying hair. To create multi-colored designs, you’ll need this. If you’re just doing it for yourself, a heat gun is generally all you need to screen print.
  • Making screens by printing positives. When it comes to screen printing, you may choose from a wide variety of materials. Equipment that is more complicated is required for advanced photo-realistic screen printing.
  • Software. To design your prints, you’ll need software unless you want to use hand-cut stencils. There are a variety of programs available, including Adobe Illustrator and screenprinting software.
  • Screens. Polyester mesh, available in a variety of mesh counts, is now used in the majority of screens. The number of threads per square inch is called the count. Mesh counts can range from low to large depending on the print type.
  • Ink-applying implements. Assembling your printing press requires a wide range of scrapers and tapes.
  • Emulsions and inks for screen printing. Screen printing is almost always done with plastisol ink. You’ll also need an emulsion, a specific chemical that coats your screen.

Average Cost per Shirt

As a rule of thumb, a heat transfer design costs between $10 and $25 per garment, while a screen print shirt typically costs between $5 and $10. The cost of the shirt is affected by the complexity of the design and the quantity of colors used in the design.

Even though these are the average costs for a shirt purchased by the average customer, you must also take into account the start-up costs when making shirts to sell. Buying all of the items stated in the preceding section could cost a significant amount of money, so be sure you budget accordingly.

Shirts can be purchased in quantity for as little as $1.50 if your business is up and running and you’ve paid off the initial costs of the business. After that, printing supplies including ink and HTV must be purchased. You simply have to include in your time as a cost for each shirt you manufacture because of these low overhead expenses.

Screen printing and heat transfer vinyl (HTV) both require more supplies and time for each additional color.

In addition, large purchases of screen-printed shirts can save you a lot of money. You can print a large number of shirts with the same design after completing the lengthy screen printing setup process. Screen printing is made more efficient by this method.

Given enough time to get your firm off the ground, you should be able to turn a profit of at least $4 each shirt sold!

Pros and Cons of Screen Printing

Heat press vs screen print

Whether screen printing is better or worse than other printing methods comes down to how much it costs to set up each print and how good the results are.


  • Screen printing is a great way to get detailed, fine-tuned artwork.
  • Screenprints are long-lasting and do not fade or fracture.
  • Fabric with this design has a softer, more supple feel to it.
  • Bulk processing and large orders can be done at a lower cost using this strategy.


  • Screen printing has a hefty initial investment because it necessitates a large amount of supplies and equipment.
  • Using this procedure for a small number of shirts is ineffective.
  • In general, screenprinting in one or two colors is more convenient. To produce photo-like images, specialized techniques and equipment like a flash drier are necessary.

Heat Transfer Printing Advantages and Disadvantages

There are both pros and downsides to using heat transfer vinyl (HTV) to decorate your t-shirts.


  • Vinyl heat transfers are a low-cost process to get started because they only require a few ingredients.
  • Using HTV, you may get a clean, crisp look.
  • With this strategy, you can make modest orders or even one garment at a time.
  • As a result of the fact that each shirt must be made one at a time, HTV is ideal for creating personalized designs.


  • In one or two color designs, heat transfer vinyl works well. This approach does not allow for the layering of colors.
  • This strategy is not cost-effective for large or bulk purchases.
  • Screen-printed designs feel softer to the touch than HTV designs.

What is the Best Type of T-Shirt for Printing?

For printing, a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester is usually the best option. This blend has enough polyester to keep the shirt from shrinking and enough cotton to keep it soft and comfy.

As a result, screen printing on 100% polyester requires special ink, since plastisol ink does not work as well with synthetics as it does with cotton. For this reason, some screen printers choose to print on 100% cotton tees.

Three-type cloth fiber triblend shirts have also grown in favor in recent years. For heat transfer designs, this type of garment has a wonderfully soft feel and a thinner fabric that can provide some challenges. For this type of material, a heat transfer design must be applied with very low heat.

Silkscreen vs Screen Printing

The terms “silkscreening” and “screen printing” refer to the same thing. The ancient art of silk screen printing has its origins in China, where it has been practiced for hundreds or even thousands of years!

Regardless of what you call it, this procedure includes spreading ink over a screen and then pressing the ink through a stencil or an ad placed on the screen.

Polyester screens have mostly replaced traditional silk screens in today’s printers. What hasn’t changed since Ancient China is how things are done!

Vinyl Heat Press vs Screen Printing: Which is Better?

Screen printing or vinyl heat press printing are both viable options, but only one is right for every project.

Screen printing is the best option for vibrant colors and long-lasting artwork. HTV designs can last for a long time, but they don’t hold up as well as screen-printed graphics. Screen printing also allows you to layer colors and create more complex pictures by employing many screens.

Using a vinyl heat press is the best way to create simple, low-cost designs or customized orders. With this strategy, you may easily sell tiny quantities without losing money because of the lack of setup and material expenditures.

Finally, screen printing is a good option for large orders or projects. With this strategy, the more shirts you manufacture, the more affordable they get!

By now, you should have a clearer notion of whether screen printing or using a heat press is better for you. Do you have any experience with a heat press or screen printing? Is there a method that you prefer? Let us know what you think by commenting below!

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