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Ask Clive – Screen Printing or Heat Transfer?

One of the most common questions from distributors is whether screen printing or heat transfer is best. Clive Allcott compares them.

Screen Printing

Screens are still used in this process, and while no longer silk, the process remains similar to that used over the centuries.

With the use of a positive film the screen is exposed and washed out which creates a stencil for the design. Ink is then spread over the screen, passing through to the object underneath but only where the design or stencil is. Only one colour per screen can be used and the final number of screens is dependent on the number of colours in the design, so you might need multiple screens to produce the final item. It is this setup and the costs associated that will often decide which process will be the best for your project.

Heat Transfer

The heat transfer printing method applies custom designs to items like T-shirts bags and caps 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 coloured vinyl. A heat press is then used to transfer each vinyl colour of the design on to 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 combination of heat and pressure that transfers the design.

Making the Choice

The best printing type for you depends on what type of item you are branding, and quantity required. Because unique screens need to be created for each colour of a screen-printed design, it is much more cost effective to produce a larger number of items with this method. As a rule, 50 or more items makes screen print viable. However, the quantity should rise as the colours increase. Conversely, heat transfer, while more expensive per print is the same with every print made, so you can order just a couple items at a time without costs ballooning.

Clive, The branded clothing guru.

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