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Heat Transfer vs Silk Screen Printing- Everything You Need to Know

Heat Transfer vs Silk Screen Printing – Everything You Need to Know

When looking to customize t-shirts and other garments the two main methods are heat transfer and screen printing. Although these two methods are similar, there are situations where one method might be much more suitable than the other.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer is a relatively new method that has gained popularity over the last two decades. This method involves transferring images onto fabrics by pressing vinyl onto the fabrics using a heat press.

With heat transfer, the design is printed onto good-quality paper using inks that stick onto the material. The design is then positioned at the desired location and heat-pressed to transfer the image onto the garment.

Heat transfer is ideal for small printing jobs involving numerous colors. The method needs a special printer and high-quality paper. Here are the associated advantages and disadvantages:

  • Easy to print designs involving many colors and complicated designs
  • The design fades and cracks easily when used for dark fabrics
  • Perfect for small orders
  • The design won’t last as long as a screen-printed one
  • Lets you customize different garments easily

Screen Printing

This method is quite old. It started thousands of years ago in China and has undergone tremendous improvements. Screen printing, also known as silk screening, involves transferring images to fabrics using real screens.

To attain your desired design, you have to use an emulsion layer to cover the entire screen. Then, utilize light to ‘burn’ your design out of the emulsion layer so the paint can pass through the screen and result in the desired shape.

With this method, every color you use in your design needs a different screen, and thus it can be time-consuming to set up.

As long as the color and design are the same, you don’t need to cut different design templates. Screen printing your design will last much longer than if it were to be heat pressed, and the colors are more vibrant. Here are the advantages and disadvantages:

  • The process is very cost effective especially for large orders
  • Different colors require different screens
  • The resulting image is of much higher quality than the heat-transferred one
  • Setting up the process can be time consuming and quite messy
  • The design is durable
  • You might have to print many apparels at once using the same design for this can be a viable solution. This is why there’s usually a minimum order quantity for screen printing
  • The colors are more vibrant even when printed on a dark garment


Both heat pressing and silkscreening offer a good solution to getting designs onto garments. However, they are suitable for different scenarios. Therefore, it is up to you to decide whether to heat transfer or screen print your designs.

James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.