When to Use Heat Transfers vs. Screen Printing

When is a heat transfer a better option than direct printing?


Your Artwork Dilemma: Direct printing is a screen printer’s bread and butter, but sometimes printing garments yourself takes more effort than is profitable. Artwork that requires a lot of colors and screens can waste valuable time. Repetitive jobs can also be costly. Even though you’re using the same screens and inks, those screens still have to be burned, the artwork set up and the ink laid on garments. When those jobs come up, a faster and simpler option could be in order.

Solve This Dilemma: Sometimes a screen-printed transfer will help a printer reduce costs and production time, compared to direct screen printing. Each job needs to be examined to see if it meets the right criteria. How many screens will you need to burn? How many colors does the job require? How much time is available? Another important consideration: A screen-printed transfer can be applied by anyone who knows how to run a heat press, not just experienced printers. Transfers can be an economical option while still offering a custom screen-printed look.

Takeaway Tips

1. Sports jerseys are ideal for transfers. Most have an individual name and number on the back, and a number on the front. Creating art and burning screens for all those names and numbers is time consuming. Many transfer companies have stock letter and number transfers already created. Using the transfers saves time and effort and allows for less costly personalization.

2. Multicolor designs work well as transfers. When direct printing a multicolor job, a printer needs to create a screen and pull a squeegee for each color. A five- or six-color print going on 100 shirts requires a lot of screens to be burned and even more squeegee pulls. Transfers come already printed, so they only need to be heat-applied to the garment, eliminating the need for screens and saving hands and wrists from undue strain.

3. Transfer artwork is often available in preset designs and layouts. Companies that create transfers usually have designers on staff. This saves the time and effort of the shop creating the art, or the expense of outsourcing design work.

4.Transfers are a great option for hard-to-print items. Items that won’t easily fit on a press or require a lot of press adjustment are a great fit for heat transfers. Bags, caps and shoes, for instance, can be printed easily with a heat press and platen that can be changed out in seconds.

5. Transfers nix the headache of small runs. Short runs are often the bane of shop owners’ existence, as they require all the work to set up and print, but for minimal payment. Transfers help you get the job done without costly setup, freeing up screen-printing presses for higher-volume jobs that potentially bring in a greater profit.

Watch This!

Pricing jobs that use screen-printed transfers can be tricky, especially if a shop hasn’t used them often. This video from Stahls’ Transfer Express shares tips on pricing garments decorated with screen-printed transfers.

Mike Romano is part of the marketing team at Stahls’ Transfer Express. For the last six years, he’s worked on graphics for the website, trade show booth and more. He also writes on the company blog about how T-shirt businesses can grow.