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Which is better? Heat Press or Screen Printing?

When starting your own t shirt business you need to figure out which of the two main methods of printing on shirts to invest in. The two main methods of shirt pressing is heat pressing and screen printing.

Screen printing is the most widely used method of t-shirt printing, specializing in mass prints (500+ shirts). Screen printing is where you have a stencil form on a silk screen and use the stencil to run ink or other substances pressed onto the shirt. 

Heat pressing is where a design is pressed onto a material through pressure and high temperature. It's great for small jobs and personalized garments.   

Main difference is that screen printing is printed to last and heat transfers are not. The best way to think about it is screen printing is like stamping a piece of paper where as heat pressing is like putting a sticker on a piece of paper.  

So which is better? Heat Press or Screen Printing? 

It really depends on a person's printing needs and budget. Both methods are great in quality and appearance for making quality shirts or uniforms.  

Overall unless you have unlimited resources in time and budget or have very large mass production jobs, Heat Pressing is the more cost effective and reasonable method for printing on shirts for beginner shirt printers. 

Heat Pressing is best when
  • Printing complex images (multiple colors/photos) 
  • Printing less than 500 shirts with same design
  • Printing sports uniforms with each shirt having a different number or name
  • Wanting something easier to learn and teach 
Screen Print is best when 
  • Printing 500 shirts with same design
  • Your design has few colors (1-6) 
  • You want the highest quality and have time and money to spend

    What is a Screen Printing? 

    Screen printing is the process of layering colors like a stamp on a T shirt. The design is put on the garment by using a mesh screen. The screen will transfer the ink through the screen to garment with the squeegee to achieve the print result. Screen printing is like stamping on fabric with each ink staining the fabric. 

    The process involves exact pressures, inks, and heat curing that results in a long lasting print. 

    Screen printing is a printing process where a design or image is printed directly onto a material or piece of clothing through a screen. You transfer the inks to the garment with a squeegee.

    Screen printing involves even hand pressure, water based inks, and heat curing. The curing is the process the ink dries and is permanently in the fabric so that it will not lift off of the fabric.  

    The screen print ink penetrates into and is cured into the fabric. Think it more as a stamp or a dye onto the fabric. Depending on the care of the garment, the screen printing can last as long as the garment. 

    In screen printing you can only print in layers applying only one color at a time. So for each color you want on your shirt you will have one screen for it. Because of this layering/multistamping method, you cannot put a photo of your dog with screen printing. The more color you use the more screens prints you will have to make. 



    • Cost friendly for beginners
    • Produces high quality prints which bright quality on dark backgrounds
    • Great for logos and texts 
    • Stencils can be stored to reprint  
    • Longer lasting printing traditional printing, can last as long as the garment itself.
    • Softer feel than transfers
    • Can endure roughness from any washing machine
    • Can be ironed 
    • Mass production. Cost effective in larger quantities, more you print the cheaper
    • Harder to use compared to heat press
    • Time consuming: preparing separate screen and cleaning equipment
    • Messy process 
    • Complex process once you've add many different colors
    • Expensive in smaller quantities
    • Requires a screen and set up for each color
    • Cannot take multi colored designs. Only one or two colors in most cases. 
    • Cannot do photographs
    • Needs to be cured before wearing 

      Screen printing kit for beginners: 

      AWT ECONO-TEX Start Up Screen Printing Package #1 AWT ECONO-TEX Start Up Screen Printing Package #2

      What is a Heat Press? 

      Heat press is the process of adhering a piece of printed or solid vinyl to a shirt by using heat and pressure. Heat transfers are printed on a printer then cut out with a machine. The transfers are then pressed onto a garment by using a Heat Press. 

      Heat press transfers are not as permanent or strong as screen printing, but it is great for one-off jobs and small prints with lots of colors and customization. For this reason Heat Press is perfect for sport and team apparel. 

      Heat pressing is a digital print that is printed on type of vinyl and is pressed with heat onto a fabric with heat press.  The transfers are printed on special paper with a printer that has a solvent based inks. Then they are cut with machines and lined up. 

      Based on the material and the type of paper that is used, the heat press temperature and pressure is set. 

      With care and proper heat press application the garment can last up to about 50 washes. Over time the item will eventually crack and fade. Heat pressing is more like putting a sticker on a shirt. 

      Though heat pressing is not as permanent or as hard-wearing as screen printing, it is great for one-off jobs and personalization. With heat pressing, you can make the shirt on site and sell it to your customer without having to wait for your image to cure. 

      Pro Cons
      • Easy to use for beginners 
      • Saves space by using very little room
      • Great for smaller runs 
      • No minimum order
      • Designs can be easily personalized
      • Can produce full color 
      • Can do photographs 
      • Quick turn around time
      • Can print on variety of items including non-porous items (mugs tiles, umbrella)
      • Not as permanent as screen printing
      • Cracks and fades with time with continuous washing
      • Professional print not as bright as screen printing
      • Doesn't produce best results on dark shirts
      • Rubbery feel 
      • Cannot iron the print 
      • Expensive on large quantities of garments 


      Heat Press for beginners: 


      HIX HT-400E 15"x15" Analog

      Clamshell Heat Press

      Geo Knight DK16 14" x 16"

      Clamshell Heat Press

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