Dare to compare: Screen printing vs. vinyl vs. digital transfer

Stitch It International
Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Custom apparel has never been easier to produce. But breaking into the industry or adding a new revenue pipeline is a little messier these days (not to mention confusing!). Footprint, profit margins, scalable production and market viability are just a few of the factors to weigh before deciding what makes sense for your business.

And the options continue to grow: from traditional screen printing to heat transfer vinyl to digital transfer printing. Which is why we’re breaking down the pros and cons of each method to make sure you have the info you need to succeed.

What you need to know about screen printing

If you’re already in the screen-printing game, you know the ups and downs that come with it. And if you’re an entry-level screen printer, prepare for a lengthy period of trial and error as you learn the process. The technique involves ink-blocking stencil onto a screen (hence the name) and transferring it to your product. It works best with one-color designs. Multi-color shirts can be pricey and difficult to replicate consistently. You’ll need space for storing supplies and for production, and ventilation is key when you’re working with those messy inks and chemicals.

What you need to know about HTV

Many at-home businesses get started with heat transfer vinyl (think Cricut). This process, which involves cutting adhesive vinyl material, works best with simple, one-color designs. It can be a lengthy and tedious process, and works best for short-run, custom orders. The quality and longevity of the final product can be questionable – ever had a vinyl tshirt that started peeling after a few washes? Depending on the product and design, material costs can also price you out of a competitive market – it’s not a scalable model. If you anticipate taking larger orders, vinyl may hold your business back.

What you need to know about digital transfer printing

If you’re hoping for faster production and superior design: Enter the new technology of digital transfer printing. Designs are printed on specialty heat transfer paper, then transferred onto a wide variety of materials using a heat press like this one.

This entire process, printing to heat press, takes just a few minutes with the right equipment. Even complicated designs with multi-color detailing won’t hamper your output. You’re not limited to garments with this technology either – from hats to mugs to footballs, heat transfer printing can knock it out. Which means greater revenue opportunities for your business.

And if space is an issue, you’re in luck. Digital transfer printers and heat presses have a small footprint, and you won’t need a ton of storage space for supplies either.

After nearly three decades in the apparel industry, we’re confident that a digital transfer printer combined with a state-of-the-art heat press is a great revenue generator – whether you’re an existing apparel company looking to expand or a new business venture just starting out. You can explore our favorite printer/heat press combos here.

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