Differences between heat press and silk screen.

One of the questions that we get asked most frequently is, “what is the difference between heat pressing and screen printing”. This is why we have dedicated a section of our blog to this topic, because we feel that it is important that you understand what the differences are. Yet, even if you still have questions, please feel free to contact us, because we understand that answering every single question will not be possible with just one blog post.

HEAT PRESS

To start off, we’re going to talk about what is meant by heat transferring. Heat transferring is a process that involves a heat press machine and some type of decorative material. For example, cad-cut material, transfer paper, rhinestones, and plastisol transfers are some examples of what we can heat transfer onto garments. For those of you that are not familiar with what we just said, we are going to break it down here:

Cad-Cut Material:

This material comes in many different styles, textures, colors, and special effects. It comes in rolls and we make designs out of it by taking it to our vinyl cutter which can cut out any design that we want it to. This material is extremely versatile, because it can be applied to various kinds of fabrics. In addition, we can stack the material, so you can get very creative. Another thing that we can do with this is if you are looking for the embroidery look, but do not want to pay the high price that it commands, then cad-cut material is your best choice since there is a type that resembles it.

Cad-cut flyer

Transfer Paper:

This a great solution for people looking for full color designs on small orders. We can decorate both light and dark colored garments with this technique. To start, we have to know what color shirt you are going to print on. The reason is because transfer papers are specifically made for light or dark colored garments. For dark garments the paper is thicker and for light garments the paper is thinner. Afterwards, we take the paper to our inkjet printer and print your design on it. Then, we take the paper to our heat press machine and apply it. The time, pressure, and heat factors  for this application vary depending on the type of paper chosen. But, for most orders we can get it done in two business days since it does not require a large setup.

The best part about this process is that it is affordable and quick. So, if you need a full color shirt asap for a birthday, party, or club night within two days then this is the best option for you.

Rhinestones

You have all seen somebody wearing a shirt decorated with rhinestones, because it is a massively popular method. This is why we offer custom rhinestones since our goal is to be a complete one stop shop for al your apparel decoration needs. In order to make designs out of rhinestone you’ll need a vinyl cutter, rhinestone making software, stencils, backer boards, hot-fix rhinestones, weeding tools, and a heat press are needed. Yes, a lot of materials are needed and this process does take time, but it is well worth it. Check out some pictures of the finished product below:

Rhinestones

Our customers love to get creative with their rhinestone designs. For example, we had one customer apply rhinestone decoration along with neon cad-cut material to create a glow in the dark shirt that sparkled at night! It was an awesome shirt and actually one of our all time favorites.

Plastisol Transfers

Plastisol transfers are similar to transfer papers in the sense that the decoration is on the paper. But, the difference between the two, is that the transfer paper is printed on by an inkjet printer and plastisol transfers are printed on by the screen printing method. What happens here is that the plastisol transfer paper is put underneath the screen on the screen printing machine. Then, the same process of printing a shirt is done, but instead of the plastisol being applied onto the shirt it is applied onto the paper. Then, a grain, similar to sand, is applied on top of the plastisol, so that the design does not get blurred. This also makes it easy to store the plastisol transfer in a folder for use at a future date.

After the paper has been printed on it gets applied to the garment with a heat press. The best part about this process is that it makes difficult to print locations very easy since aligning a shirt on a heat press is far easier and quicker then when it’s on a screen printing platform.

Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is a process which a design becomes a part of the actual garment. In other words, plastisol transfer papers, cad-cut material, and rhinestones sit “on top” of the shirt. They don’t actually get embedded into the shirt itself. On the other hand, sublimation gets embedded into the garment just like water-based screen printing does. In order to do sublimation printing you need special ink, paper, and garments with a polyester coating.

When the sublimation ink is heated to high temperatures it turns into a gas. The pores of the polyester fabric open and allow the gas to enter. Afterwards, once the garment cools down, the pores of the fabric close and essentially trap the gas inside. The most beautiful thing about sublimation printing is that the garment is smooth like butter.

Sublimation printing does not work on:

  1. Cotton: Unfortunately, sublimation does not work with cotton since the fabric does not have pores that open up. This is why cotton shirts use transfer paper.
  2. 50/50 and 65/35 light colored shirts: Since cotton is present in these shirts the process unfortunately does not work. The design will not look alive and will immediately fade after a single wash. Transfer papers are the best process to use here too.

Custom sublimated jerseys are very popular now a days, because it is able to produce exceptionally bright colors.

Two sublimation jerseys.

SUMMARY:

A heat press machine is designed to control three important factors: time, temperature, and pressure. It is a combination of the three of those factors that are used to apply the decoration. For instance, when customizing polyester open mesh jerseys the type of material that we use is Thermoflex Sport. To apply it, we heat the press to 300 degrees fahrenheit and then press down with firm pressure for 7 seconds. To compare, when applying plastisol transfers, we heat the press to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and then press down for 10 seconds. Even though it is just a couple seconds difference it does mean a lot, trust us.

The most beautiful thing about heat transferring is that there is no minimum. To put it another way, you can order 10 shirts and each one of the shirts can have a different design. This is why jersey customization is done with a heat transfer, because each player has a different name and number. Also, the fabric that is getting heat transferred does not have to be the same within an order. For instance, it is possible for a customer to print on nylon, cotton, and polyester with the same design within the same order.

ADVANTAGES:

  • No minimum
  • Can replicate embroidery
  • Customer can print multiple designs
  • Works great on polyester open mesh jerseys

DISADVANTAGES:

  • Can not do half tones or replicate photos
  • May not be the best option on large orders

SCREEN PRINTING

Now that we have described what a heat transfer is it is time to talk about what screen printing is. Screen printing was invented thousands of years ago by the Chinese. Initially, they used silk screens to get the process done which is why an alternative name for screen printing is silk screening. This technique has lasted for thousands of years, because it is extremely efficient. To make a long story short, screen printing is basically the process of applying ink, through screens, onto objects. We use the term objects, because screen printing is very versatile and many products besides garments are screen printed. For instance, pens, bottles, hats, business cards, flyers, etc. can all be screen printed.

Screen printing is a complex process and requires a lot more equipment and chemicals then heat transferring. For example, emulsion is needed to create a screen and then three products – ink thinner, emulsion remover, and dehaze are used to clean the screen after just one use. In addition, equipment like a wash out booth is needed to both clean screens and create them. Furthermore, a dark room is needed to store screens, a light machine is needed to burn screens, a flash dryer and conveyer belt dryer are needed to dry screens, and a screen printing machine is needed to actually do the printing. Then of course, there are all the little items like squeegees, scrubbers, tape, films, a printer to burn the film, at least 20 screens in various mesh sizes, and plastisol inks in various colors.

The reason why screen printing has a minimum order is because of the setup time that is involved. The setup is the same regardless if you are printing one or one hundred thousand shirts which is why price breaks occur. Once we align our screens and put the ink on them, the only thing that is left to do is to put on and take off shirts from the screen printing machine. This is why we can only print one design at a time, but we can change ink colors and we can print on various garments as long as it is made from the same type of fabric. The most common way to print apparel is to use plastisol ink, but in addition to plastisol we can also do the processes listed below!

Water-Based Screen Printing

Some people prefer water-based inks over plastisol, because of the soft hand feel. Water-based inks actually get embedded into the fabric unlike plastisol inks which sit on top. In addition, they are less harmful to the environment. Best of all, water-based inks don’t crack or fade. One thing to keep in mind is that they work best on 100% cotton fabrics, lightweight and stretchy fabrics like rib and bamboo, and garments such as towels.

Water based shirts are vibrant and have a "soft hand" feel.

Water based shirts are vibrant and have a “soft hand” feel.

These are very transparent inks with a low opacity (brightness) which means that on light shirts the colors are bright, but not on dark colors. This is why we also offer H.O. (high opacity) water-based inks which work better on the dark colored garments while maintaining the soft hand feel.

Discharge Screen Printing

*Advantages:

  • Soft hand feel
  • Vibrant colors
  • Great for dark colored garments

*Disadvantages:

  • Full color printing is difficult
  • Fine detail can be difficult
  • Exact matching pantone is not guaranteed
  • Does not work well with dyes such as royal blue and purple.

Discharge ink is still water-based ink, but it is made for dark colored t-shirts. A general rule of thumb to follow is that discharge printing works for dark colored garments and water-based is for light colored. Discharge is a specialty ink and it shows the t-shirt’s natural fiber rather then covering it like plastisol. This is because it causes the t-shirt to lose it’s dye when a certain temperature is reached. Some t-shirts work great with these inks and some don’t, but this is also the case for all types of screen printing. Some manufacturers purposely design shirts to be discharged. This means that the dye they use will behave just the way the printer would like. In other words, some shirts are not meant to be discharged, so by buying shirts that were designed to be discharged you can be sure that your prints will turn out to as intended.

Foil Printing

Foil printing shirts
Foil printing is definitely the way to go when you want your shirt to shine and sparkle. It looks great if the shirt is 100% decorated this way or if it used to accent a plastisol print. We have worked long nights mastering this process, because we understand that foil looks terrible when done the wrong way. We are extremely proud of our foil printing capabilities and you can be sure that your order will come out looking amazing.

Available Colors:

  • Gunmetal
  • Red
  • Green
  • Gold
  • Blue
  • Copper
  • We can also special order: pink, gold and silver hologram, gold and silver rainbow, black, purple, pearlescent, oil slick, and swirl

SUMMARY:

Screen printing has been around for thousands of years and it will continue to be around for thousands of years, because it is a great printing process. It is an efficient way to reproduce full color or single color designs onto shirts and because of it’s versatility, the customer’s imagination is the limit!

ADVANTAGES:

  • Best for large orders
  • Multiple printing options
  • Can print extremely fine details
  • Very versatile meaning most garments can be screen printed

DISADVANTAGES:

  • Has a minimum order
  • Must print one design at a time

CONCLUSION

To say that one process is better then another is not a fair question to ask, because they each serve their own purpose. Asking the question would be like asking a mother which of her three kids is her favorite. Most often times she does not have a favorite, because each one makes her happy in their own way. Similarly, depending on what a customer is trying to do, heat transfer may be better then screen printing or vice versa.

For those of you that are visual learners, please feel free to stop by our shop to see first hand the differences. We have samples of each in our show room and we will be happy to show you them!

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