person creating screen prints
Graphic Design Printing

Screen Printing vs Heat Press

Screen printing and vinyl are two very different processes that produce two very different results. They both have advantages and drawbacks, so read on this scene printing vs. heat press article and find out which option best fits your particular needs.

Screen Printing

Brief History of Screen Printing

Screen printing first appeared in the 10th to 12th century A.D in China, where artisans would use the process to transfer designs onto fabric. The method was then introduced to Europe in the 18th century.

Now we are moving to the 1960s when pop artists like Andy Warhol used this printing technique in their works.

But pop artists of that are were not the only thing that contributed to the screen printing renaissance. One of the main reasons screen printing became widely popular was the invention of the rotatable multi-color screen garment printing machine. That innovation sped up the whole printing process.

Now that we learned a bit about screen printing history, let’s discover what screen printing is and its advantages and disadvantages.

What is Screen Printing?

Screen printing is a popular method for printing on paper, plastic, and metal surfaces, and it is also the most popular form of printing in the apparel industry. It is versatile because this printing technique can use to print just about any image onto any surface with relative ease.

Screen Printing vs Heat Press two persons using screen print

Screen printers use a screen that allows for even ink application on the product. The process is done by placing the screen over the product and pulling a squeegee blade across the top. The ink goes through the holes in the mesh and onto to surface below.

This technique has been used for centuries and is an affordable and easy way to produce one-of-a-kind prints for any occasion or event.

What are the Advantages of Screen Printing?

Now that you learned a bit of screen printing history and are familiarized with what screen printing is let’s see this technology’s advantages.

• Screen Printing is Durable

The durability of screen-printed products depends on the ink and fabric used in the process. Screen-printed products are generally more durable than heat press ones because they are not as susceptible to fading or cracking over time.

• It is a Versatile Printing Technique

The size of the printed design is only limited by the size of the screen used. Designs can be printed on many different materials, including clothing, metal, wood, glass, plastic, etc.

• Perfect for Larger Orders

With screen print, you need to develop different screens for different colors, which is money and time-consuming. But once the main ingredient is ready, you can do numerous prints with the same stencil.

Multiple screen printing mashes
Multiple screen printing mashes

Disadvantages of Screen Printing

Even though screen printing has been around for centuries, it has not been without its disadvantages. Let’s discover what these disadvantages are.

• Screen Printing is Costly for Small Orders

Screen printing is expensive for small orders because it requires a lot of time to start the printing process. Also, costs are connected with the number of colors we use in reproduction, and more colors mean higher prices.

• Not Environmentally Friendly

This process is not environmentally friendly because we use a lot of water to clean the screen after printing. In addition, the inks that get washed down the drain can harm our planet.

• Not Appropriate for Finely Detailed Reproductions

Screen printing is not suitable for producing detailed prints. This process has limitations on how much detail can be reproduced on a fabric process.

Heat Press

History of Heat Press

The heat press doesn’t have as rich a history as screen printing, and there aren’t any major pop artists such as Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein using it. Maybe the reason is that the first heat press machine was developed and introduced to the market later as the screen print. But since then, is gaining in popularity, but it still didn’t catch up with screen printing.

Let’s find out what a heat press is.

t shirt made with heat press
T-shirt design made with a heat press

What is Heat Press?

The heat press is also called thermal printing, thermal-transfer printing, or thermal-wax transfer.

The heat press process is similar to screen printing but does not require a mesh screen. The graphic is printed on a sheet that is transferred onto the substrate. The preprinted sheet consists of an ink layer, a polyester carrier film, and adhesive backing. The adhesive layer is made up of wax material, which melts when heated and then cools when applied to the substrate.

This process is used for printing detailed graphics and images that can be placed on various applications such as T-shirts, mouse pads, and more!

What are the Advantages of Heat Press?

• Perfect Choice for Smaller Orders

A heat press is an excellent choice if you need to print small orders. You can also print only one t-shirt with this type of printing technology.

• Ability to Produce Multi-Color Designs with Ease

Unlike screen printing, where you’re limited with colors, you can easily print on your complex multi-color designs. So if you want to make a t-shirt with your cat on it, thermal-transfer printing is the right choice.

• Affordable Setup Cost

Thermal printing is one of the lowest setup costs. It does not require ample space to operate. The only thing needed is a printer, heat press machine, heat transfer vinyl, and some garments.

• Environmentally Friendly

Heat press has one of the lowest environmental impacts because there is minimal waste, and it doesn’t require any water for cleaning or dye mixing. On top of that, you don’t use any pigments in the printing process, and you don’t need to wash heat press components. So no environmentally toxic waste would go down the drain.

person wearing black t-shirt with heat pressed graphic
T-shirt design made with a heat press

Disadvantages of Heat Press

• Unsuitable for Larger Orders

The heat press is not the right option if you want to make prints on a larger scale. Considering you need to print and position the transfer sheets with your designs for every garment individually. Thus making the whole printing process time-consuming.

• Prints Fade and Crack Over Time

The thermal-transfer printing doesn’t bind the colors into the fabric like screen printing, but it sticks to the printing substrate, which means that the colors will begin to fade and crack with every washing.

• Fabric Becomes Unbreathable and Bulky

Adding another layer to your substrate will make that part of the fabric unbreathable. So if you’re trying to make some custom team t-shirts for a sports event, I would choose another printing technique.

Screen Printing vs. Heat Press: How to Choose Between the Two

Now that we are familiar with screen printing and heat press, let’s discover which printing technique you should choose?

Screen printing may be the best option if you want your design to be durable and last a long time. A heat press will likely be your best bet if you are looking for something that can get done quickly and at an affordable price.

Another thing you should look at is the printing costs. Screen printing is more expensive and is more suitable for large orders. On the other hand, a heat press can be used for smaller orders, even one-off custom designs.

Both can be done relatively DIY; in this case, the heat press has the upper hand.

To sum up. When choosing Screen Printing vs. heat press technique, you should look at the two main factors. They are your budget and the expected quality of the prints, so go for the one that suits your needs the best.

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