What is the difference between screen printing and a digital heat transfer?

One of the most common questions asked in the garment decoration business is what is the difference between a screen print and a heat transfer?

Screen printing involves the creation of a screen for each colour in the logo. Essentially this is a stencil for each colour. The ink is then applied through these stencils one by one. Special inks are used so colours do not run or blend and an oven may be required to set the ink.

Alternatively, a digital heat transfer involves the logo being printed onto transfer paper. The logo is then cut as required. This cut out or transfer is then applied to the garment using heat where it is “pressed” against the garment in a machine that looks much like a modern-day sandwich press. The heat and time to press depends on the garments and inks used.

Generally, digital transfer is used for smaller run orders or some orders with lots of colours due to the setup costs associated with screen printing. For larger runs screen printing is the preferred option because application is generally quicker and more automated.

For screen printing, say your logo has 4 colours there would be four setups required, one for each screen. Instead with a digital transfer there is just the one setup. Hence digital transfer is the preferred option for small cost-conscious orders.

Screen printing is traditionally seen as more durable and longer lasting than heat transfers but with modern technology this gap is rapidly closing. Another consideration when choosing between the two is the type of garment as some inks can only be applied to garments that have some cotton content. Also, the intricacy of a logo can be a deciding factor.

Both screen printing and digital transfer are extremely common across sports, events and corporate apparel and are valid alternative to embroidery, especially for detailed logos.