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Screen Printing vs Direct-To-Garment vs Heat Transfer. Which one to Choose for Your Custom Apparel?

What is the best T-shirt printing method, Screen Printing, Direct-To-Garment or Heat Transfer? This is one of the most common questions that customers ask when they order custom T-shirts and apparel in general. The quick answer is that all three printing methods have pros and cons, and it will depend on your specific needs, budget and preferences to what printing method you select. In this post we will explore each method so that you can make an informed decision about which technique works best for your project.

Screen Printing

Screen printing has been used to applying ink onto fabric since the 10th century. It's done by pressing a mesh screen onto a garment and then pushing ink through it. This method produces high quality and long lansting prints with smooth edges. Screen printing method is great for custom apparel shops that do large runs of the same design regularly, such as schools, universities/colleges, political campaigns and any large organizations. It's not ideal for smaller quantities of multi-coloured logo or image, because requires multiple screens (one for each colour) to create a finished product.

The durability of screen printed apparel is higher than other printing methods, as the ink has penetrated the fabric. They'll hold up well over time without fading or cracking after prolonged exposure in harsh conditions such as washing and drying machines.

Direct to Garment

Direct-to-garment is a new printing technique that uses digital technology to print on textiles. It has been around since the 1990s, but it wasn't until 2010 that this process started to gain popularity as an alternative to screen printing.

The main advantage of direct-to-garment is that it allows to print small quantities of custom t-shirts at a reasonable price. It is not a very quick technology at the moment, and this affects the final cost and tight deadlines. Normally in orders over a hundred pieces we recommend our customers to go a hundred percent screen printing if the design is suitable for it.

Heat Transfer

Heat transfer printing is a method that uses a combination of heat and pressure to transfer cut-out designs or digital printed image onto a garment. The process can be used to print on t-shirts, hats, bags and other non-garment items.

Heat Transfer uses two types of custom heat transfer: vinyl and digital. Vinyl heat transfer, uses cut-out vinyl designs that are transferred to a garment or a non-garment item using a heat press. On the other hand, Digital heat transfer, uses solvent ink to print designs onto a special heat transfer paper and then onto fabric. Both techniques produce excellent custom apparel, and depending on your specific project one would be more ideal to use than the other.

All three custom printing methods produce excellent results when using accordingly. The most obvious benefit of direct-to-garment and heat transfer vs screen printing is the resolutions. Direct-to-garment and heat transfer are far better at capturing that photographic feel. Screen printing technology uses a larger pixel to get the impression of the image, and with this it looses some of that nicer detail that can be hold up on the digital printing used in direct-to-garment and heat transfer processes.

One of the main advantages of screen printing is getting more, for less! Screen printing is the most affordable method when ordering large quantities of apparel with 1 or 2 colour print. This means that you can supply your entire company or event without breaking the bank in the process.

As with so many things in life, there are many factors to consider when choosing whether to use screen printing, direct-to-garment or heat transfer for your custom apparel. Some of these factors include: design complexity, colour, durability, fabric choices, and the size of your order. Here’s a breakdown of when to use each process:

Use screen printing if:

  • Your logo is simple (1-2 colours) and includes bright colours.

  • You want the finished product to withstand machine washing well.

  • You have a large order to fill.

  • All shirts will have the same logo/design.

Use direct-to-garment if:

  • You’re making a small order, or need to make frequent small orders.

  • You're printing a photorealistic image with lots of colours and gradients.

  • You're printing a complex logo on any fabric colour.

Use heat transfers if:

  • You’re making a small to medium order, or need to make frequent small orders.

  • You're printing a logo or design with an intricate image with three or more colours.

  • You need to individualize each item, such as different numbers or names for team uniforms.

  • You need high-quality images for short-term use.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the differences between screen printing, direct-to-garment and heat transfer. If you're still not sure which one is right for you, Contact us Today! at or 905-827-4759. We will be happy to help you with your next custom apparel project.

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