There are benefits and drawbacks of both heat transfer printing and silk screen printing on T-shirts and other garments. Many print companies have found the benefits of both methods demands that they use each in its turn to compliment their business and be able to offer more choices to the customer. Let’s look at both methods:
Heat transfer printing is also called thermal printing or thermal transfer or thermal wax and uses heat as a medium to transfer the image from wax to an object. The thermal-based method of printing works with a printed image on one single sheet of wax. Heat transfer is excellent for applying images to certain materials like garments and various textiles. Heat-press T-shirt makers can transfer an image onto a shirt or garment, delivering a durable, wearable, heat and water resistant finished product. This technique can also be used to transfer images onto coffee mugs and novelties.
Because of the unique durability of the transfered image, this type of printing is useful in a number of areas and situations. When done well, heat transfer can offer uncanny detail and phot-realistic images. They are preferred for athletic uniforms because exposure to the elements does not cause them to wear like other printing. For this reason, they are preferred as a long-term finished product.
Silk screen is an elaborate process by which a mesh based stencil is used to apply ink to a fabric or other material, most often, a T-shirt. Since silk screening is cheap and relatively simple, it is the preferred method of printing for T-shirt artists, and results in a high-quality product.
Because of the simplicity of the technique, almost anyone can learn how to silk screen T-shirts, and classes and shops offering to teach the technique have cropped up all over the world.
The technique for silk screen printing is to stretch a very fine mesh tightly onto a frame to work with. Until the 20th century, this mesh was always silk, but nowadays it is more often than not polyester. The negative of the intended design is created on the screen using one of a variety of techniques, after which, ink is rolled onto the screen and then pressed firmly onto the intended object. Printers are equipped with a squeegee which gently but firmly pressed the ink onto the object, and the screen is then removed and the print hung up to begin the drying process. There are many variations of the silk screen process. Creative artists sometimes use paper or plastic mesh or even home-crafted meshes. The silk screen technique is often preferred above heat transfer because it allows an artist to be as creative as the imagination allows, and the creativity only lends to the quality of the final product.
Each of these two techniques has something unique to bring to the table by means of speed and quality. If one technique were truly better than the other, both would not still be out in the marketplace creating T-shirts that fill the demands of customers.