What is the Difference Between Heat Pressing and Screen Printing?

When you are shopping around for custom-made tablecloths, t-shirts, tote bags, towels or any other item made from fabric, you will notice various types of printing. It is not surprising to wonder about the difference between these printed items as they may display similar results.

The two most widely used types of printing are screen printing and heat pressing. That is why here is our guide to help you distinguish between the two and decide which one is better for you.

Screen Printing

A traditional printing process, screen printing prints a logo or design directly onto the garment or fabric with the help of a mesh screen. The screen printer transfers the ink via a specific screen to the garment using a squeegee to get the desired print results.

While the process may sound simple and easy to carry out, it is essential to have the exact pressure, heat curing, and specialized water-based printing ink to result in a long-lasting print.

Screen printing is further divided into two groups depending on the method in which they are done.

Water-based screen printing is more commonly preferred because of the soft feel that it gives. It uses water-based inks that are embedded into the garment and do not fade or crack. The printing works best on hundred percent cotton fabrics as well as stretchy and lightweight fabrics like bamboo, rib, and garments such as towels.

Water-based inks are transparent with low opacity, so the colors appear bright on light-colored garments but not on dark-colored garments.

Discharge printing works best to print on dark-colored fabrics. It uses discharge ink, which is also a water-based ink, but it is a special type of ink that shows the garment’s natural fiber instead of covering it.


As screen printing is a traditional form of printing, it can last for a comparatively longer time. It is ideal for printing large quantities, preferably more than twelve, because of affordability and the improved quality.

The result is softer than that of heat pressing, and you can even iron on the screen printed area without damaging the print.

There are multiple printing options, and extremely fine details can be printed appropriately. Screen printing is quite versatile, which means it can be used on most garments and produce great results.


If you only want to print in smaller quantities, screen printing will be quite costly as it needs a screen and setup for every color. To make the process cost-effective, a minimum of ten one-color prints will be required. You can only screen print one design at a time.

Heat Pressing

There are two common types of heat pressing: digital print heat transfer and vinyl heat transfer.

The vinyl heat transfer uses a die cut machine that cuts out the designs and letters or numbers in pieces of colored vinyl. A heat press machine transfers each vinyl color of the design on the object that is to be printed.

In digital print heat transfer, the desired image or text is graphically printed first on a special heat transfer paper with a special ink. This special ink enables the design to be transferred from the transfer paper to the garment when pressed with heat.

Heat pressing requires a heat press machine that is specifically designed to control three factors: pressure, temperature, and time. These machines are carefully chosen, and it takes an effort to search for the best small heat press. Here is a heat press buying guide for beginners.

The combination of these three factors varies from one material to the other, and that is what makes it possible to apply the decoration on any garment.

For example, for printing on customized polyester open mesh jerseys, the material ThermoFlex Sport is used, which requires the machine to be heated at 300 degrees Fahrenheit and pressed down with firm pressure for at least seven seconds. On the other hand, for heat pressing on plastisol, the machine is heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and pressed down for ten seconds.

The difference seems pretty small, but it can have a huge impact on the results of printing.

The best thing about heat pressing is that it does not require a minimum printing quantity, which means you can print ten shirts and each of them can have a different design. Sports jersey customization is done using heat pressing because each player has a different name and number on their jersey.


Heat pressing is affordable for small runs of printing, and there is no requirement for a minimum number of garments. It is possible to print individual customized numbers or names without any heavy setup costs (printing sports jerseys for instance).

It is an inexpensive process to produce a fully colored design with good detailing. You can print multiple designs with a low minimum; a good number can be less than twelve. Heat press gives an excellent result on polyester open mesh jerseys.


Heat pressing is not as permanent as screen printing as after some time, cracks will form on the design or it will start to fade. The printed area may feel rubbery and bulky on the garment because of transfer printing.

Ironing the print will damage the design. It can be quite expensive when printing on large quantities of garments.

Which Is Better?

The commonly asked question is, which one of the two printing methods is the best? However, there can be no definite answer.

It entirely depends on the type of item you want to print on and how many of those items do you want to print in total. Screen printing is permanent and long-lasting, whereas heat pressing is not as permanent and hard-wearing.

The price for screen printing varies according to the color of the garment where it is cheaper to print white fabric, the number of colors in each piece, and the number of print positions of the fabric. To put it in an easy way, screen printing costs less when printing in bulk.

On the other hand, heat press is ideal for a quick turnaround, small print runs, or one-offs with several colors.

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