Screen Print vs. Heat Transfer: Which Should I Choose?

Decoration Methods


We hear this question asked often, “Screen Print or Heat Transfer, which one is best? What should I choose?”

The short answer is…it depends. BUT here we outline each decoration process for you and which products or situations they may be best suited for. This will give you a better understanding of choosing Screen Printing or Heat Transfer!


What are Screen Printing and Heat Transfer processes?

Let's start by defining both decoration methods:


Screen Printing (or Silk-Screen Printing) is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer ink as a sharp-edged image onto a substrate. A roller or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing or pumping ink past the threads of the woven mesh in the open areas.


Heat Transfer is when an image is screened on a transfer substrate which is then laid directly on the material to be imprinted. The image is then transferred from the substrate to the material through the use of heat and pressure.


Ok, So Which Decoration Method is Best for My Promo Item?

There are multiple factors that can go into deciding which printing method is best for your promotional item. This includes logo design, color, item and order size. Although both screen print and heat transfer may be able to “do the job,” the outcomes made with the two processes can have some significant differences. Here we'll outline those main differences, so you can make an informed choice for your order!



Screen Print

Heat Transfer

Logo Design

  • Simple designs print best
  • Ink bleeding in very detailed art may occur
  • Can accommodate more complicated or detailed designs
  • May show a visible outline around the artwork when transferred to the item

Artwork Color

  • Less number of colors will achieve better quality print since each color requires its own separate screen
  • Able to achieve vibrant colors
  • Print multiple colors at once
  • Able to print photographic images with a Full Color Heat Transfer

Item Color

  • Shows well on any color of fabric
  • Does not show well on dark fabrics


  • Longer lasting in washing machine
  • Ink lays lighter on the fabric, so more durable
  • May not stand up to years of machine washing
  • Art is bonded to the fabric with a thicker layer of ink
  • Susceptible to fading and cracking overtime

Item Material

  • Best for soft fabric promos or custom items with hard surfaces, like plastic
  • Maintains the soft feel of a Tri-blend shirt or similar material
  • Best on fabrics that can handle higher temperatures, such as cotton and cotton blends
  • Clothing with heat transfer adhered may feel more stiff

Order Size

  • Cost effective for large orders
  • More cost efficient for smaller quantities


Promotional Products Ideal for each Decoration Method

Although these are not hard and fast rules, here you can get a general idea of which method would be preferred for your artwork when printing on specific promotional products.

  • Does your artwork contain more than 2 colors and incorporate intricate designs? Heat transfer may be the way to go!
  • Are you ordering a custom Tri-blend T-shirt? Screen print will help maintain the soft feel of that fabric.
  • Is your promotional product irregularly shaped, like a branded umbrella or logo'd folding chair? Typically, factories will only print heat transfer on these types of promo items due to the design.
  • Should the finished product be able to withstand many cycles in a washing machine, like customized activewear? You will see a longer lasting imprint and product by going with screen print.
  • How important are eco-friendly products and processes to your target audience? Screen print uses more chemicals in its process, so heat transfer may be your preferred option.


Still not sure about Screen Print and Heat Transfer?

When in doubt, give us a call at 800-338-7996! Our customer service team will be happy to walk through your order and provide our best recommendation depending on your artwork and promotional item!



We offer more decoration methods than just Screen Print and Heat Transfer, depending on the promotional product! Learn about all Decoration Methods in our Help Center, including Debossing, Dye Sublimation, Embroidery and Laser Engraving.

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