Heat Transfer Comparison: Vinyl Rolls vs Screen Printed Transfer Sheets

There are many different ways that you can print or decorate custom apparel.

Specifically with heat printing, there are many materials you can use just with this printing method alone.

For this heat applied transfer product comparison, we are going to compare heat transfer vinyl (htv) rolls to screen printed transfer sheets.

We’ll look at when to use each, and the benefits of each.


What is Heat Transfer Vinyl and How Do I Use It?

First of all, in order to cut your own vinyl rolls, you need to have a cutter. This machine is the only piece of equipment, in addition to your heat press, that you will need to go this route of apparel decorating.

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Once you have your cutter and set up to use it to cut vinyl rolls or sheets, then you just need to learn how to use it.


Graphtec vinyl cutter


There is a slight learning curve to learning the ins and outs of your cutter and the software that goes with it.

Essentially, what you’ll be doing is creating your t-shirt design on the computer, and sending the design to the cutter to cut the design out of the vinyl. You would then “weed” out the excess pieces and heat apply the cut out vinyl design onto your blank apparel.


weeding heat transfer vinyl


The other heat applied transfer we’re comparing htv to is a screen printed transfer.


What are Screen Printed Transfers?

For a screen printed transfer type, you’ll be sending your artwork to a screen printed transfer printing company to print it for you.

Within a few days, you’ll receive the transfer prints ready to heat apply to your blank apparel using just your heat press.


screen printed transfers


It is the same plastisol inks as direct screen printing, so after your screen printed transfer is heat applied, you have the same result as screen printing – a screen printed shirt.

The only difference is that the plastisol ink was printed onto a special transfer release paper that applies to your blank apparel with your heat press.

With this method, there is no need for cutting or weeding.




Is HTV or Screen Printed Transfers Better for Heat Printing?

The quick answer to this question is “both”. Both are great for heat printing custom apparel and other items.

Each of these transfer types have their time and place.

The textures of both heat transfer vinyl and screen printed transfers can vary, but they can feel very similar depending on the exact types.

The durability will be similar as well, with both materials holding up to sports uniforms and other wear and tear.

If you are a crafter, you most likely started out using a small-scale vinyl cutter and vinyl rolls/sheets.

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This is an easy way to do low quantity, custom items, which most crafters are doing.

Crafters who sell items on Etsy, etc., may even choose to cut and heat apply items on demand as they are ordered from customers. This helps reduce inventory. However, if you go this route, you do still need to have your vinyl supplies on hand, so there is still an inventory cost involved.

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The ‘per piece’ cost for heat transfer vinyl designs is pretty economical when you are only doing small quantities.

If you aren’t producing a lot of orders, then this is a viable option to keep your costs low, and profits high.

However, there is an extra cost involved when using this process to produce your custom apparel. Each time you want to produce a product, you need to cut your design, weed it, and apply it.

This actually adds production time, and as a business, you need to take your time into account.

It can take a considerable amount of time to cut and weed more complex designs.

On top of that, if it is a multi-color design, you’ll need to cut, weed, and heat apply each color separately. Aligning the colors together can be challenging in itself.

Screen printed transfers, on the other hand, come ready to apply. They don’t need to be weeded.

Screen printed transfers are great if you are doing more than just a small quantity. As soon as you are doing higher volumes of the same design, screen printed transfers can speed up your production process tremendously.

Goof Proof screen printed transfers apply in as little as 4 seconds. Even if you have a multi-color design, all of the colors are printed onto the same sheet to heat apply in one application.

A 3 color Goof Proof transfer still applies in one, 4 second application. Goof Proof is also a “hot peel” transfer, so as soon as the application is done, you can peel the backing paper off immediately. You don’t have to wait for it to cool down first.

Even if you are a crafter selling shirts or other items through an Etsy store online, you can still order your screen printed transfers and apply them on demand as your customers order them.

If you are doing a lot of sales over time of the same design, this is a perfect scenario to order screen printed transfers for your crafting business.

Order your prints in a larger quantity to sell over time.

Screen printed transfers have a long shelf life if stored properly. We have seen these transfers apply perfectly after several years of storage.

Compared to heat transfer vinyl, screen printed transfers are more expensive at lower quantities, but as the quantity increases, screen printed transfers will actually be cheaper at higher quantities.

Also keep in mind your labor and production time. Your labor time will be much less with screen printed transfers, especially as your quantities increase.

Since you’ll only be weeding a few pieces at lower quantities, vinyl would probably be a better choice for those types of projects.


Price Comparison for Heat Transfer Vinyl and Screen Printed Transfers

To compare pricing for your particular project, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. How many pieces will you be printing? How many colors is the design? Are there multiple items within the same project, such as a t-shirt and a cap?

After you know the basics of your project, you can compare pricing.

When you are looking at vinyl, you can buy in sheets or rolls. If sheets, know how big the sheet size is and how big your shirt design is. Can you fit multiple designs per sheet? Can you fit a full size t-shirt design and a cap design?

Then you’ll be able to determine your “per piece” price. The same goes for if you are buying in rolls. Figure out how many pieces you can fit from the roll and how much it is per piece.

If it is a 2 or 3 color design, don’t forget to take that into consideration, too. You’ll need to figure out for each color how much you can fit onto the sheet/roll.

Then you can easily compare those numbers and prices to screen printed transfers. Look at the price grids for the same number of sheets and know the transfer size.

With screen printed transfers, you are usually working with a particular sheet size. You may be able to fit multiple images on the same sheet for the same price, just like you may be able to fit multiple images when you are cutting your own vinyl sheets.

If this is the case, figure out how many total sheets you need to get the price break, and then how much it will be per image on the sheet.

Check the pricing for the number of colors, too.

Don’t forget to take into consideration your time as well. If the price is similar or if screen printed transfers are a tad bit more for the quantity you are printing, is it worth your time to cut and weed all of the pieces to save a few cents per piece?

Only you can answer that question. What is your time worth to you and how much margin do you want to make on your finished apparel?

Answering these types of questions will help you to determine which transfer type to use for your next custom apparel job – either heat transfer vinyl or screen printed transfers.

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