Screen Printing … You have most likely heard this term before, or the related term “silk screening”. It refers to the technique invented by the Chinese thousands of years ago. Even though this process has been used for centuries, it still remains the gold standard in transferring images onto garments, both in terms of quality and durability.
Screen printing is a very complex process using a lot of cumbersome equipment and supplies, but it basically describes the process of applying ink onto objects using screens. The process has proven to deliver clean, crisp designs that will hold up to repeated wear and washes.
The set-up is the same if you order one shirt or one hundred shirts, which is why there are price breaks when you place a larger order. Because most people do not have the capital or time to utilize screen printing equipment, a popular alternative is having designs screen printed onto special release paper, known as plastisol transfers (or screen printed transfers).
This method still requires some equipment, but it has immense advantages over direct screen printing. Of course, there are also some disadvantages which we will discuss as well. However, the Screen Printed Transfer is a viable alternative to direct screen printing and is helping thousands of people start their own business with efficiency, flexibility and lower startup costs.
Screen printed heat transfers are not new to the garment decorating industry. The process has been used for years because it is simple, clean and repeatable for anyone who owns a heat press.
What makes Screen Printed Transfers different is how they are created. It takes all of the benefits of screen printing and combines that with the efficiency and flexibility of heat transfers. Screen printed transfers are made using a special ink and uses the same process as direct screen printing. The special ink used is called Plastisol, which is a mixture of pigment (color) and PVC plastic. Rather than screen printing directly onto a garment, the plastisol is layered in reverse onto a special heat release paper to create the desired image.
(Watch the first 2-minutes of video below to see plastisol transfers in action:)
There are also different types of plastisol transfers that will create different finishes. There are two main types, Cold Peel and Hot Split, and each one relates to how and when the transfer backing paper is removed.
With hot split transfers, the transfer is removed immediately off the garment once the heat source is removed (once the heat press opens). This method transfers the majority of the ink to the garment while leaving some ink on the paper as the ink is still hot and fluid. This method creates a lasting bond and results in a soft, brushed matte finish.
In contrast, Cold Peel transfers require the transfer paper to be removed from the garment after it has time to cool following pressing. Cold Peel transfers result in a glossy finish.
Other transfer types include Hot Peel, Puff and Process Color transfers.
Because these plastisol transfers are created using screen printing techniques, they must be ordered from a manufacturer or vendor with the proper equipment and experience to complete them. However, using a screen printed transfer requires little equipment and experience.
Essentially the only start up equipment that you need is a heat press, along with blank garments and transfers. Getting a quality heat press machine from the start will make this process both profitable and efficient for you. You might be tempted to get a cheap heat press, but I’d advise you against that.
We hear from people every week that go the cheap route. They usually call back saying their heat press doesn’t heat evenly, or that it stopped working. It’ll cost you more in the long run … Don’t do it. Cheap heat presses will cost you more money in ruined shirts and wasted transfers.
With regards to the heat press, you need a combination of evenly placed heat AND pressure to fuse the plastisol inks onto the surface of your blank apparel. You will want to keep these key elements in mind when selecting a heat press. Each machine will have a different method of setting the temperature, time and pressure, so select a machine that is user friendly and easily calibrated. As you can see, a heat press is very simple to use and transfers leave all of the messy work to the screen printers!
The advantages to using plastisol transfers are endless! Not only do transfers go onto most fabrics, but they can also be put onto any color of garment. The process utilizes the same ink as used in direct screen printing, it creates the same results as direct screen printing in terms of image and quality, yet it offers much more flexibility than direct screen printing.
Designers are not limited to one or two colors or by the size or finish of a garment (such as baseball caps). Designers can offer complex, even photographic designs, that results in graphics that are indistinguishable from traditional direct screen printing. It is even a preferred method for decorating baseball caps because of the complications involved in printing on a curved surface.
Another great point in their flexibility is that instead of having 20 XXL shirts with a design already preprinted that you won’t be able to sell, transfers give you the ability to keep your transfers in inventory, and heat press the designs onto the appropriate shirts as they are ordered.
This is also true when it comes to t-shirts with team numbers or years on them. Transfers allow you to keep these individual numbers or letters on hand, and then configure them properly once a custom order is placed.
In addition, the garment and order flexibility, screen printed transfers offer a low startup cost. Since the only equipment needed are blank garments, transfers and a heat press, you can literally get started right away with your very own tshirt business.
Transfers are of course less messy since the process doesn’t involve cumbersome screen printing equipment and inks. This lack of unnecessary equipment, and knowledge of how to use said equipment, allows you to focus on your business and designing artwork for your garments, even right out of your home living room.
Of course, there are always disadvantages. The first disadvantage is your biggest expense, the heat press. While these machine can run upwards of $2,000.00, there are less expensive alternatives, such as buying a used heat press machine, or finding a reputable brand on sites like Amazon or Ebay.
In addition to price, heat press machines are heavy and they do heat up to very high temperatures. While it doesn’t happen often, burns can happen and it is extremely important to exercise caution when using a heat press machine, and to be aware of your surroundings at all time.
To summarize, screen printed transfers are changing the t-shirt industry by offering affordability, customization, flexibility, less equipment, and better efficiency for your business; all while still producing quality designs that are indistinguishable from traditional screen printing techniques.
By using the same techniques that screen printers have used for thousands of years, screen printers are able to print the design onto special release paper to be used at a later time on various garments. This means clothing businesses aren’t left with two-hundred designs in various sizes and colors that don’t sell as much. Instead, you can put the design onto any size tee as it is ordered.
Plastisol transfers leaves all of the cumbersome equipment and disposal of inks to the screen printers so you can focus on creating your art work and running your t-shirt business. Plastisol screen printed transfers are a huge benefit to the t-shirt industry by offering a high quality product that will keep customers coming back for more.
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