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).
The ABC’s of Screen Printed and/or Plastisol 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 Print Transfers 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.
Starting a T-shirt Business Without Breaking the Bank
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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[…] 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. [ ]https://www.tshirtriches.com/plastisol-transfers/ […]
I don’t really understand how plastisol transfers are better than actual printed shirts. Unless you purchase the plastisol transfers in bulk the price is about the same. The ONLY advantage I’ve seen is that you won’t have a printed garment laying around having not sold.
hi Rod. Thanks for your comment. In my opinion, screen printing trumps all other methods in terms of ‘quality’. For all intended purposes, it’s the best way to get shirts made, especially when buying in bulk. The next best method for getting quality shirts made is gonna be plastisol transfers. No other method outside screen printing trumps ‘plastisol transfers’. This method is the ONLY method that gets you closest to a screen print quality shirt (keep in mind, this method is NOT the same as printing your own transfers from a home computer).
One of the reasons for this post was to make the case that screen printed or plastisol transfers is an affordable option to get into the t-shirt business. All without having to spend over $10,000+ dollars to get started. I just wanted to make that clarification. There isn’t an extensive amount of learning involved with screen printed transfers compared to learning how to screen print. Plus, with transfers, you can do this in a spare bedroom, kitchen table, sunroom or garage.
You are correct in saying that you must purchase plastisol transfers in bulk to get a good price, but the pricing is not exactly the same. Here’s how screen printed transfers work to your advantage…
Take a look at this pricing chart of just one of the many vendors that make screen printed transfers:
In the pricing chart above, the pricing shown are for custom screen printed transfers being put onto large jumbo sheets measuring 25 inches x 38 inches. In the first column, the pricing for 100 sheets is $2.81 for a single color design.
But because these are jumbo sheets, depending on the size of your design, you can get up to 6 standard shirt size designs onto just ONE jumbo sheet. Broken down, each design on one jumbo sheet is only costing you .47 cents each.
But since you get 100 sheets with 6 designs on each sheet, you essentially end up with 600 transfers for just $281 bucks.
But here’s how it gets even better … let’s say you have 6 different designs, and let’s say each of the 6 designs are blue (the same color). Guess what??? You can put each of the 6 designs onto the jumbo sheet and get one hundred sheets made for the same $281 bucks.
Now you have 6 totally different designs and you have 100 each. Now convince me you can get that from a screen printed for $281.00?
You’ll spend more than that getting 100 t-shirts printed up with 1 color through a local screen printer … The shirts would probably be really cheap and they’re all pre-printed onto shirts that might or might not sell. But at least with the screen printed transfer, you 6 totally different designs.
If you get creative and think things through when coming up with your designs, you can get a whole lot more for your dollar, for practically the same money.
Look further down the list and you can get 500 sheets printed up for $1.65 per sheet for a total of $825 bucks. With 6 designs on one sheet, your cost per transfer in this example costs you about .28 cents each. In this scenario, you walk away with 3,000 transfers. If you had 6 different designs on a sheet, you get 500 transfers of each of the 6 designs.
Now tell me how this doesn’t work out in your favor?
$281 bucks is a small price to pay to walk away with 100 of 6 different designs. You just don’t lose at all.
Now if you’re only buying 12 transfers, then the pricing model makes no sense at all… Just like it wouldn’t if all you were buying were 12 transfers from a local screen printer. Their fees would be outrageous for just 12 tees.
Hope this makes sense and thanks for your feedback… It’s questions like yours that help me elaborate more on how this process works and benefits the end user.
These are 25 x 38 $2.81 for 100 sheets for 1-color.
First I want to say that after watching countless videos on this business your series happen to be the best. I say this because I’m extremely adhd so more than the needed information will cause me to be distracted by something else. I wanted someone clear to the point and knew what the were talking about. You are that! Especially breaking down the bottom line which is what matters most.
With that said what vendors do you recommend for these heat transfers? Who has the most bang for buck?
We get a lot of inquiries related to which transfer vendor is the best, and which one to use.
Each transfer company has their own technique and style. It’s very important you reach out to them and request samples so you can see their work. Many companies will charge for samples, while others will not.
One of my favorite transfer vendor is Transfer Express. They have quick turnaround times, and if you work within their templates, their fees are reasonable.
When you start customizing your own designs and start working outside of their templates, their fees can get pretty costly… However, if you order a decent quantity, that can help bring your costs way down.
You should not expect to get reasonable pricing if all you’re ordering is 12 or 15 transfers. It doesn’t make sense for them to spend a bunch of time and resources making low quantities, so expect to pay a high fee if you’re only looking for a handful of transfers.
We have a great mini training course that teaches you how to get the best prices from vendors, and it includes a comprehensive list of both our preferred transfer vendors, as well as blank garment vendors. For more information, go to : https://www.tshirtriches.com/screen-print-transfers/. Hope this helps!
looking to learn the process for my job.