Question: The Debate Continues: 
Screen Printing Vs. Heat Transfers


A Distributor Asks: Screen printing versus heat transfers. How do they compare? We have a small order of 165 items—tees and hoodies—but most of them require a four-color imprint in three locations. I’ve never done a heat transfer decoration and I’m hesitant because I don’t know how well it holds up. What is your expertise on the subject?

The description of the order (four print in three locations) combined with the low quantity (165 items) seems better suited for a technology that you haven’t mentioned, but is ideal for low-run, multi-color, multi-location printing. Assuming each print location is a different size, this job would take at minimum 12 screens (and their associated setup fees—ouch). Your secondary option of heat transfer would work, but in my opinion, heat transfer looks cheap. Heat transfer does not wash particularly well either.

I would suggest a third option that is ideal for jobs like this: sublimation. Sublimation is great for low-quantity, multi-color printing, with great washability. Sublimation has no set-up fees or screens to burn. The inks chemically bond to the fabric through heat and pressure, which leaves you with no hand and a wonderfully soft garment. The color gamut is large and colors come out bold, bright. You can also achieve photo-real quality, as it’s usually printed with four or six colors (CMYK++). Sublimation also washes great, the print will never crack, peel or fade since it’s chemically-bonded to the fibers. The only downside to sublimation is that it’s polyester, which some customers don’t like. But if you look around, you can find vendors that have developed custom knits that have a cotton-like look and feel. 

If your customer is not a fan of sublimation, a fourth option is reactive inkjet on cotton (not to be confused with direct-to-garment pigment printing, which also suffers from less-than-idea washability). Reactive inkjets uses the same dyes that are used in traditional large-run production batch dyeing in a highly refined version, printed from an inkjet head directly onto cotton/rayon/bamboo (and most cellulose fibers), then chemically bonded to the fiber with steam. The resulting print has zero hand, great washability and really looks quite amazing. The only downside to this technology is that it has a larger minimum quantity order of 100 units per style/design and a higher cost. However, if you’re looking for the “best,” this is it.

Ryan Kearns
Vice President of Marketing
Oakland, California

My preference is always to go with screen printing unless there is a compelling reason to go with heat transfer. Screen printing looks crisper, doesn’t feel like a sticker stuck on the garment like heat transfers sometimes do, and costs less most of the time. But if the design is extremely complex and heat transfer would deliver the best quality, then I am not opposed to going with it.

Anup Gupta
AG PrintPromo Solutions
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
PPAI 288459, D3

Screen printing, 100 percent! I only offer HTV if the quantity if six to 12 pieces and any time a shirt is going to be worn only a few times. Your customers will thank you and will come back to you any time they need custom-printed apparel. 

Kassi Porter Fuhrman
KM Printing & Promotions, LLC
Shawnee, Kansas

Go with a direct screen print, as it is simply more durable. Reasoning: ink to paper/paper to garment versus ink to garment. Nothing is lost in translation.

Donna LoPinto
Owner and President
Print This!, Inc.
Tarrytown, New York

I do both in my shop. I agree with others that screen printing lasts forever (when done correctly). However, a good transfer applied correctly will last years and years of wash and wear. If it were me, and I do prefer the direct screen, I would do a transfer for this job. Beware of digital print transfers; always go with a truly fully screen-printed transfer. Lots of the companies try to sell you on a part-digital and part-printed transfer—do not get that! They are gross and plasticky!

Brooke Bradley
Owner and Operator
All American Screen Printing
Santa Maria, California

I actually usually prefer the look of vinyl if done right, especially in light colors—but at that size run, I would do silk screen unless it’s full color or something.

Borzou Azabdaftari
The Falcon Lab
McLean, Virginia


A Distributor Asks: As we are all watching our expenses, is it still necessary to have a landline phone? As a distributor, most of my business calls come in through my mobile device, as my client and suppliers have the number. Do clients and suppliers care that there isn’t a dedicated business landline?

We have a dedicated Voice-over Internet Protocol (VOIP) line through Line2, but we also have had lines using RingCentral for multiple extensions. Both tie into the cell phone.

Ed Hamner
Top Dog & Print Geek
Howling Print & Promo
Chardon, Ohio
PPAI 593535, D1

I had Nextiva. I think I paid $200 a year and had all my numbers ported. All extensions went to cell phones, kind of like RingCentral. You can also have free phone numbers through Google Voice. Not sure they have a virtual assistant option, but maybe that’s something to look into.

Charity Gibson
Account Manager
Peerless Umbrella
Tempe, Arizona
PPAI 112666, S10 

We use RingCentral and it’s great. Loads of flexibility that allows sales reps to tailor their “extension” however they like: rings at their empty desk, goes straight to voicemail, rings on their mobile, different greetings and call handlings depending on day/time. Go VOIP, you’ll never look back. It can be expensive, though.

Rich Patterson
Patterson Brands
Vancouver, British Colombia 

As a supplier, I like cell phones. I sometimes text with distributors when things are time-sensitive. 

Ira Lichtenstein
Owner and Principal
Richardson Seating Corp.
Chicago, Illinois
PPAI 232090, S3

My kids want us to get rid of our landline, but I don’t get great cell coverage consistently, so I use my landline a lot. And I can hear better on my landline.

Holly Wollins Schotz
Brand Consultant
All Wrapped Up
Columbia, Maryland
PPAI 197888, D2

VOIP is the way to go, as long as your provider allows calls to roll over to a cell phone.

Matt Gonzales, MAS
Merchandising Director
Identity Works, Inc.
West Salem, Wisconsin
144318, D5


Do You Have An Answer?

A Distributor Asks: What are your expectations for your business this year? Specifically, are you expecting sales to be up a lot over 2020, slightly up, flat or down? Are you feeling positive about the year or worried, and why?


What’s Your Answer?

Email your response to the question to for the chance to be featured in a future issue of PPB. 


Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.

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Comments (1)
Roger M. Halverson
February 19, 2021
Recently there was a question about elevator speeches. Did I miss the responses?
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