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An Introduction to Screen Print Transfers

Screen print transfers have been around since the 1970s. The printing process is similar to direct screen-printing. However, instead of printing directly onto a garment, special ink is printed onto a release paper, which can later be heat-applied onto a wide variety of products.

Over the years, heat press, transfer paper, and ink technology have improved greatly. These improvements ensure high-quality and durable printed products. Screen print transfers offer great versatility, they allow you to print on-demand while maintaining low overhead costs. “Ganging” artwork is possible, in other words having different designs printed on the same transfer sheet. Doing so greatly reduces production costs.

Screen print transfers are extremely versatile.  They can be printed onto cotton, polyester, and blended garments.  In addition to standard garments, you can also print transfers on bags, towels, and hats.  In order to print these products they must first be pre-pressed to remove any moisture that might interfere with the print. After pre-pressing the garment, there is still much to consider.

Such an array of products will naturally require different variables in the pressing process.  The 3 variables to consider are the time, temperature, and pressure of the press. Most transfers will print best around 370 degrees for between 8 and 12 seconds at 40 to 80 PSI.  These are, however, general numbers. Changing any of these variables will affect the end product’s opacity, adhesion, and feel (which is also referred to as “hand”).

Different garments will require different variables, but so will different types of transfers. These types include hot peel, cold peel, and hot split.  The names refer to types of transfer paper and how they are peeled. Hot and cold peels are printed on coated transfer paper as this allows for complete release of all ink onto the garment. The difference between the two is that hot peel transfer paper can be removed instantly while cold peel cannot be removed until the garment has cooled. Hot split transfers are printed onto uncoated transfer paper, meaning that some ink will remain on the paper.  This creates a softer “hand” and better stretch.

The amount of versatility offered by screen print transfers is one of the reasons their use is expanding rapidly.  There is also a low equipment cost when compared to other printing methods, and the equipment is much easier to use than other decoration equipment.  The print time is much quicker per garment. With screen print transfers, you do not have to hold printed inventory. Rather, you can print on-demand which saves money and prevents you from being stuck with printed inventory that you cannot sell.  Screen print transfers do have a few drawbacks as well. There is a larger upfront cost in the form of the transfers, which you are dependent upon to be able to print. So if there is not a transfer available for the artwork you want to print, then you are out of luck.  Lastly, the details of screen print transfers cannot be too fine. You will not be able to print photo-quality screen print transfers.  

These small drawbacks are clearly outweighed by the overwhelming positives associated with screen print transfers.  Every day more and more decoration shops trade in screen printing equipment for heat presses. For anyone new to the product decoration industry, screen print transfers offer the lowest barrier to entry.  The ease of use and small learning curve allows schools, businesses looking to in-source printing, and even gift and retail stores to begin printing almost immediately. Heat press transfer margins might be a little lower than screen printing, but there is far less overhead.  Many decoration shops have thrived for decades selling shirts decorated with screen print transfers. So, with a little practice, and demand to meet, anyone can find their footing in the decoration industry with just a heat press and transfers.

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