When to Use Screen Printed Transfers vs. Vinyl

Mike Romano is on the marketing team at Stahls’ Transfer Express. He's largely designed graphics for the company's website and trade show booth, but also writes articles for the company blog. 

It always helps to have the most options available to you as an apparel decorator. Each job is different, and it doesn’t always make sense to do each one the same way, every single time.

Having the flexibility to choose between decorating methods will help you be the most profitable, save you time, and get the finished product to your customer as quickly as possible while providing a quality product.

When comparing heat printing options, the go-to options are usually cutting your own vinyl designs or getting screen printed transfers.

When should you choose one over the other? We recommend looking at a few areas before deciding.

SIZE OF THE ORDER

The number of shirts is probably one of the first things you will want to consider.

Vinyl is excellent for low runs for several reasons. Small runs are not going to give you a significant profit overall, so your margin needs to be as high as possible.

You can buy vinyl in rolls, allowing you to cut each design at a low cost. Cutting your designs for just a few shirts is also quick. You can cut, weed, and heat apply a handful of shirts in a short amount of time, especially in a time crunch. However, when your customer wants more than five shirts, it’s time to consider switching to screen-printed transfers.

Screen-printed transfers come ready to apply and apply within a few seconds each. There is no extra time cutting or weeding. This advantage is especially important when you get into larger runs. Your time will be saved, allowing you to work on multiple orders in the same amount of time.

As you get into larger quantities, the cost of materials starts to balance out as well.

NUMBERS OF COLORS

Another area to consider when choosing a print method is the number of colors a customer wants.

Vinyl is excellent for one-color designs, but as soon as you get into multicolor designs, it can get tricky fast. Not only tricky, but your time and labor are going to increase, especially as your shirt quantity increases.

When you cut and apply vinyl, you are doing it one color at a time. If you have a two- or three-color design, for example, you will be cutting and weeding each color separately, and then heat applying each color individually as well. You will also have to line up each layer of vinyl so that the design looks good in regard to the color placement of the pieces.

In these cases, it’s time to switch to screen printed transfers. Remember, screen printed transfers come ready to apply, whether it’s a one-color or multicolor design. All colors apply at once, in just one application step. You won’t have to line up any layers.

In the time that you can heat apply a three-color design for one shirt using vinyl, you can print three shirts in the same three-color design using screen printed transfers.

DESIGN DETAILS

One of the other key areas to consider is the level of detail in the artwork.

The more detail a design has, the longer it will take your cutter to cut each design. Then you still have to weed out the extra vinyl around each of those pieces. The labor time can get lengthy when the detail increases.

When this is the case, use screen-printed transfers. These are already printed on the paper, and the detail can get pretty small with no added labor time. Consider design elements like trendy distressed patterns, too.

Quantity, artwork colors, and design detail are key elements to think about when you are trying to decide how to decorate your next job. Consider them all together as a combination of any of these areas will help you determine how to best use your time and make the most margin and profit.

And, always remember to consider your time when calculating the cost of each job. How much will you make per hour and per shirt?