Screen Print Vs Vinyl T-shirt Printing: Which One and Why?

There’s been a lot of debate on which one is better between vinyl printing and screen printing for t-shirts. Although both methods offer high-quality, lasting results, I use vinyl printing and with this article, I will tell you why.

Before I reveal to you my reasons for choosing vinyl over screen printing, let’s first have a quick comparison of the two.

Vinyl Printing

Vinyl printing is all about heat transfer. You use a machine to cut out letters and designs from colored vinyl and heat-press them onto the t-shirt to transfer the color to it. Vinyl printing depends on a combination of pressure and heat.

Screen Printing

In this method, you need actual screens. Essentially, what you have to do is cut them to make templates for the designs. You then spread ink over each screen (only one ink color per screen) and let it pass through to the garment underneath; you will need several screens to come up with the final product.

 Now, let’s take a look at the differences between screen and vinyl printing when customizing a t-shirt. Remember, both will deliver quality, long lasting results if the garment is used correctly.

1. Run time

Vinyl

Vinyl printing is suitable for very small runs of up to 16 t-shirts. That’s due to the fact that the set-up time is little relative to that of screen printing. However, this method is much slower than screen printing as each t-shirt needs its own set up. This, therefore, makes it too time consuming and cost ineffective beyond the 16-t-shirt mark.

Screen

My MOQ (acronym for minimum order quality) for screen printing is 25 t-shirts. Setting up screen printing takes much longer compared to vinyl printing but as soon as the set-up in done, the printing process is swift. The high speed is because nothing needs to change from t-shirt to t-shirt, provided the designs remain the same. Screen printing is the right method if you’re looking to work on large orders.

2. Detail and color

Vinyl

Vinyl printing is best suited for simple graphics. If you’re looking to create basic shapes or text-based designs, this is the method to use. Need to print jersey numbers for your high school soccer team? Excellent! Want a sleek photograph of the Penguins of Madagascar on your t-shirt? This method just won’t cut it. With vinyl printing, there’s no way you can come up with true gradients (blending of colors); fine details will easily get lost.

Screen

If you’re looking to print that photograph of the Penguins of Madagascar on your shirt, screen printing is the method that will do it for you. this method gives you access to a much high level of color and detail, making printing of photographs possible. As a matter of fact, complex designs come through effortlessly and definitely beautifully. Furthermore, screen printing gives you access to a full range of colors; you can mix whatever shades you prefer.

3. Lifespan

Under appropriate use, both methods should produce results that last for years. Here’s a look into the lifespans of the two methods and how to maximize it.

Vinyl

Under normal use, the design should last more than five years. I recommend following these care guidelines to maximize the lifespan:

  • Do not dry clean the garment. Rather, machine-wash it warm, with mild detergent.
  • Dry the t-shirt at normal setting.
  • Do not use chlorine bleach on the garment.
  • Wait for at least a day (24 hours) before the first wash after printing.

Screen

The graphics produced through screen printing should last for the t-shirt’s life under normal, proper use. To make the graphic last the garment’s life, be sure to wash the garment inside out, with cold water only.

Why Vinyl Printing best?

So, you might wonder why I use vinyl over screen printing despite all the benefits associated with the latter. I will tell you why.

First, screen printing is not cost effective or even quick enough for small jobs. A new screen has to be cut for every design. Actually, screen printing is suitable only when we’re talking of a minimum of around 100 t-shirts. Now that I don’t normally print such a huge number of garments, I always go for vinyl printing.

With this method, I can help my customers with small jobs of even 2 or 3 items. That way, I’m able to keep my costs low and my customers happy.

Ever had a t-shirt printed and after washing it several times noticed peelings, fading or cracking all over it? This is another annoying issue with screen printing when the garment is not used appropriately. Of course, the graphic should last the garment’s life but that is if you wash it inside out with cold water each time. But, who remembers to do that?

The best thing about vinyl printing is that the design will not fade or crack. In fact, I have a t-shirt that I always use as a sample when folks ask how my vinyl printing washes. When I got it, the t-shirt had a screen-printed design on the front that said “I Love Tennessee” on the front. I, then, decided to vinyl-print it on the back, with the words “I Love Alaska”, all before ever washing it.

After owning the t-shirt for around 4 years now, and cleaning it for more times than I cared to count, the front printing is faded. In fact, it is now virtually freckled with the original color of the t-shirt showing through. On the other hand, the back has remained as I printed it.

Of course, there are numerous advantages of screen printing. Most importantly, it helps you complete the job much faster and with less toil. With vinyl printing, you have to cut each design from a vinyl roll and then weed out the unwanted parts, such as the inside of most letters including a, b, d, e and g. Moreover, you have to repeat the process for every color of the design for every shirt.

If you’re to do orders of more than 100 t-shirts, it would be better to get a good machine with 2 heat presses in 1 and lasers to help accomplish the task quickly.

Final Word

Your choice of a printing method depends on the size of your orders and the complication of the designs you’re looking to create. If you’re hoping to do just a few orders with simple designs, I recommend going for vinyl printing but if you’re looking to do many orders (over 100) with complex picture designs and fonts, it’d be better to use screen printing.

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