Should I Screen Print or Decorate with Vinyl?
Ready to start decorating garments? There are many ways you can go about decorating garments — embroidery, screen printing, vinyl, etc. How do you decide which one is best for you? Let’s focus on screen printing and vinyl to distinguish which method will fit your business.
Photo by Symmetree Clothing.
WHAT IS SCREEN PRINTING?
According to Oxford Languages, screen printing (a.k.a. silkscreen printing) is the act of “forc[ing] ink or metal on to (a surface) through a prepared screen of fine material so as to create a picture or pattern.”
That definition makes screen printing sound simple. Here’s a brief summary of the process:
- Create artwork in a program like Adobe Illustrator
- Print artwork on film
- Coat screens with emulsion
- Expose film to screen
- Wash out stencil
- Place screen on press and slather ink on it
- Push or pull a squeegee across the screen
- Cure the garment
- Clean up screen with chemicals
That is a BRIEF summary of the screen printing process (the full process has many more steps and involvement required on your end). It’ll be helpful to have a basic understanding of the process when we discuss picking which method is best for you.
Photo by Salt and Pine Co.
WHAT IS VINYL?
First off, different types of vinyl printing exist (sign vinyl, adhesive vinyl, heat transfer vinyl, etc). We’ll be focusing on heat transfer vinyl. Heat transfer vinyl is “a type of vinyl used to decorate apparel, bags, and other soft goods; heat transfer vinyl is printed onto an item using heat and pressure over a short period of time,” according to Stahls’, a heat press manufacturer.
The vinyl decorating and cutting process is quite simple, compared to screen printing. First, learn and create the art in a graphics program. Next, a vinyl cutter cuts out the design on heat transfer vinyl. You remove the excess vinyl (this step is called weeding) around the design. Place the vinyl on the garment. With a heat press, you’ll adhere the decoration to the garment.
Photo by Golden Press Studio.
WHICH ONE IS BEST FOR ME?
Picking one of the printing methods will depend on your targeted audience. First consideration — order volumes. Are you printing for customers who want one to 12 shirts? Or will you be consistently printing orders of 12+ garments? If you’re printing small orders, go with vinyl. It’s so much quicker — press a button to cut the vinyl, weed it, place on shirt, press, done. Going through the whole screen printing process to print a handful of shirts is not worth your time. On the flip side, if you’re printing 30 shirt orders often, decorating with vinyl will hold you up. It’s much more efficient to create one screen that can be used for 30 shirts or a 1,000 shirts.
Another factor that’ll determine which method you choose is the amount of colors you’ll be printing. Mainly printing one-color prints? Vinyl is perfect. Planning on making multicolor prints? Screen printing is the way to go. Decorating multicolor prints with vinyl is challenging because you’re unable to register the print like you could on a press. Eyeballing the placement of each part of the design means there’s a higher likelihood of producing inconsistent decorations.
Lastly, what does your space look like? Screen printing requires a lot of space because you need an area to print shirts and a place for your darkroom. Vinyl does not require a large area for printing since it only requires a few pieces of equipment.
In the end, it mainly boils down to who you are decorating for. Are you printing piles and piles of shirts for employees at local businesses? Screen printing is the way to go.
Are you starting an Etsy shop and are receiving a few orders each day? Start with vinyl. If your shop grows to where you're printing larger volumes, you can always expand into screen printing and invest in the equipment and supplies.
|Reasons to Use Vinyl||Reasons to Screen Print|
|Printing orders less than 12 pieces||Printing orders of more than 12 pieces|
|Printing one-color designs||Printing multicolor designs|
|Have little space||Have lots of space|
Photo by Stark Screen Printing.
SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR SCREEN PRINTING
If you have decided to start screen printing, you’re going to need several things like a press, a flash dryer, exposure unit, film, squeegees, screens, ink, emulsion, cleaning chemicals, and more. To make your life a little easier, you could invest in a kit like the Semi-Pro Screen Printing Kit, which has all the equipment and supplies needed to get started.
SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR VINYL
To decorate with a heat transfer vinyl, you’ll need a vinyl cutter, graphic software, a heat press, a weeding hook, and vinyl. Kits also exist for heat transfer vinyls, or you can go about picking and choosing your own setup.
LEARNING MORE ABOUT THE PROCESS
Starting a new adventure means learning new skills. For screen printing, we suggest checking out the following articles and videos:
- How to Screen Print Video Series
- CMYK vs. Spot Color vs. Simulated Process
- Simple Color Separations in Adobe Illustrator Tutorial
- Mesh Count and You
- Which Emulsion is Right for Me?
- How Many Shirts Do I Need to Sell for the Riley 150 to Pay Itself?
- How to Dial In Exposure Times
- Advice for Selecting Wholesale Shirts
- How to Screen Print White Plastisol Ink on a Black Shirt
- Which Press is Right for Me?
- Ensuring Proper Ink Curing
- How to Make a Better Screen
- How to Screen Print T-Shirts
- Best Practices for Setting Up Shop in Your Garage
For vinyl printing, check out Stahl’s YouTube channel and blog. They provide a ton of great information about the process and nuances within vinyl printing.