What is Heat Transfer and Silkscreening?

Image Credit: Photo by Zamrznuti tonovi / Adobe Stock 

Author: Ethical Swag

What is the difference between the various decoration methods?

There is often a choice between transfer print, Direct to Garment, silkscreening and embroidery when decorating your swag.  We wanted to unpack the pros and cons of each to help guide your decision.  Here is the second in our two part series. If you are looking for part one, click here for Embroidery.

Direct to Garment (DTG)

What is it? 

It is like an ink-jet printer for fabric!  It sprays ink onto the product and then the ink “soaks’ in.  


  • This is a digital printing technology that is crisp, produces vibrant colors, can handle highly detailed logos/images and has a soft, natural feel.
  • You can do lower quantity print runs.
  • Usually recommended for full color designs and images
  • Typically uses water based inks


  • Imprint does not last as long as silkscreening.
  • Slower decoration process so it is not recommended for large orders
  • A more expensive option as the run charge per unit is much higher.

Silkscreening/Screen Printing

What it is:  

A mesh stencil is used to transfer ink onto fabric.  It uses thick inks that lay on top of the material.  Each color is applied separately using a different stencil for each color. Because each color is applied separately, it is a more labor intensive process and incurs a run charge and set-up charge for each additional color.


  • Vibrant color matched (PMS) printing
  • High quality and lasts longer than DTG
  • Better for larger quantities


  • Labor intensive and incurs run charges and set up for each color in the logo 
  • Small dots can be visible from the screen process.
  • Screen printing uses a lot of water and is often done with non-biodegradable ink.
  • Screen printing is usually ordered in bulk which increases the chance of overproduction and waste

Heat Transfer

What is it?

Using heat, your image/logo will be transferred from special transfer paper to fabric.  The heat opens the cloth fibers allowing the dyes to bond.


  • Works well with 100% cotton fabric or a blend of cotton and polyester.
  • You can do lower quantity print runs.
  • High detail transfers well.


  • Not as durable as silkscreening and won’t last as long.
  • Not good for large print runs.

Our production team at Ethical Swag will guide you and ensure we use the best possible decoration method based on your needs.