Comparing Heat Transfer Films with Screen Printed Graphics

A high quality polyurethane heat transfer film will outlast a screen printed garment hands down. In fact, if you properly process and care for a polyurethane heat transfer, the applique should last the life of the garment.  We all know what happens to a screen printed shirt after a dozen washes.  Plastisol inks crack. By comparison, I have a tee-shirt with digitally printed applique  that still looks great after 30 washes.  While the heat transfer material looks new, the base color of the fabric has faded.

After 30 washes, my Indian motorcycle applique still looks great!

Please note that I specifically used the term “polyurethane” and not “vinyl” heat transfer material.  Just as plastisol inks crack after several washes, so do vinyl appliques. That’s why most of the heat transfer films today are polyurethane.

Now that doesn’t mean that all polyurethane films perform in the same manner.  They don’t!  Just as there is a wide range of sign vinyls with varying physical characteristics and performance properties, the same holds true for polyurethane films.

Each manufacturer will formulate their polyurethane film differently to achieve their specific requirements. For this reason, you need to test and evaluate the various films, before using them in production.  You will find that each film has its own unique characteristics in terms of how it cuts, weeds and prints. The softness of hand and durability of each product will also vary.

What’s unique about the RTape heat transfer films is the softness of the film and its ability to stretch with the garment. With the advent and popularity of performance fabrics, the stretchiness of the film is extremely important.  Films that do not stretch with the garments, are likely to fail. If you are interested in evaluating our products, my suggestion is to give RTape a call and ask for a sample.

If today’s heat transfer films are so great and the durability of screen printing is so limited, why would anyone screen print? A major reason is economy of scale.  For production runs of 50 garments or more, it just doesn’t make sense to heat press appliques.  It’s just too expensive. But for the shorter runs, heat transfer materials are more economical.  To be fair, a second advantage of screen printed graphics is the softness of the image.  Many appliques, especially vinyl films, are stiff and uncomfortable for the wearer. In testing our films, I believe that you will find that the softness of our products most closely approximates the feel of screen printing.