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Screen Printed Transfers, DTF Transfers, & More

Direct To Film vs. Screen Printed Transfers: Which One Is Right For Your Project?

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Hey Friends! Dave here with Transfer Express, and today we’re talking direct to film vs screen print transfers.

We’ll be covering the differences and similarities between each one of these heat transfer types. We’ll apply each and compare, we’ll chat about which one is right for your project and then we’ll even jump into some pricing comparisons with a couple different scenarios so you can be confident you’re making the right choice for your next project. Are you ready to press it like its hot? I am! Let’s get into it.

Now, for our screen print vs DTF showdown today, we’re going to be comparing the Goof Proof screen printed transfers with the new UltraColor Max, direct to film heat transfers from Transfer Express. While our UltraColor Max transfers are brand new, and super cool, our Goof Proof, plastisol ink transfers have been our most popular custom heat transfer for over 30 years - offering the same look, feel, wash and wear durability as a traditional screen print, without the mess of emulsions, inks, chemical cleanup and learning curve.

Right off the bat, let’s cover some similarities. Both of these transfers offer free floating text, with no clear outlines, they print on cotton, polyester, cotton/poly blends and triblends, in any color - light or dark. They’ll print nice and opaque. To top it all off, they both feature a quick and painless, buttery smooth hot peel from the carrier - making application a breeze. We’ll show you that in just a minute.

Where the similarities end, the differences start - and first up, art charges. All of our transfers here at Transfer Express can be ordered with your own uploaded raster or vector artwork, or you can design them from scratch using our online designer. Regardless of where your artwork is coming from, if your file is not print ready, or you need any artwork help, our UltraColor Max DTF transfers have a $22 proof charge. Our designers will get your art into tip top shape to ensure it prints great, and we’ll send you a digital proof to approve before we produce your order. With any of our screen printed or hybrid heat transfers, any art services are completely free of charge.

Next up, let’s chat color. DTF transfers are produced using CMYK, or cyan, magenta, yellow and key (also known as black). This is fine for most art, but when you need to match color exactly you’re going to have some variance. Screen printed transfers on the other hand are produced with spot color inks, or essentially a custom ink matched to the color of each color printing in the design. This can be custom matched to pantone colors for a small additional charge, or you can select from over 70 standard ink colors we have here at Transfer Express.

Speaking of color, the UltraColor Max DTF transfers can print unlimited colors, and it will not increase the price. With screen printed transfers, for every additional color in your design your price will increase. Gradients and photorealistic images are easily reproduced with UltraColor Max, where those elements are not easily replicated with screen printing, so you’re limited to more or less solid colors with the screen printed transfers.

With fine detail, both transfer types are able to achieve fine lines and detail, with screen printing slightly edging out the DTF with a minimum line weight of .012” vs 0.18”.

As for feel, these DTF transfers are lightweight and durable, with a soft almost satin-like finish. Screen printed transfers on the other hand feels like a soft-hand screen print, it might even be softer than many of the graphic t-shirts you have in your closet. It’s durable and light, with great stretch, elasticity and rebound. In terms of stretch, the DTF transfers really rival the plastisol transfers with just some incredible stretchability before the print starts cracking. Our UltraColor Max transfers are definitely lighter on the fabric than many of the digital transfers on the market today.

My favorite benefit of the Goof Proof screen printed transfers is the 4-6 second press time. It makes printing super efficient and quick, allowing you to knock out those large runs of shirts in just an hour or so. The UltraColor Max transfers feature a 12-15 second press, so while it’s not 30 seconds and still relatively quick, it’s still 3 times longer than the screen print transfers. Both transfers are a single-step process, with no need to cover and repress the print.

Speaking of speed, let’s chat turn time. The UltraColor Max dtf transfers are a 1 business day turn time, where the Goof Proof varies from 1 to 2 days, depending on the type of artwork you submit and the number of colors in the design. For example, a one color screen print designed online in our designer ships the next business day if ordered before production cutoff. A two color design with your uploaded art would be 2 days.

For ordering our UltraColor Max transfers are available at just 6 cents per square inch, as a single image or gang sheet from .25” up to 22" x 22” and no minimum quantity, just a $25 order minimum. On the other hand, our screen printed transfers are available exclusively by the sheet, in two different sizes: a 11.25” x 14” standard size sheet, or a 12.5” x 17.5” jumbo sheet. Screen printed transfers do have a minimum of just 6 sheets, but have quantity pricing breaks with each increasing quantity- so 6, 12, 18, 24... you get the idea.

Where screen printed transfers really shine is the profitability and low print cost at higher quantities. If you’re just printing off a few designs, the UltraColor Max DTF transfers are the way to go, but you’ll see in our pricing comparison here coming up that the tables turn pretty quickly with the quantity breaks. On the other hand, if you have 3 or more colors in your design, the UltraColor Max is the better option up to 18 or 24 quantity (depending on the size of your graphic) before you switch over to one of the other UltraColor products. But before we dive into numbers, let’s press each one here and compare!

Before we get out of here, let’s just run some quick pricing comparisons. For apples to apples, gang sheet pricing, we’ll use the standard size of our Goof Proof transfers at 11.25" x 14”. The DTF UltraColor Max transfers are $9.48 cents with the 6 cents a square inch pricing. At 6 quantity with our Easy Prints pricing (that's layouts and clipart from Transfer Express) it’s only $9.64 for each sheet in one color. For 12 quantity, we’d be even lower at just $5.21 per sheet.

If you’re uploading your own art, at 12 quantity, our Goof Proof is just $5.89 cents per sheet for one color and raster artwork is just $8.07, so still less expensive than the UltraColor Max.

Now if you’re not doing full sheet size images, let’s break it down to a 5" x 5” print, something more like what we printed today. For UltraColor Max and the square inch pricing, we’re at $1.50 for the 5" x 5” regardless of quantity. To get over the $25 minimum we’re looking at having to order 17 pieces. You can order less, like just one if you want, but you’ll pay $25.

At 5" x 5”, we can fit 4 images on one gang sheet, so with 6 minimum on the sheets, we’ll be locked in for at least 24 prints. 6 sheets would be $9.64 per sheet, divided by four is $2.41 cents each image. However, once we bump up to that 12 sheet quantity, our price drops down to just $5.21 per sheet, and divided by 4, we’re looking at $1.30 each. If we needed say 100 of this image, we would order 40 sheets of the Goof Proof, at the quantity break price of just $2.86 per sheet, and then divided by the four images on the sheet, is just 72 cents. Half the price of the $1.50 per image of UltraColor Max.

Of course, those are just one color pricing scenarios, but where 12 quantity tipped the scales in favor of the screen printing, with two color art it’s more realistically the 18 and 24 quantity price breaks where it’s less expensive as screen printing over the UltraColor Max DTF.

You can run all of these pricing scenarios right in Easy View online designer by switching your print methods at the bottom left. You’ll also see your turn time adjust as well down on the bottom right, underneath the pricing. Pretty cool!

So, just to recap, where the UltraColor Max DTF transfers really shine are in low quantity orders and artwork with a lot of colors in it - those photos or fades or gradients, where the screen printed transfers are your go-to for highly profitable limited color designs that mimic the look, feel and durability of traditional screen printing.

We love both of these transfers for where they shine, and want to be sure you’re making the right choice for your project. Be sure you’re subscribed to our Transfer Express YouTube page to stay up to date on all of the t-shirt business tips we’re dropping every single week! But, until next time, I’m Dave - happy pressing!

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