Customizing apparel with premade heat transfers has become increasingly popular with businesses of all types and sizes. Technology and economics have changed to allow everyone to create high-quality designs with heat transfers. But should you create your own t-shirt heat transfers or buy custom premade transfers?
This post compares DIY t-shirt transfers with premade shirt transfers to help you understand which option is best for your situation.
What Are T-Shirt Heat Transfers?
An inexpensive option to customize apparel, t-shirt heat transfers are graphic designs printed onto film that are applied to fabric with heat and pressure. Heat transfers are a popular way to customize t-shirts because they are versatile, affordable, and easy to apply.
4 Primary Types of Heat Transfers
The many different ink and fabric combinations mean that there are many types of heat transfers for shirts, but there are several main types. They include:
- Direct-to-Film Transfers (DTF) - These use layers of specialty ink and adhesive powder applied to polyester film. This produces vibrant, durable designs on a wide range of fabrics.
- Screen Printed Transfers - Consisting of layers of plastisol ink printed onto a special paper, screen-printed transfers are versatile and perform well on a variety of materials
- Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) - A specialty vinyl material that’s available in single or printed multi-color, HTV also has specialty finishes like glitter, glow-in-the-dark, and 3D puff. Useful on a variety of fabrics, heat transfer vinyl must be cut, weeded, and placed onto film before application.
- Sublimation Transfers - A method to dye fabric, sublimation transfers carry ink that is transformed into a gas using heat. The design itself is printed onto a piece of specialty paper before being applied to the shirt. Sublimation transfers produce a soft, vibrant design, but are limited to use with polyester fabrics.
Making vs. Buying T-Shirt Transfers with DTF
Determining whether making or buying shirt transfers is complicated by the many types available, so we’ve simplified our analysis by focusing on Direct to Film transfers. This technology continues to show that it’s exceptionally versatile and useful to most businesses. Our summary findings are:
H3: Which is the Best Approach?
H3: Making DIY T-Shirt Transfers
Making custom DTF shirt transfers appears to be a logical decision for many businesses, but a closer inspection suggests that it may depend on the specific situation:
- Lower Cost at High Volume - Hundreds of Transfers Drives the Per Piece Cost Down
- Turnaround Time - Fast Production Time & No Shipping Delay
- Greater Control - Not Dependent on 3rd Party
- Equipment Investment - A Significant Amount of Equipment is Needed
- Staff Training - Greater Training is Needed to Operate & Maintain DTF Printers
- Production Time - Lower Quality DTF Printers Can Be Slow
- Safety - Producing DTF Transfers Generates Hazardous Fumes
Manufacturing shirt transfers can make sense for high-volume operations, but it really depends. Variables like labor, maintenance, and training costs can quickly erase any benefits, while immediate turnaround and complete control can make it worthwhile.
Buying Pre-Made Shirt TransfersThe benefits of buying pre-made DTF heat transfers apply to most businesses, but it’ll depend on your circumstances:
- Equipment Investment - None Required
- Staff Training - No Additional Training Needed
- Lower Cost at Low/Medium Volume - Predictable Lower Cost Regardless of Quantity
- Safety - No Toxic Fumes or Safety Equipment Needed
- Less Control - Dependent on 3rd Party
- Turnaround Time - Shipping Delay, But Delivery As Quick As 1 Business Day
The lack of significant equipment investment and a lower per-piece cost make pre-made shirt transfers attractive. In addition, third-party vendors often possess experience that produces higher-quality results.
H2: Cost of Making vs. Buying DTF Transfers
After calculating the cost of making DTF transfers, buying them is much less expensive for most businesses. Our analysis using a popular online print calculator with conservative estimates found that a weekly production of 55 is necessary to achieve a $5 per transfer cost. Compared to Ninja Transfers’ stepped pricing model, it’s less expensive to purchase pre-made DTF transfers for most projects.
Note: Our estimates include: Mid-Range DTF Equipment Bundle (≅$11K), 2 Year Equipment Life, $50 Weekly Maintenance, 12" x 12" Transfer Size, and Weekly Production.
H2: Should I Make or Buy Custom T-Shirt Heat Transfers?
The decision to manufacture or buy premade transfers depends on the specifics of your project. Each type of transfer has its strengths and weaknesses, but Direct to Film stands out as the most versatile. Manufacturing DTF transfers makes sense when there's a need for immediate turnaround, or you're producing a large quantity, but otherwise buying premade transfers is the best option.