Difference Between Transfer Printing and Digital Printing

In transfer printing, the design is transferred to the fabric using heat. Transfer paper, sublimation paper, etc. are terms for the material used to transfer the pattern. You need a heat transfer and printing machine for heat printing. The nice part about heat printing is that the image is durable and simple to apply to any thermostable and color-absorbent fabric, including jersey, T-shirts, and other fabrics. It is ideal for customised products because it can be processed in small quantities.

The drawback of transfer printing is the quality of the image as it appears in the printed image. While digital printing is more machine-direct to the garment, it is especially popular for high-quality images. Almost all products can be printed digitally. Digital printing is regarded as a very flexible technique because it provides for extremely fine detail in the design and may be used on both bright and dark-colored clothing. However, due to the expensive cost of the necessary equipment and its upkeep, few people can afford to employ this method.

What is Transfer Printing?

In the textile business, transfer printing often refers to the high-temperature sublimation of thermally stable dyes from a coloured design on paper, followed by the dye vapours’ absorption by synthetic fibres in the fabric. When the paper touches the fabric, dye transfers without distorting the pattern. In the 1960s, vapour transfer printing of this kind was created to print on synthetic cloth. There are currently no commercially available techniques for transfer printing on natural-fiber fabrics. The phrase “transfer printing” refers to textiles and related printing techniques where the pattern is initially produced on a flexible nontextile substrate and then transferred by a different method to a textile.

Sublimation dyestuff printing was done before transfer printing. Transfer printing uses a paper substrate that acts as an intermediary and is increasingly inkjet printed with sublimating or other dyes. The dye from the paper is either sublimated onto cloth made mostly of polyester during the transfer process or it is trapped beneath a “film” on cloth made of various fibre types.

What is Digital Printing?

Just like your home printer, digital textile printers use digital technologies. The selection and pretreatment of the fabric, followed by its rapid passage through the printer and subsequent steaming, washing, and drying, are all steps in the digital textile printing process that, when viewed from above, share many characteristics with traditional textile printing. Digital ink-jet printing technology is used in the process of digital textile printing to emboss vibrant graphics onto a range of materials, allowing for the quick and precise printing of any design. The growth of digital textile printing is one of the most exciting ones for the textile sector. Digital textile printing has created a wide range of opportunities while preserving the design quality needed to satisfy the expanding demand for textile printing. No screens are needed for this printing method, and there are no colour restrictions.

Additionally, digital printing is the best method for producing 3D designs. Using this method, prints can be made directly on clothing items like t-shirts, shirts, jeans, etc., as well as on textiles.

Difference Between Transfer Printing and Digital Printing

Major differences are

  • Unlike traditional screen printing, which only allows for a limited number of colours, transfer printing and digital printing allow designers to produce designs in thousands of different colors.

  • Transfer printing saves time and money by first printing designs on inexpensive, lightweight substrates (base materials) like paper and then transferring those designs, as needed, onto more expensive fabrics. However, digital printing allows for cost savings during short runs, which are not possible with screen printing due to the high cost of the screens, despite the fact that the computer and printers are substantial initial investments.

  • Transfer printing does not demand a high level of talent because it is a straightforward and manageable technique. On the other hand, skilled labour must be available to carry out digital printing.

  • While digital printing is the preferred method for single-item orders, transfer printing makes it easier to produce short-run repeat orders.

  • Compared to digital printing, transfer printing involves fewer pre- and post-processes, which allows for less printing waste or inaccuracy. But digital printing technology is advancing quickly.

  • Transfer printing is more frequently offered for synthetic fabric types like polyester. Both man-made and natural fibre materials (like cotton) are suitable for digital printing (such as polyester).

  • However, as the inks used for natural fabrics (reactive inks) differ from those used for man-made fabrics, distinct machinery is needed for each type of cloth (disperse dyes).

The following table illustrates the major differences between transfer printing and digital printing

Transfer Printing Digital Printing
Paper image is transfer on the surface of the polyester fabric The inks are printed directly to the coated fabric There is need of fabric to be coated
There is no need of fabric to be coated base fabric should be synthetic or 100% polyester, All fabric can used as base except polyester or synthetic
Disperse dyes are used Reactive dyes are used
Sublimation will not fade, even after multiple washings Digital print can get fade after multiple washing.
Sublimation dyes does not penetrate the surface of fabric So back side of fabric always white In this dyes penetrate the surface of base fabric Digital relying on molecular bonding,
Production feasible and less costly for bigger run It is not production feasible Ideal for sampling only


In general, transfer printing is better suited for short runs than long runs, particularly where cost is an issue. On the other hand, because there is no origination fee to pay, digital is far less expensive for smaller volumes. Since every print uses the same heat transfer method, anyone can order a small number of items without the price going through the roof. Additionally, digital printing works best for orders with fewer pieces and goods that require a lot of detail. Although both transfer printing and digital printing are advancing quickly in both theory and practise, as of now neither has completely taken over the market, thus they coexist side by side. The choice of method for each individual order is still left up to the vendor.