A Beginners Guide to Heat Transfer Vinyl
Whether you are getting into the world of heat transfer vinyl (HTV) as a hobby, using it to start a business or adding it to your existing business, just know that you are likely to make mistakes, and that’s ok. But often times mistakes cost money, which isn’t fun when you don’t have a stack of cash just laying around. So that’s why we’re here to help.
If you’re just starting to dive into the world of heat transfer vinyl, here is a list of basic things you should know for before, during and after you apply the vinyl.
Always read the vinyl manufacturer’s instructions.
Any sort of quality heat transfer vinyl should come with some Recommended Application Instructions. The manufacturer has gone to the trouble of trying all sorts of different combinations of time, temperatures and pressures to see which one works best. To get the best results, follow these instructions. (As a side note, if something goes wrong with the application of the vinyl the first thing you will be asked is, ‘Did you follow the application instructions?’. If you didn’t, the manufacturer is less likely to offer a replacement or refund.) Now granted, some vinyls are more flexible on the application then others. Sometimes you can change all the variables (time, temp, pressure) and still get a great result. But the safest and most reliable results come from following the instructions.
Also, there is often ‘Care Instructions’ which should be followed. Once again the manufacturer has done rigorous testing to find which wash cycle and dryer setting works best with that heat transfer vinyl. If something goes wrong and you want support, be prepared to answer the question, ‘how was it washed and dried?’
Pre-heat, Pre-heat, Pre-heat.
Many people don’t bother with this step and even some manufacturers will say you don’t need to. But in our experience, the safest practice is to always pre-heat or pre-press your garment before you press the heat transfer vinyl. Why?
Moisture is your enemy! Pre-heating will remove moisture from the garment. If you have moisture in the fabric while trying to apply the vinyl, that moisture will interfere with the glue. As the glue is getting pressed down into the fibers, the moisture is being evaporated up. And although things might look OK at first, when you wash the garment you’ll likely see bubbles in the vinyl, the edges or corners will start peeling up, or it will just fall off.
Pre-heating removes wrinkles. When pressing HTV (Heat Transfer Vinyl) you want a smooth, flat surface. Any wrinkles or bumps around the area you are pressing, and the vinyl will have trouble sticking. This could ruin either the transfer, the garment or both.
Pre-heating also gives you the chance to check the pressure on your heat press. Since different vinyls call for different pressures, you want to make sure your press is adjusted correctly. And not all garments are the same thickness, so laying your garment onto the lower platen and closing the press allows you to see and feel if the pressure is too high, too low or just right.
So how long should you pre-heat? That depends a lot on the garment itself and the environment. If you live and work in a dry area or environment, there is likely not much moisture in your garments. But if you have them shipped from somewhere with lots of rain or humidity, you'll definitely want to pre-heat them before you press
What about the types of garments? How does that affect things?
Is it a thin, lightweight t-shirt? Less material means less moisture. You may only need to press for a few seconds.
Are you pressing a thick hoodie, or sweater? Because thicker fabrics hold more moisture, you'll likely need to pre-heat for longer.
Performance polyesters, cotton/poly blends and other synthetic materials will sometimes discolor with too much heat. When working with those types of garments, a short pre-heat of 1-2 seconds or no pre-heat is recommended.
A good way to tell if you've pre-pressed long enough is after you pre-heat and lift up the press, do you see any steam coming out around the press, or out of the garment? If so, you need to press again. If there's no steam, you are good to proceed.
Use a Cover Sheet.
What’s a cover sheet? It is a sheet of coated, heat resistant paper or plastic that you place over the top of your vinyl before closing the press. This is another item many people say you don’t need, but it’s used by most of the long time HTV professionals. These non-stick sheets prevent your vinyl from sticking to the hot, upper platen of your heat press. If for some reason you make a mistake and the vinyl gets stuck to the cover sheet, it’s much less expensive and time consuming to replace than trying to clean or replace the upper platen of the heat press.
These sheets can also affect the look of your vinyl transfer.
Kraft Paper will give your heat transfer vinyl more of a matte like finish or look.
A Teflon Sheet or Non-stick sheet will give the vinyl more of a glossy finish or look to it.
If you have a custom cut design that comes on a plastic carrier sheet, after you press it, peel the carrier sheet off, then press again for another 1-2 seconds with the cover sheet of your choice.
Now obviously there is more to heat printing than these 3 items. For more advanced techniques and tips, be sure to read our other articles and check back every month for updates.