Heat Transfer Printing

Everything You Need to Know About Heat Transfer Printing

You may have heard of the concept of heat transfer printing before, but how much do you actually know about this highly popular custom printing method?

Heat transfer printing, also known by other names like digital transfer, is a process in which custom designs are printed onto a sheet of heat transfer paper, before using heat and pressure to transfer the ink from the paper to the garment you wish to print on.

This is a popular method of printing, as it’s often more durable than other forms of printing, and it also allows for the unlimited use of colours and photo-realistic prints. This means that you can print awesome products like custom t-shirts, custom sweaters or even custom workwear with your brand’s logo using heat transfer printing.

In this article, we’re going to explain what is heat transfer printing, how it works, the pros and cons of using heat transfer printing, and the differences between heat transfer and another popular method known as screen printing.

How does heat transfer printing work?

Essentially, heat transfer printing requires these five key elements:

  • a design
  • a printer and ink
  • heat transfer paper
  • a heat press and accessories
  • a garment to print onto

The special heat transfer paper is designed to release ink from the printed design into the garment when heat and pressure are applied to it by the heat press.

Of course, there are different types of heat transfer printing, such as inkjet transfers, vinyl transfers, dye sublimation transfers and digital appliqué transfers, but for the purposes of this article, we are going to keep our explanation of the process top-level.

Here’s a step-by-step process to help you understand how to print heat transfers:

  1. Draw up your custom design

This could be a company logo, a photo you like, or even a digital illustration that you think would look cool on your clothing.

  1. Print out your design on special paper

Depending on the specific process you’re planning to use, you’ll use certain ink to print your custom design onto the special heat transfer paper.

  1. Trim your image to size

Again, depending on the type of heat transfer printing you’re doing, you may need to trim your printed design before applying it to the garment.

  1. Set up your heat press

Start by setting your heat press temperature to around 180-190°C. Once it’s warmed up, you can adjust the pressure of the press, depending on the thickness of the garment or fabric that you are printing onto. You’ll then set the time on your press. This is how long it will take your design and ink to fully transfer from the paper to the garment. As a general rule:

  • Inkjet transfer: 14 – 18 seconds
  • Vinyl transfer: 45 – 60 seconds
  • Dye sublimation: 25 – 30 seconds
  • Digital appliqué transfer: 20 – 30 seconds
  1. Place your garment and design into the heat press

At this point, you can position your garment on your heat press and put the heat transfer paper with your design on it where you want it to go. Make sure the paper is facing up, and that you’re using a piece of cloth to protect the transfer if you’re doing a vinyl or digital appliqué transfer.

  1. Get transferring

Close your heat press, make sure all your settings are correct, then hit that start button and let your heat press do the work.

  1. Remove the transfer film and enjoy your new custom clothing

Once your heat press is finished, open it up and remove the film from the transfer paper while it’s all still hot. Et voilà! Your custom clothing is ready to show off.

Heat transfer printing: Pros & Cons

Depending on the results you are hoping to achieve, there are several advantages and disadvantages to using heat transfer printing to create your custom clothing.

In terms of the benefits, heat transfer printing works really well when printing bulk orders. It also allows you to print multiple designs in various sizes onto the garment, which reduces production time and makes setup easier as well. Heat transfer printing also offers a much clearer print, allowing for photo-realistic images and designs.

As for the disadvantages of using heat transfer printing, the final product can often feel quite plastic, depending on the method used. It can also be quite expensive if you’re only printing a small amount of garments, and in some cases, the heat can damage the print if it’s not set up properly.

The differences between heat transfer and screen printing

Another popular decoration method for custom printed clothing or products is screen printing. This is where ink is applied to a garment or product through a mesh screen, usually with a squeegee.

Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you are hoping to achieve. Check out this table below to see the differences and help you decide whether to screen print or heat transfer.

Heat Transfer PrintingScreen Printing
Level of DetailHigh detailLower detail
SetupEasy, cost-effectiveMore time-consuming
ColourAs many as you wantLimited colours
TimeTakes longer to printMuch quicker
MaterialsCan’t print on heat sensitive materialPrint on almost anything
CostCheaper for small ordersCheaper for larger orders

Consider if heat transfer printing is the best option for your needs

As you can see, heat transfer printing has several benefits and applications, and it can be a great way to print your custom designs directly onto pieces of clothing for you to show off around town. You can get great detail in your prints, use as many colours as you want, and it’s easy to set up and get printing straight away.

If you’re looking to print custom clothing using heat transfer printing, make sure that you follow our PrintLocker guide to create the best designs and get the best results for your fresh new gear.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does heat transfer printing last?

As long as you care for your garment well and wash it according to the washing instructions provided, your heat transfer print should last 40+ washes.

Does heat transfer wash off?

When the heat transfer printing process is done correctly, then your design should not wash off. However, if it is not done correctly, there is a chance that your design could wash off over time.

Make sure that you follow our guide for heat transfer printing properly and only wash your garments as instructed.

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