Insider Tips to Heat Transfer on T-Shirts

What are Heat Transfers?


The most prevalent type of heat transfer product in the decorated apparel industry consists of an image imprinted onto a substrate ( various types of paper) by means of screen printing, inkjet, or lithography. The heat transfer is then placed on a garment or textile surface and through the application of heat and pressure, the image, itself, is transferred to the textile surface.

transfer, heat press

A Transfer is applied with heat and pressure onto a t-shirt.

A heat-transfer press is a device that has top and bottom metal plat­ens, the top of which is electrically heated, and is engineered to hold the platens firmly in place together above and below the fabric for a prescribed number of seconds, the time for which is determined by the type of ink employed and the type of garment being imaged. Rhinestone transfers work a little differently, but the principles of how rhinestone or nailhead graphics are transferred onto a garment are essentially the same as with heat transfers with inked graphics.

By using professionally manufactured heat transfers and transferring images onto a garment using a superior quality heat-transfer press, a decorated apparel creation done with heat printing technology is absolutely indistinguishable from one decorated on a screen printing press.Heat transfers also can be made through sublimation printing, a process involving special inks on specially manufactured paper, that can be made by inkjet or laser printers and on specially designed photocopiers.

What can you Print On?

A heat transfer is screen printed onto a paper substrate.

A heat transfer is screen printed onto a paper substrate.

The resulting heat transfer can then be applied to a textile surface using a heat press. Sublimation printing can also be transferred onto ceramics, glassware, wood, and metal. Cylindrical objects, such as coffee mugs, can be decorated 011 a specially-engineered cylindrical heat press that wraps around the surface to be decorated and uses a combination of heat and pressure to cause the image to transfer on to a specially coated mug. It’s the coating on the mug that is actually heat printed.
Heat Printing is the most affordable technology for start-up apparel decorating entrepreneurs, where an investment of between $1,000 and $3,000 for a commercial-quality heat transfer press, start-up supplies, and accessories, are all that’s needed to get into business as an apparel decorator.

heat press, transfer

A Heat Press with a temperature of 305 degrees presses the transfer onto the shirt for 5 seconds.

By using professionally manufactured heat transfers and
transferring images onto a garment using a superior quality
heat-transfer press, a decorated apparel creation done with heat
printing technology is absolutely indistinguishable from one decorated on a screen printing press.

Many heat printing apparel decorating businesses choose to do their graphics in-house, which can be accomplished with a graphic software progra1n and a few days of training or prior experience. Some of these companies also will elect to produce their heat transfers in-house with the purchase of one or more types of machines – from inkjet printers to screen printing presses. Most heat printing apparel decorating businesses, especially in their infancy though often for the life of the company, will opt to order

A heat press clamps down and presses the transfer onto the shirt. This is a Hottronix press from Stahls

A heat press clamps down and presses the transfer onto the shirt. This is a Hottronix press from Stahls

ready-to-go heat transfers from companies such as Transfer Express and Northwest Custom Apparel  that specialize in providing the actual finished heat transfers.
These vendors can work from the customer’s prepared graphic art files, but also are fully equipped to execute both the graphics necessary for the designs as well as the production of the heat transfers. Some of these vendors offer extensive art libraries for use by their customers at nominal fees – or free. Also available from these companies are heat transfers  or ”iron-on”) letters and numbers in a broad variety of f onts, sizes, colors and applications and are available as single-item supplies one number or one letter to be boxed alphabet and number kits. The situations where heat printing is a smart option include.

Starting an apparel decorating business with minimal capital:

Heat printing is the most affordable way to enter the industry. Period!

Hedging on quantities

When customers tell you potential purchase volume especially those designs with multi color graphics, but don’t want to tie up large amounts of money because they’re not confident they will use or sell as much as they think, heat transfers present you and the customer with a way to test their confidence with considerably lower risk. For example, the customer suggests she thinks she will sell 200 T-shirts with multi color designs on the front and a one-color design on back.

Ordering finished tees up front will cost upwards of $1,000.00. But she could order 50 or 100 transfers for $4.00 each or $2.50 each, respectively, which is an outlay of between $200 and $250 pluse the cost of blank shirts and application charges. In some scenario, she’d be able to buy blank garments in lots of ranging from a few pieces to a few dozen. If the total volume never reaches the hoped for 200 unit level, the only downside is, say $100 in unused transfers instead of several hundred dollars of unsold finished inventory. Meanwhile, orders can be placed by the customer and produced on an as needed basis, ensuring minimal risk of waste and eliminating the need for and cost of repeated set-up charges. If the customer needs shirts for an event but isn’t sure how they’ll go at the shirt table or kiosk, heat printed garments also offer the advantage of being produced in minutes, on demand, even while the event is happening.

From the Book, “The Business of T-Shirts” by Mark Venit

Erik Mickelson, Northwest Custom Apparel