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

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Antonio Massey

Production Team: Folder

Antonio Massey recently joined NWCA in June of 2022. His role on the Production Team has greatly improved our processes and productivity. Antonio is always willing to lift heavy boxes or help his co-workers during busy times. In his free time, he enjoys playing with his dog and mastering video games.


Alicia Wada

Shipping Clerk

Alicia Wada is passionate about helping her co-workers at Northwest Custom Apparel in any way that she can. She works in our Shipping and Logistics department. Alicia, who goes by Ali, has a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics. She lived in Japan for ten years and recently brought her family to America in 2019. She is interested in learning crafts and textile art from around the world.


Erik Mickelson


Erik Mickelson’s position as Manager is more than a job, it’s a passion. It’s always fun and exciting because he enjoys marketing, computers, and coming up with innovative ideas to help NWCA grow. He majored in accounting and finance at Washington State University, graduating in 1996, and returned to school to obtain his Master of Business from WGU, graduating in 2016. Erik continually strives to advance his education through podcasts, audiobooks, and industry tradeshows. He is married to a remarkable and caring wife named Wendy, a Registered Nurse, with whom he shares his many hobbies and a love for the outdoors.



Ruth Nhoung

Production Manager

Ruth Nhoung is our Production Manager and Northwest Custom Apparel is lucky to have her. Thanks to her vast knowledge of machine embroidery and dedication to creating a comfortable and supportive work environment, the production plant runs smoothly and customers are pleased with our work. She is a loving mother and grandmother and enjoys spending quality time with her siblings. She says, “I love everything about Northwest Custom Apparel: the people, the atmosphere, the work, and the customers. I love what I do and I embrace all of NWCA’s core values”.


Steve Deland

Art Director

Steve Deland has been our amazing Artist since 2017. He loves working at Northwest Custom Apparel because he appreciates the goal-oriented, progressive-thinking management style. He is most passionate about his art, which includes scroll saw woodwork, and his five grandchildren.



Taylar Hanson


Taylar Hanson is a highly acclaimed Saleswoman at Northwest Custom Apparel. She has a BA in Apparel, Merchandising, Design, and Textiles from Washington State University. “Go Cougs!” The best part of Taylar’s job is getting to work with longtime customers who trust us to do the best work and take care of their needs. She is passionate about appreciating nature, traveling, and spending time with friends and family.


Nika Lao


Nika Lao is very knowledgeable in how the business is ran because she began as an Embroidery Machine Operator and has worked hard to become the excellent and personable saleswoman she is today. She enjoys the stress-free environment and the many chances to connect with her co-workers over potlucks, BBQs, and bowling parties. Nika is a proud sister of two highly successful brothers and can boast mastering three languages herself: Khmer, Thai, and English. She is an avid camper, enjoys going to farmer markets, and loves cooking.


Bradley Wright


Bradley Wright has been a vital team member of NWCA since 2017. As our accountant and knower-of-all-things, Bradley is proud to work closely with his wonderful colleagues. He studied at the University of Washington. These days he dedicates his free time to his new house.


Dominic Nguyen

DTG Operator

Dominic Nguyen recently joined our Direct-To-Garment department. He says he loves the family work environment at Northwest Custom Apparel. In his free time, Dom likes to listen to music, hangout with friends, and play video games. He comes from a very big family which can be very chaotic at times, but is always exciting.


Sothea Tann

Production Team: Trimmer

Sothea Tann recently joined the Production Team in 2022. She finds Northwest Custom Apparel to be a good working environment with helpful and friendly staff. In her free time, Sothea spends quality time with her family and, overall, focuses on a peaceful and happy lifestyle.


Brian Beardsley

DTG Supervisor

Brian Beardsley has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. He is our DTG Supervisor. Brian loves that he gets to work with high-tech machines in a fun atmosphere. He has a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. He said, “I always wanted to create visually interesting assets in a variety of mediums”. In his free time, he enjoys building and painting models, playing video games, designing, and playing his guitar.


UT Tri Tran

Embroidery Machine Operator

UT Tri Tran loves Northwest Custom Apparel so much that, although she has already retired after a long career in machine embroidery operations, she is happy to return part time. She says, “I love the family style work environment and how everyone shares food, laughter, and fun on a regular basis.” In her free time she is dedicated to living a healthy and peaceful lifestyle with her friends and family.



Embroidery Machine Operator

BunsereytheavyHoeu, who goes by Theavy, won our Operator of the Year in 2021. She takes on many roles in the production team. She says, “These are not my co-workers, these are my family! I cherish all the memories we make together”. When she goes home to be with her family, she makes the most of her time with them by holding family get-togethers and even karaoke competitions.


Sreynai Meang

Embroidery Machine Operator

SreynaiMeang is a hard-working Machine Operator. She is most passionate about helping people. Sreynai, who goes by Nai, likes to exercise in her free time and talk with her family in Cambodia.


Kanha Chhorn

Embroidery Machine Operator

Kanha Chhorn has been an Embroidery Operator with Northwest Custom Apparel since 2018. She is delightful and always makes everyone smile and laugh. Kanha takes on additional tasks that allow us to exceed our customers’ expectations. In her free time, she can be found at her local temple or spending quality time with her family and friends.


Savy Som

Embroidery Machine Operator

SavySom is one of our Machine Operators who is passionate about embroidery and sewing. She enjoys working at NWCA because of its flexibility. She has two teenage sons and loves spending time with her family on the weekends.



Embroidery Machine Operator

SorphornSorm has been a Machine Operator since 2011. One of her four sisters works here as well. Her other relatives are in Cambodia. In her free time, Sorphorn studies English, listens to music, and enjoys exercising.


Jim Mickelson


Jim Mickelson, after a successful career with a major oil company, founded Northwest Embroidery in 1977. This was the first commercial embroidery in the Pacific Northwest. Over the years, Jim has become the guru of embroidery never refusing to answer a question or offer advice to his fellow embroiders. Jim and his wife Leeanna raised four wonderful children who went on to successful business careers.

Northwest Custom Apparel
Northwest Custom Apparel
163 Google reviews
Steve McMains
Steve McMains
Great place to do business with.
Hector Aponte
Hector Aponte
Splendid service by this team. I needed a job done in one day and without hesitation I was helped. Besides the no notice, need now accommodation, the overall quality of the job of superb.
anthony mckenna
anthony mckenna
Amazing service and quality of work.
katie latimer
katie latimer
This small business is excellent! Great turnaround times and pricing. We've completely switched over to them for our uniform needs. The embroidery looks amazing and very professional. We have gotten jackets, vests, safety vests, hats and uniform polo shirts with them. The screen prints are very resistant to numerous washes. They have been super flexible and patient with us and going through getting PO set up with our company.
Dave Lambing
Dave Lambing
I am the Quartermaster for the Tacoma Fire Buff Battalion. We use Northwest Custom Apparel to produce our uniform articles. Their work is always perfect and done is record time. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Kyle Keehnel
Kyle Keehnel
Our company has been going to NWCA for years and have always encountered friendly service and quality products.
Smokey B3ar21
Smokey B3ar21
Super friendly staff , wonderful products for our company and couldn’t be happier with them
Chuck Schilling
Chuck Schilling
Working with NWCA was like hitting the EASY button! Ten days from our initial meeting to completed shirts and we couldn't be more pleased.
Bret Lauritzen
Bret Lauritzen
Prompt service
Cassandra Johnson
Cassandra Johnson
Words can't describe how much I appreciate the outstanding customer service I received from Northwest Custom Apparel! I placed an order for two coats that I needed in one week for a Valentines' day gift and Nika made it happen! She was proactive, quickly responsive, and understanding of me needing to see different looks of our company logo. She was incredibly sweet, accommodating, and made every effort to make my order the way I wanted it. A part of me felt bad asking to see the different looks, but she reassured me it was not a problem and was on top of her game! Every staff member I interacted with when I came to their shop was very pleasant, welcoming, and attentive as well. All around great work! Will absolutely use them again and highly recommend!!! Thank you Northwest Custom Apparel!!!