Learn More about Heat Transfers!
Heat transfer is a very broad term that includes several different processes. The only thing in common is that they all require heat to be applied to the garment! This can include several types of heat transfer – inkjet heat transfer, screen print heat transfer, and vinyl.
Many DIYers have gone to their local craft store at some point to get “iron-on transfers” – these are the low quality version of heat transfers. The success (or failure) of a heat transfer, as well as its quality and longevity depend on the ink used, the transfer paper used, the heat, pressure, and heating duration. These transfers print on a material (usually a kind of vinyl) that adheres to a garment. Since they use simple printer ink and an iron to apply, they often fade fairly quickly or peel away.
This transfer type prints on a thin vinyl using eco-solvent inks, which is then applied to a garment using a heat press. Often, these printers are used to make outdoor signs, banners, bumper stickers, window clings, and more and have a high degree of colors they can reproduce, as well as a photograph-level resolution. These inks tend to be weather-resistant and gives them a solid longevity, +/- 50 washes depending on how they’re treated. Fairly labor-intensive, these transfers require printing, weeding (removing excess material), applying to a transfer tape, and then applying to the garment.
Heat Transfer Vinyl
Heat transfer vinyl (“HTV”) is another process that is commonly encountered. At the hobby level, you can find such products as a “Cricut” or similar machines. However, professional-grade machines are often called vinyl plotters or vinyl cutters. People are often wary of vinyl, since they’re used to hobbyists applying it with an iron, so it peels off! Professional vinyl is often used in lettering and names on sports jerseys and can often be quite thick and durable if applied properly. Heat presses are crucial for HTV application since they provide even pressure and heat. Each color of vinyl must be cut from a roll, weeded, and applied to a garment, so it’s not recommended to use too many colors with this method.
Screen printing is a method that uses specialized stencils to press ink onto a garment. Each color requires a different stencil. Normal screen printing prints directly on a garment, but for a transfer, they instead print on a special film. All of this happens at a printing facility, which means that you get the finished product and all you need to do is apply it to a garment using a heat press. As with any kind of screen printing, it’s designed for larger volumes – it gets much cheaper as you approach the 100+ transfer mark, usually, and may come with minimum orders.
Direct-to-Film (DTF) Transfer
Direct to Film transfers are confusingly named and designed to complement “Direct to Garment (DTG)” printing. In actuality, like the screen printed transfer, this method uses a DTG printer to print on a special film. These kind of transfers are capable of full color printing and don’t have the same color limitations as many of the other types, but tend to be more expensive per transfer.
- Very easy to start
- Relatively easy to learn
- Can apply to a wide variety of materials (for example, can apply on both cotton and polyester t-shirts)
- More expensive professional materials (particularly vinyl) can be extremely long-lasting
- Relatively difficult to master
- Aside from professional grade materials, the transfers are not particularly long lasting
- Quality is highly variable
- T-shirts / apparel
- Some promotional products