The Guide to Vinyl Heat Transfer Printing
Marina Vasilyeva, Client Manager in Multi-Programming Solutions • 8 min read
Print on demand industry never ceases to amaze entrepreneurs with its almost limitless possibilities to start a branded apparel from scratch. Whether you provide a dropshipping model or have your own manufacturing powers, the chances to establish a business and build a flourishing company are high enough.
We’d like to talk about one of the well-tried strategies for creating personalized fabric stuff, heat transfer vinyl printing (HTV), which can be launched right from your house. So make yourself comfortable, and let’s start our journey in the POD world. Who knows, maybe this article will start a new round in your entrepreneurial activity.
Table of Contents
What is Vinyl Heat Transfer Printing?
Often beginners in POD crafting wonder which is the most cost-efficient and easy way to create their own clothing. Indeed, starting with low investments is a wise solution for those who want to experiment with a new business direction, find customers, and discover a creative niche. And here, HTV may become a rescue.
This method is simple as it requires little time to gain skills, some materials, and high-performance hardware. While other approaches apply ink, powder, or plastic screens, this process is based on transferring images with thin vinyl layers. They can be purchased in flat sheets or rolls, put into a plotter or cutter for shaping an appropriate pattern, and then stuck to a garment with a heating machine. When comparing vinyl vs. heat transfer paper, the first material is more durable and can withstand several years.
HTV design looks excellent on hoodies, bags, and sweatshirts or can become unusual decorations for home fabric, like pillows, bed covers - you name it.
HTV can surprise the most demanding customer with various colors and effects: matte, glossy, holographic, glittering, twinkle, stretchy, or metal finished look. And each product is durable, impressive, and eye- and touch-pleasing.
Now, it’s time to dive deeper into the topic and figure out how to provide the best heat transfer vinyl for t-shirts, even from home. To study more about the process organization, let’s smoothly move on to the next chapter.
The equipment needed to get started
As we’ve mentioned above, the devices you need to start a customized apparel production line are pretty affordable in terms of price and size. HTV equipment for small amounts of printed stuff is easy to fit even in the corner of your apartment. So here are the main items you need to consider to make a printable heat transfer vinyl design.
Cutter or plotter
This machine is responsible for cutting a design on a vinyl surface. There are thousands of possible variations in the market, so entrepreneurs can choose the suitable one depending on their budget and business scale. An essential criterion for picking the best printer for vinyl heat transfer is the image size the machine can handle. This parameter impacts the cutter width.
Startupers can consider a desktop version, for example, Silhouette Cameo. The cutter has a moderate price, is easy to set up, and can cope with small business demands. Later on, when your company is ready to grow, you may pay attention to Graphtec products with a broader range of functionality and bigger productivity.
It is the second necessary device for processing custom heat transfer vinyl for shirts. It can be fully manual or automated, which results in their price. Temperature and pressure are the main settings to control while heating the vinyl polymer. Some devices have a built-in timer which allows operators to control the pressing process and avoid overheating.
Although most businesses use special presses, some hobbyists say heat transfer vinyl with iron can also give the desired result on garments.
You'll need the simplest app to turn your ideas into a vinyl picture on the cloth. Usually, cutters are sold in pairs with vector software, allowing users to convert raster images into printable views. But, of course, you can buy Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw for more complex and customized designs.
When you choose a vinyl heat transfer machine and a cutter to buy, it’s up to find a supplier of t-shirts or another fabric you'll customize. You can order some examples to examine the garment quality and ensure your images press well on it. Later on, when you reach stable sales, buying blank items in bulk will be more cost-savvy.
Heat transfer vinyl
The main component of this method is available in rolls and sheets for users’ convenience. What is the best heat transfer vinyl? The most popular and durable type of material is a Siser Easy Weed. You can start with several standard colors, like black, white, or red, and add an extra palette when you get some experience in production. In addition, you’ll also need Teflon sheets that will prevent images from melting during the process.
Custom heat transfer vinyl designs are ready to be pressed on several fabric types, including cotton, polyester, leather, and in some cases, nylon or lycra.
This is a helpful thing for removing small vinyl pieces that don’t participate in picture production. You can delete large parts of material just by hand, but weeding with nails can be a long and not pleasant leisure. So this tool is a must-have on printing days.
Now that you have a general idea of what vinyl heat transfer is, it’s time to deal with the process of personalizing products from A to Z. That’s what we’ll do below.
The HTV production process?
The miracle of creating custom cloth and the resulting heat transfer starts from picking a unique design. For these purposes, you should use software attached to the plotter, such as Silhouette Studio. While making a cut file, check the picture sizes to fit the garment. But what is even more crucial - you should mirror the image along the horizontal axis because you’ll cut the backside. Further, this layer will be pressed to the cloth correctly.
Before uploading a vinyl sheet to the device, check whether you put it right. It should be placed with an adhesive (muted) side up because it is the one you will cut. The carrier (shiny side) will be placed in the plotter face down.
When the design is finished, it’s time to launch the cutting process. A printer uses small knives and XY coordinates to turn the programmed picture into life. At this stage, the operator should choose polymer types. They differ by thickness, so pressure settings vary too.
Thus, holographic vinyl heat transfer will require 11 force, while Easy Weed (it’s a heat transfer vinyl for decorating garments) will run well on 4.
People want to avoid cutting the carrier through or making bad snicks that are impossible to remove. So you may run a test cut on the plotter and examine whether your settings suit the current material. The machine will make a little slash on the layer, so you’ll see if any changes are required on time.
When you have a ready design on hand, the next step is to remove extra pieces of vinyl with a weeding tool. And thus, we smoothly come to the final stage - pressing the image into the fabric.
How to layer vinyl heat transfer? Go on with placing a blank cloth on the heat plate. Cover it with a carved design and a Teflon sheet. Now the picture is no longer mirrored.
Before you continue, check the machine settings according to the material type. Standard Siser EasyWeed is pressed at 305°F for around 10-15 seconds. Appropriate heat transfer vinyl temperature and time will allow the highest printing quality and durability.
Once the process is finished, open the press and take off the carrier. Here we go! You’ve made a fresh personalized cloth, ready to be sold.
Many Internet users ask how to use heat transfer vinyl with an iron. The answer is simple - except for a press, the procedure is the same. You still have to put Teflon paper over the design, but it becomes more difficult to control the temperature. Moreover, you have to keep track of time and avoid layer damage. Flat irons for such printing methods are more valuable than stream ones.
To make multi-color vinyl heat transfer, place a bottom layer, stick it, and then go for the next one. Make sure to do the design thickness sparingly. It may look poorly on the cloth.
How profitable is it to try HTV printing?
Making a bet on the HTV business can bring you a pretty good margin. But the exact number directly depends on your costs and sales volumes. To figure out how much you’ll earn per month, write some actual numbers:
- Fixed expenses, for example, for renting a production space, electricity, etc.
- Fabric for printing, vinyl, and other supplies prices.
- Packaging and shipping costs.
- An average sales amount.
With this data in mind, you can quickly determine your profitability and find ways to increase it. Think of reducing operational costs and buying materials in bulk at wholesale prices. Also, try to grow your traffic by creating a successful marketing campaign, attracting customers with loyalty programs, or widening an assortment.
This beginners’ guide to heat transfer vinyl sheds light on a straightforward and efficient method to foray into profitable print on demand niches. It requires low investments in two main pieces of equipment - a cutter and a heating machine and some time to prepare inventory, like garment and vinyl paper stock.
Make little steps toward big business, and soon you’ll be able to grow sales and earn more profit. It’s better to use two-three primary colors, like black, white, and red, for your first orders. Don’t forget to check the software compatibility with a cutter, set up picture sizes, and mirror the picture to press it right on the fabric.
Start with Easy Weed, the best heat transfer vinyl for hoodies and t-shirts, and gradually widen an assortment with glitter, holographic or glow-in-the-dark materials. Your clients will be impressed with the quality of the products.
HTV technology is perfect for small sales and can be applied with other methods. For example, you can combine vinyl heat transfer and screen printing when your company is ready to scale. And if you want to conquer customers’ love from your first deliveries, find out how to make custom t-shirt packaging for a better user experience.