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Heat Transfer Articles
This is a progressive list of the articles on this page. Scroll down the page to find articles further down the list. Click on the links below or scroll down to read the articles!
- Modern Digital Heat Transfers: Tips On Best Performance
- Basic Introduction To Heat Transfer Papers
- Laser & Inkjet Heat Transfer Papers
- Differences Between Sublimation & Inkjet Heat Transfers
- Plastisol Heat Transfers
- Vinyl Heat Transfers Using A Plotter
Avery Inkjet Heat Transfers Featured In YouTube Videos:
Modern Digital Heat Transfers: Tips On Best Performance
There is always a lot of debate and opinion surrounding computer generated heat transfers for tee shirts. In the past, limitations of the product have given the method a bad name among novice and home users. It has been the case that the transfer paper was most often inferior and performed poorly especially when used with an iron. While it may be true that older digital heat transfers were notorious for cracking, washing out, bleeding, and fading, newer heat transfer technology has come a long way in longevity and durability. The ability and quality of computer generated heat transfers is far different from what it used to be even a year ago. This is one of those technologies that are always changing and evolving to meet the demands for a high quality instantly made custom garment.
It has been said that dye based inkjet inks are the best for printing inkjet heat transfers for light garments. This is because pigment inkjet inks are thought to sit on top of the inkjet transfer's polymer adhesive layers rather than penetrating into them like a dye might. One would think that modern inkjet transfer technology would take into account that most all inkjet printers manufactured today are pigment based, not dye. So unless you contact the manufacturer of your specific transfer paper for more information, this cannot be verified or denied. But in many cases older dye inkjet inks work better on other substrates as well so this may be something to look into and test if you plan on doing a lot of high quality transfers for commercial purposes.
Bleeding of the colors in inkjet heat transfers has also been attributed to incompatible pigment inks and even over saturation in ink volume. It is logical to assume that the porous layers of the polymer adhesive will only accept so much ink. You can try to use standard ink settings or "draft" settings to reduce or eliminate bleeding. But the bottom line is as long as the heat transfer isn't wet when it comes out of the printer, it should be fine and any bleeding that occurs is unavoidable. Bleeding can be dealt with by prewashing the shirts before wearing them. Just use an extra amount of cold water for the size load on the first wash and they should be fine.
Sometimes pre-pressing your garments before pressing the transfer to them will help improve the application by eliminating any moisture in the fabric. Any water in the garment during pressing can vaporize and affect the quality of the transfer process which will in turn affect the longevity and durability of the transferred image. If you live in a high humidity area such as coastal regions or even very wet inland environments, this may be a worthwhile procedure.
There are many inkjet heat transfers for dark colored or black garments. These usually have a heavy backing that serves as a "white under base". This causes the transfer to have a thick or rubbery feel. These transfers are printed slightly differently and pressed to the shirt in a different way. Many of these transfers have come a long way in their ability to make a great looking shirt that lasts. The self weeding types will be the best for customizing garments for sale. But ultimately you will have to test this kind of transfer paper and see if it will hold up to your own standards for product quality. With inkjet heat transfers, these tend to be the weakest in quality, longevity and durability. However, there may be a product out there that will perform well for your application.
Laser heat transfers are a different kind of transfer and work differently than inkjet heat transfers. Laser printers use toner which is not water soluble so there are other issues that will affect quality, durability, and longevity. One problem to avoid when working with laser transfers is to not let the fusers in the printer overheat the adhesive layer on the transfer paper. The idea is to fuse the toner to the transfer paper without melting the polymer adhesive layers. Doing so can cause jams and damage to your laser printer. You can experiment with paper type settings to attempt to control this.
Using a laser printer that feeds the paper in a straight line without bending and curling the transfer paper through the innards of the machine is the best type to use for laser heat transfers. The less movement and wrapping around rollers the transfer paper does, the less likely it is to cause a problem inside your printer. This is something to consider if you are purchasing a laser printer for producing laser heat transfers.
It is also important to make sure the laser transfer paper is compatible with the toner in your laser printer. Some laser printers use toners with fuser oils that are not designed to work with certain laser heat transfer papers. Make sure to check with the manufacturer of your laser transfer paper to ensure that it is compatible with your laser printer's toner.
You should also know that laser printers will print much faster than inkjet printers. So if this is a consideration for your business applications, you may wish to look into this further. Point of sale situations can be held up by larger, color intense images being printed on an inkjet printer.
The newest technologies in heat transfers have made them the choice for many smaller start up garment printers or embellishers. Many of the problems encountered in the past usage of heat transfer materials have been solved. Today it is more likely that the problems with heat transfers can be eliminated by the correct application of the transfer itself. Self weeding processes for both light and dark garments combined with more durable transfers are making them even better. On top of that vinyl cutters with optical registration can be used to trim or weed many different kinds of transfer papers making them even more dynamic.
Basic Introduction To Heat Transfer Papers
If you are thinking about starting a business using heat transfers, please read this article first:
Can You Start A Custom Printed Apparel Business With Heat Transfers?
You may also want to read:
How To Print Digital Heat Transfers For Tee Shirts.
This article covers heat transfers made for white garments. Although there are transfer papers made for black shirts, they tend to be very thick due to a white base layer made of a rubbery or cloth material backing.
Heat transfer papers come in many different types. Some are designed for home use with an iron and others are meant to be used by professional garment printers and require particular equipment.
Transfer papers require the artwork to be printed in reverse. This is due to the mirroring effect when you lay the transfer paper down with the printed side facing the shirt. If you were to print it normally and place the printed side down onto the shirt the design would be backwards. Most heat transfer papers will be made for laser or ink jet printers and will fall under two categories regardless if they are professional grade or not. They will either be a cold or hot peel. This simply means that the backing will be peeled either while hot or cold.
One of the biggest and most notorious problems with consumer grade heat transfers is that they leave adhesive in all the areas where the paper is present and the image is not. This means that any white or negative areas without toner or ink will leave transfer adhesive on the shirt. The adhesive put down on the shirt without toner or ink will change the appearance of the fabric. It will have a haze or a ghost like look the shape of the area of the adhesive. This type of paper is not good for use with text alone. Solid shaped designs with white areas locked within the solid shape work best.
Inkjet transfer paper has good coverage but may have a tendency to bleed when washed. It is important to allow extra water when you wash inkjet-transferred shirts for the first time. Never get any stray water or liquid, including Scorch Out, on a freshly transferred shirt. It is best to wash this type of transferred shirt before wearing. This will soften the transfer area and wash out extra ink that would bleed if it were to get wet. The softened transfer will also wear better.
There are some very cool color laser transfer papers that are "self weeding". This type of paper has a two part pressing process in which adhesive is only present where toner has been laid down on the paper. First the transfer paper is printed. It is then pressed with the adhesive paper. The adhesive transfers to the paper only where toner is present. This type of paper is designed for use with a pneumatic heat press. It applies 60 pounds of pressure or more during pressing.
You can use an iron with many consumer grade heat transfers and achieve good results. Use the highest heat settings and press firmly down on the iron as you move it around. Heat it well and uniform while keeping good pressure on the iron.
If you are able to use a heat press it will improve the results of any paper greatly. Instant, uniform, consistent heat applied with the pressure of the heat press will work best. The heat press will be able to maintain high heat settings of 350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit while pushing the transfer into the knit of the garment fabric. You can produce some really nice quality garments with a heat press using transfers.
There are also transfer papers that are used with screen printed designs. The design is printed in reverse, just as computer generated transfers. They are also printed in reverse with respect to printing directly on a garment. For instance, the white under base would be printed last. An adhesive, in powder form, is applied to the wet plastisol transfer ink and is then semi cured. The ink will set with the adhesive powder and be fully cured when pressed onto the garment in the heat press.
There are literally hundreds of heat transfer suppliers online. Just Google "heat transfer papers" and you will have to research which supplier is best for you. Be aware there are many companies trying to sell you an entire business or set up. Just remember it takes more than a kit to be successful at selling customized garments.Illustration Of The Computer Heat Transfer Process From Start To Finish
Laser & Inkjet Heat Transfer Papers
There are several differences between inkjet and laser heat transfer papers. When starting to make heat transferred shirts for the first time it is important to consider the pros and cons of each style of paper. There are hundreds of choices when it comes to heat transfer papers and their specifications.
First it is always important to follow the vendor's instructions and test your transfer paper thoroughly before you distribute any product. When heat transfers are applied properly, they can look great and last a long time. The trick is to know how to work with them.
Inkjet heat transfer paper is generally easier to work with and will have brighter colors as well as better coverage. This is simply due to the way inkjet printers work and how much ink they actually lay down on the transfer paper. Another advantage is that you normally have more control over the quality of the print with an inkjet printer. Because inkjet printers lay down more ink it is not always necessary to use RIP software to get nice colors and good results. Many inkjet heat transfer papers can be used with an iron achieving acceptable results. And of course color inkjet printers cost less than color laser printers.
One of the problems associated with inkjet heat transfers is that they can bleed before they're washed or when first washed. You don't want to spill, drop or spray any kind of liquid including Scorch Out onto the virgin transferred image. This can damage or ruin the image. After they are washed for the first time they will not bleed further. When you wash them for the first time it is good to use extra water for the size load being washed. That way it provides plenty of water to dilute any bleeding.
Laser transfer paper can be a little more difficult to work with and generally needs a more professional application. Better results are achieved at higher temperatures and with more pressure during transferring. Also because laser printers lay down less toner compared to ink with an inkjet printer, the colors may appear less brilliant and/or have less coverage on the fabric. It is not recommended using laser heat transfers without a heat press. A pneumatic press with 60 psi pressure is ideal.
It is also important to note some laser heat transfer papers are not compatible with laser toners containing oils. Be sure to check with the vendor of the transfer paper for specifications.
The benefits of laser heat transfer paper are that they do not bleed at any time and when applied properly, they are more durable and less prone to fading. The most obvious con is that a color laser printer cost more money than an inkjet printer. But in the long run toner is cheaper than inkjet cartridges.
All heat transferred shirts tend to fade with the first wash and will continue to fade over time as they are washed. It is important to notify your customer of the limitations of the product you are offering them.
Differences Between Sublimation & Inkjet Heat Transfers
There is often some confusion involving the differences between dye sublimation and inkjet transfers. Both use heat presses to "transfer" the image to the substrate at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. And in both methods the image will be printed in reverse. The main difference is in the actual transfer process that is occurring and how the image physically gets to the substrate. This means there are also differences in the items that may be decorated with either process.
Without becoming too technical, we can say that dye sublimation uses a gaseous process to transfer the image to the substrate. This process is triggered in the heat press. The substrate is a polymer coated item or synthetic fabric. The inks used to print dye sublimation transfers is special and often expensive. These sublimation inks can be used in many standard inkjet printers but once the printer is switched over to sublimation ink, it is impractical to go back. Therefore, a dedicated sublimation printer is needed for this process. There are also commercial sublimation printers available for purchase.
After you have an inkjet printer set up and running with sublimation ink, the process is very similar to standard inkjet heat transfers with the exception of the substrates. The art is created in the computer with any graphic software and then sent to the printer to be printed on the sublimation transfer paper. For textile applications, 50%/50% poly-cotton, polyester, nylon satin, or rayon fabrics are needed for the image to transfer via the aforementioned gaseous process. For other novelty items a polymer coating is necessary for the process to work. That means most of the items decorated with the sublimation method are made for that process and there are many such as can koozies, mouse pads, car flags, and colorful puzzles and cubes.
The biggest benefit of this method is that there isn't any adhesive polymer layer that transfers to the shirt with the ink. It is only the ink in gaseous form that transfers to the substrates. This means no weeding is needed. The 50/50 garment or polymer coated object receives the image and becomes stable. Because it works on polymer coated items; things like mugs, plaques and many other products may be produced with sublimation. It also has a soft feel and it will never fade or crack on t shirts. On other items you cannot even feel the image because it is actually in the polymer coating. These are the reasons dye sublimation is so popular.
There are some disadvantages with sublimation. You can only work with light colored garments and novelty items. The sublimation ink is very transparent and thus will not have the opacity to cover darker items and using fabrics with a 50/50 mix of cotton and polyester, will result in color that looks dull and faded. Sometimes sublimation prints look soft as well. And finally the inks themselves are expensive.
Standard inkjet heat transfers are much different in that the inkjet ink is transferred with a polymer adhesive layer that encapsulates the ink and gives it stability. Inkjet heat transfers are made to work with most any inkjet printer and ink. It is the polymer adhesive layer that does all of the actual transfer work. The ink is printed onto the adhesive layer and it soaks in a bit. After the ink sets into the adhesive layer, the image is ready to be transferred. The heat press causes the adhesive layer with the image to release from the paper and adhere to the shirt.
Inkjet heat transfers are easy to make and economical for the home hobbyist. The color saturation is greater and it does not require any special inks or dedicated printers. Some consumer grade papers can be purchased at local office supplies while more professional heat transfer papers are sold by commercial wholesalers.
The biggest problem with standard inkjet heat transfers is the polymer adhesive that will be transferred with or without ink. This means you have to "weed" all of the negative space out. Otherwise a "ghost" effect will be produced by the adhesive in these empty areas. The adhesive may tend to become brittle over time and form cracks. There are many types and brands of papers available which will yield various results in durability.
Inkjet transfer paper for dark garments is available but the transfer is often a heavy rubber or cloth material onto which the image is printed normally. This is then heat pressed onto the garment face up. It results in a very heavy, patchy image area which can often cause sweating underneath when worn.
As you can see, dye sublimation is not limited to tee shirts and mouse pads. Some of the most common products that can be sublimated are: tiles, "dog tags", license plates, ceramic mugs, light switch covers, clipboards, hardboard tiles, tote bags, plaques, neckties, travel mugs, ornaments, pet tags, business card holders, name badges, coasters, and clocks.
Inkjet heat transfers are limited to cotton, 50/50 poly-cotton, and other cotton blend fabrics. However, many items that are difficult to screen print may be done with inkjet heat transfers. A few of these items include: shirts, sweatshirts, aprons, mouse pads, puzzles, cubes, tote bags, miniature baby or pet garments and apparel, flags, banners, bandannas, and jackets.
Both of these process work best on light colored items and they do tend to fade some on the first wash. But the overall benefits of these methods make them very popular in hobby and commercial applications.
Plastisol Heat Transfers
Plastisol heat transfers are much different from any other type of transfer. You may recognize the term "plastisol" from other articles on this website. That is because plastisol ink is what is used to directly screen print many kinds of garments. The plastisol transfer is basically a screen print on a special transfer paper that will allow the screen print to be heat pressed onto a garment at a later point in time.
Sometimes the transfers are used to fill orders where the actual quantity of shirts needed is directly related to sales. Printing 200 screen printed transfers is less costly than making the actual 200 shirts. That way if only 148 sell, you are not stuck with a bunch of expensive waste or "discounted" shirts. This is a great option for point of sale situations such as special events or seasonal items.
It may also be practical to use printed transfers on small quantity jobs. This is perfect for when you have a customer who wants a multi color design and places small orders here and there. You can satisfy the customer with a complex print and not have to charge for set up fees or minimums. If he or she decides to change at any given point, the waste should be negligible, given you only stock a small and reasonable quantity of the custom transfers.
Many people use this method for producing baseball caps as well. A baseball cap can be difficult to screen print. The bill often poses a problem as well as the curved surface of the print area. Distortion or coverage loss is common. In this case it makes sense to print the transfers and then press them to the caps. That way all printing difficulties are eliminated. Caps are easier to press than to print.
Another reason to use plastisol heat transfers is when you are just starting out with selling your own designs. This gives you all of the advantages of a standard heat transfer but with much of the qualities of a screen print. The only drawback is you have to get all your designs set up and printed onto transfers first. That means outsourcing it to another printer. But it is much less costly than setting up a screen print shop.
The two most common types of plastisol heat transfers are hot split and cold peel. The difference between the two is the way the backing is peeled from the shirt and the quality of each differs.
With hot split transfers, the transfer paper is peeled away immediately after the heat press is opened. The plastisol ink layer is still hot and remains somewhat gelatinous. As it splits during the peel, most of the ink remains on the shirt, but some ink stays on the paper. Hot split transfers have a very soft hand and when properly applied and are almost indistinguishable from a direct screen print. Hot split transfers tend to leave a thinner layer of ink on the shirt. Opacity, especially on dark colored garments, may be an issue with these.
When using cold peel transfers, the transfer paper is not peeled away until the shirt and transfer have cooled. All of the ink is transferred to the shirt. Cold peel transfers can be quite stiff and have a smooth or glossy look. They have excellent opacity and are often used on athletic uniforms.
Alright, now you're asking, well if it is just a screen printed heat transfer, can I print them myself? Well yes, the transfer is a directly screen printed image done in reverse order using plastisol inks, that are printed onto a transfer paper and semi cured. Sometimes this is done with standard plastisol inks with an adhesive layer that is applied before semi curing. Other plastisol transfers may be made with plastisol inks made specifically for transfer paper and do not require an adhesive before being semi cured. More often than not, a hot melt adhesive will be used to improve adhesion and avoid any peeling or flaking issues.
Printing heat transfers properly so that they look and last as long as a direct screen print takes experience and skill. Not to mention all of the equipment, inks, chemicals, and tools. If you are an experienced screen printer, then you may wish to learn how to screenprint heat transfers. It is not recommended for beginners or novice printers to attempt the production of screen printed heat transfers. It is most often economical and practical to have them printed by an experienced screen printer.
The shelf life of these transfers may be limited depending on storage conditions. The ink layer on a plastisol transfer is a mixture of powdered resins and liquid plasticizers. The ink is gelled but not totally cured; therefore it is possible for the plasticizers to seep from the ink layer into the paper backing over time. A greasy "halo" around the ink in the paper is a sign of seeping plasticizer. This is plasticizer that has soaked into the paper backing. After the plasticizer has left the ink layer, the transfer will no longer be useable because the ink will be brittle and adhesion to the fabric will be reduced. Most transfer papers have a coating applied that forms a barrier between the ink layer and the paper. It prevents this problem for some time. Transfers that are produced properly will have a shelf life of at least one year, only if maintained in an environment free from extreme temperature and humidity.
The application of screen printed transfers is critical. The performance of your product may be affected by poor application processes. Time, pressure, and temperature will be very important factors in the application. Make sure to understand the transfer paper you are using. You should be able to get pretty specific instructions from the transfer printer for pressing. Then it is best to test and experiment with your own heat press. Make sure the pressure and temperature is properly set for your unit. Then test the product by wearing it and washing it. Make sure you are completely satisfied with the performance of the garment before you begin selling any product.
Vinyl Heat Transfers Using A Plotter
Another form of heat transfers are known as vinyl transfers or vinyl transfer film. These are usually rolls of an opaque vinyl material that is made to be heat pressed onto garments. It comes in solid colors, metallic and patterns such as plaids. There are also other types of heat transfer material that fall into this category that simulate flocking, suede and other textures.
This process uses a computer with a plotter to cut the vinyl film as it is fed through the plotter on a clear sticky backing. A plotter is a device that connects to the computer much like a printer and it has a "print" head with a blade. The plotter does not cut the backing but it does cut the film so the unwanted areas may be "weeded out" using and exacto blade. That is the biggest drawback to this process. Each design to be transferred has to be weeded by hand before it can be pressed to the shirt. This is because it is necessary to remove the unwanted parts of the vinyl film that the plotter cuts out. This is what makes the design take shape.
In order to do this on your computer with a plotter you will also need software to operate the plotter for vinyl film cutting. This would be similar software for making signs with plotter cut vinyl adhesives. One advantage of the process using a plotter is that you can make individual names and numbers very easily for team logo wear. It can save a lot of labor in screen printing if you do not have a good numbering system in place.
This heat press material is very opaque and may be used on any color garment. It tends to be thick and produces a heavier feel than screen printing with plastisol inks. But when the standard colored vinyl films are heat pressed correctly, they can look very similar to a screen print. The longevity and durability is very good when applied properly. It can be applied to a variety of materials that can withstand heat press temperatures.
Materials available in plotter cut heat applied films:
- Solid colors and patterns; these are the most common heat applied films.
- Glitter effects; there are smooth and textured glitter films.
- Metallic foils; these come in silver & gold as well as sparkle type metal effects.
- Reflective materials; emergency, police and fire departments use this.
- Puff effects, there are still uses and demands for this effect.
- Flock & suede finishes; these films simulate surface textures & colors.
- Glow in the dark materials; has a lime or off-white finish in daylight & glows green in the dark.
A big limitation in using this process for multiple color designs is each color has to be cut separately, weeded out and then overlaid into one transfer. In an operation that is small, this would all be done by hand. On larger quantity orders, it would be a lot of manual labor and screen printing would be a more feasible option. But this is great for smaller to medium custom shirt orders. You can do a color intense shirt for someone who only wants 2 or 3 pieces and eliminate all the set ups involved with screen printing. This can be a great point of sale tool as well. Obviously, this method also limits the designs to spot colors, patterns or textures.
An advantage of this heat transfer method is that there isn't any polymer adhesive involved in the negative areas. Therefore you don't have to worry about "ghosting" in the "white" or negative areas of the design. It has a very clean and bright look with sharp edges. If you want the design to pop, this is an excellent technique. These never fade or bleed.
Remember a system like this that does vinyl heat transfer materials for tee shirts can also do vinyl adhesive materials for signs and banners. So it can be a great addition to any screen printing shop. There is a certain learning curve involved with learning vinyl heat transfers or signs but it is far less than that of screen printing textiles.