4 Heat Printing Tips for Beginners, From a Newbie

by Matt DeLaere, Marketing

For years I viewed custom T-shirt production with awe and wonderment. Surely the various team, school, and club shirts I’d collected over the years were conjured up by some wizard who had somehow learned the ancient art of decorating apparel. I had no idea how these things were done and knew that I could never possess such power myself. Then came last week, when I received my first experience with a heat press and Stahls’ lines of heat transfer products.

Heat printing can be intimidating for a beginner, especially for one as inexperienced as I, thus I approached it with great hesitance. Given my multiple burn scars from past cooking experiences, such as the fish sticks episode of 2003 and the ghastly Cheez-Whiz incident of 1991, I was dismayed to find that Ove Gloves really are too bulky for working with heat transfer materials, so before starting I took one final look at my fingerprints, fully aware that it may be the last time I’d see them.

Things did not go as poorly as I’d expected, though, and after a relatively short time I became comfortable (perhaps too comfortable) with it. I picked up a few tips which I’d like to share with other beginners.

1. Be aware that you’re dealing with a heated machine, and don’t forget it.  While I came close to grabbing each of the platens several times, I really only burned myself once. Maybe twice.  Ok, no more than six times. Watch where you’re putting your hands, arms, and even your head.  At one point, I leaned over to look at another machine and almost heat pressed my scalp. At another, I was very glad that I was wearing a long-sleeve shirt. Don’t let your mind wander into thoughts like, “Gee, I’m really doing well at this,” or you could burn yourself or ruin a garment, which I address in Tip #2.

2.  Know what type of carrier you’re dealing with. Several products, such as Thermo-FILM®, Thermo-GRIP®, and Fashion-FILM™, to name just a few, feature pressure-sensitive carriers.This makes layout quite convenient, especially for someone as clumsy as I am, and helps to ensure that you won’t apply any crooked images. As I learned the hard way, though, make sure you remove the backing  from the carrier before applying pre positioned products.

Imagine trying to make a grilled American cheese sandwich with the cheese slices still individually wrapped. Now imagine that on a T-shirt (if you’re having trouble imagining this, rest assured that it doesn’t look good). The transfer was still applied, but with a rather obvious large box around it. And though I wrecked one sample, I managed to catch myself before repeating the same mistake again (and again, and again). I’d recommend paying close attention to what product you are using, as well as the type of carrier and the application instructions, which leads me to Tip #3.

3. Follow the application instructions.  If it says 15-20 seconds at 330°, heat it for that long at that temperature. If it says to peel cold, don’t peel it hot. I ended up with a couple of very ugly transfer samples that said stuff like,  “ermo-GRI .” I don’t think any customers really want half-applied graphics.

4. Finally, don’t forget your cover sheet. Whether you’re using a reusable cover sheet or Kraft paper, make sure you don’t apply your transfer to the upper platen.  More than once I was getting ready to close the press when a voice behind me said, “Cover sheet!” After a few times, though, I managed to remember this little tidbit myself.

So there you go. Safely and easily heat applying great-looking graphics isn’t that hard, as long as you pay attention.

Do you have any other tips for heat printing beginners? Please share in the comment section.


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