How to get started with heat transfer decoration

5 Steps to Creating Custom Shirts & More with a Heat Press

by Dave Harding, Customer Service Representative at STAHLS’

Heat transfer vinyl, screen printed transfers, full-color digital transfers, and transfer paper are all mediums used for customizing shirts, bags, and other items. The common denominator in each of these mediums is that a heat press is used for application.

These types of heat transfers are ideal for customizing just about anything because it’s versatile, comes in a variety of materials and finishes, and is budget-friendly. But is it easy to do?

There are 5 basic steps to creating custom shirts, bags, and more:

  1. Get a heat press and heat press accessories
  2. Create artwork
  3. Cut, print, or order your design
  4. Place the design on the garment
  5. Apply the design with a heat press

That’s it! Now let’s break it down

Get a Heat Press and Heat Press Accessories

A heat press machine is the most important piece of equipment you’ll need to start decorating garments. To start out, the MAXX® Heat Press by STAHLS’ is a great press to get you up and running; it’s easy to use and affordable. If you want to make more of an investment, you certainly can’t go wrong with any of the heat presses manufactured by Hotronix®.

But what else do you need? While having a quality heat press is essential, you’ll also find having a few heat printing accessories on-hand will make life a little easier. Here are a few:

  • Cover Sheet – cover sheets not only protect your garment, but protect your heat press. Kraft Paper Cover Sheets protect the upper platen of your heat press and leave a matte finish on the heat transfer material. The 6-Mil Cover Sheet protects the upper platen as well, but leaves a semi-gloss finish. And if you want to protect heat-sensitive garments or items, then the thin, silicone Flexible Application Pad provides that added protection.
  • Heat Printing Pillows or Print Perfect Pads – using pillows or pads specifically made for heat printing allows you to work around raised areas on a garment like buttons and seams. When you use a Heat Printing Pillow or Print Perfect Pad, you’ll get an even pressure on the garment resulting in a successful application.
  • Thermo-Tape™ – this heat-resistant tape helps keep graphics and lettering in place before and during a heat press application.


Cut, Print, or Order Your Design

If you own a vinyl cutter, you can simply cut the custom heat transfer designs you create. Cutting CAD-CUT® Heat Transfer Vinyl in-house saves time by giving you the ability to quickly produce designs and cut them on-demand; perfect for one-offs.

What if you don’t have a vinyl cutting machine?

That’s an easy roadblock to get around, let us cut it for you! By using CAD-CUT® Heat Transfer Templates to design your artwork, you simply place your order and we’ll do the work. You’ll receive your design weeded and on a carrier, ready to heat press.

What about full-color designs?

If you want to create full-color artwork and want the ability to print and cut it yourself, a print/cut system is what you need. If you’re not ready to invest in a print/cut system, but want full-color digital transfers, CAD-PRINTZ® is the solution you’re looking for. Simply order your digital transfer and we’ll print them for you. Just upload your artwork and we’ll ship within 24 hours of placing your order.

Do you wish there was a way to apply artwork that has more than one color in a single step? Screen Printed Transfers are the answer. Screen printed transfers take the techniques and feel of screen printing and combine the ease and simplicity of heat printing. If you’re just getting started with screen printed transfers, the fastest and easiest transfer to apply is Goof Proof® from Transfer Express. It applies in just 4 seconds – just place and press!

Another great option to produce your artwork is transfer paper. This is the ideal choice if you want to print your designs in-house using a inkjet or laser printer; there are transfer papers available for use with a sublimation printer as well.

Place Your Design on the Garment

Now that you have the artwork, you’re ready to apply it to the garment. Load the garment onto the t shirt heat press and position it for application. A great resource to help make sure you’ve placed your design in the right location is the Ultimate Guide to Design Size & Placement. From the front of a T-shirt to a left chest logo to a player name and number on a jersey, this t shirt design placement guide is an invaluable tool.

Apply the Design with a Heat Press

Time, temperature, and pressure. Regardless of the brand of heat press, these three things are vital to the successful application of a heat transfer. It is extremely important to follow the application instructions based on the type of heat transfer being pressed to the garment.

For example, Elasti Prints® Screen Printed Transfers from Transfer Express® are designed to be applied at low heat since they are typically used on performance fabrics. Whereas, CAD-CUT® Hi-Vis Color Reflect Heat Transfer Vinyl is applied at a higher temperature.

The final step in applying a heat transfer is removing the carrier. Again, refer to the application instructions because one transfer material may be peeled while hot and another may need to be cool before removing the carrier.

Tada! You’ve just personalized the first of many items! Now that you’re ready to start heat printing you may be wondering where you can find blank apparel. Transfer Express® is a great resource for T-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, performance wear, and more. Check out the available blank apparel.

What’s Next?

You may be looking for a little inspiration. The CAD-CUT® Creative Center is where you’ll find it. Take a look at what other apparel decorators are heat printing and use it to fuel your creativity.

If you need a little guidance or tips and tricks, take advantage of our YouTube channel as well as the wealth of information contained in the Help & Education pages on our website.

Now that you’re becoming a heat printing expert, you may consider visiting our STAHLS’ YouTube Channel for more tips, tricks, ideas, training, and in-depth information regarding Heat Transfer Decoration. Don’t forget to subscribe!

And remember, if you have any questions you can reach our STAHLS’ Customer Service teams at:

STAHLS’® – (800) 478-2457 for heat transfer vinyl questions

Transfer Express® – (800) 622-2280 for screen-printed transfer questions

Transfer Paper Experts™ – (800) 833-3432 for transfer paper questions

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13 thoughts on “5 Steps to Creating Custom Shirts & More with a Heat Press”

  1. Great post, exactly this is very cost-effective as well when used effectively. In this process, ink is applied to the t-shirt directly through mesh screens.Debossing

  2. after reading i will it’s an information post .
    You have shared and well detailed and informational facts .Which are good to know .


  3. It’s interesting to know that there are heat-resistant tapes out there that are used to keep the graphics and lettering in place for heat press application. I hope that I find professionals with all the necessary tools or equipment when I seek help from them for the custom printed graphic t-shirts that I need. I just need to create some because it will be used when we have a family reunion with my cousins who I haven’t seen for years now.

  4. Hi Mia! Thanks for reading along. Best of luck on your family reunion shirts! Printing T-shirts yourself is easier than you think! Check out our Stahls’ TV Youtube Channel for some inspiration. We’re always here to provide educational content to support you!

  5. I really appreciate your effort for creating this wonderful and detailed post. I was searching about how to creating custom shirts from couple days and finally after reading this post I think my search is complete.

  6. Thank you for such a comprehensive article. We appreciate your time and effort in creating this fantastic and comprehensive post.

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