Written by De’Meko Scott, Data Analyst on the STAHLS’ Digital Strategy team.
If I had to describe how creating my first T-shirt went, I’d say it’s like riding a bike for the first time. From a distance, it looks simple enough. You move your legs, steer with the handlebars, and you’re pretty much good to go, right? However, it’s not until you get onto a bike that you realize that while the general premise is easy to understand there are a lot of complicated parts you may have failed to notice from afar.
It’s basically the same thing with decorating apparel. Most of you who are new probably think the same way I did. You just pick a design, send it to your cutter, weed it, and apply it. Unfortunately, the process is nowhere near that simple and I found that out the hard way. Luckily for you, I’m going to highlight some of the major tips I picked up from heat printing my first shirt so you can attack your first project more prepared than I did.
Tip #1: Picking a Design
Coming up with a design can be difficult. If you’re someone like me who wants to find a unique design, you’ll need to create the design or use a template. Stay away from copying a garment design to avoid copyright and licensing issues (especially if you’re selling apparel). Fortunately, there are many templates on the internet that you can customize to create a fresh look.
However, picking a template isn’t always easy either. You must keep in mind what kind of material you’re working with as well. I was working with heat transfer vinyl, which meant that my color selections would be more limited in what designs I could use. With HTV I’d probably have access to only two or three colors (based on what I had available). I couldn’t pick a full color design because there was no way I could make that work.
Be sure that any design you choose doesn’t have too much detail. The more detail a design has, the more weeding you will be doing later. Trust me, you don’t want to do a ton of that if you can help it.
Tip #2: Choosing Your Material
The design you’ve chosen will determine the type of material you’ll be using. Like I stated earlier, I used heat transfer vinyl, but I still needed to know which HTV would be best for my design and the shirt it was going on. With some help, I narrowed my decision down to Premium Plus or Fashion-FILM, and after being asked to pick the right one between those two I ended up picking Premium Plus.
Unfortunately, that was the wrong answer and I should’ve chosen Fashion-Film. You might be wondering why it matters at all if both are heat transfer vinyl. Well the reason turned out to be because:
- Detailed Design = Sticky Carrier: My design had more detail than I thought, which meant I would need a material that had a stickier carrier to hold my design in place during weeding.
- 50/50 Shirt: The shirt I had chosen to put my design on was a 50/50 blend of cotton and polyester which is not ideal for Premium Plus. This is because Premium Plus is a stretchy material better suited for performance wear like Dri-fit.
Tip # 3: Cutting Your Material
Once you’ve chosen your design and T-shirt the next step is putting it through the cutter. This was by far the most difficult part. There are several steps to take so you don’t ruin your design. This includes hitting on these major points:
- Create Extras: You never know if you might mess up with weeding or heat application, so always create an extra copy just in case. This way you don’t have to repeat the cutting step all over again.
- Mirror Your Image: If you want to make sure people can tell/read what your design is make sure you mirror your design. This way when you heat apply it everything is facing the correct way, and no one is confused by what your design is supposed to be.
- Cut the Right Side: Know which side of the HTV to cut is confusing when you’re a newbie, but you can easily figure this out by taking our weeding tool and lifting a corner of the vinyl from the carrier. Your carrier should be clear and that’s the part you want facing down when sending it through your vinyl cutter.
- Optimize Your Material: Make sure your material is lined up correctly and your design takes up adequate space. By doing this you can limit the amount of waste you have once the cutting is done.
- Always Test Cut: The last thing you want to do is waste a material. Run a test cut so that you can check the force of your vinyl cutter and the sharpness of your blade.
Tip #4: Weeding Your Design
The weeding process is one that will either make you very happy or very sad. Depending on the design and material you’ve chosen, it can be a struggle. But there are still ways you can make the process easier. You do this by following these simple steps:
- Heat is Your Friend: Slightly heating up a surface and then placing your design on top of it will make the weeding process 1000 times easier and will limit the amount of tearing.
- Sticky Carrier: Again, pair sticky carrier/material to pair with detailed designs and save yourself the headache. Not only will you able to pull them up easier, but if you weed the wrong part it’s easy to stick it back down without starting all over.
- Remove Excess Material: Once you have your design fully weeded, cut off any excess material. You don’t want it getting in the way during the heat application step.
Tip #5: Heat Application
The heat application was the easiest step for me to accomplish, but could vary for anyone not using a high-quality heat press. There are few simple tips to keep in mind when it comes to applying your design onto your garment:
- Always Use a Cover Sheet: There are certain materials that may not require you use a material, but this is more of a “better safe, than sorry” thing. The last thing you want is to clamp down your press and find out that there was something on your top platen that has now ruined your shirt.
- Design Placement Tip: Finding the perfect placement for your design might seem tough, but what I did was place 2-3 fingers below the collar of my shirt and then positioned my design right there. In the future, if I were trying a different placement, I’d check out the Design Placement E-book we offer, just so I have a better idea of where my design should go.
- Thermo-Tape is Your Friend: If you’re worried about messing up your placement when moving your design over to the heat press, use Thermo-Tape. This tape will hold your design in place. You can keep it on during the application and it won’t ruin your shirt!
- TTP Matters: TTP (Time, Temperature, and Pressure) will be the difference between whether your design is applied well or falls apart. If any one of these is off you could see issues like a scorched shirt/design, a peeling design, or a poor looking garment. When you choose your material, know what the proper TTP is before you apply it.
- Storing Extras: What about those extra designs? If you didn’t mess up anything, you can easily store them away for another shirt in the future. This way you have one less design to cut and weed, saving you time and money in the future.
Those are all the tips I have for creating your own shirt. It’s not as easy as you or I thought it was from a distance, but like I said at the start, it’s a lot like riding bike. With enough practice you can find that it will become easier with each attempt. Soon you’ll be flying through these steps and designing apparel at a faster rate without sacrificing detail or precision.
Good luck and have fun creating new pieces of apparel along the way!