colorful rolls of heat transfer vinyl with a blue background

What Is HTV? A Beginner’s Guide to Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV for short) is a type of vinyl used to decorate apparel, bags, and other soft goods. Not to be confused with adhesive vinyl or sign vinyl, HTV is printed onto an item using heat and pressure over a short period of time. How you apply each heat transfer vinyl depends on the fabric and the application guidelines. Just as there are many different types of garments, there are different types of HTV to decorate them.

This post will teach you about various terms used for heat transfer vinyl; the different types of HTV; how to cut, weed, and apply HTV; and the different types of equipment you will use.

Common HTV Terms

You’ll find having a grasp of these common HTV terms will helpful when referring to application guides, reading industry blogs, and even watching tutorials.

Carrier

The clear, shiny backing on the HTV. The carrier can be tacky or smooth, depending on the HTV type. High-tack carriers are preferred for more intricate designs as they make it easier to weed.

Cavities

Center portions of the design where excess vinyl is surrounded by the design. The center of an “O” is a cavity.

Peel

After a design has been pressed, you need to peel the carrier away from the vinyl. Depending on the HTV, this is a Hot Peel, Warm Peel, or Cold Peel. Hot peel means you peel right away, while the design is still hot from the press. Warm peel ‒ you peel after it has cooled a little, and cold peel means you wait until it’s fully cooled.

Soft Hand

When an HTV is said to have a Soft Hand, it means it’s both soft to the touch and lightweight. The softest hand HTV doesn’t feel different in texture or weight from the shirt it’s been applied to.

Stretch & Rebound

Stretch and rebound have to do with the flexibility of the HTV. How stretchable is it, and does it rebound back to its original shape once it’s been stretched? This factor is important when talking about active wear or jerseys that need to have HTV that move with the garment. Often this will be represented by a number. The higher the number, the more flexible the HTV is.

Vinyl Cutter

The device that cuts the design into the vinyl, allowing for weeding of the excess vinyl.

Weed

Weeding is the act of removing the excess vinyl from a cut design, leaving only the design on the carrier.

Heat Transfer Vinyl for Any Application

For every fabric and application, there is an appropriate heat transfer vinyl material. Here is what you should keep in mind when shopping for heat transfer vinyl:

Durability

If you are looking for a material that can be put through the paces, heat transfer vinyl is a great option. For sports jerseys, durability and abrasion resistance are essential. Look for HTVs capable of outlasting the life of the garment. Almost all these materials can print on cotton, polyester, or cotton/poly blends. Some are even designed to specifically handle the challenge of decorating nylon mesh.

Flexibility & Weight

When choosing a heat transfer vinyl, keep in mind the stretch of the garment. If you’re decorating on performance wear, you need an HTV that won’t restrict or weigh down the garment. Know what the needs of the customer are and choose a heat transfer vinyl to match them.

Fabric Type

Certain types of fabric are easier to decorate than others. You’re not going to have an issue finding heat transfer vinyl for decorating cotton shirts, but what about a woven nylon tote bag? Synthetic and semi-synthetic materials ‒ like polyester, spandex, rayon, and nylon ‒ bring their own unique challenges.

For instance, if you’re decorating sublimated polyester, look for a heat transfer vinyl with dye blocking capabilities. This way your heat transfer vinyl will block any dye migrating because the garment is being reheated. Another attribute to look out for when decorating synthetics is application temperature. HTV that applies at lower temperatures is less likely to cause scorching problems on synthetics.

Cutting the Vinyl

Unless you plan on using only pre-cuts or custom cut vinyl, you’re going to have to know how to cut the vinyl from a roll or sheet yourself. You will need a vinyl cutter to do this in an accurate and timely manner. Vinyl cutters range from hobby cutters, like the Silhouette and the Cricut, to heavy-duty machines from Roland and Graphtec. What you need in a cutter largely depends on the size of your business. Still, no matter which cutter you have, the basic process is largely the same:

1. Create or Buy a Cut File

In order to cut art, you will need a cut file. Your vinyl cutter will come with software that processes these files and sends them to the cutter. You can buy cut files of art, or create your own using Adobe or Corel programs. If you need information on how to create you’re your own cut files, Great Dane Graphics sells a book packed with step-by-step guides ‒ Artwork for Vinyl Cutting.

2. Scale & Mirror the Art

Prepare your art for application by using software to scale and mirror it before cutting. You want the art to be the right size for the garment ‒ neither too small nor too big. Mirror the image so that it cuts it backwards. This way, when you place the design, it will be oriented the right way on your garment.

3. Follow the Cutting Guidelines

Each HTV has a different set of guidelines to make sure you get an optimal cut. If your cutter has the options, make sure you have the right blade and correct settings of force, offset, and speed. Cutting guidelines for popular vinyl cutters are available on the STAHLS’ website.

4. Weed the Vinyl

Using a weeding tool, pull the bits of extra vinyl off the carrier. Peel carefully so to not wreck the design. Make sure you get the pieces in the design’s cavities. The more intricate the design, the more time and care will be needed for weeding. Before pressing, make sure you have removed all excess vinyl.

Application Guidelines

There are three important variables when applying HTV with a heat press: pressure, temperature, and time. Being accurate on these three variables is essential to creating a good print. Disregarding the guidelines will result in anything from a design that doesn’t stick to a blemished, ruined garment. Worst of all is that you could be selling garments that don’t survive through the wash cycle, disappointing your customers with their purchase. Ruined garments can easily be replaced, but a poor reputation cannot.

If you have issues with the application guidelines, you may need to reconsider the heat transfer vinyl you are using. For instance, some HTVs can take more than 15 seconds to apply. While this doesn’t sound long, if you’re doing a huge order, the time adds up. If you can find an equally suitable HTV with a shorter application time, you can save yourself time. Likewise, if your press has difficulty retaining heat, it may be worthwhile to find a heat transfer vinyl that applies at cooler temperatures. This way, you’re not waiting for the platen to reheat after every press.

How to Apply

Once you’ve chosen your HTV and cut/weeded it, it’s time to apply. If you’ve done the groundwork and know the vinyl will work well with your fabric, you’re more than halfway there. All that is left to do is apply. Follow these steps to decorate your item:

  1. Turn on your heat press
  2. Set the press to the correct temperature and pressure
  3. Wait for your press to reach temperature
  4. Center your item center on the press
  5. Close the press on the item to pre-heat it and eliminate any wrinkles
  6. Place your design on the item with the carrier facing up
  7. Put a cover sheet over the item to protect it
  8. Press for the correct amount of time
  9. Open your press, remove the item, and peel off the carrier according to the HTV guidelines
  10. Move on to the next item

Equipment to Make Printing HTV Easier

If you’re just starting to print heat transfer vinyl, there are several pieces of equipment that can make printing more efficient.

High Quality Heat Press

Most of your equipment budget for HTV should go to your heat press. A high quality press will retain heat, allow for even pressure, and have more longevity than its cheaper competition. If you are serious about heat printing, buy the best quality press you can afford. Read the How to Choose the Best Heat Press post to learn what to prioritize when buying a press.

Alignment Tools

There are a variety of tools you can use to make sure your get proper placement and alignment. Layout boards and heat-resistant tape can help you place your design and make sure A laser alignment system makes aligning a design on an item a breeze. All you must do is set it up for the first press, then follow the guide for the rest, saving you time. Read the 5 Tools to Get Alignment Right blog post to get more info on what tools can help guide your design.

Interchangeable Lower Platens

If you have a press where you can swap out platens, having different size lower platens will give you versatility for what and where you can print. The different sizes allow you to print on sleeves and pant legs, print left chest logos, and the bills of hats. Some interchangeable platens are heated so you can apply heat from both sides of the garment. This lets you turn down the upper platen and press synthetics without fear of scorching.

Heated Weeding Panel

Make weeding easier by warming it up with a heated panel or table. There are several different options when it comes to this equipment piece, start with the EZ Weeding Table. All of them are handy to have to make your weeding sessions shorter and less frustrating.

Never Stop Learning

This blog post should serve as a solid starting point for printing heat transfer vinyl. By understanding your materials, fabric, and equipment, you will set yourself up for success. Companies are regularly releasing new heat transfer vinyl to meet decorating challenges. Stay current with these new products to keep your business up-to-date with trends. If you’re interested in going further with HTV, stay tuned to the STAHLS’ blog and subscribe to the great content at the Stahls’ TV YouTube page.

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