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Your Guide to Heat Transfer Printing

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What is heat transfer printing, and how is it done? Read to find out!

What Is Heat Transfer Printing?

Heat-transfer printing, also known as thermal-wax transfer, thermal printing, or thermal-transfer printing, utilises heat to transmit an image on an object from wax. Heat press printing techniques work with images that are preprinted on a single wax sheet or create printed-on-the-fly images produced by layering wax dye on the object. Heat transfer printing on fabric can substitute or supplement alternative methods of printing.

What Equipment & Supplies Do You Need?

Here’s what you need to pull off a successful digital heat transfer to apply a logo on your desired product via heat transfer printing:

A Computer

You need a computer with graphic design software to make your custom design to print it for heat transfer.

A Heat Transfer Printer

The printer you will need for heat press applications will be larger than the printer you use normally, by a fair margin, to print larger designs. Besides, heat transfer printer work just like normal inkjet printers, they just need a different ink and special transfer paper.

Heat Transfer Ink

Heat transfer printing uses different types of inks to achieve different types of finishes. Inkjet, however, is the most commonly used ink because it is the most easily accessible and the most affordable. You can also use pigment ink for fade resistance or opt for sublimation ink when indulging in dye sublimation printing.

Heat Transfer Paper

What is heat transfer paper? Well, it is a special paper designed for heat transfer. It is normally coated in pigment polymer film and wax that develops a permanent bond with the fibres of the fabric when it is heated. Heat transfer paper usually comes in 13” by 19” sheets to provide more freedom of design.


You will also need a vinyl cutter to cut out your design from the heat transfer paper to apply it to the substrate.

Heat Press

This one is available in several sizes and shapes based on the heat transfer application. Clamshell presses and swing-away flatbed machines are utilised for custom t-shirts and other types of flat apparel or accessories including headwear. Then there are the cylinder-shaped heat presses used for transferring on rounded objects, such as custom water bottles and coffee mugs.

Heat Pads

Heat pads are positioned on the bottom platen of the heat press. They act as the surface for the product during the heat transfer process or when you are learning how to make heat transfers. They are normally made of heat resistant foam or silicone rubber.

Heat Tape

It is heat resistant and is used to keep the heat transfer paper in its place on the product.

Heat Resistant Sheeting

They are typically made using Teflon and are positioned in between the heating platen and heat transfer paper to keep the heat press tidy and save the transfer paper from scorching due to the heat transfer temperature.


The substrate is the product that you want to decorate. It can be anything, including drinkware, bags, sweatshirt, polo shirt or a custom t-shirt. In other words, the substrate is your canvas to make a heat transferred masterpiece!

How Does Heat Transfer Printing Work?

Heat transfer can be done in several ways, such as digital appliqué transfers, inkjet transfers, vinyl transfers, and dye-sublimation transfers, etc. But we will focus on the commercial heat transfer for now:

Gather Your Supplies: You need to have everything you are going to need at hand to begin the process.

Make Your Design: You can use graphic design software to mock up your design on your computer. Remember to take the heat transfer ink colour and size into consideration.

Print the Design: Print your custom design or your brand’s logo onto special heat transfer paper with the help of sublimation ink, inkjet ink, or pigment ink based on your product and application.

Cut Out the Design: Here you will need a vinyl cutter to trim your image. This is only needed for supplier, store-bought and printed transfers.

Warm Up Your Heat Press: To warm the heat-press, open it up and separate the heat platen from the heat pad and let it be while the heat platen warms up. For the majority of heat transfer applications, the temperature is set somewhere between 350 and 375 °F.

Adjust the Pressure: The pressure is decided depending on the fabric’s thickness as the thicker fabric needs less pressure. In most cases, medium or high pressure is required.

Set the Time: Pay extra attention to this step because the time changes with different types of heat transfer. Set the time according to the method:

  • Digital Appliqué Transfer: 20 to 30 seconds
  • Inkjet Transfer Paper: 14 to 18 seconds
  • Vinyl Transfer: 45 to 60 seconds
  • Dye Sublimation Transfer: 25 to 30 seconds

Set the Substrate and Transfer in Place: Place your product on the plate and the transfer paper face up wherever you want on your product in the pressing area. However, you will have to cover the heat transfer paper using a thin cloth, to protect it, for applique transfer and vinyl transfer.

Press Your Product: Once you have your product in place, close the press by pushing the handle downwards to shut the press. At this point, your pressure, time, and temperature should be set, so it should be just as easy as pressing the start button.

Remove the Film: As soon as the timer goes off simply, open up the press and take off the film while the heat transfer paper is still hot. You will see your design printed on your product. And just like that, your heat pressed custom garment will be done.

When Is Heat Transfer Printing an Ideal Choice?

Heat-transfer printing when used correctly delivers high-quality, colourful prints of photo-realistic images, which renders it perfect for digital photography prints. It also works perfectly for customising or adding prints on fabrics like the athletic uniform number in sports wear. Heat-transfer printing is a better long-term option instead of direct-thermal printing, which can wear out.

Novelty Fabrics and Materials for Heat Transfer 

Thermal transfer printing works ideally on paper. It also excels in printing images on other material, including garments and textiles. Heat-transfer printed images are water-resistant, durable, and adhesive resistant. You can also use heat transfer printing to print your favourite images onto physically hard objects and even acrylics such as coffee mugs.

Classification of Heat Press

Heat transfer printing can be divided into three categories:

Vinyl Printing

Vinyl printing is effective when working with vinyl transfer films like glitter, hologram, flock, reflective material, PU, and glow in the dark. However, this method of printing is only limited to just one colour printing. The mini heat-press, on the other hand, is most users’ choice in this regard.

The artwork is designed using the software, and the line is sent to the plotter or the vinyl cutter to cut. After you cut it, you have to get rid of any unwanted vinyl from the original vinyl transfer film. At last, it is ready for heating for the fabric.

Sublimation Printing

Sublimation printing is ideal for quick-drying T-Shirt, microfiber, dry fit, jersey, polyester, and material-coated surfaces like coated plates, and coated mugs, etc. This method involves using sublimation ink, a heat press printing machine, and the use of paper.

This transfers the sublimation ink onto your fabric by using high pressure and temperature within a minute. Sublimation T-shirts usually leave permanent, vivid images alongside shades of soft-to-the-hand.

Transfer Printing

Transfer printing is perfect for any type of t-shirt fabric, in every colour, including cotton, polyester tees, caps, etc. It uses pigment ink and transfer paper during the printing process.

There are two types of light transfer paper. One is based according to a white T-shirt and a dark one is based according to the T-shirt colour. It is better to use original transfer paper if you want to ensure better print quality when dealing with a digital heat press.


Heat transfer printing has many applications from custom clothes to labels and receipts. You can use it to create the best, most vivid, and most visually stunning designs. So, follow our guide and step into the field of heat transfer printing armed with everything you need to know about it.

Image source: Shutterstock
  • Lisa John

    Meet Lisa John, a dynamic Content Manager and Marketing Professional at Garment Printing Group. With three years of industry experience, Lisa excels in crafting compelling narratives that not only illuminate the vibrant world of garment printing but also drive engagement and growth.

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