Guide to Using a Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat pressing or printing using heat press machines have become very popular in the modern world. From garments, caps, mugs to plates and puzzles, heat printing is done in several types of items. Printing is done either to make the article more attractive or to convey some message. Heat printing has also become a good business option for many individuals.

For heat printing, a transfer is the most important accessory. It’s the material through which the image, designs or letters are transferred to the primary article. There are varieties of transfers available in the market. A heat transfer vinyl is one of the most in-demand transfer materials.

Heat Transfer Vinyl, popularly known as HTV, is a special vinyl that can be used on many materials or fabrics to create designs. It generally comes in a sheet or roll. HTV comes with an adhesive backing that can be cut and weeded, and attached to a substrate for heat pressing. It’s usually made in single colors and also has some variations such as reflective, patterned, flocked, glitter, holographic, 3D puff and glow in the dark.

Using a heat transfer vinyl is easy, but if done in the wrong way, your whole substrate will be ruined. Especially for beginners, it can be pretty difficult. To help you I have created this step-by-step guide to how to use a heat transfer vinyl.

Step 1

Assemble the Accessories

Heat transfer vinyl is not the only item that you’ll need for heat pressing. You’ll have to get all the tools and items ready before you start the process. Get everything assembled on your workbench for convenience.  Given below is the list of items that you’ll need while heat pressing using a heat transfer vinyl.

  • Heat Press machine with all the functions that will make your work easy, such as digital controls and display, alarm function, etc. If possible, get a tool that has its heat platen coated with a Teflon sheet.
  • A Substrate on which you are going to print the design. You can use a T-shirt, a canvas bag, baby cloth, etc. Make sure that the size of the item will fit into your heat press machine.
  • Vinyl cutter for cutting the design over the vinyl. Use a good cutter from a reputed brand, such as the Silhouette series.
  • A Computer that has been loaded with an image editing software. Some vinyl cutters come with their own software, so it’s better to use the one.
  • Heat transfer vinyl as the transfer material. You can use a standard heat transfer vinyl of any color for your task. In case you are going to print on a white or light-colored garment then use a dark or bright colored vinyl.
  • Scissors and hook tool for trimming and weeding the transfer.

Step 2: Get your Transfer Ready

Choose and Cut the design

Now that you are ready, select a design that you want to print. You can use any design that you desire, as long as your vinyl cutter can cut it out. However, if you are using heat transfer vinyl for the very first time then I would suggest you start with something simple.

After choosing your design, load it into the image editing software in your PC. For heat pressing, the heat transfer material is required to be flipped to a mirror image, so using the software, flip the original image into the mirror image. Measure and adjust the length of the design as well so that the design can perfectly fit on the desired spot of your T-shirt; just assuming that you are printing a T-shirt.

Once your design is ready, it’s now time to it cut out. First, load the heat transfer vinyl into your vinyl cutter. Either you can put the vinyl directly into your cutter, or you can load the transfer material on a cutting mat if the size of the vinyl sheet is small. In case you are placing the material directly, adjust the width of the rollers of your cutting machine to accommodate the HTV. While loading it, place the material on the machine plastic backing side down.

If you are using a smaller piece of HTV, you can stick it on the cutting mat to hold the design in place. Put the transfer material on the cutting mat with the plastic backing side down. Finally, click the load button on your machine and select the type of HTV, and then cut the design out.

Trim and Weed

Use a pair of scissors to cut the heat transfer vinyl just close to the design or image, cutting through both the original transfer material and the plastic backing. Then use a good hook and start weeding away the unwanted vinyl by gently pulling it off the sticky plastic backing. Once you are done weeding the unnecessary heat transfer vinyl away, place the vinyl on your T-shirt with the sticky side of the plastic backing down.

Step: 3 Adjust the Machine and Heat Press

Set Your Heat Press

After you are done with the layout, power and open your heat press machine and adjust the temperature of the device. Look for the recommended temperature for the particular HTV that you are using, which will be instructed on the transfer material itself,  and set the temperature according to that. Also, set the timer and adjust the pressure knob of the unit based on the thickness of your T-shirt.

Heat Press

Finally, you are all set to accomplish the process. Now place the shirt on the laying platen with the design on the upper side. If necessary, place a clean dishcloth over the design, and close the heat press for 45-60 seconds constantly.

Peel off

After 45-60 seconds of heat pressing, lift up the top platen of the machine and peel the plastic backing gently away from the T-shirt. The transfer vinyl must remain attached to your garment, and the plastic should peel away easily.

If the transfer material is still slightly stuck to the plastic backing, allow your T-shirt to cool down for around 30 seconds, and then heat press it for another 30 seconds or so. Now try to peel it off again. Once the plastic is peeled away, you are done.


Heat transfer vinyl is exceptionally versatile, as it comes in tons of colors, and patterns.  Plus it can be used on a number of fabrics, including polyester, cotton, and cotton/poly blends, which makes it very useful. HTV is also quite simple and convenient to use.


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