A Beginner’s Guide to Heat Printing

January 2, 2018

Whether you’re starting a custom clothing business or just looking to develop a new hobby, heat printing can be a rewarding endeavor. With so many tutorials on the internet however, it can be daunting trying to figure out where to start.

Here’s a quick rundown of the basics of heat transfer printing to help give you a better understanding of the craft.

What is Heat Printing?

Heat printing, also known as heat transfer printing, is the process of applying a heat-applied material to an item, also called the substrate.

There are many heat-applied materials on the market, so which one you choose will depend on the substrate you’re applying it to and the effect you want.

Heat-applied materials are applied to items through the use of a heat press. They have heat-sensitive adhesive on one side that attaches to the substrate when heat is applied.

The Tools

The tools used when printing with heat transfers depend greatly on the budget and desired outcome of the project. If you’re a hobbyist looking to create simple, neat designs for family and friends, you can probably get away with a basic DIY vinyl cutter and your household iron.

If, however, you’re wanting to produce designs for a commercial enterprise, you’ll want to sink a bit more money into a professional setup.

Tools of the heat printing trade include:

  • Vector Software
  • A Vinyl Cutter
  • A Heat Press

Vector Software

This is the software used to create the designs that will be applied to the substrate. There are many on the market, both free and paid. Most vinyl cutters will come with their own vector software bundle.

Vector images are unique from other images because they’re made up of a sequence of commands or mathematical statements that place the lines and shapes that make up the image. Because vector images don’t rely on pixels, they can be scaled up without losing their quality or becoming blurry.

Heat transfer designs must be created with vector software to allow a vinyl cutting machine to read the design and know where to cut.

A Vinyl Cutter

The vinyl cutter, also called a plotter, is the machine that cuts out the design from the heat-applied material.

Once cut, the design must be weeded. This means the cut design must be separated from the negative space or spare vinyl. Once weeded you’ll be left with the design ready to be applied to the substrate.

A Heat Press

Heat Transfer PrintingThe heat press is the tool that applies the heat-applied material to the substrate. There are a number of presses on the market, some more robust than others. Which press you buy will depend on how heavily you’ll be using it.

Different heat-applied materials will come with different instructions for how to apply them. The important elements to take note of are:

  • Temperature: The temperature the heat press should be when applying the material
  • Pressure: The amount of downward force required to properly apply the material
  • Time: The amount of time the heat must be applied to the material

Heat Transfer Printing is an Art Form

Heat printing requires time and skill to get it right, but once you have both down, it can be incredibly rewarding to see your own designs out in the world.

Looking to delegate your heat transfer printing to the professionals? Get in touch today and see how we can help you promote your business.

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