Heat transfer vinyl (or HTV for short) is a useful tool that allows you to add personalized touches to garments and accessories (including logos, names and images). HTV makes this all incredibly easy, which explains why so many crafters and small entrepreneurs are diving head-first into the heat transfer vinyl business.
But before you warm up your Silhouette CAMEO cutter and start flexing your design muscles, it’s a really good idea to first become acquainted with the world of HTV and learn how it’s used.
What is Heat Transfer Vinyl?
Heat transfer vinyl is a special kind of apparel vinyl that is used to decorate or personalize garments and fabric items. It can be cut, weeded and applied to cloth products with a hot iron or a heat press. HTV is manufactured and available in rolls (or pre-cut sheets) with a plastic adhesive backing that is torn away (or ‘weeded’) from the cut vinyl design before the vinyl is pressed onto a garment.
When you’re inspecting your heat transfer vinyl for the first time, you’ll notice one of the sides appears more “shiny”. The shiny side of the vinyl material is known as the carrier. This plastic-y carrier holds the heat transfer vinyl pieces in place during application to ensure the cut design is aligned correctly. The carrier side of HTV goes face down on your cutting mat because we need it to stay intact during application. The muted, adhesive side of the HTV material is the side that will end up receiving the cut. During application, the carrier side should always be face up.This is probably a good time to go over some of the common “lingo” used when talking about HTV – like any other type of production, certain words mean certain things within the context of heat transfer vinyl.
Heat Transfer Vinyl Lingo
• Carriers – the original polyester backing found on the other side of HTV, which keeps the vinyl material in place during application. Pressure-sensitive carriers are sticky or tacky, while static carriers are smooth.
• Cutter – A blade-equipped machine used to carve or “cut” designs into HTV (Silhouette cutters are common for desktop HTV production).
• Weeding – The process of removing the extra vinyl material after a design has been cut.
• Weeder or weeding tool – A stainless steel hook used to free the excess vinyl from the cut design.
• Heat press – A machine that literally “sandwiches” the HTV and garment together during the application process; using heat and pressure, the heat press adheres the vinyl to the garment.
• Pressure – The amount of force used when you push the heat press shut during application.
• Heat transfer cover sheets – Teflon or another protective material sheet used to prevent your fabric from scorching under the heat; it also ensures that your vinyl adheres to the fabric and not your heat press
Feel like you’ve got the HTV basics down? Great! Let’s move on to the fun stuff!
Colors & Finishes of All Types
Once you make the jump into the world of heat transfer vinyl, the sheer amount of available HTV color and style options can feel overwhelming. Each type of HTV has its own recommended pressure, temperature and pressing time settings, so always be sure to consult your product’s pressing instructions to ensure application success every time.
Here are a few examples of popular heat transfer vinyl types:
• Standard heat transfer vinyl (EasyWeed)
• HTV for performance wear (EasyWeed Stretch)
• Glitter heat transfer vinyl (Siser Glitter)
• Holographic and shiny HTV (Siser Holographic)
• Metallic heat transfer vinyl (Siser Metallic)
• Glow-in-the-Dark HTV (EasyWeed Glow)
• Flock heat transfer vinyl (StripFlock by Siser)
• Shimmery and pearlescent HTV (EasyWeed Electric)
Every time you use a new type of HTV, it’s incredibly important that you perform test cuts and adjust your settings to ensure you are producing desired results every time. It’s also a good idea to do a test cut any time you are using a new vinyl color – even if you are familiar with the type of HTV material. Vinyl colors sometimes behave differently due to minor variations in their composition, which can affect your ideal cut settings and ultimately your end results.
Wondering what types of items work best with heat transfer vinyl? The answer is easy: any garment or fabric that can take the heat of a very hot iron. HTV is pressed using high-heat settings, so it’s always a good idea to press a vinyl scrap on test fabric to ensure your garments can withstand the temperature.
Tools of the Trade
It’s time to tackle your first heat transfer vinyl project! Now what? Don’t panic! Here are the tools and materials you will need to get set up for production:
• A vinyl cutter (Silhouette desktop cutters are great for beginners!)
• T-shirt or other fabric/items you plan to decorate
• Weeding tools
• Stock supply of heat transfer vinyl
• Heat press
• Teflon sheet/thin piece of cotton fabric for pressing
• A computer (ensure your vinyl cutting software + cutter is compatible)
Creating Your HTV Design: You’ve Got Options
Here are a couple ways you can create your heat transfer vinyl design:
• Silhouette Studio Software
• Adobe Illustrator
• Use downloadable SVG files (see our Pinterest board for links to download!)
Before sending your design to your cutter, stop and check your work. Measure your items and adjust your cutting settings to ensure your design outputs at the correct size. If your artwork includes text, check to make sure all spelling appears correct and all fonts are formatted consistently.
The most important step to remember during the design process is making sure you create a mirror image of your artworkbefore sending your file to the cutter. When you press your heat transfer vinyl on to your items, your design will be flipped – to ensure it reads correctly, you must mirror the image prior to cutting your vinyl.
Press for Success: Hot Temps & Tips to Keep in Mind
Above all else, managing and improving your pressing settings and application methods is the key to having success with heat transfer vinyl. Depending on the volume and complexity of your HTV project, you can utilize different heat sources to conduct your application. A regular hot household iron will work great on small crafting projects, but if you’re pursuing HTV as a business venture it’s a better idea to invest in an actual heat press to ensure that you’re able to fulfill orders on time.
Keep the following variables at your fingertips when you are pressing your heat transfer vinyl:
• Temperature – The degree of heat you use during application is going to vary based on the compositions of your HTV and the item you are pressing.
• Pressure – The amount of pressure you use while applying HTV is also going to depend on the types of vinyl and garments you are using.
• Pressing Time – The duration of time you press your items is crucial to the outcome of your application. To ensure you are pressing your garments correctly and effectively, always refer to the production instructions that came with your heat transfer vinyl products.
Always remember to double-check your pressing settings with every new product you press or project you take on to ensure you get desired results every time.
HTV Pro Tip: Create your own pressing cheat sheet detailing temps, times and pressure based on the vinyl you use and the products you create the most. Keep your cheat sheet near the heat press and you’ll never forget the proper times and temperatures required for pressing different types of vinyl on a variety of products.
Heat Transfer Vinyl Production: A Beginner’s Checklist
Ready to officially get started? Think you have everything covered? Double-check our Beginner’s HTV Checklist to ensure you’re starting off on the right foot!
✓ Buy an HTV cutter package with user-friendly starter materials.
✓ Connect your computer to your cutter and ensure your cutter’s software is compatible with your OS.
✓ Inventory popular HTV colors and styles. Double up on black and white vinyl stock – you’ll go through these two colors more than you think.
✓ Play around with your cutter’s supporting software and familiarize yourself with its capabilities.
✓ Test run your production process before applying HTV to materials that you’re not used to yet. Keep scraps of vinyl and excess materials around to experiment with in your free time.
✓ Practice, practice, practice! You’ll only get better with time and experience.
Now that you’ve gotten set up and you’re ready to start cutting, start experimenting! Don’t forget to tune into our next blog post to learn how to properly cut and press your HTV designs with ease!