Heat Transfer Vinyl 101: An Introduction to HTV

If you’re reading this post, it’s probably safe to assume you’ve recently decided to take the plunge into heat transfer vinyl decoration – or at least, you’re thinking about it.

Either way, we’re excited for you! With garment customization and vinyl crafting on the rise, the potential for creative and financial opportunity in the personalization industry is huge. Never before has it been this easy to turn your passion for apparel design into a full-time gig, and we’re happy to see you’re taking advantage.

Now that you’ve taken the first step in creating your custom apparel empire, let’s talk a little bit about how you’re going to do it. Heat transfer vinyl (or HTV for short) is a useful tool, regardless if you intend to create custom products for business or for pleasure. Adding personalized touches to garments and accessories (including logos, names and images) is incredibly easy with HTV, which explains why so many crafters and small entrepreneurs are diving head-first into the heat transfer vinyl business.

Before you warm up your 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. Understanding vinyl and garment behavior during heat transfer application will come with experience – but that doesn’t mean you should pass up the opportunity to fully educate yourself before you start cutting! The real key to avoid wasting whole rolls of vinyl during the learning process is to perform test cuts and adjust your cut settings for every type of heat transfer vinyl you use.

Recognizing a good test cut from a bad one is vital in achieving success with HTV – but let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Read on as we discuss the basics of heat transfer vinyl and give you the inside scoop on what you need to know to get started.

What is Heat Transfer Vinyl?

Before we jump into the fun stuff like styles, colors and capabilities, let’s first go over the fundamentals of heat transfer vinyl application.

So what is heat transfer vinyl anyway?

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.

heat transfer vinyl HTV carrier backing coastal business finished vinyl side

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.

• 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

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Feel like you’ve got the HTV basics down? Great! Let’s move on to the fun stuff!

Heat Transfer Vinyl: 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 (EasyWeed 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.

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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.

HTV 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.

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The most important step to remember during the design process is making sure you create a mirror image of your artwork before 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.

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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 heat transfer vinyl common pressing settings siser easyweed glow in the dark glitter vinyl pressure medium peel

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 a 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!


Need a little more advice on how to get started? Have a couple questions before purchasing heat transfer vinyl equipment and accessories? Give our Customer Success Team a call and they’ll get you the answers you need to start cutting HTV today!

Direct-to-Garment Printing & the Power of Pretreating

There’s no doubt about it – direct to garment printing with white ink has revolutionized the custom apparel industry. With their compact setups and user-friendly processes, DTG printers provide garment decorators with the ability to create vibrant T-shirts in a matter of minutes.

And now – the screen printers are getting on board.

Why? Because DTG printing makes it easier for screen printing and apparel decoration shops to fulfill lower quantity orders and orders containing high-resolution/multicolored artwork without all of the extra labor and supply costs tied to the traditional screen printing process.

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Unless you are using EXOstencil Screen Prep Paper or another chemical-free process to create your screens, preparing and reclaiming screens is expensive. Emulsion, degreaser, dehazer – the chemicals alone will set any print shop back a few hundred bucks before factoring in labor, equipment and drying time. And when you’re printing jobs containing 4+ ink colors on the regular…those weekly screen costs add up quickly. Adding DTG printing to your shop’s services can really help cut down on prep costs, which in turn will make your customers happy when you can offer them a one-off T-shirt at a price that won’t break the bank.

Want to make them even happier? Pretreat your dark shirts first every time. EVERY. TIME. One of the biggest factors that plays into the success of printing on dark garments and achieving brilliant results is ensuring that your items are properly pretreated prior to loading your shirts onto the printer. EVERY TIME.

Do I really need to pretreat?

We’re going to say it again – yes, EVERY TIME.

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To understand the importance of pretreating, let’s break down its functions. Pretreatment is a clear liquid solution that plays two major roles during the DTG process; first and foremost, it prevents the DTG ink from soaking into the garment during printing. The concept is similar to priming drywall before applying paint – the primer allows the paint to sit on top of the wall’s surface without saturating the wall. Without the primer, the paint would soak into the drywall, causing the final wall color to look dull or muted.

The same is true for pretreating DTG shirts – the pretreatment fills the space in between the weaving of the shirt fibers, which effectively prevents the ink from soaking into the garment and allows for the white ink to adhere to and sit on top of the surface of the shirt. The CMYK inks then sit on top of the stabilized white ink and appear rich in color against the white backdrop. Without the use of pretreatment solution, however, all of the DTG inks will absorb into the fibers of the shirt and you’ll be left with a dingy-looking, unsellable product.

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DTG Sorcery: White Ink Flashing & Pretreatment Application

Pretreatment solution also has a secondary core function that is essential to printing with white ink. When the white ink hits the pretreated area, the pretreatment instigates a chemical reaction that causes the ink to semi-cure instantly. It’s the same effect that’s achieved when “flashing” a white underbase during the screen printing process – it produces a smooth, printable surface and prevents the colored inks from mixing when printed on top of the white ink. This results in a detailed and vibrant final print. The pretreating step is incredibly important when a shirt design calls for both white and CMYK inks, as the inks will most definitely mix and become muddled if the white ink is not cured.

Aside from garment choice, the pretreatment process is the most important step in ensuring that your DTG prints come out as vivid and crisp as possible. Pretreatment solution can be administered using either a hand sprayer or a spraying machine (we recommend the Zoom AE — check it out here!). Dilute your pretreatment solution with distilled water before applying it to your garments.

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You’ll want to make sure all areas in which ink will be laid down have adequate coverage to avoid misprints. If you choose to stack your shirts as you pretreat them, make sure that you alternate your stacking so the wet sides are touching each other.

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Once applied, allow the pretreatment to either air dry or dry underneath a heat press (our go-to is the Hotronix Fusion Heat Press Machine with the 16″ x 20″ platen). Air-drying your garments does take some extra time, but in doing so it allows the extra moisture to evaporate away from the shirt, which results in a less noticeable “box” imprint that is often caused by a heat press.

When using a heat transfer press to dry pretreat, avoid using a teflon sheet or silicone treated parchment paper to protect the garment — use a piece of non-silicone treated parchment paper instead. Press the pretreated shirt at 338F for 40-45 seconds at medium pressure to ensure the pretreatment has set. Never load a pretreated shirt onto the DTG platen that is not dry, or else the pretreatment solution will not work correctly. After the pretreatment has dried, shirts can be stored if printing is not required immediately. We recommend printing your garments within 30-60 days of pretreatment for the best print results.

Once you have identified the best pretreatment application and coverage techniques suitable for your business, you’ll have the power to deliver DTG magic every time you click print. Always remember, though: applying pretreatment solution is like waving a wizard’s wand over your garments – without it, the magic won’t happen.

Want to know more about direct to garment printing or the pretreatment process? Contact our professional services department to learn about the benefits of adding DTG printing to your business. Our team of pros will give you the insight and assistance necessary to help your shop succeed. Give us a call now: 800 562-7760