Blog / Decoration Methods / HTV Do's and Don'ts

HTV Do's and Don'ts

Decoration Methods Aug 17, 2022

Ever thought of crafting with heat transfer vinyl? It's a super fun process you can use to decorate a range of soft materials. If you're a first-time user, let's fill you in on some HTV do's and don'ts before you get started. There is so much to know, and getting savvy about the details can save you from making plenty of mistakes and wasting materials. Big bonus — by knowing what to do and what not to do, you will be able to produce some really perfect prints.

Alright, but What Is Heat Transfer Vinyl?

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is a special material made of vinyl that you can use to decorate a range of garments, fabrics, bags, and other cool apparel and accessories. By applying heat and pressure, you can apply HTV onto whatever it is you want to zhuzh up. Since HTV comes in different types, you want to follow exact instructions regarding what side of iron-on vinyl goes down and other application guidelines to get high-quality results and not destroy your iron.

Okay, and What About the Supplies for the Heat Transfer Vinyl Process?

Are y'all ready to get started? Woo! Let's get those supplies together. You probably know the basics — you need something to print on, like a T-shirt, and you'll need the actual heat transfer vinyl. You'll definitely want a few other things on hand for a smooth experience and to set you up to make more awesome HTV designs ASAP.

Heat Source

TBH, you can get this job done with a regular iron. However, if you plan to do a lot of small-scale or large-scale craft projects, investing in a high-quality heat press might be a good idea. These presses come in different sizes, weights, and styles. Bonus? These presses give you consistent pressure, adjustable temperature settings, and convenient built-in timers. For safety and durability, look for a heat press with an insulated base and ceramic coating.

Before using the heat press, check if you need to place the heat transfer vinyl shiny side up or down — this can differ by brand or style, so knowing what side goes down for iron-on vinyl will make sure your print goes on your cute bag or shirt and not on your iron or heat press.

Clam Shell Heat Press

Alignment Tools

Okay, another helpful tool to consider - alignment tools. These are great for making sure your design is lined up correctly for a *chef's kiss* product. Consider a lettering layout guide that you can reposition as you see fit, layout boards, heat-resistant tape, a portable laser-alignment system, and quick change plates for versatile design positioning in the heat press.

Cutting and Weeding Tools

Another thing you'll need — instruments to cut down the excess vinyl on your design. You can do this by hand, but the easiest way is to use a cutting machine. After cutting your design, you'll want to remove the excess vinyl, AKA, weed. You can use a sharp tool known as a vinyl weeder or weed pen. Since it is easier to weed heating transfer vinyl on a heated transfer, you can also look into getting a heated weeding panel. These small, lightweight and portable panels are usable with all types of HTV. Before you start weeding, know which side of iron-on vinyl goes down to avoid throwing the whole mess out and starting over.

Looking for a nice starter project? Try one of these thick cotton T-shirts on for size.

Understood! Now on to How the Heat Transfer Vinyl Process Works

The process itself is honestly super simple. Set the heat press to the required temperature and pressure. Once it's heated up, place your item in the center of the press. Cover the item with a teflon, parchment or craft paper sheet and close the heat press and preheat the item to remove wrinkles.

Once that's done, open the press and place the carrier sheet on the item with the carrier facing up. Place the previously mentioned protective cover sheet over the item. Close the heat press and press for the recommended time. Then open the press and peel off the carrier. Ta da! You nailed it.

Essential HTV Do's and Don'ts

You know what's nice? A list of things you should and should not do. We've got you with the HTV do's and don'ts, so you'll be successful right out of the gate:

HTV Do's

  • Do buy commercial grade HTV: Researching the different brands of HTV can point you toward high-quality vinyl that offers reliable results and long-lasting transfers without any cracking, peeling or fading. Use it on T-shirts, aprons, bags, wallets, mousepads, and a range of other items.
  • Do remove vinyl bubbles: Overpressing the vinyl causes the adhesive to evaporate from the heat and form air bubbles. Smooth them out with a scraper tool or a squeegee. Applying light, even pressure, move it gently from one end of the vinyl to the other. Crisis averted!
  • Do mirror your design: With your design software, flip the design horizontally to get its mirror image. If you are using text in your design, this is absolutely essential, because otherwise everything will be backwards! The last thing you want is to cut the vinyl the wrong way and have the letters appear backward in your print. Oh the horror!
  • Do preheat the fabric: Before applying HTV to the fabric, press the fabric to remove moisture, creases, and wrinkles. Aside from smoothing the surface, the heat opens up the fabric fibers. That enables them to absorb the vinyl adhesive during the heat press, so that you can get the best results.
  • Do follow the manufacturer's instructions: Whatever you do, DO NOT ignore this advice. Different HTVs have different heat, pressure, and pressing time requirements. To ensure a good result, use the correct heat setting, apply the right pressure evenly, and press for the recommended time.
  • Do know when to peel off the carrier sheet: It can be tempting to rip off the carrier sheet to check your design, but you could end up ruining it. So, first check the removal process for the type of HTV you are using. In some HTV types, you can remove the carrier sheet safely while the adhesive is still hot. In others, you need to wait for the adhesive to cool before you can peel off the carrier sheet. Patience is a virtue, y'all.
  • Do wait for 24 hours before washing: It takes at least that long for the adhesive layer to adhere fully to the fabric. While the HTV may crack, peel, or fade eventually, you can slow the process by washing, drying, and ironing the garment inside out. Wash in cold water to prevent the HTV from wrinkling.

HTV Don'ts

With all that in mind, avoid these common missteps:

  • Don't cut through the carrier sheet: The carrier sheet is the clear, film backing on the heat transfer vinyl and it helps to keep your design pieces together. Cutting through it would separate the design pieces and make it harder to position them as required for your design project. Before cutting the vinyl, place the shiny film side facing down on the cutting mat to keep the carrier sheet intact.
  • Don't overpress the vinyl: When you press HTV in the heat press, the heat activates the adhesives and makes it stick to the item. If you overpress the vinyl, the adhesives might  burn off and you won't get a good result. It is better to set the built-in timer of your heat press to 10 or 15 seconds to start with. You can increase the time if it is necessary but always make sure to follow the vinyl's instructions.
  • Don't use acrylic fabrics: They can't withstand the heat and you will end up with melted fabric in the heat press. For best results (and for sure while you're learning the ins and outs) stick with materials made of cotton, cotton blends, polyester, and polyester blends. You can totally use HTV on other materials, but they may require a bit more finesse.
  • Don't layer the vinyl incorrectly: Layering heat transfer vinyls over each other can get you some great multi-color designs. That is, as long as you use vinyl materials with the same characteristics. Don't even think of layering regular HTV with glitter HTV, metallic HTV, or holographic HTV. The prints won't be consistent, plus they will peel off in no time.
  • Don't use dark polyester or low-quality cotton t-shirts: When printing on T-shirts, get high-quality cotton ones and avoid dark polyester ones. You might get color migration issues with low-quality cotton or dark polyester T-shirts. What does that mean? It means you will ruin the shirt. The heat from the press will activate the garment dyes and transfer them to the vinyl and they will spoil the print effect.
  • Don't use worn cutting blades: If you craft a lot with HTV, your vinyl cutter is going to wear out and lose its sharp edge. Change it when it gets dull so that you can continue to cut your vinyl with precision.

Now that you know the essential HTV do's and don'ts, what are you waiting for? Get crafting with confidence and produce some superb heat transfer vinyl designs.