If you're reading this article, 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 opportunities 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.

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 vinyl 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 specialty vinyl material that is used to decorate or personalize T-shirts, garments, and other fabric items. HTV contains a heat-activated adhesive backing, which allows the vinyl to permanently transfer to your garment when heat pressed with sufficient time, temperature, and pressure. 

By using a vinyl cutter, like a Silhouette CAMEO  or Brother ScanNCut, you can cut digital designs into the vinyl and then transfer those designs onto your T-shirt or garment using a heat press. The result is impressive, high-quality custom garments with exceptional durability as well as look and feel.

One of the great things about heat press vinyl is that there are so many different varieties of colors and finishes - glossy, matte, flock, stretchy, glow-in-the-dark, glitter HTV - you name it! No matter what project you've got, there is an HTV that's perfect for it. Here are some of best heat transfer vinyl options available to you by Siser North America:

What Equipment Do I Need to Get Started?

One of the biggest benefits of creating custom garments with heat transfer vinyl is that it carries one of the lowest startup costs. This is because the two main pieces of equipment that you need are a vinyl cutter and a heat press.

1. Vinyl Cutter

There are a lot of vinyl cutting machines on the market in a variety of sizes to accommodate all levels of production needs. For starting out, we recommend going with a desktop vinyl cutter such as the Silhouette CAMEO or the Brother ScanNCut. Both cutters are very modestly priced and are the perfect entry point into the world of garment decoration. Once your business starts ramping up, and you need faster speeds to keep up with demand, you can start looking at a Graphtec cutter such as the CE7000 series or the FC9000 series for the best that money can buy.

Vinyl Cutters - Silhouette CAMEO and BrotherScanNCut

2. Heat Press

The second piece of equipment you need is a heat press. A heat press works by effectively sandwiching your HTV and your garment together while applying heat. This allows the vinyl to become a permanent part of your fabric. 

Vinyl Cutters - Silhouette CAMEO and BrotherScanNCut

As with vinyl cutters, there are a lot of heat presses on the market, and you can become quickly overwhelmed with all of the options. The main thing to look at is the size of the press. The industry standard heat press size is 16” x 20”, like the Geo Knight DK20, and this will allow you to do almost anything. This also future proofs your business in case you want to transfer larger designs. However, if the budget does not allow for a 16” x 20” just yet, you can start as small as a 9” x 12” press on up!

Great! Do I Need Anything Else?

Once you’ve picked up your vinyl cutter and heat press, you’re almost ready to go! The last things you need are your supplies. Let’s go through each of them.

1. Heat Transfer Vinyl

This wouldn’t be a very good blog on heat transfer vinyl if we left out the core ingredient! As we stated, heat transfer vinyl comes in a lot of colors and finishes. A good place to start is with Siser EasyWeed, which is a standard HTV and is arguably the most popular HTV on the planet. We also recommend starting out with standard colors like black, white, navy and red. You’ll find that you’ll likely go through these colors faster than anything. 

Once you get the hang of things, then start experimenting with additional colors and finishes. HTV comes in both vinyl rolls as well as pre-cut sheets for your convenience.

2. T-Shirts/Garments

Next up, you’ll need something to press your HTV onto! One of the great things about HTV is that most HTV works on cotton, polyester, blends, and leather. There are also additional HTV that will work on nylon (EasyWeed Extra) and Lycra/spandex (EasyWeed Stretch). For sourcing your T-shirts and garments, there are a lot of online wholesale suppliers like JiffyShirts, ShirtSpace, Gildan, BellaCanvas, and a whole bunch more.

3. Weeding Tool

weeding tool is going to become your absolute best friend. When you’re working with heat transfer vinyl, one of the steps after cutting is to weed away excess vinyl. While you can remove larger portions by hand, you’ll find that a weeding tool is extremely useful if not essential for removing those smaller pieces.

4. Teflon Cover Sheet

A Teflon cover sheet is necessary when you go to press your transfer. This cover sheet protects your garments from direct heat and prevents them from being singed or scorched. It also is very useful when layering vinyl, which requires multiple presses, and prevents the vinyl from inadvertently melting.

5. Design Software

Last but certainly not least, you will need a computer and design software. Fortunately, your Silhouette CAMEO, Brother ScanNCut, or Graphtec cutter will come with its own design software that you can use to create designs and cut files. That’s at no extra cost to you! You can also use more sophisticated programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and CorelDRAW if you need additional flexibility and customization.

How to Use Heat Transfer Vinyl to Create Your First Custom T-Shirt

All right! We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the different equipment and supplies you will need, so how about we dive in and show you how to use heat transfer vinyl? As we’ve mentioned, the process of decorating with HTV is super easy to get the hang of, and we’re confident that you’ll be up and running in no time. So let’s get started.

Step 1: Design Your Cut File

Once you’ve got all of your supplies, and your vinyl cutter and heat press are set up, you will want to create a design on your computer to cut into the vinyl (also known as a cut file). The easiest way to do this is by using the software that comes with your vinyl cutter such as Silhouette Studio or Brother CanvasWorkspace. 

Design in Brother CanvasWorkspace

These programs are very user-friendly, and there are a million and one YouTube tutorials for them that will help you get started. Plus, if you're feeling less than graphically savvy, you can even buy premade designs to cut - on Etsy, from Silhouette/Cricut, and a host of other websites.

While designing your cut file, always make sure to stop and check your work. Measure your items and adjust your 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.

Lastly, before you send your design to the cutter, it’s very important to make sure your image is mirrored (reversed horizontally). Because you're cutting the backside of the heat transfer vinyl, your design needs to be mirrored. When you go to press it, it will be facing the correct way.

Mirrored Design in Brother CanvasWorkspace

Step 2: Load Your Vinyl Cutter & Set Cut Settings

Once your cut file is ready, it's time to load your vinyl cutter up with your favorite HTV. Now, if this is your first time handling heat transfer vinyl, you'll want to pay attention to a couple of things. 

First, you'll notice that your HTV has both a shiny side and a dull/muted side. The shiny side of the vinyl material is the carrier. The plastic-y carrier holds the heat transfer vinyl pieces in place during application to ensure the cut design is aligned correctly. The opposite side, which has a muted color, is the adhesive side of the HTV material, and this will be the side that will end up receiving the cut. It will also be the side that touches the garment when you go to press it. With that in mind, you will want to load your vinyl cutter with the carrier side face-down. Remember, you're cutting on the adhesive side. 

Heat Transfer Vinyl Taken Apart - Carrier, Adhesive Backing, Finished Side

Next, make sure your cutter is set to the correct settings for that particular vinyl. Because there are a lot of different HTVs on the market, with varying thicknesses, you will want to adjust your cut settings accordingly. Some vinyl requires more “force” than others. Too much force and you can end up cutting through the plastic carrier. Too little, and you won't be able to properly weed away excess vinyl.

Setting Cut Settings for Heat Transfer Vinyl

For instance, we recommend cutting Siser EasyWeed with a force of 4 and a speed of 8 on the Silhouette CAMEO. On the Brother ScanNCut, this translates to a cut speed of 1 and a cut pressure (force) of 1 - and in the photo above, we added a half-cut pressure of 4. 

In contrast, Siser Glitter is cut with a force of 11 and a speed of 8. Glitter requires this extra force because it is a much thicker vinyl than EasyWeed. If all of this talk of cut settings has your head spinning, don't worry! We have all of the instructions laid out for every single heat transfer vinyl on our site, and our tech team is just a phone call or email away from making sure your settings are perfect!

Step 3: Run a Test Cut

When your HTV is loaded, and you have input your cut settings, run a test cut before you cut your entire design. A test cut is generally a small square or triangle in your vinyl, and this will allow you to see if you need to make any last-minute changes to your cut settings prior to cutting. It’s a small amount of effort that can save you a lot of money and hassle – there’s nothing worse than cutting an entire design only to have the cutter not fully cut through the vinyl (or cut through the carrier!).

Test Cut Heat Transfer Vinyl

Step 4: Cut Your Vinyl

Alright, the big moment has finally arrived! It’s time to send your design to the cutter and let it work its magic.

Step 5: Weed Away Excess Vinyl

After your design has been cut, it's time to remove the excess vinyl that's not apart of your cut design. This is commonly known as weeding. You can start by peeling the excess HTV from the carrier by hand, but you'll likely want a weeding tool on-hand to help remove the small and intricate pieces.

Weeding Heat Transfer Vinyl

Step 6: Heat Press the HTV to Your Garment

Once all of the unnecessary vinyl has been removed, you're ready to heat press your design to your garment!

To do this, first load your T-shirt onto your heat press’s bottom platen. Then, align and place your transfer on top of the shirt and cover with a sheet of Teflon. Your transfer should now be facing the correct direction (no longer mirrored).

Heat Transfer Vinyl on T-Shirt Ready to Press

Next, press your transfer onto the shirt using the recommended press settings for your vinyl. Just like with the cut settings, the heat transfer vinyl you use will also have a specific time, temperature, and pressure for the ideal results. For instance, Siser EasyWeed is pressed at 305°F for 10-15 seconds with medium pressure. Siser Glitter is pressed at 320°F for 10-15 seconds with heavy pressure.

Cover Heat Transfer Vinyl with Teflon and Heat Press

After your timer goes off, pop open the heat press, peel the plastic carrier from the garment, and your vinyl has successfully adhered to the garment! Congrats! You have a new custom T-shirt.

Peeling Carrier Heat Transfer Vinyl

Finished T-Shirt with Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat Press Settings for HTV

At this point, you should be ready to hit the ground running! For your reference, here are the pressing settings for some of the most common heat transfer vinyl by Siser and XPress Cut. It may be beneficial to print this chart out or to create your own cheat sheet to keep near your heat press. That way, you'll never forget the heat transfer vinyl temperature and time required for pressing different types of vinyl!

Heat Transfer Vinyl Pressing Times and Temps

Ready to Get Started

Ready to officially enter the world of garment decoration? Here's one last checklist to double-check to ensure that you're starting off on the right foot!

Heat Transfer Vinyl Beginner's Checklist

Wrapping Up

All right – that about concludes this guide! We hope that this article has proved useful for you, and we wish you the absolute best of luck on your HTV endeavors! For additional resources, we recommend reading our other articles, 5 Ways to Make More Money With Your HTV Business and The 5 Things You Need to Start a Heat Transfer Vinyl T-Shirt Business.

At Coastal, we help people build their custom decoration business with scalable solutions for heat transfer vinyl, sublimation, transfer paper, and more. We would love to help you build your business! Give us a call today at 800-562-7760 or email us at [email protected]