A How To & Why You Should Print Your Own Heat Transfers
When done properly, a plastisol heat transfer will have a similar wash fastness to a screen printed t-shirt. Screen printing your own heat transfer can also be cheaper. There are many different situations where printing your own plastisol heat transfers makes sense. Here are some popular options when a plastisol heat transfer might be your best option:
1. Events: if you are printing designs for an event, you don’t want to overprint a design that won’t sell once the event is over. How many people are going to buy the extras of the local charity 5k from last year? Probably none. These left over shirts are wasted and quickly become a very expensive rag. If you screen printed your own heat transfers you can save a t-shirt from becoming wasted.
2. Hats: using a cap heat press to a-fix your own screen printed heat transfer can be easier than screen printing directly onto the hat, especially for those who have never printed hats before.
3. Repeat Customers some customers want to come get shirts as they need them. Being your own heat transfer printer is a great way to satisfy this customer.
How to Print Heat Transfers
Now that you have some ideas for when to use heat transfers, how do you print your own plastisol heat transfers?
Basically, a heat transfer is created when a screen printer prints artwork onto special heat transfer paper instead of directly onto a garment. For example you could use Transfer 75 Heat Transfer Paper for single or multiple colors. Then, you use a heat press to transfer the print from the paper onto your shirt. A few things to keep in mind when creating your heat transfer:
Preparing Your Screen: You want a good, thick layer of ink deposit on your heat transfer. To achieve this, apply a slightly thicker coat of emulsion. This heavier deposit of emulsion creates a deeper well for your plastisol ink to flow onto your heat transfer paper.
Mirror Your Artwork You must mirror your image. If you do not, all wording and letters will be backwards on your t-shirt, hat, or garment.
Screen Printing the Heat Transfer: When screen printing your transfers, you will need to hold them steady. A little adhesive can be a solution if you are only printing a small amount of heat transfers. If you are going to be printing a lot of heat transfers, or will be doing this on a regular basis, you will want to get a pallet with a vacuum system.When screen printing a heat a transfer, print your colors in reverse order than you usually would. What typically is your final layer of ink on a shirt should be the first layer of ink printed onto your release paper. A white underbase (if needed) will be printed last.Use an opaque ink, like Multi-Tech’s MCO series. After printing your final color or underbase, put some transfer powder on your heat transfer. This allows the image to “transfer” from your paper to the t-shirt easily. There are several ways to put on the powder. No matter how you coat your image and paper, the trick is to ensure you cover all the wet ink and then tap the paper to remove all the excess transfer powder. Accidentally leaving on transfer powder where it shouldn’t be creates issues with your heat transfer sticking to your shirt during the final heat press stage.
Curing Your Heat Transfer: Unlike screen printing on a garment, you are not trying to cure the ink completely. You want to just “set” or “gel” the ink. You do the final “cure” or “dry” when actually pressing it onto the shirt. To get this “gel dry,” move your heat transfer under a flash for about 5 - 12 seconds. The ideal temperature of the ink is somewhere between 180 - 240, depending on your shop conditions.To check if your transfer is properly gelled, try peeling up an edge. If it is too easy to peel up and comes off on your fingers, you need to cure longer. Too hard to peel and you are scraping at it, then it is cured too much.
Heat Pressing onto Your T-Shirt: A good starting point is in the 320 - 250 degree range for about 10 seconds. If you are using “cold peel” paper, let the transfer cool before peeling off the back. For a “hot peel,” you can peel after pressing.
Remember, no one masters a new skill or a new way of printing the first time. Give yourself some leeway and do some testing. Visit our manual and automatic press equipment page to see presses that are specifically designed for heat transfers, corrugated plastic, yard signs and more.