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Find out how Heat Transfers can be the Solution.

Heat Transfer Solutions

Terry is a 40-year veteran of the garment printing industry and has managed production shops large and small across the U.S. He has written hundreds of management and technical articles for garment printing publications and spoken at industry events worldwide. He is one half of the industry podcast 2 Regular Guys and is currently in sales and training with Equipment Zone. 

But I’m a screen printer… embroiderer… digital direct printing business, why would I use heat transfers? First, you’re not a screen printer, or an embroiderer or a direct-to-substrate printing business, you’re a garment decorator. And there are many new paths down that road. Embracing the title of garment decorator opens up new potential and new markets that are outside the limits of just one decorating method.

What about durability, you may wonder. Plastisol transfers will have the same look and feel as a screen print. And, transfers properly applied with a quality heat press wash and wear just like a direct screen print. The customer will not likely ever know the difference.

Using transfers gives you the potential of a screen print look, feel and quality in short runs. And this includes specialty inks such as puffs and glitters. Custom heat transfers are available from a variety of industry vendors. Let’s look at a few of the options and markets for custom transfers.

State 11 Heat Pressed Jersey

The team business

Screen printing team logos, plus names and numbers on jerseys is not always the easiest method. This is especially true on specialty garments such as split-front baseball jerseys. But those with the ability to create custom transfers, usually using cut vinyl in this scenario, can translate a list of names and numbers into transfer sheets that can be applied quickly and conveniently… and with a little more ease on those troublesome garments.

A few considerations here: always buy extra transfers of team names and sponsors, as team rosters change with little time for reorders. Screen printing isn’t as flexible in terms of such single-shirt orders, whereas filling that add-on order from an extra supply of heat transfers makes the process simple.

One at a time

Whether selling through brick-and-mortar retail or online, single orders can be a nightmare if decorating garments in quantity and placing the excess into inventory. Murphy’s Law; when there’s an inventory of large and extra-large garments with a particular graphic, the next order to arrive will undoubtedly be for a medium. It’s easy for inventory to get out of control, along with profits.

An inventory of transfers along with a handful of blank garments is an easier and more cost-effective option in this model. Many screen print practitioners will seek out instruction on how to direct screen print plastisol transfers because of their ever-expanding inventories of printed shirts.

Decorating headwear

Many garment decorators avoid baseball cap business. The easy answer is to use cap transfers. While plastisol transfers for caps are easy to screen print, it’s also common to contract out intricate multicolor designs to a custom transfer supplier as a matter of convenience and practicality. These transfers arrive ganged on sheets for cost-effectiveness and are easy to apply.

Boy in a baseball shirt

From the team market to the trendy bling there are a varitey of opportunities for heat-applied graphics. (Image courtesy of Stalhs' Transfer Express; Image below and to the left Courtesy of Ace Transfer Co.)

It is necessary to buy a cap heat press to venture into this market. As heat presses go, this is a minimal cost investment and will open up a whole new world of products. Adding caps to your brochure and price sheet adds new business and dollars to your bottom line.

Hot and cold

Hot split or hot peel transfers will have a hand closest to that of screen printing. With this transfer, half the ink adheres to the garment and half stays on the sheet. The result will be an image with a very soft-hand. They are ideal for light garments but can also be used on darks.

A cold-peel or dark-garment transfer releases all the ink onto the garment for a more opaque result. This transfer is ideal when printing white, gold and other light colors on darks. Both transfer types (hot and cold peel) will work on cotton, blends and polyester garments.

diamond cross

Minimums and turnaround

Each custom transfer company has its own standards and policies, but minimums are usually standard at about 10 pieces for a custom design. Just as with other forms of decoration, the price will depend on the quantity.

Turnaround time will also impact price. A mega-rush will cost more than a standard turnaround. Expect an order to take about three days from final art, plus ship time. Rush orders are typically priced per color and faster shipping methods are an option as well.

Choosing a heat press

Do not, under any circumstances, cut corners on a heat press. They may all look the same, but there are vast differences “under the hood;” the quality of the heating element and the arrangement of heating coils are a few examples.

A poorly-designed heating element might result in cold spots—areas where the face of the press does not reach proper temperature for a permanent transfer of image-to-fabric. While the transfer might look perfectly fine after application, garments that did not reach proper temperature will have poor wash-ability.

A low-end heat press may also result in mechanical issues. I’ve talked with decorators who have either rewired heat presses from the ground up, or scrapped their inexpensive first press for a higher quality device. The right heat press will last years in a shop.

Buy a top-quality heat press and life will be substantially easier from the first day. Eliminate most of the potential quality issues by purchasing the proper equipment on the front end.

Custom heat transfers can have a place in most of our shops, whether printed in-house or purchased from industry suppliers. Think like a garment decorator and it’s obvious that this is just one more way to offer a wider variety of products and services to customers.