How To Apply Heat Transfers

When embellishing with heat transfers, the keys to excellent results are a quality heat transfer, a reliable heat press and a sound application process. In fact, it is the application process that should be paid most attention to when striving for great results. As the other two are simply matters of prudent shopping and investment, we’ll dispense with them first because, before the application process even begins, it is important to make sure all the right parts are in place to make magic happen.

Investing in a quality heat press is essential when working with transfers. Understandably, different customer needs require different types of presses: manual versus automatic, clamshell versus swing-away, cap press versus label press versus mug press and so on. Heat, pressure and time are the three keys to successful heat-transfer application, and are all functions of the press. A machine should also have an even distribution of heat and pressure running throughout the entire upper platen, in order to properly apply the transfer.

In addition to a reliable machine, it is important to work with a reputable heat-transfer manufacturer who provides transfers of consistent quality. During application, it is extremely important that you start out by following the application guidelines provided by the transfer manufacturer. Changing or reducing temperature, dwell time, pressure or peeling and handling specifications will prevent the heat transfer from adhering to the substrate properly. A reliable transfer manufacturer is equipped with a staff that is experienced and well versed in the field and is ready to help you tweak the application process to suit your needs.

General application guidelines

Make sure to confirm with the transfer manufacturer that the product you are using is compatible with your substrate. Certain transfers are only suitable for certain substrates. If there is any doubt, it is recommended you send your production fabric to the transfer manufacturer to have it apply transfers and conduct wash testing; this will ensure you are ordering the right product. The maker will be able to tell you what types of heat transfers will work best and will help prevent any major hurdles during your application process.

Review and become familiar with the manufacturer’s “recommended application instructions.” Match your heat-press settings (time, pressure and temperature) to those cited in the instructions. Leave ample time for your heat press to achieve desired heat—or to regain desired heat after significant production volume—after initial start-up. This may take 10-15 minutes, depending on the machine. Once proper temperature is attained, follow these basic steps:

  • Situate the garment on the lower platen of the machine in a way that allows you to easily reach the desired application area.
  • Place transfer, ink-side down, on the desired section of the garment. Certain parts of garments are easier reached with a swing-away press. Such a press allows you to work more easily on all areas of the garment without worrying about burning yourself on the upper platen. Make sure all parts of the transfer will be covered by the upper platen, which serves as the heating element. All areas must be completely covered for even heating.
  • Once the transfer and the garment are placed, move your hands away from the platen and engage the press; the engaging process varies depending on whether you are using a manual or automatic machine
  • Allow the machine to stay engaged for the entire duration of the set dwell time. Depending on what type of machine you are using, once time is up, you will either have to manually disengage the machine or it will disengage automatically. It is very important not to cheat on dwell time and disengage the machine earlier than set time; doing so may prevent all parts of the transfer from adhering properly to the garment.
  • Hot-peel or hot-split heat transfers require removal of carrier paper from the substrate immediately after disengaging the machine. Cold-peel transfers need time to cool to room temperature before peeling the carrier paper off. Refer to your instructions to determine what type you are using. With a hot-peel, you can peel the carrier paper off the substrate while still on the lower platen. With a cold-peel, it is recommended to carefully remove the garment from the lower platen and place on a clean, flat surface, making sure not to let carrier paper peel off during transit.

That completes the transfer application process. It is recommend that you not test the transfer (ie: wash test, scratch test, stretch test and the like) for at least 24 hours after application.

Tricks of the trade

An important factor to keep in mind during application is machine maintenance. It is critical to make sure your heat press is always well oiled. Maintenance of the upper platen is also essential, as the upper platen serves as the machine’s heating element. This maintenance can be accomplished by wiping the machine down using mineral spirits and a soft cloth. The silicon pad on the lower platen must be protected from holes caused by contact with buttons, zippers and the like by placing a Teflon cover over it. Finally, we recommend that the air compressor be drained regularly to maintain proper pressure and to remove dirt from the filter.

When applying in large volume, be sure to keep an eye on the machine’s temperature settings because substrates commonly draw heat away from the upper platen during high-volume application. It is important to invest in a heat press equipped with a high-wattage output. Such presses are capable of recovering the lost heat very quickly when performing high-volume application.

To help your transfers last as long as possible prior to application, be sure to store them in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight, where the temperature reaches no higher than 75°F. We also recommend keeping the transfers in the air-tight packing in which they are delivered until you are ready to apply.

The Perfect Product

When applied properly, heat transfers should adhere to the substrate and maintain durability through numerous washings. Following the tips above will guide you in achieving the perfect finished product for which you’ve been striving.