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The Perfect Match: Advice for Pairing the Right Heat Transfer with Your Garment

Chris Pluck has been involved with the imprinting of textiles for more than 30 years. He is a passionate and positive advocate for all aspects of apparel printing.  He is widely recognized for establishing inventive heat fusible printing products for the imaging of textile and won the 2015 SGIA Golden Image Award for Best Heat Transfer.

Pluck is also Business Development Director at Insta Graphic Systems, Cerritos, California. For more information, visit and read their blog at

When choosing a heat transfer for a specific fabric or apparel type, it's best to know up front that no one transfer will be sufficient for all given the many variables associated with fabric substrates, fabric surfaces, and apparel finishes.

It's not just the differences in fabrics like cotton, polyester, rayon, nylon, and Lycra that determine the transfer credentials. It is also important to take into consideration the fabric surfaces associated with each garment. In addition, various characteristics such as the stability, stretch, and durability of each garment needs attention when deciding on which transfer type should be used.

To make this decision even more complex, the surface of the substrate may in some instances have a resistant coating applied to it. If this is the case, knowing so in advance can make the difference in having a durable finished transfer, as in many cases this type of surface rejects the ability for the transfer ink to penetrate the fabric, thereby creating the potential of reduced adhesion to the garment.

The color content and fabric dye inherent in a garment are also determinants for which heat transfer should be used. With cotton fabric, the potential of over-dying can affect the color opacity and vibrancy of transfer ink colors. For synthetic fabrics, the battle is to reduce or stop the migration of dye penetrating up into the transfer graphic. If migration isn’t reduced, it can destroy the color integrity of the inks once the heat transfer is applied to a garment under the heat press.

With recent advances in performance wear, which often has high-stretch synthetic fabric finishes, heat transfers for this type of apparel typically require stretch durability.

With so many choices of fabric available, it is imperative that the heat transfer is compatible with the fabric or garment's characteristics. Knowing which transfer type is best suited for each fabric finish helps to achieve the best garment and transfer combination.