Don’t Dwell, Get the Cure

Transfer Troubleshooting

Entrance onto the heat-applied graphics scene is relatively simple and straightforward in equipment and know-how, but with so many options and elements, there are just as many places to go astray. Accordingly, we called in a few who know how to get a handle on the customization calamities of the awful one-offs to rescue our readers from the most commonly reported hot graphics glitches.

Press peskiness 

Transfer Trouble: How do I know if I’m pressing with accurate pressure?

The Cure: For many years, the “two-hand-clamp” guideline has been a good rule of thumb for pressure—if you can close the press easily with one hand, the pressure is too light; if you need two hands to lock the handle down firmly, you are guaranteed a firm pressure. Although this is very unscientific and not as universal from one operator to the next, it has proven helpful. 

The more advanced air-operated automatic presses have avoided this issue altogether by providing an actual PSI gauge to give relative feedback as to how much applied pressure is being exerted. If it’s in the budget, an air-op automatic press is a lifesaver for establishing consistent repeatable “dial-in” pressure with a heat press. 

The newest development with a few of the manual digital machines on the market is a digital pressure readout capability. This involves a pressure transducer/sensor that feeds the controller a relative response to the amount of force actually being exerted. A single digit number (0–9) or bar graph across the screen shows a more useful representation of the actual amount of relative resistance and pressure being applied to the work when pressing, a feature very helpful to new operators. It lets them know if they are actually clamping the press at all, overdoing it or within a reasonable range. 

Lastly, the “dollar-bill” technique has been a staple of the industry in making sure proper pressure is applied. A dollar bill is placed half under the platen and pressed while half is hanging off the edge. If the dollar bill slides out when pulled on, there is going to be printing trouble. If the dollar bill rips when pulled, the results will be great. However, this method can prove quite costly as one makes his or her way around the platen, especially if they have proper pressure and won’t resort to using strips of plain copy paper.

—Aaron Knight, Geo Knight & Co Inc.

Transfer Trouble: How does one determine whether the press’ temperature reading is accurate? 

The Cure: Measure the heat press’ temperature at least twice per year. A low-tech solution is to check the temperature with a metal candy thermometer or a wired pyrometer. If the press is out of calibration, ask your supplier which “magic buttons” will fix the problem.

—Todd Till, Condé Systems Inc.

Transfer Trouble: When I heat press a transfer, the print is inadvertently distressed in the upper right-hand corner.

The Cure: While producing a distressed look is still in vogue, it’s less than ideal if it wasn’t intentional. In order to be applied without defects, transfers require consistent temperature and pressure over the entire surface area for a specific amount of time. If the distressed area is consistently in one spot, there is, most likely, a problem with the heat press. Some lower-quality presses apply heat to only one area of the upper platen or do not completely cover the entire area, causing cold spots. Different, undesirable results on different parts of the image are a result of inconsistent temperature across the entire platen caused by either a cold spot on the platen or a warped heater contact. Consider having the heat press tested using an infrared thermometer gun. To determine whether or not it can be fixed, contact the manufacturer. 

—Joe Tutak, Transfer Express

Transfer Trouble: With the wide variety of available heat presses and transfers, both stock and custom designs, along with the variance that might be used in the production of the graphics, it can be hard to get all the variables dialed-in. How can you tell if it is necessary to tweak the pressure, temperature or dwell times to get a successful print?

The Cure: Cut a transfer into three or four strips and apply each piece, using slight heat press adjustments, to the other side of the garment. In about 99 percent of these cases, an adjustment to the pressure does the trick. Once in a while a temperature or time adjustment might also be necessary.

—Ed Cohen, Pro World, Inc.

Transfer Trouble: The temperatures have been way off on my new 16" X 20" auto-open heat press, but it was plugged into a 15-amp circuit. I’ve gotten conflicting information on whether it needs to be plugged into 15 or 20 amps and whether I need to get my press rewired. 

The Cure: Most 16" X 20" presses use close to 15 amps of power, which is why 20 amps are recommended. The amps have nothing to do with temperature calibration. You do not have to rewire your press, but you should contact the manufacturer on how to recalibrate.

—Danielle Petroskey, Great Garment Graphics

Transfer Trouble: I suspect my heat press has cold spots. How can I test for these?

The Cure: The least expensive of numerous ways to test is to contact the technical department of the company from which the press was bought and ask for heat temperature strips. These are available for purchase for a few dollars apiece. Lock a strip in the press and, in 10 seconds, it will reveal how hot the press is and where. A second technique is to buy individual thermo couplers that you can lay on the heat platen. The third and most expensive way is to buy an infrared temperature gun. 

—Ben Robinson, Hotronix

Bling barriers

Transfer Trouble: The glue on a single rhinestone won’t stick to the garment, possibly because an insufficient amount was applied to the stone or it chipped off.

The Cure: Invest in a $100 hand rhinestone setting tool, which will allow you to fix a single lost or missing stone without overheating the other stones in a design.

—Marc Vila, Pantograms

Transfer Trouble: I created a rhinestone transfer stencil with my cutter and, when I apply the transfer film to lift the stones up from the stencil, they jump of the stencil and ruin my transfer. 

The Cure: In this case, the transfer film and rhinestones have picked up static electricity that is causing the stones to jump off of the stencil when you apply the transfer film. Spray the non-adhesive side of the transfer film with an anti-static spray such as Static Guard. If using a tray, spray Static Guard inside. This will produce better results in terms of stones adhering to the transfer film. A film with silicone based adhesive as opposed to acrylic adhesive will keep them from shifting. 

—Craig Mertens, Digital Art Solutions

Transfer Trouble: When I heat-apply a rhinestone transfer, I get shiny areas on the collar, button placket or seams where the press makes contact.

The Cure: This problem goes beyond rhinestones. Anyone who has ever pressed a garment with a sublimation, plastisol or digital transfer or who has cured a direct-to-garment print has experienced the same problem. It happens because the garment is not level and more pressure is being exerted on certain areas because they are higher than the rest of the garment. 

The resolution is to purchase a pad from your heat press supply vendor.  Cut it into strategically-sized pieces to place under garments to raise the area to be pressed higher than the rest of the garment. Set the heat press pressure to the proper level over the pad without worrying about those collars, plackets and seams.

—Don Copeland, ColDesi Inc.

Transfer Trouble: On what type of fabric can I press rhinestone transfers?

The Cure: Rhinestone transfers require a temperature of 345°F with medium to heavy pressure, so the fabric needs to be able to stand up to that process. Nylon is one fabric that will not work under any circumstance, as it will melt. Acrylic can be pressed, but we recommend using a Teflon sheet over the apparel; when you remove the tape, it is possible the nap of the fabric will pull, so use caution. Cotton, polyester, cotton/polyester and cotton/spandex blends all press well.

—Teresa Griffin,

Malicious media 

Transfer Trouble: Foil is not as durable as most other standard graphics cutter materials for garments. It will not lose its shininess but has a tendency to crack over time.

The Cure: To get the longest life from a foil-decorated garment, turn the garment inside-out before washing. Wash in cold water on the gentle cycle and air dry. With proper treatment, foil is estimated to last at least 30–40 washes.

—Adam Yukish, Imprintables Warehouse

Transfer Trouble: After printing a laser transfer paper, there is excess toner on the trailing edge of the paper. When I gently rub my finger across the image, smudging occurs and toner transfers to my finger. What gives?

The Cure: Both of these are indications of toner offsetting. When printing laser transfer papers, it is very important to use the correct paper-weight setting to prevent this. It occurs when the transfer paper is printed in a mode that will not properly fuse the toner to the paper. Unlike older color copiers, today’s copiers and printers do not use fuser oil and require a heavier print setting. 

If you printed the paper using the “plain paper setting” and offsetting occurred, you will need to change the mode to the “heavy” or “label” setting. Prior to printing the next transfer, run five sheets of plain paper through the machine to remove any residual toner that may still be left on the fuser roller. Once the plain paper comes out clean, test another transfer sheet using a heavier setting. This process should be repeated until you have found a setting that completely fuses the toner to the paper without offsetting. 

Because there are many different makes and models, it is difficult to suggest one setting for all printers or copiers. In general, start testing in “heavy mode.” Most machines will have several options. Depending on the machine, the company from which paper was purchased may be able to provide a starting point. It is always a good idea to check with suppliers prior to any testing to ensure the best results. 

—Dickson Siu, Joto Paper Inc.

Printer perils

Transfer Trouble: Third-party inks may save money, but some have different results—taking longer to dry, changing color in the heat transfer process and changing wear-ability. 

The Cure: Run some test pieces to garner some peace of mind. This also can save money in the long run. Recommended inks from the manufacturer for your printer are always best. Check spec sheets for all digital heat transfer materials for printing, cutting and heat transferring to garments.

—AJ McAleer, Heat Transfer Warehouse

Transfer Trouble: I have several brands of printers in my shop and the image looks very different depending on which one I use; some are very yellow, others very red. How can I minimize this difference? 

The Cure: Color can be controlled from the computer, but not usually from the printer. If your printer prints more magenta, decrease the magenta in the art. This takes some experimenting; we suggest color blocks. The new inks and new printers allow users to run a comparison of how the blocks look. Do so and adjust from there. For those working without software for color management, the best technique is to determine what the art will look like by first printing it on copier paper and selecting the printer that works best for that specific art. 

—Gerry Rector, Neenah Paper Inc.

Cutting conundrum

Transfer Trouble: The material is lifting up from the backer when printing and cutting. Alternatively, circles and other closed shapes are not closing. 

The Cure: Allow dry time between printing and cutting so the ink can dry fully before contour cutting takes place. Three to five minutes should resolve the issue.

—Dana Curtis, Roland DGA Corp.

Application affliction

Transfer Trouble: How do I diminish the look of impression marks on my polyester garments when I apply heat transfers? 

The Cure: This is a common issue when applying heat transfers to synthetic fabrics, which tend to be over-dyed. There are a few steps to help reduce the severity of the marks. The first is working with a heat transfer manufacturer to make sure you are using the right type for the fabric. For synthetics, use a transfer that requires a low application temperature and a short dwell time; the garment should only be under the heat at the lowest temperature possible for the shortest amount of time. 

Also, use the smallest size lower platen possible when applying a heat transfer, exposing the garment to heat only where necessary. For example, if applying a 3" X 3" logo transfer, use a 6" X 6" lower platen so just the area directly outside the transfer is exposed to heat. Another quite effective trick is to lay a pellon sheet over the transfer during the application process. The pellon sheet acts as a thin barrier, preventing the garment from touching the heated platen directly, helping to protect the garment’s integrity.

—Sara Kahane, Insta Graphic Systems

Transfer Trouble: After trimming around text/small details on opaque heat transfers, it’s impossible to remove the image from the backing and line it up perfectly on the garment.

The Cure: The opaque transfer can be easily removed from its backing and placed onto a garment without a single letter or piece of an image moving out of place by using a simple heat transfer mask. The mask can be applied and smoothed out with a few brush strokes of a squeegee and is easily removed after the transfer has been pressed and cooled. 

—Kim Kelley, Coastal Business Supplies Inc. 

Transfer Trouble: After applying a transfer, should I stretch garments while they are still hot or after they cool?

The Cure: To get more flexibility in a garment when using a heat transfer, a gentle stretching in both directions is a good idea. When to stretch depends on the type of transfer. Generally, if the transfer is a hot peel, the stretching should be done while the garment is still warm to the touch. If it is a cold peel, it should be done within a few minutes of making the transfer and letting it cool. The window to stretch a cold peel garment is probably 15 to 30 minutes after it is made. If you forget to stretch the garment, you can repress it for about five seconds with a sheet of parchment on top, then stretch while warm. This also makes a smoother-handed hot peel transfer and is often a standard step.

—Gerry Rector, Neenah Paper Inc.

Transfer Trouble: I keep getting creases in my cap fonts after I apply a heat transfer.

The Cure: Choosing the correct lower platen that fits the crown of the cap will eliminate the creases or wrinkles on the front of the cap. Caps have changed through the years and are getting smaller in crown size. For example, the old foam-front caps used to have crowns that were 3 1/2" to 4" in height compared to the 2 3/4" to 3" crown height of the popular six-panel, low-profile and five-panel twill caps of today. Most heat presses for caps have interchangeable lower platens to accommodate variances in crown heights from one style to the next. It is recommended to have at least two or three different sized lower platens to choose from to accommodate varying cap crown heights. 

—James Ortolani, HIX Corporation