The heat transfer printing method has emerged in recent times, and it is very similar to other printing techniques, such as sublimation printing or screen printing. If you want to make your t-shirt designs your own instead of buying readymade ones from online and offline stores, then you can try heat transfer printing! Heat transfer printing is very affordable and highly worthwhile as a hobby and trade, but it can also be a time-consuming process.

In this blog, you will learn what is heat transfer printing, the different types of heat transfer printing, process of heat transfer printing, advantages and disadvantages of heat transfer printing in this guide.

What is Heat Transfer Printing

Heat transfer printing is a method used to apply designs onto various surfaces, primarily textiles like t-shirts, bags, and hats. It involves transferring a design from a carrier sheet or paper onto the target surface using heat and pressure. The process typically begins with printing the design onto a special transfer paper or vinyl using an inkjet or laser printer. Then, the printed design is placed onto the substrate and subjected to heat and pressure, often with the use of a heat press machine. The heat causes the ink or adhesive on the transfer paper to bond with the surface of the substrate, resulting in a permanent image or design.

Heat transfer printing is popular for its versatility, allowing for the application of detailed and full-color designs onto various materials, including fabrics, ceramics, and plastics. However, it may not be as durable as other printing methods such as screen printing or embroidery, especially on items that undergo frequent washing or heavy wear.

What Are the Types of Heat Transfer Printing

Heat transfer printing has four common types: silicone heat transfer printing, normal heat transfer printing, thermal dye sublimation transfer printing, and vinyl printing.

Silicone Heat Transfer Printing:

Silicone heat transfer is the most recent innovation in the textile and apparel industries. It has been widely incorporated into the overgrown printing process. The silicone material has recently been chosen by Brand Companies around the world to be used in clothing accessories due to its non-toxic composition and ability to come into close touch with the skin. In addition, silicone material won’t pollute the environment throughout the manufacturing or disposal operations.

The graphic effect is similar to the photo effect in terms of craftwork. This washable, fade-resistant, and delicately designed label also has a high glossiness and exceptional wear resistance. Transferring it on the fabric’s surface is simpler and more practical than other transfer technologies.

Normal Heat Transfer Printing:

The primary characteristic of it is that PET sheet is mainly used as the basic material. The PET sheet should be covered with hot melt glue on the back of the design after being printed in various colors. The hot melt adhesive is what permanently fuses the pattern to the clothing.

This is a straightforward method that produces patterns at a reasonable cost. In addition, this technique enables the completion of stunning designs and vivid colors on the fabric. Moreover, the printing material will not easily saturate the cloth’s fibers even at high temperatures and pressures. Yet, when the label is applied to the clothing, it appears to be “plaster.” As a result, the clothes have poor permeability and softness.

Thermal Dye Sublimation Transfer Printing:

Sublimation heat transfer printing methods include convex printing, flat printing (offset printing), gravure printing, screen printing, and digital printing.

The design graphic is transferred to the printed cloth by high temperature and high pressure through the special paper on which the sublimation ink was produced in advance. The entire transfer printing procedure is then finished. The sublimation heat transfer labels are more durable. What’s more, not only can the excellent pictures be transferred on the clothes, but also the clothes can remain soft and comfortable.

However, the cost of plate making is higher, and the process is complicated, thus restricting the application of the technology.

Vinyl Printing:

In vinyl printing, the patterns and letters are cut into pieces of colored vinyl. Then, each vinyl color of the design can be moved to the fabric using a heat press. Vinyl transfers work with films like a flock, glitter, glow-in-the-dark, and holographic material.

Types of Printers for Heat Transfer Printing

There are three common types of printers for heat transfer printing.

  • Laser Printers.
  • Inkjet Printers.
  • Dye Sublimation Printers.

Laser Printers:

Laser printers already use heat in their technology, which results in super-easy usage. But, unfortunately, it also holds a large capacity for papers, making laser printers an expensive investment that lasts for a long time.

Inkjet Printers:

Inkjet printers are regular printers that can support heat transfers and are affordable. However, inkjets use dye or pigment-based inks in the form of cartridges, which can be expensive in the longer run.

Dye Sublimation Printers:

Dye sublimation printers are rare in the market, and these printers print directly on fabrics without requiring paper in the middle. These are heavy-duty and more suitable for commercial use.

How Does Heat Transfer Printing Work

Heat transfer can be done in several ways, such as inkjet transfers, digital appliqué transfers, vinyl transfers, dye-sublimation transfers, etc. But for now, we will focus on commercial heat transfer.

Step By Step Guide to the Process:

  1. Make Your Design: First of all, you need to make your digital design; for that, you can use graphic design software to mock up your design on your computer. Don’t forget to consider the heat transfer ink color and size.
  2. Print the Design: Now, print your digital design or logo onto special heat transfer paper with the help of sublimation ink, inkjet ink, or pigment ink based on your product and application.
  3. Cut out the Design: Here, you will need a vinyl cutter to cut your design. This is only needed for the supplier, store-bought, and printed transfers.
  4. Warm up the Heat Press: To prepare for heat transfer applications, open the heat press and detach the heat platen from the heat pad. Leave it open while the platen warms up to a temperature of 350 to 375°F (177 to 191°C), which is suitable for most applications.
  5. Adjust the Pressure: The pressure of the heat press is based on the thickness of the fabric; thicker fabric requires less pressure. For most projects, medium or high pressure is used.
  6. Set the Time: This is an important step because there are different times related to different heat transfer types. You can use the timing below as a guide:
  • Inkjet Transfer Paper: 14 – 18 seconds.
  • Dye Sublimation Transfer: 25 – 30 seconds.
  • Digital Appliqué Transfer: 20 – 30 seconds.
  • Vinyl Transfer: 45 – 60 seconds.
  1. Set the Substrate: Now, place your substrate. While your heat platen is heated up, open the heat press, disconnect the heat platen from your heat pad, and leave the press open. The ideal temperature range for most heat transfer applications is 350–375°F (177–191°C).

Place the transfer paper face up on the wanted location of your product within the pressing area.

  1. Press the Product: After placing your product, pull the press handle down to close and clamp it. Your time, temperature, and pressure should be set by now, so it’s as easy as pressing the start button.
  2. Remove the Film: Once the timer goes off, open the press and immediately remove the transfer paper while it’s still hot. This will ensure that your design is printed onto the product. Just like that, your heat-pressed custom apparel is complete.

When is Heat Transfer Printing an Ideal Choice

Heat-transfer printing delivers high-quality, colorful prints of photo-realistic images. It also works perfectly for customizing or adding fabric prints like the athletic uniform number in sportswear. In addition, heat-transfer printing is a better and long-term option than direct-thermal printing. Heat transfer printing is an ideal choice if:

  • You want a metallic or glossy finish.
  • You are placing a smaller order.
  • Your design has a lot of colors.
  • Your design contains small text or fine details.
  • You want an eco-friendly decoration method.

What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of Heat Transfer Printing

Now that you know what heat transfer printing is and how it is done, let’s look at its biggest advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Heat Transfer Printing:

  1. Allows for different customizing for every piece, e.g., name customization.
  2. Shorter lead time for smaller quantity orders.
  3. Cost-efficient for small quantity orders.

Disadvantages of Heat Transfer Printing:

  1. Time-consuming and expensive for large quantity runs.
  2. Direct ironing on prints can ruin the image.
  3. Prone to fading after prolonged usage and washing.


There are numerous uses for heat transfer printing, including creating custom apparel, labels, and receipts. In addition, it allows you to produce the greatest, most colorful, and most visually beautiful designs.

If your target audience is small, adopting this printing technique will benefit you. Considering the pros and cons should help you decide how to set up your business best to gain a high profit margin. But to produce bulk prints, you should consider other methods, such as screen printing.