8 Mistakes to Avoid for a Successful Heat Printed T-Shirt

8 mistakes to avoid to print a t-shirt

3…2…1… Beeeeep! Your heat press raises/swings away, only to find…. another messed up shirt. Uugh!

If you have been heat printing for any amount of time, I’m sure this has happened to you at some point.

Or, if you’re brand new, you’re worried about messing up your shirts.

When you mess up a shirt, it comes out of your own pocket. Your customer is not going to pay for an upside-down print or your other mistakes.

Multiple mess-ups in an order can also really throw you off, if you have to order more blank apparel or more transfers. Then you have to wait extra days for these to arrive. What a nightmare!

Don’t worry, heat printing mistakes happen to the best of us.

[Related Content: Removing Screen Printed Transfers]

If you find yourself worrying about heat printing every shirt or job you do, you can take the worry out and be more confident in your heat printing.

You can avoid most of the mistakes we make by paying attention to these 8 items before starting any heat printing job.


Related Video:



1. Maintaining Your Heat Press

Before we even start talking about heat press maintenance, let’s first start by saying you need a quality heat press. If you have a cheap press, you may find yourself having application issues more frequently, especially with screen printed transfers.

All heat presses are not made the same, so make sure, if you are doing this as a business, that you pay a little extra for a quality heat press. It will actually save you money in the long run.

Hotronix heat presses

A variety of heat press models from Hotronix.

No matter which kind of t-shirt press you have, proper maintenance is required. Check your heat press about every 6 months to ensure that it is still accurate in regards to pressure and temperature.

Our Heat Press Test Kit will help to check the accuracy of the temperature in different areas of the press. You want to make sure that there are no cold spots anywhere.

If there are cold spots, you will have application issues, no matter how good you are at heat printing.

You can also use a heat gun to check for temperature accuracy. Make sure to check all areas of the heating platen for consistent temperatures.

You also want even pressure throughout your entire platen when it is locked down. To check this, put paper in the four corners of your press so that they stick out over the edges.

When your press is locked down, see how easy or hard it is to pull out the pieces of paper. They should all be consistent for even pressure.

Checking your heat press will help you to avoid some of your application issues right off the bat. If you have uneven pressure or temperature, you will have an uphill heat printing battle which rarely works out in your favor!


2. Following Instructions

Going along with checking your heat press for accuracy, you will want to make sure you follow the instructions for each transfer type that you are using.

The time, temperature, pressure, and peel are all key important factors for a successful heat printed t-shirt. Just as a baker must have the proper ingredients and follow the recipe for a cake, time, temperature, and pressure are the recipe and ingredients for heat printing.

Each transfer type is different. Use the instructions that are designed for that particular transfer.

If you are using different types of apparel, do not change the application instructions for that apparel. If the instructions are not good for that apparel, change the transfer type, not the instructions.

[Related Content: How to Choose the Best Heat Applied Transfer for Custom Printing]

Especially when dealing with screen printed transfers, the accuracy of the instructions is important for a successful heat application.

Following the instructions with each screen printed transfer will also help to reduce your mistakes when heat applying.


3. Using Accessories

Using unnecessary accessories during heat printing can also actually contribute to some of your heat application mistakes.

When using screen printed transfers, you will want to avoid using a pillow. While pillows may be ok to use with vinyl, it is not true for screen printed transfers. This creates uneven pressure, which is a key ingredient as mentioned above.

You want a sturdy, even surface for the entire area that you are heat printing.

Another accessory that is often misused with screen printed transfers is a cover sheet. Unless otherwise noted in the application instructions, you will not want to use a cover sheet.

Screen printed transfers are printed on a special release paper, which acts as a cover sheet during application.

A cover sheet, especially thick Teflon style sheets, are designed to protect your apparel by reducing the amount of heat that reaches your apparel. Some of these thicker sheets can reduce the temperature by as much as 20-25 degrees.

As we already talked about, temperature is a key ingredient to a successful application. If you reduce the application by 20-25 degrees, you will not have the proper temperature needed to apply that type of transfer.

Avoid using pillows and cover sheets with screen printed transfers.

The only time you would want to use a cover sheet, is if our instructions specifically say to use one.

If you are applying multiple transfers, you would also want to use a cover sheet. When you are applying a transfer to an already applied area, and an area that you previously applied is not covered, that would need to be covered or else the heat press platen will ruin that area.

We do sell cover sheets that can be used in these cases. You can also use a thin paper such as craft paper.


4. Raising Your Print Area

As opposed to using a pillow, you can use a Print Perfect Pad to raise an area. A Print Perfect Pad creates a solid, sturdy surface needed for even pressure across your print surface.

A Print Perfect Pad, or even a mouse pad, helps raise a printing area so that you can avoid seams, zippers, buttons, collars, and other obstructions in the way of your printing area.

If you have pieces of your apparel, such as buttons or zippers, that stick up above your transfer, the heat press platen, when locked down, won’t be able to apply the necessary even pressure to your transfer. These types of obstructions are “blocking” the pressure from reaching your print.

print perfect pad

Because of the buttons, here is an example of a Print Perfect Pad being used to heat print this shirt.

This can cause application issues and your printed apparel will not turn out right.

By sticking a mouse pad or Print Perfect Pad underneath your printing area, you are raising it above buttons, zippers, and seams to avoid these obstructions.

[Related Content: Heat Printing Tips to Avoid Seams]


5. Pre-Pressing Apparel

To ensure proper heat application of your screen printed transfers, you will also want to practice pre-pressing your apparel.

Pre-pressing apparel is simply closing down your heat press on a blank shirt before you add your transfer.

This helps prepare your apparel to receive a transfer. Pre-pressing removes extra moisture that is trapped in fabrics.

By its nature, 100% cotton especially holds a lot of extra moisture.

When moisture is trapped below a transfer during application, it can create issues. Even if you don’t see it right away, moisture can cause a transfer to crack after only a few washes.

At this point, the apparel is already in your customers’ hands. You don’t want to have to worry about them returning to you with a bad order of printed shirts.

Avoid this issue by pre-pressing your shirts before applying the transfer. Simply close the heat press for 3-5 seconds.

You may see steam leaving the apparel and out from the heat press. Don’t worry about this. This is actually good. This is what you want to remove before heat applying the transfer.

If you still see steam after 3-5 seconds, add a few extra seconds until you see all the steam gone. This may be true in heavier apparel, such as 100% cotton hoodies.


6. Scorching or Melting of Fabrics

The last thing you want to happen is to melt part of the apparel you are pressing on.

Different types of fabrics have different melting points, where the fabric will actually start to “mash up”.

Some types of fabrics we can know right away need a lower application temperature. There are certain transfer types that are perfect for these.

Nylon and polypropylene, for example, have lower melting temperatures. 100% polyester, as an example, is heat sensitive and will “scorch”, meaning, the fabric will have a sheen in the area that was pressed.

melted fabric from heat press

Here is what is left of a polypropylene bag that was heat pressed at too high of a temperature.

Because there are so many blends of fabrics, it is hard to know all of the time which fabrics are heat sensitive.

If you are unsure, it is always best to test the fabric prior to ordering a large amount or printing an entire job.

Test the fabric by placing it in your heat press at the instructions of the transfer type you plan on using. If it scorches or melts, you know you will need a heat transfer that applies at a lower temperature.

Sometimes apparel is made of several types of fabrics. In this case, know which area you are heat printing, and try to avoid other areas when possible.

A bag, for example, may not be heat sensitive where you are printing. However, it may have straps attached that are heat sensitive. In this case, you want to avoid having the straps come in contact with the heat press upper platen.

You can hang these areas off of the press, or use a Print Perfect Pad to raise your print area. If these don’t work, you may be able to use a smaller platen.


7. Placement of Your Transfers

Sometimes mistakes happen because the transfer was misplaced on the apparel before pressing.

Common misprints happen with transfers upside down, crooked, not lined up, or too high or too low.

Knowing the best way to align your transfer size will help reduce some of these heat printing mistakes.

People have different techniques for aligning designs, such as the 3 (or 4) finger rule below a collar for placing a transfer.

While these work as generalities, there is still room for error.

The best way to place your design, is to find your center point.

[Related Infographic: Custom Transfer Placement Tips]

heat transfer alignment infographic

View our full infographic

For a full front design, your vertical center will be where the tag is inside the shirt. To find your horizontal center, find the bottom of the armpit seam. Where these two imaginary lines intersect, that is your center point.

That is a starting point. If your design is more horizontal (or landscape), you will want to move it up from this point.

The other commonly misplaced print is the “left chest” area. If placed too far over, once the shirt is worn, it becomes an armpit print!

Your center point for a left chest print is the side of the neck collar.

[Related Content: Left Chest Shirt Printing Placement]

The other thing to consider when placing your transfer on your apparel, is to look at where the actual printed ink is on the transfer sheet. Sometimes there is a lot of extra paper around the edge of the design.

Many heat printers forget to take that into consideration and they only line up the edge of the transfer sheet. When they remove the paper backing after heat pressing, the design is slightly off because they forgot to take that extra paper space into account.

(Tip: Our names and numbers are actually designed so that you only have to align the paper edges! These are perfect spaced on the paper for easy alignment.)

screen printed name and numbers

Just touch the paper edges and our names and numbers align perfectly!


8. Distractions

After all of the other items on this list are accounted for, don’t underestimate the common mistake of being distracted during heat printing.

Distractions are easy to encounter while you are pressing your apparel. Whether a customer comes in to your store, or you get a phone call, or you are simply trying to multi-task, these are all grounds for mistakes.

When we lose our focus for any amount of time, we are going to be more prone to make a mistake. While you may not be able to eliminate all of these distractions while heat printing, you can reduce them.

Try to set aside time that is only for printing. If you have someone to help you, have them answer the phone, for example.

As soon as you let your guard down, that is when you peel the transfer paper off and your design is upside down!

[Related Content: Keeping Your Heat Press Clean]


Messing up during heat printing is inevitable at times.

However, by following this simple checklist of heat printing, you can avoid, or reduce, the amount of errors and messed-up apparel you have during the heat printing process:

  1. Heat press check up
  2. Follow heat transfer application instructions
  3. Using the proper tools
  4. Raising your print area to avoid obstructions
  5. Pre-pressing
  6. Melting/scorching fabrics
  7. Transfer placement
  8. Eliminating distractions

Making sure your heat press is functioning properly, following application instructions, using the proper tools, and removing distractions, you will be on your way to a successfully decorated t-shirt!