The Beginner’s Guide to Heat Printing

Starting a t-shirt business doesn’t take much to get off the ground, especially when using a heat press to print t-shirts and other apparel.

There aren’t a lot of barriers to entry and the investment is pretty low.

That being said, what is heat printing and why should you use it?

 

What is Heat Printing

Heat printing uses a heat press to apply artwork graphics to t-shirts and other apparel items for printing.

Let’s be clear on one thing.

A heat press is not an iron. A heat press is a piece of equipment that is used as a commercial way to apply graphics.

However, it does use the same concept as an iron and iron-on transfers.

Heat printing technology has come a long way over the years. Heat applied transfers are not your iron-on transfers that you printed as a kid on your home inkjet printer or the unicorn patch that you got at the local drugstore and your mom ironed it on for you.

If you want to start printing and selling custom shirts or selling your own t-shirt line/brand, heat printing is a legit way to do this.

Heat printing is not crafting, although lots of crafters do use heat printing. Heat printing is an actual way to print shirts. Some of the shirts you buy at the store are heat printed.

[Related Content: How to Start a T-Shirt Business]

 

What Kind of Heat Press is Best for Heat Printing?

A heat press applies transfers at a high temperature, with heavy and even pressure, for a set amount of time. You would never be able to achieve the same settings with just an iron.

If you are doing research on heat applied transfers, especially heat transfer vinyl (htv), you may see some people using an iron to apply their graphics.

Although it is not recommended, some heat transfer vinyl can be applied with an iron. However, if you are doing this as a business and not a craft, you will want to step up to a heat press.

A heat press will give you a reliable application that will last the life of the garment and not wash off after a couple of washes.

That being said, there are many types of heat presses out there, at a wide range of prices as well.

wide range of heat presses

If you are getting into heat printing as a business, get the best press that your budget will allow. It will pay off in the long run.

[Related Content: Start Your T-Shirt Business with the Best Heat Press]

One ruined order can cost you the difference of what a good press would have cost.

Once you start getting customers, it won’t take long to pay off your press, either. So don’t skimp on your heat press purchase. It is the only piece of equipment that is producing your profits, so make sure it is a good piece of equipment.

[Related Content: Why You Should Spend More Than $300 for a Heat Press]

Every heat printing business is different. In order to pick out the best heat press that’s right for your business, you need to know your goals and what you want to do with your business.

There are also different kinds of presses. Some offer a “swing-away” top platen, while others have a “draw” feature, where the bottom platen pulls out away from the heat source. The most common heat press you will see is a “clam” style press, in which the heat press opens like a clam shell.

types of heat presses

Each press has its own pros and cons, so knowing what you need will help you pick out a press that’s right for you.

What kind of space do you have? Do you want to take your heat press on the road to print at events? Do you want an open space to place your transfers/apparel that is away from the heat source? These are all the types of questions you should ask yourself to help decide.

Having a quality heat press to do all types of transfers will set you up for the best level of success as you start and grow your business.

[Related Content: Starting a T-Shirt Business: How to Choose a Heat Press]

 

Types of Heat Applied Transfers for Heat Printing

Now, a lot of people are starting to get into the world of heat printing through crafting.

Many are using a Silhouette or Cricut cutter to cut their own designs out of vinyl, which are then heat applied to shirts. Cricut has their own press, which is basically a very nice iron. It works for craft vinyl projects, but we don’t recommend this for starting a t-shirt business with other heat applied transfers.

Other heat applied transfers, such as screen printed transfers, full color digital transfers, and rhinestone transfers, all need a heat press to get a good application.

These are the transfer types you will be using eventually if you start a t-shirt business. You can still cut your own vinyl for shorter, easier runs, but as your business grows and you get larger quantity orders (typically 5 or more), you will save money and time by switching to screen printed or digital transfers.

[Related Content: 4 Reasons When You Should Switch from Vinyl (HTV) to Screen Printed Transfers]

As mentioned above, there are lots of different types of transfers for heat printing.

Mainly, there are screen printed transfers, full color digital transfers, heat transfer vinyl, rhinestones, and other fabric types of transfer materials such as applique and flock.

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

Screen printed transfers use plastisol ink. It is the same inks and process that direct screen printing uses. Instead of printing directly onto the shirt, the design is printed onto a special release transfer paper and partially cured.


You then apply the screen printed transfer onto your shirt, and you have a screen printed shirt with no messy inks or without the tedious process of screen printing.

Using screen printed transfers, you can “screen print” shirts faster with no learning curve, without the expensive equipment, and just a fraction of the space needed. It is much easier and cleaner as well.

screen printed transfer application

If your artwork contains gradients or lots of colors, you can easily use a full color digital transfer type. You can also use this type of transfer to print a photograph onto a shirt.

 

Conclusion

Heat printing is a great way to print your own line of apparel or do custom shirts for schools, sports leagues, family reunions, etc.

It is easy with a smaller investment to get started compared to other printing methods.

Heat printing is versatile. You can print all sorts of apparel including t-shirts, hoodies, pants, bags, aprons, caps, etc.

Basically, if you can fit the item on your heat press and it can endure the heat, it can be heat printed.

Many start their heat printing business as a crafter and realize that they can take it to the next level as a business.

Are you new to heat printing and want to get started? Here’s where to begin.

 

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