Tips to Get a “Soft Hand” on Your Apparel with Screen Printed Transfers

Have you ever heard someone in the apparel decorating industry say something like “this shirt has a really nice hand?” Or, “does this shirt have a soft hand?” Well it’s not that they think the shirt has hands, but what they’re really referring to is how the fabric feels. When you touch a fabric, or a decoration on a fabric you may use the terms soft, silky, hard, heavy or smooth. Different decoration methods, processes, inks and materials will provide a different “hand” or feel when a shirt is decorated.

You might think “well doesn’t everyone want a soft hand on their apparel? Why doesn’t everything have a soft hand?”. Well the type of decoration method and what type of “hand” you choose will depend a lot on your client’s needs. You can be decorating lightweight fashion apparel that you need an extremely soft hand, or you can be decorating athletic apparel and uniforms that require a durable, heavy hand from impact sports. Screen printing for example is a decoration method that varies in the type of hand that it is capable of creating. Even with screen printed transfers, you are able to get a nice, soft-hand as well as a heavier hand depending on your client’s needs.

Most decorators of more fashionable apparel will want to look for a decoration that has a soft-hand. For a soft-hand, you would assume the decoration is lightweight, comfortable to wear and moves with the fabric. When you touch the decoration, you would also expect a smooth finish.

When ordering screen printed transfers and you need a soft-hand decoration, then follow these tips!

• Choose a lightweight ink type like Hot Split. Unlike its cousin, Goof Proof, Hot Split transfers are just plastisol ink. Goof Proof is plastisol ink and a powdered adhesive. So the elimination of the adhesive will help provide the softest hand. There are some warnings though when using Hot Split such as it’s not the best option for 100% Cotton and the opacity isn’t as solid as Goof Proof with certain colors like Yellow Gold and some neon colors that aren’t recommended for dark colored fabrics. It also takes a few more seconds to apply at 8 seconds as opposed to 4 seconds with Goof Proof®. So make sure you’re choosing Hot Split for the right reasons and be sure to follow the application instructions when applying.

Right: Hot Split without adhesive powder Left: Goof Proof® with adhesive powder

Right: Hot Split without adhesive powder      Left: Goof Proof® with adhesive powder

• When designing your artwork for the softest hand, the more open areas that “show through” to the shirt, the better. No matter which type of screen printed transfer you choose from Transfer Express, the least amount of ink coverage will give you the best hand. When possible, allow some areas to show-through to the shirt or add a distressed pattern to loosen up the ink coverage. You can also choose a lighter weight typestyle or use a text outline instead of solid text for a softer hand.

heavy-soft-fonts solid-outline-text1

See the two examples below, the design on the right has a lot of ink coverage in the design, whereas the one on the left has some open areas in the design that will show through to the shirt. The one on the left will have the softer hand.

A design that has areas that "show-through" to the shirt will over the softest hand like the shirt on the left.

A design that has areas that “show-through” to the shirt will over the softest hand like the shirt on the left.


• If you’re using Goof Proof® we provide application instructions for your heat press to be set at 365 degrees for 4 seconds. Did you know there’s an alternate application that may give you a softer hand? The transfer type Polytrans is actually a Goof Proof® transfer with different application instructions. You can apply Goof Proof at the Polytrans heat settings of 340 Degrees for 10 seconds and you’re print will have a softer feel!