What is Heat Transfer and When is it Best Applied?
We have talked about screen printing in the past, a technique that relies on emulsion, porous mesh, and ink transfer. While it is certainly a good technique for the personalized production of fabrics, it isn’t the only form of printing technique. Instead of transferring an image through stencil and ink by hand, you can simply rely on heat and pressure to do the job for you.
Heat Transfer or HT is a relatively new image printing technique that became commercially popular in the last two decades or so. Common kinds of heat transfer printing include vinyl heat transfer and digital print heat transfer. Both have their advantages and disadvantages in comparison to screen printing and rely on different materials to make the imaging work.
Why Vinyl in Fashion?
Vinyl, a variation of Polyvinyl chloride, was made in the 1920s by inventor Waldo L. Semon, on accident. He was initially looking to make a synthetic form of rubber on the behalf of his company, B.F. Goodrich. Upon the discovery of this material, he noticed it’s water repellant properties, and demonstrated it on a shower curtain. It was enough to convince a lot of people to start applying it for practical uses, mainly in raincoats and boots.
However, it didn’t become a fashion statement until much later. In the 1960s in London, fashion designers noticed the futuristic look of vinyl clothing and started to apply it to create bold geometric designs that fell in line with the “pop art” and “mod” movements.
The fabric wasn’t breathable though, so it didn’t last long enough of as a fashion trend for practical purposes. It has seen a few revivals since then but these days clothing made entirely with vinyl is more or less seen in vintage stores or Halloween costumes.
Aside: Who Invented the Heat Press Machine?
Since then, vinyl still makes a presence in the fashion industry, but as more of an accent than the main feature. While patches and iron-on transfers were a thing, the use of heat transfer is a new concept. In fact, it was so new that I had trouble finding out who invented the process and the machinery in the first place.
With a little digging in Google, I found that the people who invented and patented the Heat Press were a team of machinists who had a collaborated on the behalf of the company InstaGraphic Systems.
The people who initially claimed to have invented and patented the Manual Heat Press Machine were Steven M.Raio, John J. Boyer, Jesus Mandoza, and Harry Springer III. The Patent was initially made in the United States back in 1999.
Unfortunately, there is no other information that could be found by these men, except that some of them have laid claims on other types of related technology that were consistent with the invention and others had been obvious financial backers. That and their patent expired on the day I am writing this article. How Ironic.
How to Apply Heat Transfer to Vinyl or Digital Transfer
Watch the Temperature
Vinyl heat-transfers all boils down to preparation, understanding the properties of the material you are planning to transfer, and getting everything in alignment.
According to Tshirtprofessional.com, “Your heat press machine needs a high level of heat to produce a satisfying output. Therefore never fear when you are increasing the heat level. Using a low-level heat will prevent your artwork design from sticking tightly on the garment.”
That is good advice when it comes to using heat and pressure to stick something onto a substrate. But how much heat can the cloth take?
Here is a temperature guide to help you get started :
- Linen: 230 °C (445 °F)
- Triacetate: 200 °C (390 °F)
- Cotton: 204 °C (400 °F)
- Viscose/Rayon: 190 °C (375 °F)
- Wool: 148 °C (300 °F)
- Polyester: 148 °C (300 °F)
- Silk: 148 °C (300 °F)
- Acetate: 143 °C (290 °F)
- Acrylic: 135 °C (275 °F)
- Lycra/Spandex: 135 °C (275 °F)
- Nylon: 135 °C (275 °F)
If you think the temperature of your heat press is higher than the threshold of the fabric or the transfer, you might want to double check before doing anything.
Align and Test Print your Image Before Heating
- Properly align the tag of your garment to the back of your heat press machine. Usually, there is some sort of laser or base guide for you to measure the alignment of your material.
- However, if you are not sure how it is going to turn out at all, it is advisable to first do a test on a regular paper. Or, if you have scrap garments lying around, you can use that to test things out. Making a preview of your print on an ordinary paper allows you to experiment.
- When your vinyl is cut, make sure that you are carefully removing the negative space and excess. Especially if you are layering multiple colors to create a multi-colored image.
- Make sure your text/image is aligned correctly on the transfer paper before applying the heat.
Advantages of Vinyl Heat Transfer
The Advertising Specialty Institute is the absolute authority in explaining where it is advantageous to use Heat Vinyl Transfer over Screenprinting. This is what they have to say on the matter.
1. Multicolor designs work well as transfers. When direct printing a multicolor job, a printer needs to create a screen and pull a squeegee for each color. A five- or six-color print going on 100 shirts requires a lot of screens to be burned and even more, squeegee pulls. Transfers come already printed. So, they only need to be heat-applied to the garment, eliminating the need for screens and saving hands and wrists from undue strain.
2. Transfer artwork is often available in preset designs and layouts. Companies that create transfers usually have designers on staff. This saves the time and effort of the shop creating the art, or the expense of outsourcing design work.
3. Transfers are a great option for hard-to-print items. Items that won’t easily fit on a press or require a lot of press adjustment are a great fit for heat transfers. Bags, caps, and shoes, for instance, can be printed easily with a heat press and platen that can be changed out in seconds.
4. Transfers nix the headache of small runs. Short runs are often the bane of shop owners’ existence, as they require all the work to set up and print, but for minimal payment. Transfers help you get the job done without costly setup. This frees up screen-printing presses for higher-volume jobs that potentially bring in a greater profit.