How To Print T-Shirts At Home Using An Iron [Step-By-Step]


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    Custom t-shirt printing was globally valued at USD 3.9 billion in 2021. That figure (even with the disruption of Covid) is expected to reach USD 9.18 billion by 2030 [R].

    However, If you believe printing your personalized t-shirts demand enrolling the help of a skilled clothes customization firm, guess again! Just as businesses are growing in this field, so are individuals partaking in DIY home projects.

    Key Takeaways

    Potential issues with garment shrinkage

    When transferring a print onto a t-shirt (or any clothing for that matter), it is recommended to pre-wash the fabric first.
    You don’t want the fabric to shrink after the transfer has been applied. This will add stress on the design and may cause premature cracking.

    Effective transfer of print on fabric

    Before transferring your design, make sure the fabric is ironed. This will ensure the fabric is free of creases and allow the print to adhere more evenly. The heat from the iron will also remove any moister from the fabric which can also affect how well the design adheres.

    Importance of iron settings

    Different iron settings are required depending on what fabric your t-shirt is. Cotton can withstand higher temperatures than polyester for example. Take this into consideration or you might burn through your fabric.

    Nowadays, you can beautify your favorite t-shirt with fantastic results using a bit more than a clothing iron and a printer.

    Printing t-shirts at home takes just a couple minutes. In this article we’ll lead you through the whole process, with some handy tips ensuring perfect results.

    So let’s get down to business and take a look at 6 factors to consider for printing t-shirts at home using a simple iron:

    1. Create or download your design
    2. Adapt design size to fit area over t-shirt
    3. Select transfer paper that’s fit for purpose
    4. Use the correct printer settings for quality
    5. Prepare for transfer by pre-washing fabric first
    6. Use a domestic iron as a heat source

    Create Your Design

    To begin creating your design, download a suitable software package. One of them being Adobe Illustrator an industry standard (you can do it in Photoshop, CorelDraw, or any similar program too).

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      You can create your design from scratch; or open the image you have previously downloaded and personalise it.

      If you are not ready to go for payable graphic-editing software, there are some impressive open source / free versions available online.

      Download PDF: → 11 best free design tools ready to install

      Searching Pinterest or Google to get some designs ideas is useful. You will be halfway through the process already!

      If you intend to sell the piece or use it for personal use, be sure you aren’t infringing on copyright laws when copying the design directly. This might land you in a whole heap of trouble!

      Alternatively, there are websites such as Freepick or Veectesy that offer free designs. Why not try one of these for this process?

      Adapt The Size Of The Design

      Grab the t-shirt you want to beautify and measure the printing area so that you can adapt the size of your design if necessary.

      Check the files thoroughly because there are times when images have some issues like misaligned colours, etc. Also, you may have to resize the whole design or some of its parts.

      Note: If you have an existing image, it is easier to have a high resolution and resize downwards than having a low resolution and resizing upwards. The issue with the latter is that the image will pixelate and lack detail.

      If however, you are designing from scratch, software such as Adobe Illustrator (paid) and Inkscape (free) work on files that are vector graphics. Essentially you can increase or decrease their size without any loss of quality.

      You’ll want to make a note of any clear background on your image, as this will appear white after the transfer.

      Lastly, change the background to better match your needs.

      Outline Your Design Ready For Cutting

      As you will probably be cutting your design manually, putting a stroke or a line at least 1 – 2 millimetres to the offset path is extremely helpful.

      Set the stroke to at least 0.5px and coloured grey (this way, it shouldn’t be too visible if you fail to cut precisely along the line).

      Now you have your guideline during the cutting process.

      Choose The Correct Transfer Paper

      Check the fabric of your t-shirt and the specifications of the transfer paper, usually, you will use transfer paper on cotton and/or polyester t-shirts.

      The shirt colour will also affect the transfer paper – for a light coloured t-shirts, choose thin blank transfer paper. Dark coloured transfer papers were meant to be used on dark fabrics.

      Watch this video: Buyer’s Guide To Heat Transfer Paper [05 mins 07 secs]

      To save time, skip to timeline 00:15!

      Print Your Design

      As a standard procedure in printing, make sure to select the proper printer (inkjet printer), especially if you have two or more devices installed on your computer.

      Change the document size to A4 and select Plain paper as your Paper type (paper type depends on how you calibrated your inkjet printer with the computer), and select High as Quality.

      Since you will be using sticker paper, you don’t need to make the mirror image before the printing process.

      Finally, press the Print button to start printing the design.

      Make Sure Your Design Fits The T-shirt

      This is a simple step – put the printed design onto the t-shirt to make sure this is what you had in mind.

      Artist aligning illustration of Nike Jordans on red cotton t-shirt just before the transfer process.
      Align your artwork to your shirt before transferring it to see if its centered and the right size.

      If the design is too big, simply resize it to a smaller size using your software. And conversely, if it is too small, resize it to something a little bigger!

      Now it is time to…

      Cut Your Design

      Make sure to cut your design following the grey line; otherwise it will be transferred on the t-shirt when pressed.

      You can use cutter or scissors, although we recommend the cutter because it’s easier to avoid the jagged cut out caused by scissors.

      If you are going with the cutter, try as much as possible to cut it gently, so the blade will not damage the back of the sticker.

      Make sure you have turned any excess paper, as this will be transferred onto the shirt.

      Prepare For The Transfer

      First, you will want to pre-wash your shirt because you don’t want it to shrink in its first wash once you have printed your image on it.

      Place a thick fabric such as a towel on the table or any flat surface. This will support the t-shirt through the transfer process. You may also use an ironing board if you possess one – this is probably the best option.

      Set the iron to a maximum heat and make sure to remove the steam setting, otherwise, it will ruin your sticker.

      Iron the towel to make sure it is flat, and the t-shirt to remove the moisture and any wrinkles or creases.

      Place Your Design Onto A T-shirt

      Put at least a 3-centimetre gap between the neckline of the t-shirt and your sticker.

      Make sure that the sticker is placed in the centre of the t-shirt (or anywhere you want it to be).

      Cover the transfer paper with the backing you have peeled off – this acts as a parchment paper. If you have accidentally thrown this away, don’t worry, you can use a soft towel as an alternative.

      Heat your iron to the specified temperature of the transfer paper manufacturer.

      Use A Clothes Iron & Start Ironing

      Ideally, you will be using heat press machine, but we all know how expensive that is, so a clothes iron will surely do the trick.

      Using a standard domestic iron to heat transfer a design onto a white t-shirt.
      A common household iron can be as useful as a heat press and at a fraction of the cost.

      Apply firm pressure with an iron from the centre of your transfer paper, working in a circular motion towards the edge of the transfer paper, and then back to the centre. Make sure to have your iron on transfer paper at a constant heat.

      Never place the iron directly on the image.

      Repeat these steps as many times as indicated on the instructions included on the transfer paper – this could take about 3 to 4 minutes.

      Now sit back and and wait for the shirt to cool.

      Remove The Parchment Paper Or Fabric

      Once the t-shirt is cooled, carefully peel back the parchment paper or the soft towel, and make sure you start from the edge.

      Check the edges to make sure that all of them are flatten properly onto the t-shirt.

      Once cooled, and the paper has been removed, you have an awesome t-shirt to show off to all of your friends.

      A Final Touch For Good Measure

      Iron the design once again to make the final touch – do not forget to use the paper or a soft towel through this process as well.

      Printing T-shirts At Home With An Iron Without Transfer Paper

      You will need a plastic wrap, a clothes iron, a parchment/wax paper, an image printed on a regular printer paper or a physical photo, scissors or a cutter, and a t-shirt (basically any material works).

      Firstly, you should remove any extra white paper around the image.

      Decide where to place the image on the t-shirt, and cover the entire image with a plastic wrap, making sure all sides are completely covered.

      Remove any water from the iron and adjust the heat settings as indicated on a t-shirt (keep in mind that the image will not stick if you use steam).

      Once all the sides are completely covered, place the image on the desired spot on the t-shirt, cover it with the wax paper and begin ironing on a heat resistant surface. Don’t worry, you don’t have to make a mirror image.

      Take your time with ironing to make sure the whole image sticks to the t-shirt, then slowly remove wax paper.

      If some of the plastic wrap is still sticking out, you can tuck it under the image and iron the t-shirt a bit more. Also, you should never place the iron directly onto the image.

      Finally, remove the wax paper and enjoy your personalized t-shirt. We recommend this method for complex design, because it is much easier to avoid any mistakes during the iron on transfer process.

      Detailed Info on Most Sought-After Questions

      How do you put a print on a shirt with an iron?

      After you have printed your design, put the previously washed and dried t-shirt on the ironing board. Iron your shirt. Cover your transfer paper with the backing you’ve peeled off or a suitable fabric. Finally, iron the design. Wait while the shirt cools down, and then peel off the parchment paper or a piece of fabric. You now have your own t-shirt design!

      Can I make my own iron on transfers?

      Well of course you can, and it’s really simple. You can either use a sticker paper and an inkjet printer or a plastic wrap combined with wax paper. Either way, the process is really easy and everyone can do it in the comfort of their own home.

      What type of printer do you need to print on T-shirts?

      If you wish to use sticker paper, you will need a special inkjet printer with different printing options. But if this is too expensive for you, you can always print your design on a plain paper and print t-shirts at home with an iron and a plastic wrap.

      Closing Comments

      Although it is not impossible to run a t-shirt printing business from the comfort of your own home, you’d likely run into production problems of any scale if relying solely on an iron to transfer your designs.

      This is not to say the common household iron isn’t a fantastic alternative to the larger and more expensive heat press machine. Irons can still be used for business purposes but likely at smaller scales. Combine this with the right iron-on transfer paper and you can create your own designs without spending a fortune.

      This is particularly a bonus when getting started and lowering the costs without spending a fortune on specialised equipment. Once orders start growing and there’s a greater demand for quicker production times, that’s likely when to invest on a heat press and saying good bye to your trusted iron!

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