What is Heat Transfer Printing?

Heat printing, also known as heat transfer printing, is the process of transferring heat-applied materials to various items (or substrates) using a heat press.

       Generally speaking, the term "heat printing" refers to the personalization and customization of garments, other textiles, and hard goods using a heat press. There is a wide variety of material that can be applied through heat printing, from heat transfer vinyls (commonly used on athletic uniforms), heat transfer materials featuring special effects (such as glow-in-the-dark or reflective properties), and screen printed transfers, to name just a few. Heat printing products are also referred to as heat applied graphics and heat transfers.

There are several options for garment decoration, such as screen printing, direct-to-garment printing, and embroidery. Heat printing can be used in place of other methods or to supplement them. Learn more about heat transfer printing in the following sections.

Heat Transfer Material

Often used for production of letters and numbers on T-shirts and jerseys, this method involves heat application of designs cut from vinyl, which is available in a variety of colors, textures, and effects (i.e. reflective, glow-in-the-dark, etc.). These designs can be pre-ordered from a manufacturer or custom-cut in-house using vinyl cutting equipment. Heat transfer material images are sturdy and long-lasting, and can be applied easily (using a heat press) to a number of different garments and accessories in any quantity.

Photo-quality designs cannot be applied using this method and each design must be individually cut and weeded (excess vinyl removed from around the image). Complex patterns thus can prove problematic.

Start-up costs include a heat press and supplies. For smaller operations an inventory of pre-cut letters and numbers may prove sufficient, but as the business expands the need for in-house production may present itself. Vinyl cutters can range in price from $500-$2000, and need to be stocked with rolls of vinyl in various colors.

Digital Printing

Digital printing describes any process which produces long-lasting full color transfers. Extremely versatile, digital printing allows images and graphics with fine details to be applied to both light and dark-colored garments. Digital printing options include printable heat transfer material, dye sublimation, and Direct to garment printing.

Printable Heat Transfer Material

Combining the durability of heat transfer vinyl with the ability to produce high-quality images, this method involves using a printer/cutter to produce an image which is then weeded and heat applied. Designs can be custom-ordered from a manufacturer or produced using in-house equipment. Great for low-quantity jobs and personalization; durable full color images can be applied to garments and accessories of any color.

For in-house equipment, start-up costs can be quite high and the equipment can come with a steep learning curve.