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Alpha Supply Co.
Alpha Supply Co.

T Shirt Imprinting Business Explained

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Heat Transfer Paper Information

What you need to know about heat transfer paper before spending your money.

Click here if you already know about heat transfer papers

What Are Heat Transfer Papers?

Heat transfers are the simplest way to apply custom printed graphic designs and photographs to 100% cotton and cotton-blended T-shirts (50/50), mouse pads, tote bags and many other fabric items.

The basic concept is simple. A standard inkjet printer and regular inks or T-Shirt inks are used to print on specially coated heat transfer paper.

The heat transfer paper has a film on it and this is the side that is printed on.

After printing, the unprinted part of the transfer sheet is trimmed and the transfer is placed on the shirt and both are heated in a heat press with medium to high pressure.

When the heating cycle ends, the operator opens the heat press and removes the backing paper or cover sheet.

How Are They Applied?

You apply heat transfer paper with heat and pressure which makes the paper adhere to the garment or fabric, here are a couple of ways to do this.

Using an iron

You can apply heat transfer paper with an iron but be aware of a few things if you do.

  • If your transfer is larger than the iron, you will have to move the iron constantly back and forth, up and down evenly across the paper while pressing as hard as you can for around a minute or more.
  • You will need a sturdy, flat surface to do your transfer that's large enough to do the job.
  • Most irons are not very powerful and may not get to the temperature needed for transferring the paper.
  • Transfers applied with an iron usually do not hold up very long.

Using a Heat Press Machine

  • Heat press machines can apply a heat transfer much faster than an iron.
  • They can apply the transfers with even pressure across the entire transfer paper.
  • They are much easier to use than an iron, you simply close the press.
  • Transfers hold up much better when applied with a heat press.

No matter what brand or type of paper you use, you will always get superior results with a heat press because of their ability to provide consistent heat and pressure across the entire transfer.

If you need help choosing the right heat press machine click here.

What Kinds Are There?

There is a BIG difference between store-bought and commercial grade heat transfer papers. Here are a few facts about both kinds.

Store Bought Heat Transfer Papers
  • What is available at an office supply or department store is a generic paper, developed specifically for the low-end home iron market.
  • They are a low temperature paper capable of being applied with an iron.
  • They are much thicker and heavier than commercial heat transfer papers.
  • They are usually more expensive than our commercial grade papers.
Commercial Grade Heat Transfer Papers
  • Commercial heat transfer papers are designed to be applied using a heat press.
  • The papers are thinner, with less of a "hand" (what you can feel).
  • You can get larger quantities to reduce the cost.
  • They were designed to last a long time for your customers.

Inkjet paper vs. Laser paper

Laser Papers

Unless you already own a color laser printer, we usually suggest using an inkjet printer, for two reasons.

  • An excellent inkjet printer costs considerable less than even a cheap laser printer.
  • Not all laser printers produce good heat transfers.

It has nothing to do with the print quality (which can be excellent). Rather, it is because many laser toners do not hold up to washing. We wouldn't want to see you buy a laser printer and then find out it wasn't suitable.

If you already own one, then get a small sample pack of paper and test the results (printing and washing).

Alpha Supply Company no longer sells any type of heat transfer paper for laser printers. We made that decision because of constant, uneven results in all laser heat transfer papers. The problem is in the coating (film) on the paper.

The film is heated in a heat press, so that it sticks to the fabric. Laser printers use a heated fuser to make the toner stay on the paper. All too often many fusers also melt the film and it sticks to the fuser.

It was such a hit or miss affair that we have elected to just stick with inkjet transfer papers.

Inkjet Papers

Inkjet transfer papers are much thinner and softer than laser papers which will give you a softer lighter finished product.

Relatively inexpensive inkjet printers can be used that usually give very good results.

Some inkjet printers can even be converted to use an ink system with special inks which gives you more prints for your money and even longer lasting transfers.

"Soft Hand" vs. "Hard Hand"

In the trade, "hand" refers to how a transfer feels, before washing and after. A soft hand can certainly be felt but is not objectionable. A hard hand, as the name implies, is very stiff and can be objectionable.

Our heat transfer paper has a relatively soft hand, after transferring and is even softer after the first washing. However, you will always be able to feel it. There is no escaping that fact.

Be wary of advertising that claims to have "practically no hand" or "a hand so soft you can barely feel it" or some other nonsense. While you certainly don't want a cardboard feel, there has to be enough film to keep the image on the garment. If there is not much film, colors can be quite dull.

More importantly, you don't want a lot of expensive re-do's because the transfer won't hold up in the wash and the customer brings them back.

"Clear" vs. "Opaque" Transfer Paper

These two transfer paper types have two totally different functions. "Clear" transfer paper is for white or light gray fabrics and "opaque" transfer paper is for colored fabrics.

The prints you can re-produce from inkjet printers are translucent or "see-through". Since the inks are expected to be printed onto a white background, they can use the white from the paper to re-produce the correct colors. Transfer paper is either opaque or clear for this reason.

Clear papers can be used on white or light gray because the color of the garment will add white (or gray) to the ink colors and make them show up correctly.

Clear papers are thinner and usually less expensive than opaque papers can be.

Opaque papers can be put onto any color fabric because the transfer paper will provide the white needed to correct the colors you print.

Opaque papers are usually more expensive than clear paper and slightly thicker to block out the color of the farbric.

What happens if you put clear papers on a colored fabric? If you put a printed clear paper designed for whites onto a green shirt, all of the colors you printed will have added green in them which is not what you printed.

Bottom line: Use clear papers when you can, opaque papers when you have to!