Beginner’s Guide on DIY Heat Transfer Vinyl Projects

Heat Transfer Vinyl, commonly referred to as HTV, is a specially designed vinyl applied to specific fabrics to create designs, artwork, marketing text and other promotional items. Made of polyurethane material, HTV, as this heat transfer design method is popularly known, is easy for the apparel designer to create the desired design on it, cut out the design, and apply it on a piece of fabric using heat.


Before we delve into the details of how you can use HTV for your garment designs, there are a few terms that are used in reference to different activities carried out in the process of using the heat transfer design method. These terms are:

  • Weeding: This refers to the process of removing the excess material after a specific design has been cut out by the designer.
  • Weeding Tool: A weeding tool also referred to as a weeder, is a stainless steel hook used to remove the excess vinyl from the cut design.
  • Vinyl Cutter: A cutter is a machine fitted with a blade that is used to cut out designs in the vinyl. Special cutters such as silhouette and Cricut cutters are used to carve out designs from the material in a desktop heat transfer production.
  • Carrier: Carrier refers to the original polyester backing that covers the other side of the HTV. The carrier serves the purpose of keeping the HTV material in place during the application process. While static carriers are smooth, you will find that pressure-sensitive carriers are mostly tack, or sticky.
  • Pressure: This refers to the amount of force applied when you push the heat press on the HTV during the application of a design on fabric.
  • Heat Press: • The heat press machine is used to apply the design on fabric. It sandwiches both the fabric and the material together, applying heat and pressure such that the design is transferred onto the fabric.
  • Cover Sheets: Also referred to as heat transfer cover sheets, these are sheets made of a material like Teflon, which come between the heat press machine and the fabric. These cover sheets help by protecting the fabric from burning because of the heat and also ensure the design has adhered to the fabric rather than the heat press machine.
  • Cavities: These are the center parts of an image or text. For instance, the letter A cavity is the triangular inner part.
  • Transfer Pillows: These are used to help correct the uneven pressure due to some parts of the fabric being unaligned with the rest, such as areas where the fabric has buttons or zips.
  • Multi-Purpose Paper: The multipurpose paper is a versatile paper that can be used to store designs for future use, or as a transfer cover.
  • Heat Sensitive: This means that the garment or fabric is highly likely to get burnt or discolor due to high application temperature.

Now that we have seen what heat transfer is, and some of the words that are commonly used in its application, let us look at some of the advantages of using the heat transfer design method.

Advantages of using Heat Transfer Vinyl

  • It saves time since you there is no setup required.
  • No extra cost incurred for expensive software since most cutters come with their inbuilt layout software to make the design cutting process simpler.
  • Cuttable heat transfer vinyl is extremely durable, and will not fade off or wear out with age. Most of these designs last the entire lifetime of the fabric.
  • There is virtually no limit to the colors available, as compared to other design methods that limit the choice of colors.
  • It saves on costs since the cost for printing a single item is almost the same as printing multiple items. This enables designers to fulfill any amount of orders without worrying about soaring costs of design and application.
  • The production time is short and enables the designer to design and print fabrics on order, thus minimizing the chances of overproduction and losses.

How to Use Heat Transfer Design Method

Armed with the basic knowledge about this design method, we can now go ahead and delve into the technical details of working with heat transfer vinyl. It is a short process, involving three main steps, but I will take you through the intricate processes of each step to ensure you never go wrong with it. The major steps are preparing and cutting your design, weeding, and applying. Now, let us go straight to explaining the steps.

1. Preparing you Cut File

The very first step when working with the heat transfer method is getting your design ready for cutting. This is done using the cutting machine’s software. In the odd case that you do not have a cutting machine, it is also possible to cut the material by hand. The design that you intend to cut from the material is what we are referring to as the cut file.

The most common type of cut file format is SVG, but other formats are also available, depending on the cutting machine software. For beginners, there are a lot of free cut file samples available with your cutting machine software, and these are intended for you to use when practising the art of designing. More designs for practice are readily available on the internet, but you need to ensure that the file formats are compatible with your cutting machine software before downloading.

Once you have got the cut file design ready, you will need to scale it to the required size. This is done by measuring the surface that you intend to apply the design on, and determining the size, you need. Then you will go to your cutting machine software and scale the cut file to fit the measured size. You do this by simply clicking on the design file, and then using the editor boundaries to scale it lower, or higher until it matches your intended dimensions.

After scaling your image to the right size for cutting, the next thing you need to do is mirror the design. Mirroring the design is very critical since when you work with heat transfer, you always cut on the reverse side of the vinyl. The heat transfer sheet has a carrier layer on the opposite side, which is a transparent plastic sheet that covers the adhesive material, and the other side is where the heat-sensitive adhesive is. It is important to note that this adhesive might not be sticky to the touch.

The adhesive side is where you cut your design, in its mirrored state, and then you flip it over to your fabric, ready for heat pressing and application. It is therefore worth noting that if you fail to mirror your cut file before cutting it, the result on the fabric will appear reversed horizontally. Mirroring the cut file design is very simple, as almost every software has the function in the file editor. Once the design is scaled and mirrored, it is now time to go to the next step.

2. Cut the Design from Heat Transfer Material

Cutting the design from your heat transfer sheet is the second stage of the design and application process. It involves using your cutting machine to cut your design out from a sheet of heat transfer design material, ready for application on fabric. There are many machine models available, the most popular being the Silhouette and the Cricut models.

Most cutting machines come with a mat that helps keep the sheet in place as you cut. The cutting process involves placing your material glossy side down on the mat so that you cut the design on the matte side, which is also the adhesive side. Since some sheets come in large rolls, you should cut a piece that fits your vinyl cutter machine’s mat for convenience.

Once the material is placed correctly on the mat, you need to configure your cutting machine’s settings to fit the material you are using. The settings are pretty straightforward, and every machine software will provide options to suit different materials. It is recommended that you do a small test cut to ensure that the selected machine settings will work correctly on your material. When you are satisfied that all conditions for perfect cutting are met, load your vinyl into the cutter machine, and cut your design.

3. Weeding out the Excess Vinyl

As the name suggests, weeding involves trimming off any excess material from your cut design, to ensure you only get the intended design on your fabric. There are several tools you can use for weeding your cut design, including the weeding hook, craft knife, tweezers among many others. If you find it difficult to trace the cut lines, bending the cut sheet a little bit will help you make out the fine lines.

Once you define the cut lines clearly, use your weeding tool to gently lift one edge of the excess piece of material, and carefully pull it off the cut design. A useful tip to go about the weeding process is to start with the excess material around your design, then finish with the more delicate excess pieces within the design.

Once you have weeded out all the excess parts from your cut out design, it is good to flip it over and see how it appears through the transparent carrier sheet. This helps you identify any anomalies to the design, and thus prevents fabric wastage by applying a faulty design.

4. Apply your Design

This is probably the most crucial part of the whole process since once you kick it off, there is no chance of corrections. You must confirm all details of your cut design are perfect and ready for application onto the fabric.

For the application of heat transfer design onto your selected fabric, you require two things. As the name suggests, you will need sufficient heat and pressure. There are heat press machines that are specially designed for this purpose, but if you are a DIY artist doing it from home, you will achieve the same results with your iron box.

One thing you need to note is that since you will be applying pressure to for the iron on vinyl application, you will need to do the ironing on a stable, evenly flat surface. Avoid the temptation to use your ordinary ironing board since this will possibly collapse due to the pressure, ruining your whole design. A bumped surface will also destroy your design, so you will want to avoid that too. If you have a smooth coffee table, that will do the job.

Once you have he set up for your ironing complete, it is now time to apply your design on the fabric finally. You start by laying out your fabric on the ironing surface, with the side where you intend to apply your design facing up. Then, place your cut-out design on top of the fabric, with the glossy, carrier side facing upwards. Ensure that the design reads right and is located precisely at the point you intend to apply it.

Use a cover sheet or parchment paper to cover the heat transfer material. The cover sheet helps keep the design sheet from warping or overheating. Use your iron box to press down on all parts of your design for at least 20 seconds, depending on the material you are using. Some materials will require more heat and pressure, and others will require less. It is essential to read and understand the heat and pressure instructions for the material you use.

When you are confident that you have heated and applied adequate pressure on the design, you can now start carefully removing the carrier sheet from your fabric. If the design peels off with the carrier sheet, then you should carefully re-position it and continue applying more heat and pressure. It is important to note that some carrier sheets are specifically supposed to be peeled off after cooling down. These are referred to as cold peel, and this should be specified in the instructions for your chosen material. It is recommended that once you have successfully peeled away the carrier sheet and ensured the design is well applied, you flip over the fabric and give it a gentle ironing on the other side, as this helps attach the design more firmly.

One tip to knowing when the design is well applied is when you can see the fabric weave through the design.

Your iron on vinyl design is now properly applied, and the fabric is ready for use. However, it is advisable to let it rest and cure for at least 24 hours before any washing or laundering is done. The best way to wash a newly decorated fabric is inside out with cold water, and hang out to dry or if tumble drying, turn it to low.


By following this guide, you are now well equipped with the knowledge on how to create your first iron on project. One of the best things about using this heat transfer material is its versatility. The heat transfer vinyl can be used to decorate a wide variety of items, and it is one of the simplest to design and apply.