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Blingology: Part 1 - Choosing the right equipment, supplies and software for rhinestone decoration


So you want to get started making some bling, right? You start by reading the articles, scanning the web for info, looking at equipment and suppliers, and end up more than a little overwhelmed in the process. Is there a clear, easy way to learn about this great opportunity for you and your business? Of course there is! Let me help guide you through the process, show you the equipment you need, and give a few tips and tricks along the way to make sure that your first shirt is a great one.

You have choices. It depends on exactly how custom you want to be, how much money you’re willing and able to spend upfront, how much work you want to do, and how much money you want to make!

  • You can buy predesigned and premade rhinestone transfers so that you would just press them onto shirts.
  • You can look around the internet to find predesigned and precut templates that you can purchase. Then you would just need to buy the rhinestones and basic supplies to make your transfers.
  • You can buy rhinestone design software and create your own designs and email the files to someone with a laser or vinyl cutter to cut templates for you. You would then buy the rhinestones and basic supplies to make your transfers.
  • Or you can buy a heat press, a vinyl cutter, rhinestone design software, template material and supplies, and do everything yourself!

What Equipment To Buy First?

I get asked often what to buy first. In my opinion, the heat press is the most important piece of equipment when making rhinestone shirts.



Why? Well I learned this the hard way and I hope to prevent some of you from making the same mistakes I made. Before I ever got into this business, I was buying some transfers to put on Vacation Bible School shirts for the girls in my group. I used my iron and pressed them on. I started having stones pop off left and right. When I decided to make my own designs, I bought a very inexpensive 15”x15” Chinese heat press. I started getting orders right off the bat for 25, 50, even 75 shirts! It was very exciting and I was sure to press those shirts really well! Several days after delivering each order, I started getting phone calls saying that rhinestones were falling off all over the place. I was humiliated! I had no idea it was my press and thought maybe I was doing something wrong. Around that time, I had a friend offer to buy my equipment and since I wanted a bigger press and better cutter, I sold them to her. I bought the same Chinese brand 16”x24” cutter. A month later, my friend called to tell me that stones were falling off all over the place! We tested the temperature of the platen on her heat press and there were huge discrepancies. The electrical was faulty and the company wanted her to pay to ship it back to them. It was not much less to ship than it would have been to buy a new press! I have since gotten a Hotronix Auto Open Clam heat press and I love it so much that it’s the one inanimate object that I’ve ever named in my entire life. I know the better American made heat presses are quite a bit more expensive so if you can’t afford one, don’t worry! I still recommend purchasing what you can afford with a goal of being able to upgrade when you can.

OK, I've got a heat press, what next?

The next most important purchase when getting into the bling business is rhinestone design software. Like heat presses, there are tons of them out there and it can be daunting to figure out which one to buy. They range in price from $50 up to well over $1000! So which one should you purchase?

I’m sorry to say that again, it’s something you need to decide how much you’re willing and able to spend. However, software is the one thing that I would say not to settle for with the goal of upgrading later. My reason for this advice is that there is always a big learning curve with software. People spend months learning one and if you aren’t happy with what you purchased and want to upgrade later, it’s not only going to cost you more money, but a lot more precious wasted time having to learn a brand new software. If you can’t afford a cutter after buying your heat press and software, then just use the software to create your rhinestone designs and email them to someone else who has a cutter (there are tons of us here on TSF!) and ask them to cut you a template. I can’t speak for others, but if someone sends me the file to cut and I don’t have to do anything other than send it to my cutter, I charge just a little more than the cost of the template material for my time and that’s it. I remember how intimidating it is in the beginning and how much startup costs can be. I had someone help me out with kindness so I like to do the same for others.

Heat press: Check. Software: Check. What's next?

Now it’s time to choose a vinyl cutter/plotter to cut your rhinestone templates. I’m sorry to break this to you, but there are tons of cutters out there at tons of price ranges! This was the most frustrating part for me personally when I started out. My friend who was helping me had a Roland GX-24 and I just about choked at the $1700 price tag when I looked it up online.



I set out to find a cutter in my price range. There really wasn’t much information out there when I started Googling “vinyl cutters for rhinestone templates.” I was very frustrated. This is when I stumbled across t-shirtforums.com. I found a little information on a few brands of cutters and I stayed up until 3:00am many, many nights doing research. I looked through spec sheet after spec sheet. All I knew was that downforce was important. I had no idea what the type of motor meant so I paid no attention. I found a $400 cutter which I now know had a stepper motor. I could go into technical explanations on what the difference is between a stepper motor and servo motor, but I’ll just say that the stepper motors aren’t as smooth, don’t last as long, and aren’t meant for heavy or constant use. The servo motor cutters are considered workhorses, run very smoothly, can be used all day every day, and should last you years and years. Hence, the large price differences. If all you can afford is a low end stepper motor cutter, then by all means, buy what you can afford! I was able to pay off my cutter within the first couple of weeks and then started saving for a servo motor cutter. I was able to buy one about three months later. I don’t regret buying a low end cutter to begin with because it served its purpose and afforded me the ability to upgrade to a servo motor cutter.

Even still, things can get confusing. There are a lot of rebranded cutters out there that are exactly the same. It can be overwhelming because the prices vary so much on the same cutter! I learned that the difference comes with what software is bundled with the cutter. The best thing you can do is to ask questions on t-shirtforums.com. There are so many great members who know so much about this stuff and can answer specific questions for you. If you’re having trouble deciding between two or three cutters, start a thread asking for opinions and advice. You’ll get lots of both! Then decide which advice best matches your needs and take it. After you’ve made your purchase, come back and give your opinion and ask more questions. Soon you’ll be the one doling out advice and opinions and sharing your experiences.

Rhinestone Supplies

Finally, you will need to purchase supplies. If you’re going to do it all yourself, here are the things you will need:

  • Rhinestone Template Material
  • Rhinestones
  • Tweezers
  • Rhinestone Brush
  • Hot Fix Transfer Tape
  • Blade for Cutting Templates
  • Cover Sheet for Pressing Transfers


I am the first to admit that I am a research freak. I spend way too much time researching everything online to make sure that I have all of the information about everything! My friends call me for advice on everything from baby strollers to bug spray to washing machines.

So I’ll give you the rundown on the equipment and supplies that I have had and have now.

Heat press: I started with a 15x15 Chinese brand clamshell. The brand doesn’t really matter because from what I gather, the Chinese presses are all about the same. I then upgraded to the 16x24 Chinese brand clamshell. I now have a 16”x16” Hotronix Auto Open Clam STX16. Besides the fact that it has spared me dozens of migraines and neck pain with its auto open feature, it also reduced my stress level. As I’m heat pressing one shirt, I’m preparing the next one. If I’m not done preparing and the timer is going off, I used to have to stop what I was doing and turn to open the press. With the auto open feature, it pops up and I can finish what I’m doing before attending to the shirt on the heat press. It’s wonderful!!!


Software: I started by using CorelDRAW and making little circles and doing the fit blend to path option and so on. It was a big pain and took forever but that’s how I was taught and I didn’t know any differently. Then I decided that I hated having to export my designs into the software that my cutter came with because it couldn’t cut straight from Corel and went looking for a rhinestone design software that had the driver for my cutter. I found information on Funtime and Winpcsign and decided to purchase the latter. It was much better than using Corel for rhinestone design, but still more time consuming than I would have liked. Along the way, I tried other software such as R-Wear and rStones. Then I discovered Bling !t Pro and OOBling Pro and I was hooked. They cost more, but they are extremely user friendly and built specifically for rhinestone design, and support just about every cutter out there. My design time was cut way down and they were so much easier to use. I think they’re definitely worth the expense.


Vinyl Cutter: My first cutter was a stepper motor VinylExpress R31, which is a rebranded (remember I talked about that?) RedSail RS800C. It was important that I knew that because when trying to install the drivers for my software, the R31 was nowhere to be seen, but the RS800C was there. It took quite a bit of digging before I found that information. I then upgraded to a GCC Bengal with a servo motor. It’s a great cutter but I was really wanting an LCD display so that I could change the downforce and offset from right on the machine rather than having to use a program on my computer. So I recently upgraded to the GCC Puma III and I am thrilled with it! It measures each piece of template material so I don’t waste any and it doesn’t stop in the middle of a job because there wasn’t enough space.

Rhinestone Template Material: This is the one thing that I have never changed. I started using Sticky Flock™ and I still use it and absolutely love it. I’ve done research in the way of asking other people their opinions on the differences and I’ve never heard of someone trying Sticky Flock™ but preferring something else. Everyone I’ve heard from likes it the best. It does cost more than the rubber stuff, but the ease of use cuts production time in half so it more than pays for itself quickly. There is no resistance when lifting transfer tape up off of the template like there is with other materials. Sticky Flock™ is thicker than other materials because of the fibers but the part that’s actually cut is thinner so it can be cut with any cutter. Also, you don’t need to buy powder, weeding tape, anti-static spray, or backer board so it saves time and money on those materials as well.

<img src="http://www.t-shirtforums.com/images/reblingphotos/CleanCutBlades.jpg" align="right">Blades: I started with a standard 60 degree blade. I then discovered Clean Cut Blades and the Roland 60 degree Special blade. I was able to lower my downforce by about 30% and it worked great! Now I use a Clean Cut 65 degree Rhinestone Template Material blade and have been able to lower my downforce another 25%.

Rhinestones: Okay, now this is an area where each person needs to research and decide which ones to use based on their own needs. You have to decide what you’re comfortable charging your customers and choose a stone that will look nice and still be able to give you some profit.

The poorest quality and least expensive rhinestones are the Chinese molded stones.

Then there are what are called Korean rhinestones. Korean are probably the most popular because of the price and because they look nice, but can have inconsistencies in color, size, and amount of glue.

Finally there are the best quality rhinestones, which are machine cut. There are many brands of machine cut stones; Swarovski being the most well-known and by far the most expensive. You can find really great quality machine cut rhinestones for way less money than Swarovski. I personally use Bella M/C Rhinestones because the quality of stone, color, and glue are all very consistent compared with Chinese or Korean stones. I like to think of Swarovski as the diamonds of rhinestones and Bella as cubic zirconia. Bella stones look almost identical, but costs way less.

I just want to stress that asking for advice on t-shirtforums.com can save you so much time and help you in your search to find the equipment and supplies that will fit your needs and budget. Once you’ve made your decisions and purchased everything you need, you’re ready to bling something!

Stephanie Olson has been in the garment industry for a short time, but has grown in leaps and bounds growing from a small decoration shop to selling materials, equipment, software, and helping others start and grow their business. Stephanie specializes in rhinestone decoration and is the owner of www.divinebling.com
 

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Very informative Stephanie! I am actually thinking of how far to take the steps I do myself??? I already have heat press and it gets HOT but I do have some stones popping off? Any other sugestions for that?

I bought premade iron on at a trade show in Vegas. Do you know where to buy some premade and that are fashionable?

Thanks so much! Im also glad I stumbled on T-Shirt forums too;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Very informative Stephanie! I am actually thinking of how far to take the steps I do myself??? I already have heat press and it gets HOT but I do have some stones popping off? Any other sugestions for that?

I bought premade iron on at a trade show in Vegas. Do you know where to buy some premade and that are fashionable?

Thanks so much! Im also glad I stumbled on T-Shirt forums too;)
Hi, Brandy!

I suppose I should have mentioned that there are other factors that go into stones popping off. If you're buying pre-made transfers, you should ask what kind of rhinestones they use. You run the risk of getting the cheaper Chinese stones which can have major glue inconsistencies so there might not be enough glue on each stone to firmly adhere them to the shirt. Also, are you pre-pressing your shirts before pressing the rhinestones? You want to be sure that you press first for about 10 seconds to get all of the moisture out of the shirt. If there is moisture in the shirt, the glue won't stick as well.

Otherwise, you can get an infrared thermometer to test the temperature on different spots on your heat press to determine if it's heating evenly and consistently.
Here's an inexpensive one:
Infrared Thermometer

I hope this helps! :)
 

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Thanks for all the info can you tell me what the different functions are to other programmes to help save time and anything else about OObling I have never heard of it and just got into the Rstones and used to use Funtime
 

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Thank you for this information. I am trying to research to start a small home business for rhinestone designs and your explanations are so helpful. I will be going to your site for supplies. I have tried to make my own templates without success so am glad to hear you cut for others for a fee, which I am willing to pay, I have contacted two others on another forum but haven't heard back from either of them in about a month so I suppose they don't want my busines. Thank you, Beverly
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks for all the info can you tell me what the different functions are to other programmes to help save time and anything else about OObling I have never heard of it and just got into the Rstones and used to use Funtime
This is a link to the pdf with some of the features of OOBling Pro.
[media]http://www.cadlink.com/images/OOBling%20Brochure_A4_for%20PDF.pdf[/media]

One of my favorite features is that you can change the spacing and size of rhinestones on the fly and shows you the stone count right next to the spacing box in real time as you change settings. It seems like a trivial feature but it saves a lot of guess work and time in having to undo, change settings, redo, repeat.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Thank you for this information. I am trying to research to start a small home business for rhinestone designs and your explanations are so helpful. I will be going to your site for supplies. I have tried to make my own templates without success so am glad to hear you cut for others for a fee, which I am willing to pay, I have contacted two others on another forum but haven't heard back from either of them in about a month so I suppose they don't want my busines. Thank you, Beverly
I'm sorry you've had a sour experience with other rhinestoners out there. I don't know the circumstances, but I do know that designing can take a lot of time and there is a ton of demand so oftentimes there is a bit of a waiting period for creating designs. That's why I suggested getting software and designing yourself and just sending the completed rhinestone design to someone to cut for you. Sending a job to my cutter doesn't take much time.
Were you trying to send someone a design that had already been created?
 

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OK. I know I kid you a lot but...

I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU AND VERY IMPRESSED!!

Lovely article! I love your evident passion for what you do, you're GOOD at what you do and are willing to share your expertise! The reverberations transcend rhinestoning.

I remember the help and encouragement I received on my path to Ultimate Perfection and as such I love sharing what I know (it's lonely at the top and humility is grossly overrated).

My day has been made and I'm going to go cut my damn grass.

You make Clovis proud!
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 · (Edited)
Okay, I'm getting some emails asking about OOBling.
The article is long enough as it is, but there is so much information that I still wasn't able to say everything!
There are a bunch of other programs out there that have the same interface as OOBling.
KnK and ACS are for Accugrapics' cutters. i-DesignR is for Graphtec cutters. i-DesignR Lite is for the Silhouette. RhinestoneWorx is for the Permaboss machines. Bling !t Pro works with every cutter except Cricut and Silhouette.
All of these programs have different price points based on features and cutters supported.

And these are just a few of the rhinestone design softwares out there!
I know it's confusing with so many options, but the great thing about that is that between all of the above listed programs, R-Wear, SignMax programs, Corel with rStones, DAS, Wilcom, and everything else I'm forgetting, you have software with every price point from $50 up to $2500. Whether you want to do rhinestoning for your kids or have a high production rhinestone business, you'll be able to find something that will be tailor fit to your specific needs.
 

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Hey everyone!

Stephanie,
I´m still a newbie in this business and would like to produce some Bling T-shirts, but here in Mexico is kind of difficult to find suppliers for sticky flock and obviously for the software.
I´ve bought a heat press and my cutting plotter, but still lacking of a good software and material to begin with the bling.
How much does OObling cost? Can I only buy the Bling!t Software?
Regards in advance.
 

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I would suggest a post press on the inside out for 5 sec and then a post press on the top for 5 sec also...

This insures the glue has been properly heated to get into the garment fiber.

Also if you purchase your garments retail, there will be sizing in the garment which can deter the glue getting into the garment as needed.

Garments you get from Blank Dist such as Sanmar , Next Level, ect,, have no sizing in them. Sizing can also turn a white garment slightly yellow when pressing

If you need any more help, let us know.

Sandy jo
MMM:)
 

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I would suggest a post press on the inside out for 5 sec and then a post press on the top for 5 sec also...

This insures the glue has been properly heated to get into the garment fiber.

Also if you purchase your garments retail, there will be sizing in the garment which can deter the glue getting into the garment as needed.

Garments you get from Blank Dist such as Sanmar , Next Level, ect,, have no sizing in them. Sizing can also turn a white garment slightly yellow when pressing

If you need any more help, let us know.

Sandy jo
MMM:)
I think I'm a little confused...what do you mean by sizing in the garments that makes them turn yellow? I've never heard of this:confused::confused::confused::confused:
 

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Hi Krystle,

In Garments in Retail and Dept stores it is not uncommon for the Shirts to be treated with a product that is applied to the garments to keep them Wrinkle free and Fresh looking while they are in the store.

These products are not added to Blank Garments that will be Decorated, From Wholesalers.

Sandy jo
MMM:)
 
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