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Screen Printing Heat Transfers

Plastisol transfers are a great way to decorate caps or to do fulfillment delivery of T-shirts. By fulfillment delivery, I’m referring to ongoing orders for the same graphic, but one or two here, and one or two there. (Great for the team business.) Many screen printers find this to be the easiest approach, having this advantage of making extra transfers so that you can print additional garments at a later date for very little expense.



To print transfers, you will need transfer paper. Your supplier will offer a variety depending on whether you want to do hot peel or cold peel transfers.

Hot peel means you remove the transfer while the garment and ink are still hot, giving a soft screen printed feel. The untrained eye will not know the difference between a hot peel and a direct screen print. Half the ink stays on the transfer sheet, and half on the shirt.

Cold peel on the other hand is the traditional ‘70’s transfer with a heavier feel. Besides giving you the retro look, you can also apply foil to a cold peel transfer.
In my classes, we recommend you use Transfert 75 (T-75) transfer paper for all applications, since you can use this product for both hot peel and cold peel. Either side of the paper is printable.

Transfers are printed in reverse, so before you ask, “No, you cannot direct print some of the shirts, and then make transfers from the same screens for reorders.” We need a heavy lay down of ink, so use an 87 mesh screen.

For one color prints, the T-75 paper is printed and dried in your conveyor dryer at 220 degrees. What we want to achieve is a transfer that is dry to the touch, but not fully cured. A fully cured transfer will not adhere to the garment. A partially cured transfer will bond with the garment and finish curing in the heat press.

For multicolor prints, each color is printed, then the transfer sheet is run down the dryer belt before the next color is printed.

A good heat press will come in very handy in your production shop. This is an area where you get what you pay for when selecting a heat press. Less expensive devices will commonly have more widely spaced heating coils causing your heat press to have cold spots. Cold spots affect the adhesion of transfers and vinyl numbers and letters.

For cap printing, you will need a special heat press with a curved platen. If you choose to screen print cap images, most printers find the transfer method the easiest and most spoilage free option. For caps, we recommend you use and additional powder adhesive (available from most suppliers) on the wet transfer before running down your dryer belt.

Vacuum platen
Vacuum platens are used for heat transfers, bumper stickers and decals. We need to hold the product in place, but adhesives can stay on the back of our paper and cause the transfers to stick together when stacked. Spray adhesive will work in a pinch though. A vacuum system is your only real option for any kind of production.

You can build your own vacuum platen by drilling small holes, about ¾ inch apart, laid out in a grid pattern across the entire face of the wood platen. Sealing up the base beneath will create a vacuum chamber where you attach a shop vacuum. Without an easy off and on option with a shop vac, tape off a corner of the platen to slip your fingers under and lift off the transfer material while the vacuum is still running.

Today, vacuum platens are available to fit most manual presses, either from your machine manufacturer or a third party manufacturer. You can pick up one of these platens for about $600, and it will include the vacuum unit as well as a foot pedal to turn the vacuum on and off. You can probably pay for this inexpensive piece of equipment with only one or two orders. And you can offer an entirely new line of products to separate you from the competition down the street.

Applying cold peel transfers


  • Your heat press should be set at 350-375 degrees and set at heavy pressure.
  • Place your shirt on the heat press.
  • Lay the transfer in the proper placement on the shirt.
  • Lock the heat press on the shirt for 15 seconds.
  • Lift the press slowly so that the transfer paper does not lift with the heating element.
  • Rub the back of the transfer paper with a rolled up T-shirt for about 15 seconds.
  • Slowly remove the transfer paper to see your finished garment.

Applying hot peel transfers


  • Set your heat press at 375-400 degrees at heavy pressure
  • Place your shirt on the heat press.
  • Lay the transfer in the proper placement on the shirt.
  • Lock the heat press in place for 10 seconds.
  • Lift the heating element and immediately peel the transfer paper from the shirt.
Terry Combs is a 30+ year veteran of the screen printing industry, managing large and small shops across the U.S. He is currently a screen print instructor and consultant through the website TerryCombs.com, offering hands on and online classes.
 
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