The below is an updated reprint from 2005.
Looks like there may be some interest so I'll give it a try to see if this information may help.
The first part gave you a few basics so let's get down to some real stuff. This section will deal only with the actual printing part of things. If you can, visit websites which will also give you some free basics about using heat transfers. Go to Ebay and type in sublimation or heat transfers and see if there is any information available which you may be able to use BEFORE you spend any money.
So you've decided to print your own t-shirts and sell them yourself. Whether you sell them in Ebay, on contract, by web or other means, this deals only with the actual printing section. Ink, heat presses, printers, etc... will hopefully be cover adequately here for you.
Print them yourself....what are transfers and what do I need?
Using just garments such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, aprons, etc., there are basically two (2) kinds of heat transfers you can print at home.
The first is sublimation ink heat transfers. These heat transfers are printed with sublimation ink on heat transfer paper that is designed for such an ink. When printed, the actual colors of the transfer are very dull and dark. Using a heat press at (approximately 400 degrees F), you heat press the sub transfer onto the t-shirt using medium pressure for 30-50 seconds...depending on the brand of ink you are using. The heat and pressure from the heat press turn the sub ink into a 'vapor' or 'gas'. This pressure from the heat press then forces the 'gas' INTO the actual fibers of the fabric. When done, you open the heat press SLOWLY (to let the air in), remove the transfer and you are done.
You CANNOT use any sublimation ink heat transfer on 100% cotton! Yes they do have products available for doing sub on cotton and I have not tried them. Don't find the need to as I use pigmented inks. The sub ink 'gas' will adhere/absorb into any man-made fabric such as polyester, lycra, nylon, etc... It will washout on the first wash, on natural fibers such as cotton, linen ,wool, denim, etc!!!!!!
All sub transfers are transparent, that is, the color of the shirt MUST be lighter than the color of the ink. If you have a black shirt, the design will heat press but you will NOT be able to see it as the color of the shirt (black) is DARKER than the heat transfer. If your shirt is white, then ALL colors will show. If your shirt is a pastel or light color such as Light Blue, then the ink colors usually will mix with the color of the fabric and you will have tints. EX: Your shirt is light blue and you have a red rose in your transfer. The red in the rose will mix in with the blue of the shirt and you usually end up with a rose that is purple or has a purple tint. Rule of thumb is: look at your artwork and look at the colors to see what shades you can expect when using a pastel color shirt.
If you are using a birch/ash colored shirt, chances are you will have no problems in your colors BUT you cannot print, in your transfer, any white. There is no white sublimation ink as it will not work on any colored fabrics.
The second type of heat transfer you can print at home is called either Archival or Pigmented ink heat transfers. These heat transfers are printed using a pigmented ink and an inkjet printer. Epson DuraBrite, Magic Mix and a few other inks are commonly used and are resistant to fading, bleeding, etc... Using any other ink, especially HP, Canon ,etc... inks is not recommended as these are/may be either water based or dye inks and MAY run when first washed.
Using Pigmented ink heat transfers, you CAN print on just about all fabrics such as 100% cotton, denim, 50/50, etc... You cannot print on lycra, satin, nylon, etc. as the transfer will NOT stick.
We use the pigmented heat transfers, print the transfer onto heat transfer paper designed for this type of ink. Use 380 degrees F for 30 seconds in your heat press with medium to firm pressure.... depending on the transfer paper manufacturer and ink directions. When done, open the heat press, remove the transfer and you are done.
Using pigmented transfers, you will have a 'hand'. The hand is a bit soft and the 'stiffness' will washout on the first wash. Using the above inks, your image will NOT washout or run when washed.
As with sublimation transfers, your shirt color must be lighter than your ink color.
What about black shirts? To do black shirts, you use the pigmented inks with an opaque heat transfer paper. You do NOT print your transfer in reverse! You print directly onto the opaque transfer, trim the unwanted areas of the opaque transfer away, separate the opaque transfer from the backing, heat press at 350 F for 15-20 seconds. Opaque transfers WILL feel stiff and generally do not last a long time. Our opaque transfers generally last for about 30-50 washings and then show signs of wear and splitting. For darks, it is recommended that you keep your design small (heart size).
If you have a vinyl cutter, you can use the great line of heat transfer vinyls and do one or multi color designs.
Now the meat. What to use?
Printers - It is REALLY recommended that you use an Epson printer. The reason for doing so is, the pigmented and sublimation ink cartridges that are available are for the Epson line of printers only. As the Epson printers use NO HEAT to actually print, this makes the printer very desirable for heat transfer printing.
We use an Epson WorkForce 7110 with a CIS installed.
Heat press VS your home iron. Use a heat press!!!!!!!!!! To properly heat press ANY type transfer (sub, soft hand, opaque, screen printed, litho, puff, etc...) you MUST create a certain amount of pressure, and heat over the entire transfer, for a specified time. A home iron CANNOT do this!!!
What size heat press? How much does it cost? The recommended size heat press is a 15x15", flat heat press. Prices run about $400 to $1200. Check Ebay. Cap presses run $300+. Remember, if you spend your hard earned money on a no name brand and a press that is too small (12x12" as an example), you will find that you will HAVE to get a bigger press later. Spend the money to get the right press...you will find that it will pay for itself in less than a year.
Whenever you actually print your transfers and you mess one up, do NOT throw it away! Write on that transfer what kind of ink, type of transfer paper, and what you did wrong. Save it. If you mess up a shirt, do the same and do not throw it away. Save it. You will be building a reference library and as time goes by, when you see something you did wrong, simply go into your reference library and see what you did to fix the problem.
Before I close I would like to add a few words about sublimation inks. Sublimation inks are best used on products such as ceramic tiles, dry erase boards, jewelry, ornaments, mousepads, etc.... These products are coated so they can accept the sublimation dye. If the products are uncoated, you WILL get no image.
Sublimation Inks - At one time, a company in SC called Sawgrass Systems claimed to have the patent on small format ink inkjet sublimation technology and after a court case, their patent was upheld. ALL small format inkjet printers MUST USE sub ink that is officially licensed by SG. The patent had expired and now sub inks are available from other distributors/manufacturers as a very reasonable price.
Well, didn't mean to ramble on but I hope this information helps a bit. You are most welcome to post your comments or e-mail me directly if you have any questions. Your comments here will assure me that the information is being looked at and, depending on the number of requests/comments, I should like to continue.