Custom Heat Press Transfers | UK Guide | What They Are & How To Choose Them
As suppliers for over 30 years of custom transfers for fabrics, primarily plastisol transfers, we are often asked by people for advice on how to choose the right type of custom transfer. As there are many different factors to consider, we’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right process and to try to cover all the questions you may have.
Table of Contents:
What Are The Different Ways That You Can Heat Apply Onto a Garment?
For heat-applying designs onto garments, a brief summary of the various methods are as follows:
Custom Heat Press Transfers:
- Digital Transfers (Heat Transfer Vinyl): Suitable for low volumes and quick production using HTV (usually done in-house) in combination with a plotter/cutter. It’s ideal for short runs for single-colour designs, but is dependent on the level of detail required. This is due to the labour involved with “weeding” away the excess HTV before it’s ready to apply.
- Digital Transfers (Printable HTV): Suitable for low volume and quick production and are produced using Printable Heat Transfer Vinyl in combination with an Eco-Solvent Printer. Due to the relative cost of the equipment, these are usually produced by specialist printing companies. Although we used to sell them, they are no longer something that we supply due to them being superseded by UltraColour DST transfers which are a superior product.
- Screen-Printed Transfers (Plastisol Ink-Based): Ideal for block-colour designs which can be printed on demand. They’re particularly suitable for medium and high-volume, and have been used by garments printers for several decades. A plastisol ink, the same as used in traditional silk-screen printing, is printed onto parchment paper rather than directly onto the garment. We have a minimum order quantity of 50 transfers of the same design.
- Digital Screen Transfers (DST) (Water-Based Inks With A Powdered Backer): Ideal for full-colour, photo-quality and multi-colour designs in low and high volumes, and are much more economical than digital transfers in large quantities, or plastisol-based transfers in low quanties, particularly multi-colour designs. They’re printed using a CMYK industrial printer which then has a powder adhesive applied to make it suitable for heat transferring onto fabric. We have a minimum order quantity of 50 transfers of the same design.
Direct-To-Garment (DTG) Printing:
These are individually printed directly onto the garment using a DTG printer, and usually of a comparative quality for washability to plastisol inks. They are capable of printing block-colour and full-colour designs in low quantities, but aren’t usually used for high volumes. However, the printer usually costs in excess of £10,000, and the cost of outsourcing is quite high due to the labour involved. In addition, when printing onto darker garments a base White is usually required to ensure the opacity of the design. A pre-treatment of the garment is also usually needed which can leave a residue around the design.
This process is usually used for high volumes and requires a commitment to specific colours and sizes of garments, but is usually the lowest cost method of printing in high volumes.
The inks are printed directly onto the garment via a screen, although synthetic fibres are used these days rather than silk. Once printed, the entire garment is usually passed through a tunnel drier to cure the inks. These are traditionally produced using plastisol inks, but can also be printed using water-based inks by certain printers. They are also suitable for producing tones/shading due to the production method, but limited in producing true photo-quality designs.
Dye sublimation printing is a commonly-used printed method for applying designs onto polyester-based fabrics. A sublimation printer is used to print the design onto coated paper using dye sublimation inks which are then heat pressed onto the fabric using a heat press machine. The inks turn from a solid into a gas state when they are heated, and absorb into the fibres of the garment rather than sitting on top, as would be the case with other heat transfer processes.
This is popular for multi-colour and full-colour designs onto polyester-based sportswear and leisurewear, but takes much longer to heat apply than other processes and requires a white or light coloured garment in most cases.
Applying heat transfers onto sublimated garments can also lead to issues with the inks “bleeding” into a design if another heat transfer process is used. To compensate for this, subli-dye blocking inks or HTV can be used to reduce the risk of this happening.
What Are Heat Press Transfers & Why Use Them?
Custom-made heat press transfers are pre-printed designs which are ready to apply onto fabrics, usually garments such as t-shirts, hoodies and polo shirts, using a heat press machine to bond the design to the fabric. Basically, they’re ink printed onto paper or HTV which can then be applied to clothing using heat from a heat press. They can be applied to almost any type of fabric and we offer a wide variety of finishes, including DST (digital screen transfers) and more traditional, screen-based transfers (plastisol inks).
Custom heat transfers are a popular alternative to silk-screen printing and other fabric printing methods, as it’s a much more cost effective method of printing in low and medium quantities. It also provides the option to print on demand as they are manufactured to be ready to be heat applied directly onto the garment fabric.
You can also achieve special effects, such as photo-quality finishes using digital screen transfers, or a gloss finish on screen-based transfers by using specific cover sheets such as a non-stick cover sheet.
Do I Need A Commercial Heat Press Instead Of A Hobby Press Or Iron?
The three main requirements to successfully apply a transfer are an accurate temperature, time and pressure. A commercial heat press can be calibrated to these requirements and maximise your efficiency, whereas you will not be able to perform anything accurately with a hobby press, such as a Cricut EasyPress, or a domestic iron.
Most Heat Transfer Vinyls and custom heat transfers are manufactured for use with commercial heat presses which are able to maintain a consistent temperature and even pressure which are both something that the Cricut EasyPress struggles to provide due to it being aimed at the hobby market and is rarely used for retail/commercial use. Based on this, if you’re looking to supply the finished goods for retail sale we’d strongly recommend looking at purchasing a commercial heat press to ensure that the heat transfer is properly bonded to the intended fabric.
What Types Of Fabric Can I Heat Apply Onto With Custom Heat Press Transfers?
There are a wide variety of garments fabrics that can be heat applied onto using custom heat transfers, including:
- Polyester (including coated or heavily dyed fabrics)
- Poly/Cotton blends
- Polyester blends
- Nylon blends
The most suitable process would mainly be dependent on whether the design was block colour (solid) or full colour (including tones and shading). In addition, the quantity required would also help to identify the best and/or most cost effective option.
How Much Do Custom Heat Press Transfers Cost?
We don’t have a fixed price list as the cost is unique to the individual job as there being several factors which affect the price, including the following:
- Design type (block colour or full colour).
- Fabric type (e.g. 100% cotton, poly-cotton blend).
- Heat transfer process type (e.g. digital, or plastisol-based).
- Number of colours in the design (for block colour processes).
- Dimensions of the design.
- Quantity required.
If you could provide us with details as to the dimensions of your required design, the fabric type that you intended to apply them to, the quantity needed and a visual of the design, we’d be happy to calculate the costs involved.
Why Buy Custom Transfers From Badgers?
We’ve been supplying custom-made heat press transfers, heat presses and accessories for over 30 years, and we still always aim to provide the best products and service that we can. We have an experienced sales team on hand to offer advice on the best solution to meet your requirements, and how to make them as professional and cost effective as possible. We’re certain that you’re in safe hands based on our knowledge and range of solutions.
To find out for yourself, contact us either by telephone, email or by completing the enquiry form and we’ll do everything we can to provide you with the very best heat transfers and after-sales support possible.
In addition, if confidentially is an issue or concern, based on the range of customers we’ve had in the past, we’re accustomed to signing non-disclosure agreements and would be happy to agree to one if and when required.
How Long Do Custom Heat Press Transfers Last?
Most transfers produced today are made from materials which will normally outlast the life of the garment that it is applied to, providing it has been applied correctly using a heat press machine and washed in accordance with the instructions provided.
All of our custom heat transfers processes have been rigorously tested to ensure that they can withstand at least 50 domestic wash cycles if properly applied, and generic stock samples are available upon request.
How Do I Order Custom Heat Transfers?
The process for ordering heat transfers is usually as follows:
- Quote: We provide a precise quote based on the details provided.
- Artwork: We check that the artwork is suitable to create a high quality heat transfer.
- Proforma: We provide a proforma invoice for payment, usually via BACS.
- Production: Upon payment, the transfers are manufactured and shipped to you.
The best way to start is to contact us either by telephone, email or by completing the simple enquiry form. Once we have the details of what you require, we can advise you of the best process and the costs involved.
In addition, if you aren’t able to provide the artwork in the correct format, we can also help you to choose the correct colours for your design and arrange for artwork to be redrawn, although charges for redrawing may be applicable.
What Is The Maximum Size Of Custom Heat Press Transfers & Can I Group Several Designs Onto The Same Sheet?
The maximum size that we can produce is A3 at 420mm x 297mm. We have produced larger sized transfers in the past, but from our experience we have found that producing them at a maximum size of A3 means that we can ship the heat transfers in an A3-sized box which means the custom transfers arrive safely with you.
Although it’s technically possible to group designs together, it’s often not cost-effective to do so, but we would always explore this option when preparing a bespoke quote for you.
Firstly, we wouldn’t recommend grouping the same design multiple times, as this may not yield the same amount of designs per production sheet. There is also a risk of cutting through the designs when separating them, whereas the cost of guillotining the designs during production is minimal by comparison.
In addition, we’d only recommend grouping similar style jobs together (i.e. block designs or fine detail, but not a mixture of both) to ensure that the correct silk screens are used to achieve the correct balance between opacity and detail. Furthermore, any gang sheet would need to be sent to us laid up as a gang sheet (i.e. provided as finished artwork) as we are a trade supplier and unfortunately we don’t offer artwork services as the trade customers we deal with tend to be able to provide the artwork in a production-ready format.
What Format Does The Artwork Need To Be In?
Depending on the process chosen, we would usually need the artwork as a vector graphic (e.g. .EPS file format) or a raster image (e.g. .JPG file format).
For digital transfers, we’d recommend a minimum resolution of 300dpi (dots per inch) at the size required, ideally using CMYK colours. Alternatively, a vector graphic using CMYK colours would be suitable.
For screen transfers (plastisol based) transfers, we require the design as a vector graphic (e.g. .EPS or .AI file format) with any text saved as outlines. We also need Solid Coated Pantone colour references for specific spot colours. If you don’t have access to Pantone colour charts, we can also help you to choose the correct colours for your design.
If you aren’t able to provide the artwork in the correct format, we don’t offer direct recommendations but many of our customers use Net Digitising (https://netdigitizing.co.uk/artwork-services/), Digitising Mart (https://digitisingmart.co.uk/vectorart.php) or David Sharp (https://davidsharp.co.uk/our-services/) to have block-colour designs, and designs with a limited amount of shading, redrawn as line-based vector graphics.
To clarify what type file formats designs are usually provided in, along with differences between them, the explanations below should hopefully help:
- Raster/Bitmap Images: Traditional image files, such as GIF, JPEG and PNG file formats are created using a grid of pixels. Based on this, if the size of design is increased, the image often becomes pixelated or blurred particularly if it results in a design which is below 300dpi (dots per inch) at the size required. For block-colour screen-based heat transfers, these file formats wouldn’t be sufficient to produce a high-quality design which is why we ask for vector graphics with any text saved as outlines. The reason for converting the text to outlines is to ensure that it’s properly displayed on any computer regardless of the operating system and whether the fonts are installed on it.
- Vector Graphics: Vector graphics, such as Adobe Illustrator (.AI) and Encapsulated PostScript (.EPS) file formats, are a modern graphics standard which describes images as shapes, paths, text, and filter effects. These are compact files and provide high-quality graphics for various uses. You can also magnify their view of a vector graphic without sacrificing sharpness, detail, or clarity. This is due to vector images using geometric forms such as points, lines, curves and shapes (e.g. polygons) to represent different parts of the image as discrete objects, rather than simply a series of different coloured pixels. This means that a vector image remains crisp and clear at any resolution or size.
Do You Offer Any Stock Transfers or Generic Designs?
Unfortunately, we no longer stock transfers due to the limited demand in the UK market. In addition, we don’t offer generic designs as the needs of each customer tend to be too unique to make these viable.
Can You Reproduce Transfers Of Licensed Products Or Copyrighted Designs?
Providing that you can prove that you have the required permissions to be able to replicate a licensed or copyrighted design, we will happily print it for you. Without this legal consent, there is a significant risk of it being deemed as “passing off” which would be committing a criminal offence and sadly this isn’t something that we would be willing to undertake without the necessary permission we deem to be required.
How Long Do Custom Heat Transfers Take To Make?
The turnaround time for despatch would usually be around two working days for most processes once confirmation of the job details, confirmation of artwork and payment have been received.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a method of fast-tracking jobs which are urgent, but we’ll usually do everything we can to accommodate customers that are on a tight deadline.
How Long Does It Take To Apply Custom Heat Press Transfers & What Do I Need To Apply Them?
The application time depends on the custom transfer process and the fabric type it’s being applied to, but as our transfers are usually applied for 10-15 seconds at the specific temperature and pressure specified. This makes their application much quicker than DTG or Sublimation printing, hence the reason why they’re so popular for printing on demand.
We strongly recommend applying all of the heat transfers that we supply with a commercial heat press, rather than a domestic iron, in order to ensure that they are applied at the recommended temperature, pressure and time to ensure a good bond to the fabric.
Either a non-stick cover sheet or release paper are the main accessory that we recommend for heat applying custom transfers. These greatly aide applications by preventing any static from raising the heat transfer when lifting the upper platen. They also help to prevent dyes/inks from sticking to the upper platen.
In addition, we often suggest the following accessories for different uses:
- Non-stick pillows: When printing awkward areas, such as near zips, seams and the rears of shirts, non-stick pillows absorb these to produce an even printing area to apply onto.
- Additional lower heat press platens: All of our Hotronix heat presses have a variety of different shapes and sizes of lower platens which make the placing and applying onto garments much easier. For example, printing a child’s garment on a 40x50cm heat press is much easier with a 15x25cm lower platen.
There are lots of other accessories available, all of which can be seen in the Accessories section of our site.
We hope that our custom transfer guide has been an informative source of help in you choosing the right heat transfer.
To keep up to date with other guides and additional information, please feel free to check out the Heat Transfer Help Guides and Blog section on our website. Topics include heat press machines, custom heat transfers, heat transfer vinyls, heat transfer papers and heat press accessories.
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