Sure, you can buy t-shirts with some great designs already on them. And if you want a whole bunch of personalized shirts (such as for a local drama club or church group) you can find shops that will do shirts in bulk. But what if you want something even more original and maybe only one or two? Do it yourself with an iron-on transfer.
You can create your own custom clothing with absolutely no sewing skills. Decorate t-shirts, canvas bags, and other fabric items with iron on transfers that you design yourself and print from your desktop.
WHAT YOU NEED
There are kits available that give you everything you need, including software and a t-shirt, or you can assemble your own materials. Whichever route you go, here's what you'll need for the typical iron-on style of transfer printed from your desktop printer and applied with a household iron:
- Software (to design your t-shirt or other transfer; see details below)
- Transfer paper
- Iron (or heat transfer press)
- Hard surface (if using an iron)
- Pillowcase or other fabric (if using an iron)
- T-shirt or other item to receive transfer.
Tips and Tricks
When the instructions say you need a HOT iron, they mean it. Here are tips and explanations based on my own experience with creating and applying iron-ons.
Print a Preview
Always, always, always print a preview copy of your image before printing it on the (often expensive) transfer paper. Do this to insure that colors print correctly, that your image doesn't fall into your printer's no-print zone along the margins, and to see what size your design will be (sometimes the on-screen view can be deceiving).
Don't forget to flip or mirror your image. This is especially critical if you have text in your design. The text should be backwards on screen or on the print out. (Another good reason to print a preview copy first!) Some programs do this automatically.
Use the Right Kind of Transfer Paper
If you have a laser printer, be sure to purchase transfer paper specifically for laser printers. Most t-shirt transfer paper is for inkjet printers. Transfer papers for white t-shirts is different from paper for black t-shirts. For example, the Avery Personal Creations Light T-Shirt Transfers are for white and light-colored fabrics. Avery Dark T-Shirt Transfers are specifically designed for dark-colored 100% cotton fabric. Get the right kind of transfer paper for your printer and your fabric.
Use the Right Side of the Paper
Transfer paper has stripes or some other design on the non-printing side. Be sure to put the paper in your printer so that it prints on the clean white side. Not sure how to properly load your printer for transfer paper? Mark a plain sheet of paper then run it through to see which side comes out printed.
White Does Not Print
In designing your artwork remember that WHITE does not print. The fabric will show through any parts of the design that are white. For example, if you print a white ghost on plaid fabric — you'll get a plaid ghost! Plan your design accordingly. As with any desktop publishing project, consider the background color when selecting colors for your designs.
Test on Scrap Fabric
Test your design on scratch fabric of the same type and color before applying it to your final t-shirt or other fabric. Some types of fabric may require more ironing (heat) than others or may not show off your design as well as you expected.
Use Lots of Heat
Use hottest setting on your iron but no steam. It takes a lot of heat to transfer the image evenly and completely to the fabric. Peel off the paper while it is still hot unless you have purchased cool-peel paper. These newer transfer papers allow you to wait up to two minutes before peeling off the backing (check the manufacturer's guidelines) so the paper is cooler to the touch.
Use a Hard Surface
The reason transfer instructions specify a hard surface (such as formica) is because it holds the heat. Ironing boards tend to disperse the heat and the transfer paper needs to be very hot to work properly.
Follow the Manufacturer's Instructions
If, for some reason, you've lost the original instructions for your transfer paper, use the guidelines in this article. However, if you have the manufacturer's instructions and they vary from what I describe, do what the paper manufacturer says. They may provide more exacting instructions for their specific paper on heat level, how long you should iron the transfer, and how long to wait before separating the paper from your fabric.
Design SoftwareYou can use almost any graphics or creative printing program to design iron-on transfers artwork — as well as professional desktop publishing software if you already own it. Ideally the software will have an option to flip or reverse the image for transfer printing or you can manually flip the image in the document. However, there are some t-shirt design software programs designed specifically for creating personalized iron-on transfers for t-shirts and similar projects. Many come with templates you can use to get you started.
Windows Software for T-Shirt Design including Art Explosion T-Shirt Factory Deluxe.
Mac Software for T-Shirt Design including Avery DesignPro.
Other desktop publishing and print creativity software that you can use for creating iron-ons and many other projects includes Serif Page Plus and Print Artist for Windows and Print Explosion and PrintMaster for Mac.
If you already own Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW or similar graphics software, you can use those programs to design your artwork. If you want a free option, consider the GIMP. Just remember to flip the image before printing.
Free ArtworkThe heart of your t-shirt design is the image. You can create original artwork from scratch, customize canned clip art, or use ready-made designs and free images off the Web. Print creativity software, including software specifically for t-shirt design, comes with hundreds, even thousands, of ready-made designs you can use or modify.
Created in remembrance of September 11, 2001, these free iron on transfers include a reverse or mirror version of each for download. (Colorize some free patriotic fonts and use them on some red, white, and blue t-shirt designs.)
These free graphics for iron on transfers are 7 original designs to use alone or mix and match for some scary creations. (Get some free Halloween fonts to use on your Halloween projects too. Add dripping blood fonts or use some of the images in the dingbat fonts for your spooky t-shirt designs.
Michelle Kouzmine of About.com Kid's Fashion has pointers to some sources of fun, free iron on transfers for do-it-yourself fashions.