Dear Fellow Crafter,
Let's talk about screen print transfers for a sec. Particularly the actual pressing and care of these items.
First, let me start by saying, screen print transfers are not a one and done product, initially. They do require each user to find their "sweet spot" when it comes to time and temperature. There are entirely too many variables when it comes to each users press and garments to give a set list of instructions and expect those instructions to be universal.
Most of the time, when there are issues with screen print transfers, it is almost always a pressure issue but I wanted to talk to you about all the components that go into getting a good press!
First and foremost - It is highly recommended that you use a commercial grade heat press for these transfers. Many of you have asked about the Cricut Easy Press and some of you have been successful with using this product, but it is not recommended. Unfortunately, the Cricut Easy Press just isn't designed to apply the exact same pressure evenly over the transfer in the way that commercial grade heat presses do. If the Cricut Easy Press works for you and you have not experienced any issues - that is amazing and you keep doing what your doing! But please know that if you choose to use the Cricut Easy Press (or similar) you do run the risk of not having a quality finished product. A home iron WILL NOT work.
The only time you need a teflon sheet is if you have already peeled the paper from the transfer and are going to be applying additional embellishments such as foil or other HTV products. The paper that our transfers are on act like your teflon sheet so one is not needed at all.
I have seen so many times where users are applying the dollar bill test to set their pressure for screen print transfers. Unfortunately this is not accurate and will result in inadequate pressure. The dollar bill test is designed to set medium pressure (around 30 psi) for HTV. Screen print transfers require a ton of pressure - 60-80 psi or in other words, as high as your press will go. It should be difficult to open and close your press if you have one that you have to manually set. Also, everyone has different levels of strength so what could be difficult to open/close to one person can be easy to someone else.
Even if you have dialed in your pressure and it is set to the max, some presses can have uneven platens causing "spotty" areas on the plate of your heat press not press with the same pressure as other spots. This is most often seen in entry level presses such Fancierstudio, PowerPress, and Royal Press. Now, this is not to say that those presses will not work. They are GREAT entry level presses and usually get the job done. But knowing your press is key! If you have these spots, it can be worked around. If you are finding that there is a certain spot on your heat press that doesn't always perform the same way as the rest, you can always rotate and press a second time before peeling your paper.
Another common issue with entry level heat presses, or even very expensive heat presses that have been used for a while, is cold/hot spots. This is where the temperature in certain areas can read +/- 25 degrees or more than what you have your press set to. The simplest way to find out if you have these cold/hot spots is to buy a laser/infrared temperature gun. You can grab these on Amazon for around $25. This should be one of your go to tools in your bag if you own a heat press. And make sure to get one that is "not for humans" 🤣. This can also help you regulate your temp. I have seen so many times where a heat press is set to 325 degrees but is reading 350 degrees or even 285 degrees. Knowing what temp your press is reading versus what it is putting out will help you a ton when trying to find your "sweet spot".
It is important to know that our heat press instructions recommend pressing at 325 degrees for 7 seconds. This is a guideline and a starting point. I personally have a Hotronix Fusion IQ heat press. If you are familiar with these presses, they are extremely expensive. They are built for accuracy and are built to last. My press only requires 325 degrees for 7 seconds and I have never experienced cracking, lifting, or paper being left behind. This does not mean you have to go out and spend a ton of money on a new heat press. But if you are experiencing cracking, lifting, or paper being left behind, then 325 for 7 seconds may not work for you. I suggest increasing time by 3-4 second increments first before increasing your temperature. But, please start with small increments. Do not go straight to 350 degrees for 30 seconds as this could be drastic for your press and you could end up scorching your transfer and/or shirt. Start small.
Screen print transfers have to be peeled HOT. Not warm, not cold. This means you need to peel the paper immediately after you are finished pressing. If the paper resists being easily peeled, do not force it. This is a sign of 3 things - 1) Not enough pressure 2) Not enough time 3) Not enough heat. Try increasing your pressure first. If this is not the issue, try repressing your garment for another 7-10 seconds and try to peel again. If it is still not easily peeling, take the garment out of the press, adjust your press up 10 degrees, wait for it to heat back up and try again. It will not hurt your finished product to let the paper and transfer remain on the garment until your press is ready to use. Also keep in mind, with every press, your heat press will lose about 10-25 degrees and will need a few minutes to heat back up prior to pressing another garment. This is where your temperature gun can come into play.
My suggestion to anyone new to screen print transfers or have experienced issues in the past, to purchase a few $1 transfers, cut them up and start practicing. It is best to put in a little bit of work in the beginning to find the correct time and temp for you and your press because it will save you so much of your sanity in the future. Not to mention $$$ spent on garments.
Now, lets say you have found your "sweet spot". You have your pressure nailed down, you have found the exact time and temp that works for YOUR press, and you have successfully pressed your transfers. Lets talk a little bit about other care factors that go into screen print transfers.
First, you should ALWAYS pre press your garments. This helps remove any moisture in your garment. Moisture in your garment (even if it feels dry) can lead to future cracking. It also helps lay all of the fibers flat so that the ink of the transfer can adhere to your garment better. It also takes out any wrinkles that can mess with your pressure. Also, I cant tell you how many times it has happened to me where I didn't pre-press (with both screen print transfers and HTV) and I noticed that I had a wrinkle right under my transfer after pressing. There is nothing that fixes this with a screen print transfer. You have to throw it away and start over. ALWAYS pre-press. You can pre-press at 325 for about 15-20 seconds.
After pressing, you are going to want to lay your garment flat for 24 hours. This is a curing process for screen print transfers - much like HTV. Do not wash, wear, or fold in the first 24 hours. Just let it rest.
Garment choices - This can play a huge part in your quality end product. Garments from Walmart, Target and other box stores usually have a chemical (to keep the garment fresh, avoids wrinkles etc.) applied to them. This chemical can cause transfers (and HTV) from adhering properly. If you are selling shirts, the best decision is to buy brands that are created to be decorated. Brands such as Bella + Canvas, Gilden, Tultex etc. are the best choices. Also, when using screen print transfers, keep in mind the material content. 100% cotton will always shrink - even if it says it is pre-shrunk, it will shrink a small amount. This is usually never an issue but screen print transfers will show the shrinkage more than other decorating methods. The best possible garment to use is a blend, whether it be 50/50 cotton polyester, 80/20 cotton polyester or some other blend of cotton and polyester. This isn't a necessity but will help avoid seeing the shrinkage. If you hang dry your shirts, you will not notice the shrinkage as much as if you were to put your shirts in the dryer.
Wash instructions - Here is where your preference and general life schedule may or may not take precedent to manufacturer instructions. I'm going to tell you what I do and then I'm going to tell you what the manufacture recommendations are. I have a crazy life! 5 kids, owning a business that is like 2 or 3 full time jobs, husband, animals, adulting.... All of these things do not warrant for a traditional wash/dry lifestyle. ALL of my clothes go into the washer at once (except for whites, and only because my husband is a stickler for that🤣) and then they all go into the dryer. And if we are totally being honest, they may wash or dry a couple of times before they make to the hamper in which they may or may not sit for a few days. I don't use anything special for washing or drying. No special detergent, no special heat settings. And all of my shirts (both HTV and screen print transfer) have been fine. No cracking, or lifting at all. Now, the manufacture recommendations and what I recommend to you is to wash cold with like colors, no bleach or fabric softener, and tumble dry on low or hang dry. IF you are selling your shirts, ALWAYS recommend these instructions to your customers. But if you make shirts for yourself and your life does not warrant those instructions, do not stress. Most likely, your garments will be just fine.
The last thing I want to talk about is tight fitting garments. Screen print transfers are an ink that lays on top of a garment. It is not really designed to be stretched a ton. If you have a garment that is going to be worn by a woman with a large bust, you may want to recommend they size up their shirt or at the very least, have a disclaimer. Areas of garments where screen print transfers are applied that are consistently stretched will crack. There is no way around this. Make sure you are being very transparent with your customers about this as well. If needed, Siser Stretch HTV is a great alternative for this type of use as that product is designed to stretch naturally when worn.
I think I have covered just about everything here... I hope this information helps you and encourages you to try or revisit these products. Once you have dialed in your settings and garment care, I am incredibly confident that you are going to fall in love with this new medium! If you have any further questions, please ask in the comments below and I will do my best to answer them!
Your friend,
Colleen Strona, CEO CSDS Vinyl