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Heat Transfer 101: The Basics of Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat Transfer 101: The Basics of Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat transfer vinyl is used for adding vinyl to fabric surfaces.  From custom t-shirts to bags and even shoes and more!  If you can iron it, you can add heat transfer to it.  I created 12 exclusive heat transfer designs to show you how versatile this material can be.  Let’s make a shirt and I’ll show you all about heat transfer vinyl (HTV):

all i need is a whole lot of crafting and a nice glass of wine shirt

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is a little different than adhesive backed vinyl.  To learn more about adhesive backed vinyl (“regular vinyl”), check out our 12 Exclusive Craft-e-Corner Vinyl Designs, Projects & Inspiration here.

One of the easiest beginner projects for Heat Transfer Vinyl is to make a shirt.  We’ll make a shirt today using one of the 12 Exclusive Heat Transfer Vinyl Designs I created just for Craft-e-Corner.  Learn all about the designs here:

12 HTV designs

When you open this file, you will see this:

all i need is crafting and

The file has two saying to choose from.  “All I need is a whole lot of crafting and a nice glass of wine” and “All I need is a whole lot of crafting and a huge cup of coffee.”  I don’t know about you, but I have felt this way more than once!  I thought it would be a perfect saying for one of our 12 heat transfer designs!

For my shirt, I am going to choose the left saying.  Each design is grouped together, so I moved the coffee saying off to the side (you can also delete it if you wish).  I decided to make my designs 12 inches long, which required resizing the design a little.  When you click on the design, a box will appear around the design.  Drag the corner of the box to make your design larger or smaller without distorting the image:

how to resize design

Next we need to flip the design and turn it so it’s at the top of the mat (using less HTV).  To flip the design, right click and select “Flip Horizontally”:

Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 12.19.03 PM

Note: which way you flip your design will entirely depend on which way it is facing.  If it is up and down, flip it horizontally.  If it is sideways, flip it vertically.  Your goal is to make your design appear backwards on the screen.

Never forget to FLIP a design again, click here for a free reminder cut file!

Once the design is in reverse, we can move it to the top.  Make sure your design fits within the red cut border:


One last thing to check before cutting, double check your cut settings.  Go to your Cut Settings Window and double check that you are set to cut with heat transfer vinyl (smooth):

smooth heat transfer cut settings

Now that our file is ready to cut, let’s look at the heat transfer vinyl more.

Heat transfer vinyl (usually) comes on a carrier sheet.  The carrier sheet is sticky and holds the vinyl in place while you cut.  It also aids in transferring the vinyl to your project surface.  The SHINY side of HTV is the carrier sheet, the dull side is the adhesive.  When cutting HTV, cut SHINY side down:


Some heat transfer has a white (or other color) adhesive side, but it is usually the same color as the vinyl, just duller in color.  If you are uncertain which side is the vinyl and which side is the carrier sheet, you can peel the corner of the sheet and see which side is clear plastic when you peel the two layers apart.  The clear plastic side is the carrier sheet and it should always be face down when cutting (facing your machine).

When cutting heat transfer vinyl, you can cut with or without a cutting mat.  I usually use a cutting mat because it helps stabilize the vinyl and prevent slipping:IMG_6855

If you are cutting with a cutting mat, ensure that there is a cutting mat in your file in Silhouette Studio.  If your file does not already have a cutting mat, go to the Mat Settings Window and add one (or remove it if you plan on working without a mat).  To learn more about your cutting mat and how to turn it on and off in Silhouette Studio, check out our post about The Silhouette Cameo Mat: All you need to know (and more!).  

Load the vinyl into your machine.  Line the edge of your vinyl or mat up with the blue line on your machine:

Line up your vinyl

Next, cut the design.  When the design has been cut, unload your mat or vinyl and then remove the excess vinyl (weed):

Weeding heat transfer vinyl.

A hook or pick tool is helpful when removing smaller details:


Once you have the entire design weeded, you should be left with your design on the sticky carrier sheet.  Fold the carrier sheet in half and make a small crease in the middle at the top and bottom of your design.  It’s okay if you fold the vinyl too, it will flatten when you iron it.  Make sure you fold the NON sticky sides together:IMG_6859

Next, fold your shirt in half length wise and iron it down the middle, creating a crease.  Line the notches in your carrier sheet up with the line you ironed on your shirt:

iron middle

Next, move your shirt over to your heat press or ironing surface.  The carrier sheet is sticky on the back so it will hold in place your shirt:


Cover your project with a teflon sheet or, in my case, a thin flower sack towel:


You want to make sure you cover the design, vinyl will melt if touched with a hot iron! Next, press the design.  I am using my heat press:


If you do not have a heat press, no worries!  Crank your home iron up basically as hot as it will go and make sure you do not use steam!  Once the iron is heated, cover your design and press down firmly on your design.  Hold the iron in place for 10 seconds then move to the next section.  Continue the process until you have ironed over the entire design.  Once your design has been pressed, you can peel off the carrier sheet:

Peel off carrier sheet.

Note: Some heat transfer is cold peel and some is hot peel.  That means that some HTV requires that you let the design completely cool before removing the carrier sheet.  If you’re not sure what type of HTV you have, you can try peeling the edge of your design and see if it adheres to the shirt.  If it does not, let it cool completely.  Once it has cooled, try peeling it again.  If it still does not release from the backing sheet, try pressing again.  This HTV is hot peel, so I was able to peel it up as soon as I opened my heat press.

Heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is great for personalizing your own shirts, bags and more.  It is a versatile material!  I love my new shirt!  I hope you enjoyed this tutorial!


Thanks so much stopping by! The Craft-e-Corner team loves to make things and we want to share that love with you! Whether you're browsing for inspiration or in need of technical assistance, we're here to help. Contact Us for personalized assistance from one of our craft experts.

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Cathy Poe - August 17, 2020

Hi there! Just an odd question. Say a friend wants me to just give her the iron on and she’ll iron the image onto her shirt. Unfortunately, if I have to weed anything, it’ll obviously be sticky. What can I cover the sticky side with so she can just pull it off when she’s ready to use it?

Courtney - March 2, 2020

My question is, if you are not using a whole sheet to do your project. How do you go about cutting the image without it cutting through to the protective film sheet? I have an older cricut expression and not the new ones yet. Was wondering how to go about it. Thank you

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