How to Make Heat Transfer Designs

Design your own custom T-shirts for events and special occasions.
Design your own custom T-shirts for events and special occasions. (Image: Goodshoot RF/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Making your own customized designs for clothing such as T-shirts and aprons can be a recreational project for the entire family. Printing the designs at home allows you to be as creative as you want to be. The designs can be transferred directly onto the desired fabric through a process known as heat-transferring, which is relatively simple and takes little time. Using heat-transferring, decal paper and photo-editing software, you can make your own designs and print decals to create personalized T-shirts or other apparel.

Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Photo-editing software
  • Decal paper
  • Inkjet printer
  • Iron
  • Pillowcase
  • Scissors

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Decal Design

Obtain design software, such as photo-editing software, that allows you to modify and create images as desired. Install the software on your computer by following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Open the desired software by double-clicking on its icon. Open an image in the software by navigating to the “File” menu and selecting “Open". Browse for the image you want and select it by clicking “Open”.

Add effects to the image by navigating to the “Filter” menu and making your selections. Experiment by choosing different effects and applying them to the image until you obtain the desired look.

Make adjustments to the image by adding brightness or changing the hue. Select the "Image" menu and navigate to the "Adjustments" sub-menu. Select "Brightness/Contrast" to open the window, and move the sliders to create the desired effects. Select "Hue/Saturation" to change the degree and intensity of the image's colors. Experiment with other adjustments, such as "Levels," which allow you to adjust shadows and highlights.

Click on the “Text” tool to add text to your image. Click with the tool in the desired position and begin typing. But avoid having too much text with your image. Heat-transfer designs, such as those typically used to decorate T-shirts, usually look best with just a short sentence or a simple word or catch phrase.

Print the image on plain white printer paper to test the design. Make your final changes to the image.

Insert decal paper into your printer. First, remove any additional printer paper from the paper tray. Refer to the decal paper instructions on how to place the paper in the tray as this may vary by brand.

Navigate to the photo-editing software’s “File” menu. Select “Print” to open the “Print” dialogue box. Click on “Print” to print the image on the decal paper.

Decal Application

Cut around the design with scissors. Discard any scrap decal paper you have cut away. Be sure to leave a 1/2-inch border around the design for application.

Allow the iron to heat up to "Cotton," or the hottest setting, with the steam off. Place a folded pillowcase on the desired work area. The work area should be a smooth and sturdy surface that is resistant to heat.

Position the fabric item on the work area. Center the area where you will apply the decal design on the work area.

Place the decal design facing down on the fabric. The design should be facing the cloth, and the back of the decal paper should be facing up.

Iron over the decal paper. Begin in the upper left corner and work your way along the longest edge of the decal for 15 to 20 seconds. Lift your iron off the transfer completely and move to the following area. Overlap the previous area slightly and press the iron down for another 15 to 20 seconds. Repeat the procedure for the various areas of the decal until the entire decal has been covered.

Iron the decal in circular motions with light pressure over the entire surface for approximately two minutes.

Peel the decal while it is still warm for a satin finish. Allow the decal to cool down for three to five minutes for a glossy finish. Begin at the corner of the decal and peel carefully until you have removed the entire decal.


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