How To Use Heat Transfer Vinyl [Buyer's Guide]

How To Use Heat Transfer Vinyl With a Cricut, Silhouette, or by Hand

1. Cut Files: What Are They?

A cut file is a design that you want to cut out from vinyl and put onto a shirt, bag, or other surfaces. SVG is the most common type of cut file, but depending on the software you’re using, you might also end up seeing files like; .Studio, .png, .jpg, or .dfx. SVG files are often preferred because they work with the software of most cutting machines.

2. Where to Get Cut Files 

Cut files can be found in many places online, both for free and for purchase. Shops like Amazon and Etsy offer a wide selection of different cut files for sale, and you can find many free designs that are ready and easy to use on Pinterest. Feel free to browse various shops and sites to find a decal that’s perfect for your next vinyl project.

3. Preparing Your Cut Files

If you have a specialized cutting machine (such as a Silhouette or Circut) for vinyl transfer projects, send the design that you want to use to the machine. If you don’t have a cutting machine, you can also choose to cut out your heat transfer vinyl designs by hand. Make sure you have a pair of strong, sharp scissors to use if this is the case.

Related: Avance Vinyl Tutorials

4. Scale & Mirror Your Design

Once you know what design you’d like to use, you need to measure the surface of the shirt or bag you’ll be transferring the design onto. Adjust the size of your design accordingly on your computer, and then flip the design horizontally to create a mirror image of the decal. Flipping the decal is very important, and if you forget this step before transferring your design, the image will appear to have been put on backward.

5. Cut Out Your Cut Design From Heat Transfer Vinyl

grey shirt with eagle logo

Now that you have scaled and mirrored your design, you can begin to either load your heat transfer vinyl decal into your cutting machine or prepare yourself to cut it out by hand.

Do you want to create some funky shirts or bags with your own heat transfer vinyl design? Check out the tutorials and products offered by Avance Vinyl and learn what they can do for you today.

6. Put Cut Design on HTV Cutting Mat

Whether you have a cutting machine or will be cutting out the design by hand, you’ll need to use a cutting mat. Put the HTV glossy side down onto the mat so that you’ll be cutting the design on the matte side. You should be cutting on the backside of the vinyl where the heat-sensitive adhesive is located.

Related: Heat Transfer Vinyl Regular Colors

7. Adjust Your Settings and Cut

If you’re using a cutting machine, adjust the settings to work optimally with the particular type of heat transfer vinyl you will be using for the project. Feel free to practice with the machine and do some small test cuts to make sure you’re using the optimal settings, especially if you’re working with new material. Once you’ve made sure that you’re happy with the cut settings, you can load the machine with your cutting mat- being sure to keep the vinyl shiny-side down- and start cutting.

8. Remove Excess Vinyl

The next step involves “weeding,” or removing excess vinyl from around your design so that it won’t be transferred onto the final product.

How To Keep From Wasting Vinyl

You can use scissors to cut around the design if it is considerably smaller than the piece of vinyl that you cut it from. This allows you to save vinyl pieces and use them in future projects.

Tips For Removing (Weeding) Heat Transfer Vinyl

Having the right tools for weeding your vinyl is essential, and you have a wide selection of options to choose from. Weeding hooks, tweezers, straight pins, and craft knives are all useful for this part of your project. You can also use a Circut hook or Silhouette hook if you have either of those cutting machines and enjoy the brand.

You can hold the cut piece of vinyl up to a light or window to help you see the lines and start cutting them carefully using whatever tool you prefer. Start by removing the excess vinyl from around the design, and then extract pieces from inside letters and other design details. Turn it over when you’re done to get a sense of how the design will look after it’s transferred to the final product. 

9. Transfer Design With an Iron

Shirt with sunflower design

Using an iron, add heat and pressure to transfer your decal onto a shirt, bag, or whatever other items you want to put it on. If you plan on doing a lot of work with heat transfer vinyl, you may consider investing in an Easy Press or basic heat press.

Related: Avance Vinyl Supplies for Crafting

Where and How to Iron

Plug your iron in using the cotton setting with the steam turned off. Use a flat surface, like an ironing pad on a sturdy table, to carefully transfer your image. Position the design on your surface with the transparent plastic carrier sheet on top. Press down the iron and apply pressure to each section of the design for between 10-20 seconds. Ensure you read the instructions for the materials you’re using, as some products require less time and heat. Move your iron around if it has holes in the bottom to ensure the whole design receives the necessary heat and pressure.

Slowly and carefully peel off the carrier sheet so that the vinyl doesn’t start coming off. Replace the carrier and cover sheets if more heat and pressure are needed. Flip the project inside out or upside down and apply more heat and pressure to ensure a reliable application. Let the adhesive settle for at least 24 hours before washing and drying (hanging or tumble dry low).

Congratulations! You now know everything you'll need to begin your first HTV project.

Are you looking to creates some specialized custom shirts for your business, event, or just for fun? Take a look at the products and instructions offered by Avance Vinyl to learn more.

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