Layering HTV: A Beginner's Guide

A girl wearing a black layered heat transfer vinyl shirt reading “Journey.”

People love making fun and unique custom t-shirt designs through heat transfer vinyl (HTV), but by layering HTV, you can create even more detailed designs that are sure to turn some heads. The process of HTV layering is a little more intensive than non-layering, however. That’s why people must understand how to do it effectively to create the most eye-catching designs possible.   

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The Basics of Layering Heat Transfer Vinyl: What Can & Can’t Be Layered

Before getting started on the HTV layering process to create your DIY custom t-shirts, there are four basic rules that people need to understand. These rules determine what types of heat transfer vinyl can be used together and how to create the best possible product. Pay close attention to these factors, and be sure to keep them in mind going forward. Otherwise, you may end up with a t-shirt design that’s falling off the fabric the second you put it on.

  1. Can regular heat transfer vinyl be layered?

Regular (otherwise known as smooth or basic) heat transfer vinyl can be layered up to four times to create four distinct layers.

  1. Can glitter heat transfer vinyl be layered?

Glitter heat transfer vinyl can only be layered on top of regular HTV. You cannot layer glitter HTV over another layer of glitter HTV because they won’t adhere to each other correctly.

  1. Can specialty heat transfer vinyl be layered?

There is a wide range of specialty heat transfer materials, including metallic, flocked, holographic, and more. These specialty materials can only be layered on regular heat transfer vinyl, similar to glitter HTV. Specialty layers can’t be layered over other specialty layers or glitter HTV because they won’t properly adhere to each other.

  1. Can you use an iron-on base for regular heat transfer vinyl?

No, you cannot use a specialty iron-on as a base because nothing will adequately adhere to it. Regular HTV should be used as a base for glitter and other specialty HTVs but only up to two laters because of rules 2 and 3 noted above.

Related: Summer Shirt Ideas Using Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat Transfer Layering Supplies

A man wearing a white heat transfer vinyl shirt reading “OutCast.”

When it comes to the DIY t-shirt HTV design process, people will need to collect a small range of specialty supplies before they can get started. These supplies include:

  • Regular heat transfer vinyl
    • Metalic OR glitter heat transfer vinyl (depending on your preferences and intentions for the design)
    • An iron
    • A cutting mat
    • A cotton t-shirt, dress, or another clothing item 
    • A Circut maker
    • Vinyl remover (optional, but recommended for first-timers to correct potential mistakes)

    Would you like to create some unique shirts, bags, or other clothes with your very own heat transfer vinyl design? Take a look at the various tutorials and range of top-notch products offered by the experts at Avance Vinyl and learn what they can do for you today.

    Layering Heat Transfer Vinyl: A Basic Three-Step Process

    A man wearing a white layered heat transfer t-shirt reading “Outcast Clothing.”

    Though the layering HTV process is slightly more involved than the standard heat transfer process, it’s still relatively straightforward. It only requires three basic steps to complete, along with about an hour of your time (or less, if you’ve had some HTV layering experience before). Please note that you will need to download at least the free version of the Design Space software onto your computer. 

    Related: How To Remove Heat Transfer Vinyl

    Step 1: Setting Up The Design

    First, find the design you would like to layer onto a t-shirt or other article of clothing and open it in the Design Space canvas. You’ll then need to carefully scale the image to fit correctly on your chosen piece of clothing. Once the design is scaled, click on the “make it” button, and it will take you to another window where you will need to turn on the “mirror” setting for each mat. Designs need to be mirrored by the program; otherwise, they will look backward when you finish adhering the design. Select the “iron on” setting as the cutting material before clicking “continue” to proceed with step 2.

    Step 2: Cutting and Weeding Your Vinyl

    Because heat transfer vinyl is meant to be cut in reverse, you’ll have to place the HTV sheet on the cutting mat with the shiny side facing down. From there, line the mat up carefully between the guides and press the “load” button. You’ll need to continue cutting and loading until each layer of your chosen design has been successfully cut out. Once the cutting process is completed, the last part of step 2 involves gently removing the excess vinyl from around the cut designs.

    Step 3: Iron-On Your Images

    Finally, now that all of your designs have been fully prepped, it’s time for the layering and heat transfer process to begin. To start, take the part of the design that should serve as the bottom layer of the HTV, and apply it to the shirt using an iron or specialized HTV heat press. To do this effectively, you’ll want to apply pressure to the design for approximately 20 seconds. Once heat pressed, you must leave the design to cool for a few minutes to ensure that it has fully adhered to the clothing before gently removing the carrier sheet.

    Next, you’ll need to carefully apply the second layer of the design by placing it in the correct position over the design of the first layer. Once it’s in the appropriate position, use the heat press or iron to apply pressure for another 20 seconds to adhere the second layer to the first one. Let the design cool again before removing the carrier sheet. Also, keep in mind that you can do multiple layers at a single time as long as the carrier sheets don’t overlap. Continue adding each layer and pressing them until you have finished the design.

    Additional layers of specialized heat transfer vinyl, like metallic and glitter, can then be added on top of the regular layers for an added bit of flair. Just be careful to cover the parts of the design you are not adding more layers to and use the tip of your iron to prevent the already applied HTV layers from melting. Once all of the needed layers have been attached, turn the clothing inside out. Then, press the inside of the design with your iron for between 20-30 seconds. This extra step will help the vinyl layers adhere to the fabric more smoothly. Congratulations! You’ve just completed your first DIY layered-HTV project.

    Is there a special event you want to create a memorable DIY vinyl shirt for? Check out the top-quality products and expert resources provided by the heat vinyl pros at Avance Vinyl today to learn more.

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