How to Print a Picture on a T-Shirt with Iron-On Transfers

Have you ever wanted to start making and selling your custom t-shirts with fantastic designs you know people will love? If so, you've come to a great place to get started. While the process of transferring iron-on designs to a shirt may seem easy, several essential steps go into the process. Each step needs to be done carefully and correctly; otherwise, there is a significant risk that you'll end up ruining the shirt you're trying to customize. Here's what you'll need to understand about the process and how you can be sure you're creating some quality print shirts. 


Critical Factors to Keep in Mind

When it comes to making a decent custom shirt with an iron-on transfer, there are a few critical factors that you need to always keep in mind. This includes shirt color and the type of transfer paper you're going to use. Here are the basics of putting a picture on a shirt:


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


Shirt Color

The color of the shirt is the most significant factor when it comes to ironing on a picture effectively. If you’re not careful with this step, you can end up with an image that’s either too dark or too light on the shirt, making it difficult to distinguish clearly. 


How to Print Pictures on Dark-Colored Shirts

Dark shirts are better suited for showing off lighter-colored images. Lighter colors can more easily pop against a dark background, allowing them to effectively stand out, while darker designs will blend into the shirt and render the design almost invisible. 


How to Print Pictures on Light-Colored Shirts

Dark-colored images are best when put onto lighter-colored shirts. Using a lighter-colored image will likely result in the design getting lost or being challenging to see clearly.


Transfer Paper Choices

Choosing the best type of transfer paper for your project is the second most significant factor in making a quality custom shirt. Always be sure that you read through the specifications of your transfer paper to determine what types of shirt material it can be used on effectively, and remember that shirt color also plays a prominent role in this decision.


When to Use Dark-Colored Transfer Paper

Dark-colored transfers are thicker than light-colored ones and are best for black and other dark-colored shirts. These transfers come with a white backing, allowing white areas of the image to show up on the shirt once you've finished the transfer. However, this means that clear background areas will come out as white on the finished product.


When to Use Light-Colored Transfer Paper

When using a light-colored shirt, be sure to use light-colored, thin transfer paper to help ensure the image's background is as clear as possible. This means that any white in the image will be evident in the finished product, but this shouldn't pose an issue as long as the shirt isn't white.


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Photo Editing for T-Shirts


A smiling man selling his selection of custom iron-on t-shirts.


You must remember to “flip” your image before printing it out onto the transfer paper- especially if the design happens to include text. Not doing this will result in the finished product being a mirror of your original image. Also, remember to trim off excess transfer paper once it’s been printed since anything left will be transferred along with the image.


Related: Top 5 T-Shirts for Sublimation


Ironing Pictures to Shirts

A girl in sunglasses wearing a white t-shirt with an iron-on transfer reading “Dreamer.”


Pick a shirt (be mindful of color!)

When picking a shirt, remember to use dark shirts for light images and light shirts for darker images.


Pick your transfer paper

There are different types of transfer paper to choose from, though inkjet and laser transfer papers are usually the most popular.


Prep your artwork

Flip your image before parenting out to make sure that it doesn’t end up mirrored once you iron it onto the shirt. Remember, this is critical if your image incorporates text as part of the design. You don’t want your words coming out backward, after all.


Print design onto transfer paper and trim

Once the image has been flipped, you can finally print it out onto your chosen transfer paper and trim away the excess.


Related: How To Buy the Right Heat Transfer Paper


Wash  your shirt

Before transferring your image to the shirt, make sure that you’ve taken the time to put the shirt through the wash. This prewash can help prevent the image from being pulled at the edges once the transfer is complete and it needs to be rewashed.


Put the shirt on a flat surface

Using an ironing board or other flat, sturdy surface, place down the shirt and carefully work out any wrinkles with an iron. Make sure the image will be fully touching with fabric; otherwise, it may not come out looking quite right. But that’s also why it’s a good idea to keep a bottle of vinyl remover on hand for your projects.


Peel the backing of the transfer paper

Slowly and carefully pull off the backing of the transfer paper and place it where it needs to be on the shirt.


Use the backing to cover the transfer paper

Once your image has been placed onto the shirt, cover it with the backing of the transfer paper you removed. This backing acts as a sort of parchment paper, but you can also use a soft towel if you accidentally rip or throw away the backing. 


Begin the iron transfer (be gentle!)

Using the heat settings and time recommendations that come along with the transfer paper, carefully start to apply heat to iron on your design. You have to do this carefully, as too much heat can melt the transfer, while not enough heat may not allow the design to adhere to the shirt fully.


Give the transfer paper time to cool completely

Let the design sit for a while, and once it has completely cooled off, you can start to remove the parchment (or towel). Start at the edge of the paper and move quickly and steadily to reveal the image.


Final Thoughts

Designing and making custom shirts is a great way to create unique gifts for friends and family, add a little something special to your wardrobe, and even help you start a small side hustle. If you're thinking of trying it out and are looking for some materials to help you get started, check out the heat transfer products offered by Avance Vinyl.


Do you want to create some specialized custom shirts for your event, business, or just for the fun of it? Check out the top-quality products and resources provided by Avance Vinyl today to learn more.

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