/A Beginner’s Guide to Designing Iron-On Transfers
designing iron-on transfers

A Beginner’s Guide to Designing Iron-On Transfers

Home printers are capable of printing in astoundingly high quality, these days. Even the humblest of home design studios can make something worthy of hanging on a gallery wall, or a Beverly Hills boutique. Designing iron-on transfers makes it possible to print rack-worthy garments in your living room.

Take a moment and look around virtual marketplaces like Etsy, and you’ll see that designing transfers to be printed on iron-on paper has come a long way since summer camp in the ’80s.

Designing iron-on transfers doesn’t even have to be for clothing. You’re only limited by your imagination and your design skills.

Which is what we’re here to discuss. We’ve compiled a thorough guide to get you started designing iron-on transfers of your very own.

Designing Iron-On Transfers: What You Need To Know

Personal graphic design software like Photoshop or InDesign is even more versatile and powerful than today’s home printers. You can start a respectable independent business with the tools right in front of you, if that’s your goal.

That also means that everyone else has the same tools and potential. They might be further along, as well. Knowing a few rules of thumb will help designing iron-on transfers stand up to scrutiny and pass the taste test.

To begin with, you should ask yourself a few questions. This will make sure than iron-on transfers are the best choice for your project.

How To Know If Iron-On Transfers Are For You

There are many different ways to get your own images on an article of clothing. Iron-on transfers and screen printing are two of the most common.

Iron-on transfers are part of a larger grouping called heat transfers. Heat transfer is when an image is transferred from the paper to whatever it is you’ll be printing on. Heat transfers may also be accomplished with a heat press, which is a more extreme and pro version of an iron.

To begin, you should ask yourself:

  • How many shirts you’ll be making?
  • How long they need to last?
  • How identical they need to be?
  • Who are they for?

Iron-on transfers are going to be a little imperfect, by nature. If you need exact standardization, you may need to find a heat press. Or you can always hunt down a professional like Masstige Printing.

Decide On Iron-On Transfer Printer Paper

Not all iron-on transfers are equal. Certain types of transfer paper are better for different projects. The kind of transfer paper you’ll be using will have a profound impact when you’re defining iron-on transfers.

Iron-On Transfers For Light Colors

These iron transfer sheets have a transparent background. It makes them the perfect choice if you’ll be designing iron-on transfers for white or light-colored clothing.

All the white in your image will print as clear. This can result in some unexpected imperfections in your image. It’s best to use medium and dolor colors when designing iron-on transfers on this type of transfer paper.

Iron-On Transfers For Darker Colors

Iron-on transfers for darker colors come on thicker paper and have a solid white background. This means there will be a white background to your image, however.

Thicker transfer paper works best when you’re designing iron-on transfers for:

  • Black
  • Blue
  • Gray
  • Brown

If any of your images depends on negative space, you’ll need to crop around the edges in your graphic design software when designing iron-on transfers.

Decide On An Image

It’s best to decide on a medium for settling on an image. Now that you know what you’re printing to, you’ll have a clearer notion of what images will work best for your graphic design.

Darker colors print more vividly. Keep that in mind when deciding on an image. Sharp outlines in bold, darker colors will make the most impact. Think ‘iconic’ when designing iron-on transfers. You want to convey your message as simply and directly as possible.

You’ll also need to decide if you’ll be using custom artwork or not. Working with a quality illustrator will bring your design to life as they listen to and respond to your requests.

If you’re using a stock image, you’ll need to make sure you have rights to reproduction. You can find a wide selection of royalty-free designs on Shutterstock if you don’t feel like designing iron-on transfers yourself.

Decide On Your Design Software

The Adobe Creative Suite is the industry gold standard for high-quality graphic design. If you’ve got Photoshop, InDesign, or Lightroom, you can do pretty much anything.

Not everybody’s going to need all of the bells and whistles of Photoshop, though. Not just anybody can afford the four-digit price tag for the full Creative Suite, either.

You don’t need to have professional design transfer for designing iron-on transfers. For the most part, you’ll just be using it to reverse the image. You could even do that in a word processor if you felt like getting creative.

There are numerous programs made specifically for designing iron-on transfers. Many of them feature custom templates. This makes creating your own iron-on transfers as simple as dragging-and-dropping an image and hitting Print.

Prepare Your Image

Now that you’ve settled on an image it’s time to start getting it ready for the printer. The first step will be to reverse the image.

How To Reverse An Image For Printing An Iron-On Transfer

This first step is the most important part of the iron-on transfer process. It’s also dead simple, once you learn how.

First, you’ll need to open your image in your design software. The next step will depend on what software you’re using.

Most graphic design programs have some version of ‘Edit’ in the pull-down menus. There should be some section to ‘Transform Images’ in a variety of ways. You’ll need to find the ‘Flip Horizontal’ selection.

Voila! You have a mirror image of your image. Now it’s ready for the transfer paper.

Quick Tips For Printing Iron-On Transfers

Design is more of a process than a destination. Everyone’s workflow is going to be a little different. That’s because everyone’s tastes are unique.

Here are some good rules of thumb to keep in mind to help your vision come out clear and strong.

Print Preview Is Your Friend

Whenever you’re printing on a physical material, it’s mandatory to print a test copy. Designing iron-on transfers in the abstract is far different from the constraints of physical reality.

It’d be a shame to waste a bunch of time printing an entire batch of transfers only to find a flaw and have to start over. That’s not even to mention the wasted money and resources.

Make Sure To Print On The Right Side

Iron-on transfers have stripes on the side not used for printing. Make sure to load the paper into your printer so it’s on the pure white side. If you’re not sure which direction your printer prints, run a test with regular printing paper.

Test On Extra Fabric

Printing is a unique mixture of chemistry and natural sciences. Once you’ve got your image perfectly laid out on your transfer paper, you’ll still need to see how it comes out on your garment.

Don’t waste a whole shirt on your test run. You might end up running short if you only have enough for your initial batch. Or it could just be a waste of money. Both can be avoided by simply testing your transfer on a spare scrap of cloth.

Use Plenty Of Heat

Set your iron to its highest setting. Make sure there’s no steam, however. Lots of heat makes your image transfer as cleanly and cohesively as possible.

You’ll need to peel off the backing from your transfer paper while still hot unless you’re using cool-peel paper. This innovation lets you wait up to two minutes to peel off the backing. The transfer paper is cooler to the touch and less likely to burn your fingers.

Use A Flat, Hard Surface

Ironing boards tend to disperse heat. Iron-on transfers need direct heat to print correctly. You can place a pillowcase or some other fabric over the hard surface to protect it.

Follow The Instructions

Each type of iron-on transfers has its own rules. Make sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions before beginning your printing project in earnest. They’ll give you particulars on how high to set your heat and how long to leave the iron-on.

Get Creative!

Custom iron-on transfers are your chance to show off your inner self to the world. The sky is the limit. Don’t limit yourself to only printing t-shirts. Pillowcases and wall hangings can make for stunning custom designs as well.

Follow these steps when designing iron-on transfers and you can create garments and household objects straight out of your own imagination. There is nothing more thrilling than seeing your ideas come to strutting, strolling life!

Want More Design Tips And Tutorials?

Great graphic design lets your present yourself how you want to be seen. It’s the bridge between you and your audience. Check out the rest of our graphic design blog posts and become a graphic design wizard!