How To Print On Transfer Paper For T-shirts

People who are already in the t-shirt printing business know the importance of transfer paper. In this guide, we are going to explain how to print on transfer paper for t-shirts in detail for novices or anyone who wants to start his own t-shirt printing business.

The step-by-step guide will walk you through the whole process. We hope that you would be able to practically apply this knowledge no matter you want to print t-shirts as a hobby or a profession.

What is Transfer Paper?

Transfer paper is the most crucial part of t-shirt printing, particularly if you also do heat processing. You have to print your designs on these special papers before transferring them to t-shirts.  Similarly, you have to print and test the designs on the transfer paper for stunning results.

Keep in mind that you can use transfer paper to transfer your design to bags, cotton, aprons, pillowcases, tablecloths, and even on hard surfaces such as wood. Similarly, you can also use them to create beautiful tattoos. The applications of the transfer paper are simply limitless but it is most commonly used for t-shirts and other types of clothes.

Types of Transfer Paper

Transfer paper plays a crucial part in making your t-shirts beautiful. Therefore, you must know its different types. Most people believe the effective transfer of the design depends on the quality of ink used while printing. In reality, it is the paper type that determines how effective the transfer is.

The main types of transfer paper are as below.

Light Transfer Paper

As the name suggests, these papers have extremely light colors such as white, baby pink, light blue, and others. As such, you use them to transfer graphics to t-shirts with light colors, preferably of the same color for more accurate and vibrant images. You also have to use translucent ink that is only visible on light-colored fabrics on these papers.

Dark Transfer Paper

Dark transfer papers transfer images, graphics, and text to t-shirts with darker colors. Colors of darker fabrics tend to show through the images. Therefore, you have to transfer the ink to a white background, preventing the fabric colors to be visible through the image.

How to Print on Transfer Paper for T-shirts?

Transfer paper printing involves a lot of steps and we going to explain them in the form of simple instructions. They are easy to follow even for beginners and those who want to improve their t-shirt printing skills.

Step One: Get the Right Heat Press Machine

The first step is to get a heat press machine if you want to print on a transfer paper. It is easy to find the machine but finding the right one is a bit tricky. Don’t go for the first or the cheapest machine you see in the store.

Whether or not the machine is of any use depends on the type of projecting you are working on. You must also consider temperature and heat-press time while choosing a heat press machine.

However, the two main determinants when you are looking for a heat press machine are:


You need to keep the size of the image in mind? Are you printing the small size, medium, or larger size on the transfer paper? You will be able to choose the right press machine if you have a good idea about the size of the image.

Generally, heat press machines come in three sizes.

  • Small heat press machines that are ideal for a few letters or small designs
  • Medium/standard machines for medium designs
  • Big heat press machines for larger designs

The Design

Just like the transfer paper, heat press machines are also available in different styles, designs, and types. Each of these types and designs has unique features and functions that determine if you can use a certain machine for the project you are working on.

The most popular designs for heat press machines are swing away, slideout drawer, clamshell, and malfunction. All of them offer different functionalities and flexibilities that you can add to your design. However, swing away is the ideal option for making your designs more versatile.

Step Two: Choose the Suitable Fabric

The second step is to choose the right fabric for your design. The quality of t-shirts largely depends on the type of fabric you are printing on. You cannot apply heat on all kinds of fabrics and you have to use heat for the transferring images.

Therefore, it is necessary to choose the transfer paper that is compatible with heat such as polyester, cotton, spandex, nylon, and Lycra, etc. You must avoid synthetic materials as well as thin and melting fabric because they cannot work with heat press machines.

Step Three: Choose the Right Transfer Paper

We have already discussed that the color of the fabric and the type of transfer paper play a major part in creating the final design. Most people commit the cardinal sin while choosing the transfer paper. Not all transfer papers are created equal. You have to do a lot of research on transfer papers because they have to match your design, fabric, and even printer.

The two most common types of transfers are laser and inkjet and they are not the same. You cannot use an inkjet transfer paper on a laser print and vice versa. However, this is a very common practice that ultimately results in poor design and quality of the end product.

Generally, you have to observe the following rules.

  • Inkjet printers and ink only work with inkjet transfer papers.
  • Laser printers only work with laser papers.
  • You don’t have to do anything with heat transfer vinyl. They come printed with a design that you just have to cut and then paste and print.

As mentioned above, there are also different types of transfer papers for light and dark fabrics. It is not advisable to use light transfer paper for darker fabrics or the other way around.

Step 4: Preparing the Graphics

After choosing the right transfer paper, fabric, and heat press machine, you have to design your graphics. It is the most exciting part of the whole process. The graphics may include everything from images, logos, text, artwork, and anything else you want to print on transfer paper and later on the t-shirt.

It is rather easy to make a design if you have a good computer and know how to use Adobe Illustrator, Coral Draw, or any other design software of your choice. You can create beautiful graphics that you want to print on the t-shirts using these software.

Some of you may not have enough time or knowledge about these software. However, you need not worry because you can easily hire a freelance graphic designer to make the graphics for you.

Step Five: Print Your Design on Transfer Paper

Now, it is time to print your design on the transfer paper. Printing on a transfer paper is exactly similar to printing on regular paper. However, don’t forget to print on the coated side of the transfer paper only.

Once you get the prints, check out things like colors, margins, size ratio, and how the design will appear on the t-shirt. Try to correct the mistakes if you find any in the samples. Keep on making changes and printing as many samples as possible till you get the perfect design you are looking for.

It is also important to reverse the image before you print on the transfer paper, especially for light transfer papers.

Step Six: Test the Design on the Fabric

Once you have created the immaculate design, it is time to test how it looks on the t-shirt. That is why you need to get a larger number of transfer papers. Similarly, you can test the design on old fabrics and t-shirts.

Once again, you can make the necessary changes after reviewing the samples. Also, seek opinions from other people and incorporate them into your design. This will help you come up with a fantastic as well as a perfect design.

Step Seven: Print the Shirt

If you think you have got your ideal design, you must proceed to print it on the t-shirt. First of all, adjust the temperature, pressure, and time of the heat press machine according to the type of fabric you are using. Most heat press machines come with a manual explaining how to perform the above tasks.

Now, place the transfer paper on the shirt. Ensure that the printed side is touching the shirt not the heat press machines. Also, place the paper exactly where you want to print the design on the t-shirt. Now place the Teflon on the top of the transfer paper to protect the fabric from the immense heat. The transfer paper should not slip off the shirt as well otherwise it will ruin your print.

Transfer the design onto the shirt by pressing the machine. It is better to place cardboard between the two sides of the shirt to prevent the ink from seeping to the other side.

Remove the shirt and give it enough time to dry before folding and packing.

Common Mistakes while Printing on Transfer Paper

People commit a lot of mistakes while using heat transfer machines or printing on transfer paper. You can make your work stunning, spotless, and complete by avoiding these mistakes. Some of these errors are:

  • Not using the right type of transfer paper according to the fabric color and type of printer.
  • No mirroring or reversing the design before printing on the transfer paper.
  • Not printing on the coated side of the transfer paper.
  • Not testing the design on the transfer before printing the t-shirt to make necessary adjustments.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.    Can you use a regular printer for transfer paper?

You can use an ordinary inkjet printer to print on transfer papers. Most of the inkjet printers and inks are compatible with transfer papers. Similarly, you can print on transfer paper the same way as a regular paper without changing anything.

2.    How do you use transfer paper?

Check out the following video from Scribble to learn how to design and print on a transfer paper.

3.    Which side of the transfer paper do you print on?

You must always print on the coated or uncolored side of the transfer paper. Never print on the colored side. Also, make sure the paper is straight at the leading edge not bent or curled.

4.    How do I print my logon on clothing?

You can print your logo on clothing using transfer paper and a standard inkjet printer. You will design your logo on the computer, print it on the transfer paper, and then transfer it to the clothing using a heat press machine.

Final Thoughts

Buy now, you have a good idea about how to print on transfer paper using a standard printer. Frankly, it is not difficult at all to print designs on t-shirts using transfer paper. The information can be overwhelming for beginners but you can focus on essential points only. Mastering the whole process requires you to be vigilant and persistent though.

We have tried our level best to make the guide as simple as possible to understand. We have not used any technical terms of jargons. Therefore, it is suitable for beginners and professionals alike.

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