Your complete guide to T-shirt vinyl

A complete guide to creating custom t-shirts and any other crafts involving heat transfer vinyl. Find all iron-on vinyl FAQ right here! For the project tutorial, head to the bottom to be guided step-by-step through the process of applying HTV to a t-shirt.

complete guide to htv

What is heat transfer vinyl?

Heat transfer vinyl, also known as, iron-on vinyl, t-shirt vinyl or HTV, is a special type of vinyl that can adhere to fabric. This is different than adhesive vinyl sheets and rolls, that are sticky from the onset. The adhesive on the vinyl is activated with heat. This vinyl comes in sheets, rolls and packs. When you receive your vinyl, there is a front and a back. The front side is the shiny side- that shiny layer is the carrier sheet which you can peel off after you've ironed your project. The back side is the matte side, and that is the side you will cut when you create your design. It is also the side that has the heat-activated adhesive.

What if I want to make a vinyl craft not on cloth?

If you're looking for a vinyl that can stick to glass, plastic, walls and more, check out adhesive vinyl. Here's a simple guide to using adhesive vinyl. If you're looking to experiment with alternative materials, check out this blog post.

What temperature do you use with HTV?

The type of HTV you're using will help determine the temperature. For this project, I'm using Craftables Smooth HTV, so my iron will have to be between 300-315 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature settings vary for other major brands. For your Craftables heat settings, a handy heat chart is below!


My iron doesn't tell me what temperature it is- what do I do?

My iron doesn't tell me what temperature it's heating up to either! Don't worry, there are ways to figure it out. The first way is to do a test. Use a small scrap of fabric or an old t-shirt and see what happens when you try to iron HTV at different heat settings. With my iron, I have found success using the hottest cotton setting and the lowest linen setting. That probably means the high cotton setting is approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit.You can also also test the temperature of your iron with a high heat thermometer, but be careful not to burn yourself!

What cut settings do you use with HTV?

Luckily, we also have a cut settings chart here! Whether you have a Cricut Explore, Silhouette Autoblade, or older Cricut or Silhouette, we have your cut settings chart. Make sure to pin it for future reference. Also, don't forget that each blade, machine, mat, etc. are all different. Make sure to always do a test cut before jumping to cut your entire project.

What size should my design be?

No matter what you're creating, make sure to always measure your design before cutting. Below is a handy list of sizes that work great for most t-shirt projects. Make sure to confirm these measurements with whatever project you're actually creating is!

  • Adult t-shirt size: 11" x 11"
  • Fitted adult t-shirt size: 9" x 9"
  • Youth t-shirt size: 7" x 7"
  • Toddler t-shirt size: 5" x 5"
  • Baby onesie size 0-3 mo: 3" x 3"
  • Baby onesie size 3-6 mo: 4" x 4"
  • Baby onesie size 6-9 mo: 5" x 5"
  • Baby onesie size 9-12 mo: 6" x 6"
  • Sleeve measurement: 2" x 11"
  • Pocket size: 4" x 4" 

What items can you iron on?

You can pretty much iron on anything that won't melt! For beginners, custom t-shirts, koozys, baby onesies, blankets, pillowcases, tote bags, dish towels, the possibilities are endless! HTV works best on cotton or polyester or cotton/poly blends. Other synthetic fabrics, like acrylic, won't work correctly because they will melt under the heat of an iron. For more advanced crafters, you can apply HTV to mugs, baseball hats, footballs and even wood! For more information on surfaces that take well to HTV, check out this blog post.

What if you don't want to iron it right away?

If you want to wait to iron your project, plan on giving your iron-on decal as a gift, or if you're traveling with it, I would recommend not weeding until you're ready to iron it. If you are giving your decal as a gift and want to weed it first, go ahead and roll it up with a teflon sheet to protect the adhesive background. Then you can tie it with a bow and it's ready to go!

How well does the vinyl stay on fabric after washing several times?

Depending on which type of heat transfer vinyl you're using, iron-on vinyl can last longer than the t-shirt itself!

Always remember to turn your garment inside out and wash it on cold. If you accidentally forget to do either, your project might last up to 6 washes. If that happens and your vinyl becomes bubbly and wrinkly, try ironing it again to get it to lie smooth. And never, ever throw anything HTV in a dryer!

If you're working with metallic vinyl, like Foil, the sheen will start fading after the first wash. If possible, try hand-washing those garments. The pretty shiny finish is worth it!

Is it better to use a heat press or is an iron just as good?

I personally prefer to use an iron. I feel like I have more control and it's often easier to plug in an iron and wait five minutes for it to heat up than to do the same with our clunky, heavy heat press. I also like peeking at my projects as I iron them, which is pretty much impossible to do with a heat press. After talking all that smack about the heat press, I would say if you have access to one, use it! It is actually way easier to get it right every single time with the heat press. Your heat press is also a great tool because it will heat evenly which means no edges of your decal should be peeling after it's pressed. And when we're talking about wasting vinyl and t-shirts if you make a mistake, it's better to just get it perfect in one shot with the heat press.

What other supplies will I need to get started making my own t-shirts?

You will need:

  • A cutting machine
  • An iron or a heat press
  • Weeding tools (a pick is usually fine!)
  • Scissors
  • Cutting mat (optional!)
  • A teflon sheet, or parchment paper, or a thin towel or scrap of fabric
  • An ironing board or heat protective surface
  • Whatever fabric or material you're working with like a t-shirt 

Why do I need to flip my design?

Before you cut your design, you will need to flip it horizontally/mirror it. This is because you're cutting it face down. If you cut it the correct way (plastic side of vinyl down on the mat, with the design mirrored), when you peel up your design and look at it applied to the surface, it should read correctly. It's hard to explain, but you're reversing the negative. Once you do it the first time it will always make sense! Just never forget to flip your design.

If your design does not include text, you don't necessarily have to flip it. Your choice!

Should I pre-wash my fabric?

If you're not in a rush to finish your project, I would definitely recommend pre-washing your fabric! If you're ironing on a t-shirt you just brought home from the store, imagine how dusty that fabric is from the factory it came from. Anything adhesive will always stick better to a clean surface. If you want your HTV to last, wash your garment with detergent and skip the fabric softener! If you've finished your project and forgot to wash, no worries! Your HTV will still stick for a while.

Do I need transfer paper? Do I need a squeegee?

Great news- HTV's carrier sheet acts like transfer paper! So save your transfer paper for your adhesive vinyl. As for the squeegee, you do not need one for HTV!

What if my design has 2 colors?

How fun! Did you know you can cut by color? Check out this post for more on that! The short answer is yes!

How do I use heat transfer vinyl?

Now is the time for the step-by-step tutorial!

Begin by choosing your design. Today I'm making a monogram pocket t-shirt. Make sure to measure the area where you would like your design and keep that size in mind while you're designing your project.

While you're designing and cutting, it would be smart to start heating up your iron or heat press. For the vinyl I'm using, Craftables Smooth, the iron needs to be somewhere bewteen 300-315 degrees Fahrenheit. My iron just has fabric settings and not the actual temperature. If your iron is like mine, go for high cotton setting - low linen setting.

For this project I'm using Silhouette Studio. Open your design in whatever design software you want to work in.

If you're working with an image like I am, go ahead and trace it by clicking on the butterfly button and selecting the area you'd like to trace. Once your design looks alright, click "trace".

trace your image

Right after tracing, mirror your design by finding the rotation icon and clicking one of the horizontal flip buttons.

mirror your image

Delete your original tracing and now resize your design by dragging the boxes on the border of your design in or out. Silhouette Studio will tell you how large or small you're making your design, make sure it's the right size! Measure twice, cut once will save you a lot of time and money!


Now you're ready to cut! Depending on which type of HTV and which machine you're using, your cut settings will vary. Make sure to do a test cut before you cut your design!

Make sure that the vinyl is shiny side down on the mat. Press "load" on your machine. After checking your cut settings, press cut!

The cut settings I used for this design were Silhouette's pre-loaded settings for the autoblade- heat transfer vinyl, smooth.

cut htv blue

Once your design has finished cutting, press "unload" on your machine. Remove your vinyl from the mat.

Now it's time to weed your design. Weeding is the process of removing unwanted vinyl from your design using a pick or any other weeding tools. Take your time and be sure to pull off all unwanted vinyl.

weeding htv blue

If your iron is all heated up, it's time for the big moment! Preheat your fabric with an iron for 5-10 seconds. This step is essential because it evaporates any moisture that could be in your fabric and compromise your adhesive. Now place your vinyl on your project with the shiny side up. If you used text in your design, now you'll know why you were supposed to flip your design horizontally.

place htv on shirt copy

Your decal should be able to stick to your fabric, thanks to the sticky carrier sheet. Make sure to use your teflon sheet, scrap of fabric or parchment paper in between your design and your iron. This protects both your iron and your project. Now you're ready to apply heat. Again, remember to follow instructions specific to your type of HTV. I'm using Craftables Smooth so I'll apply 300-315 degrees Fahrenheit heat at a medium pressure for 10 seconds without a teflon sheet and 15 seconds with a teflon sheet. If you're using a different type of Craftables HTV, make sure to check this chart.

iron htv with teflon sheet

After you're done applying heat and pressure, resist the urge to immediately peel off the carrier sheet! Wait about 10 seconds before doing so. At this point it's way too hot to touch anyway! Once 10 seconds have passed, go ahead and peel up the carrier sheet. If applied correctly, the carrier sheet should peel off easily, leaving behind your design!

peel up htv

Now, if your vinyl looks like it's not completely stuck on your fabric, you can hit your design with heat just one more time before calling this project finished. Cover your design again with the teflon sheet and iron or press it for about 5 more seconds. Just to make sure everything's on there for good! 

And now you're done! I hope I answered all of your questions here. With every project you'll get better and better and soon you'll be a HTV pro!


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