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How To Print On Transfer Paper For Shirts: 8 Easy Steps

Once upon a time, there was a guy that lost his grandma. He wanted a few t-shirts to be printed with her photo for the family to wear at her wake. Unfortunately, he found a novice (Me) working the counter. I didn’t know a cost-effective and quick way to do it. That day, I passed up the opportunity to make a quick $80 simply because I didn’t know how to print on transfer paper.

After a little research, I learned that; Transfer paper is a medium on which you can print images that you can later transfer to a fabric or surface with a heat press. Such a paper is highly compatible with inkjet printers. So, transfer paper is all I needed to transfer an image and other vibrant graphics to a t-shirt.

I was more surprised at how easy it is to use transfer paper – Even someone with little prior knowledge of printing and heat press technologies can dive into it! Since then, transfer papers have become a significant part of my print process.

It’s economical, quick, and easy, especially for no-bulk orders that would be unjustifiably expensive to use screen printing.

In this short article, you’ll find everything you need on how to print on transfer paper. This knowledge will help you, regardless of whether you are a hobbyist or are looking to improve your t-shirt printing business’ service delivery capacity.

Let’s get started before I get ahead of myself……

What is Transfer Paper?

Most people believe that the ink they use is what makes graphics printed for heat transfer “pop’. I think there’s ‘some’ truth to it. So, it makes sense to learn a little about transfer papers to know what you should get for a particular project. But, your priority should go to getting the right transfer paper for your project.

Different Types of Transfer Papers and Their Uses

Light Transfer Paper

As the name hints, light transfer paper comes in light-colored shades. Most of the light transfer papers available on the market are white, peach, pink and other soft or light colors. So you can use translucent inks that wouldn’t appear prominently if printed dark-colored fabrics.

I use them when preparing heat transfers for similarly colored garments or surfaces.

Dark Transfer Paper

We have dark transfer paper on the opposite side of the color wheel. What can I use them for? Your guess is right if you said, “Transferring graphics to dark-colored fabrics or surfaces.” They make your job less complicated.

I like how they have a white background that helps block out the colors. That way, I can see all the details clearly as I lay them down on a heat press. So there’s a lower margin of error and wastage of materials when you use dark transfer paper for the right reason.

Heat Transfer Vinyl

Heat transfer vinyl is mostly used to add elaborate textured decorations to your t-shirt printing and transfer process. Most types of HTVs aren’t printable. But, you look hard enough you can find one that allows you to print on transfer paper correctly.

Inkjet Transfer Paper

It helps to think of Inkjet transfer paper as your garden-variety heat transfer media. Their availability and ease of use make them cost-effective solutions for one-off projects. That’s why they are easy to use in your business or at home.

I usually use them with an inkjet printer, but they are also compatible with laser printers. You can use them on cotton or cotton blended fabrics. I’ve also had excellent results on synthetic fabrics.

Heat Transfer Paper

Heat transfer paper is a thin wax-coated paper that contains pigments. You use them to make a quick print that you can transfer to a garment or surface. I always have them around because they work well with ceramics and pottery tasks. And, you can use them on any heat-press machine regardless of size or style.

Laser Transfer Paper

Laser transfer papers are made especially for CLPs (color laser printers). You can also use them with CLC (color laser copiers). This means you can print an image or logo for heat transfer using a dry toner or fuser oil. So, you can print transfers at your office, provided it’s not a black and white copier.

They’re more types of transfer papers on the market. But, this shortlist will help you get off to a good start.

Now you know the right transfer paper for your project. Let’s talk about printer compatibility.

Printing on Transfer Paper for T-Shirts in 8 Easy Steps

Step 1: Choosing the Right Heat Press Machine

Adjustable pressure, press times, average cost, and temperature ranges are essential to selecting the right heat press machine. But, your ideal machine should check a few more boxes. This is because even the best heat press machine for small businesses may not grant you the tactical flexibility to handle diverse projects.

Here are 2 more aspects to look for in a heat-press machine that will serve you for any heat press printing task:


Before acquiring a machine that will serve my business goals, I first ask, “what image size am I printing today?” This is because the size of a heat press machine determines how big or small I can go with my t-shirt prints.

These are the options:

  • A Small heat press machine: can come in sizes 5”x5”, 6”x8”, 9”x12”, 11”x15” 12”x15′
  • A Standard heat press machine: gives you a wiggle room of 15”x15”, 16”x15′, 16”x20”, 16”x24”
  • A Large press heat machine: comes in sizes 20”x32”, 32”x40” and 40”x48.

Style & Designs

Heat press machines come in different types, styles, and designs. Each design offers unique features and functionality. So you can choose one depending on what you want to achieve.

The 4 main options include:

  • Clamshell
  • Swing Away
  • Slide-out Drawer
  • Malfunction

Step 2: Settling on the Ideal Fabric

Choosing the right fabric for heat press transfer printing is a precise and simple art. The heat and pressure tolerance has to be just right! For instance, synthetic material, thin fabrics, or anything that melts won’t work well with your heating press machine. And you can also damage the finer qualities of microfiber garments.

Fret not, my guide to choosing the right printing method for every fabric will help make this an easy decision for you to reach.

The following fabrics will work well with any heat press machine regardless of size or form factor:

  • Cotton
  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Spandex
  • Lycra

Step 3: Settling on the Right Type Transfer Paper

As mentioned earlier, you can select transfer paper based on the type of printer you have. But, I feel that most people use the terms inkjet and laser transfer interchangeably. This often leads to undesired results because every transfer paper has unique qualities. For instance, there is a transfer paper for either or both black and white t-shirts.

You can check out my transfer paper vinyl review before going out to buy transfer paper. This will help you get a product that matches your printer and heat press machine type.

Step 4: Preparing Your Artwork

Once you’ve assembled your arsenal of machinery and material, it’s time to stimulate your creative senses. I could spend all day designing artwork, playing with fonts, and bending simple geometric shapes to my will.

This stage is pretty easy if you’re used to creating images using graphic design software have a good computer and the necessary software. That way, you can create a design as you want it to appear on the transfer paper. Here’s the point where you can tweak things and make corrections before the final output.

But, using adobe illustrator, core draw, and most vector graphics can present a learning curve. Fortunately, there are plenty of tutorials that make this easier. I’d also like to recommend that you try out Inkscape –It’s free, nifty, and easy to use!

Step 5: Print the Transfer paper

Printing on transfer paper is a no-brainer as it’s no different from using ordinary office printers and paper. All you need to remember is you’ll be printing on the coated or printed side of the transfer paper. So, this side needs to face up or down depending on your printer.

Once the transfer paper is ready, you can weed out/cut out the excess part you don’t need. Here a pair of scissors or your trusty hobby knife can come in handy.

I usually use a plotter for this phase, especially when it’s a massive order. Sure, this adds some extra steps to the pre-production phase, but it saves loads of time and elbow grease.

Step 6: Test the Print

Quality control is an essential part of any design, production, and transfer process. So, it makes sense to test out your work and check against factors that can hamper the mass production of your t-shirts.

For starters, you need to ensure that the print format and size are on the correct scale before applying the paper transfer to your garment or surface. If there’s a problem, you can make the necessary adjustments so that you don’t ruin a huge batch of t-shirts.

Here you get to save the production from any mistakes that can waste your time, money, and effort down the line. I can use 10 to even 20 transfer papers merely for testing purposes. It may seem heavy-handed, but prior experience taught me to leave nothing to chance.

However, you can stop if 1 or up to 4 test runs produce satisfactory results. Once you feel ready, you can move on to the next step!

Step 7: Setting the Heat Press Machine

Now it’s time to fire up your heat press machine and get printing. But first, you’ll need to input the settings and adjust them to match the fabric you’ll be using. After all, it would help if you saw how it would look on the actual clothing before making any commitment.

I do 2 or 3 tests on the garment to ensure an easy workflow and consistent output. If anything is amiss, I can make revisions and perform a test. Here are a few aspects that may need adjustments before the heat press can be up and running:

  • Adjust the temperature clockwise: on the thermostat knob, adjust it again anti-clockwise and turn it off after it heats up to the desired temperature.
  • Fine-tune the pressure: adjust the knob clockwise and anti-clockwise. Here, the pressure depends on the thickness of the fabric; the thicker the fabric, the more pressure you have to apply.
  • Set the timer: A heat press has minute and second buttons. You can use them to increase and decrease time on the machine. If you press the start button, the machine will start.

You can now churn out the first batch of t-shirts once everything appears in good working order.

Step 8: Print your T-shirt

Thus far, we’ve performed all the due diligence necessary to ensure the quick and flexible mass production of t-shirts. Now, you can heat press your first bulk order. Here’s a breakdown of this process:

  1. Lay your t-shirt flat on the printing mat.
  2. Place a cardstock or thin piece of cardboard inside the t-shirt. This prevents the transfer paper from printing on the back of your t-shirt or fussing both sides together.
  3. Place the printed transfer paper on top of the t-shirt.
  4. Ensure the printed (coated) side is in contact with where you want the graphics to go on your garment.
  5. Place a Teflon sheet on the transfer paper to shield it and the garment from excessive heat.

Are you fully satisfied with how the final product appears! Now, you’re ready to press as many t-shirts as you want.

What Printer to Use for Transfer Paper?

Most newbies get glittery when choosing the right ink for printing heat transfers. However, as I discovered, any printer ink variant will do as long as you’re not working with sublimation papers – they require special inks.

A quality inkjet printer is all you need to start working with most transfer papers. It’s also worth noting that you can also use a laser printer or copier as long as you get a compatible transfer paper.

3 Best Printers for Printing on Heat Transfer Papers

Epson WorkForce WF-7210

The Epson WorkForce WF-7210 Gets top marks because it has a  4800 x 2400 dpi resolution. This work beast is all you need to print heat transfer quickly without compromising the quality. I prefer this model for wide-format borderless prints. You can go as wide as 13 x 9 inches.

Brother HL-L2320D

The Brother HL-L2320D may be a budget option, but it still makes excellent prints. You’ll notice in the reviews that it can only print in black and white on regular printing stock paper. But heat shouldn’t worry you as this inkjet printer prints vivid colors and details on heat transfer paper.

HP Laserjet Pro M452dw

You can rest assured of optimal performance, speed, and flexible reproducibility when you go for the HP Laserjet Pro M452dw. This is an ENERGY STAR® rated printer that saves up to 11% on energy costs compared to legacy models. A handy bonus is that it doesn’t wear out or overheat, so you can produce hundreds to even thousands of heat transfer papers with ease.


Now, you know everything on how to print on transfer paper. If you’re a novice, please take the time to play around with the setting on your heat-press machines. All that’s left is to design something amazing and watch it come to life on a garment or surface.

You can also expand your knowledge of various fabrics to avoid disappointments at a later phase of your production. Also, try out as many brands of transfer paper –they may appear the same, but each has a different quality to deliver.

And, lastly don’t forget to have some fun with your projects. That way, you’ll be able to deliver fresh and exciting products to your customer.

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