This is a step-by-step guide for screen printing and heat pressing cold peel transfers. If you currently screen print directly to the fabric, you can easily print one-color transfers without investing in a lot of equipment or supplies. If you plan on screen printing transfers regularly or diving into two or three color transfers, I recommend buying a vacuum platen or a flatbed graphics press.
There are many benefits to screen printing transfers. Consider the cost of one athletic uniform. If you are printing direct on the uniform and you make a mistake, this will eliminate a lot of the profits for that order. If you make a mistake on transfer paper, it may have cost you a dime. This is far less frightening.
- T-105 cold peel paper (or similar)
- Transfer powder (not necessary but recommended)
- Any plastisol ink (choose ink for the fabric)
- Thermolabels #4 (240ºF to 280ºF)
Expose the screen with the art work reversed (mirror image). Remember, you are turning the transfer over to heat press so it needs to be backwards. Choose an 86 count monofilament screen. You cannot print, flash, print on transfer paper so ink deposit is critical. Also, thin ink deposits applied by a heat press will typically not wash well. 110 count monofilament screen mesh is acceptable when you need better detail.
Prepare the Press
If you own a vacuum platen, connect the vacuum and find the spot to place the transfer paper. I usually use a thick tape to create a corner to place the paper into. This will make all of the transfers line up in the same place. It is much more important with multi-color transfers but that is a different class.
If you do not own a vacuum platen, simply spray mist adhesive lightly onto a clean platen. You need the paper to be flat so no fuzz should be on the platen. Your prints will suffer otherwise.
Prepare the Dryer
Place a Thermolabel #4 on a piece of transfer paper and send it down the dryer. 250ºF is the perfect temperature to gel the ink. You only want the ink dry to the touch, not cured to the paper. This is the most important step of the process. If you over-gel the ink and do not use adhesive powder, the print is likely not going to adhere to the fabric. 240ºF to 260ºF is acceptable.
Flood the screen with plenty of ink and pull the squeegee once. Sometimes you can pull the squeegee a second time but be sure to keep consistent pressure. Also, if you print too thick, this will cause problems on the edge of the print and you will get a lot of buildup on the back of the screen.
It is highly recommended to preheat the transfer paper as it may shrink or curl a bit, causing registration issues. Get this out of the way first by sending all of the paper down the dryer before use.
A vacuum platen or flatbed graphics press is highly recommended for multi-color print. After each color you will send the paper down the dryer to gel. You need the ability to line up the paper exactly where it was with the previous print. Some people draw lines. I use thick tape to create two corners. Other printers drill holes in the paper and use a peg system. Whatever it takes to keep the paper in the same spot with each print.
Print in reverse order. Your underbase is printed last. If you are using transfer powder, the underbase must cover the entire art work. The transfer powder will only stick to the wet ink.
Powder and Gel
You don’t have to use transfer powder. I think you should…but you don’t have to. Transfer powder has many great features:
- Dummy-proofs the process. With powder, a cold peel transfer is likely to wash well regardless of your gel temperature.
- Prevents dye migration.
- Depending on the powder (there are many different types), you may increase the stretch of the print.
- Far more durable with the powder.
Apply the powder to the wet ink. This can be done many ways. Pour it on, sprinkle, lay the print in a bed of powder, or pull the print through a pile of powder. Whatever works for you works for me. However, make sure you “tap it off”. All of the transfer powder needs to come off the paper where there is no ink. Otherwise, it will transfer to the fabric and leave a hard-to-remove stain. Tap it on a table, flick the paper, or blow it off with canned air.
Now you can send it down the dryer to be gelled.
Heat Pressing Instructions
Cold peel transfers should be pressed at 375ºF for 8 seconds, firm pressure. Firm pressure as measured with a Hotronix heat press is 7 or 8 on their gauge. Wait to peel the paper until the transfer is cool to the touch.
Even pressure is critical. If you have a collar or a thick seam on the heat press platen when you press, this is where the pressure is being measured. The transfer needs to receive the firm pressure. Obviously, you can’t always avoid this. In these situations, use a heat press pillow. You can either tape it down to the platen or place it inside the t-shirt. Either way, it will allow for even pressure when seams or collars are unavoidable.