An Introduction to Heat Transfer Vinyl

So you’ve bought a Cricut or Silhouette and you’re ready to craft. What next?

(If you are still trying to decide which machine would be best for your needs then it'd be good to check out this post first. It gives an overview of different options, their benefits and price points).

When you first get your digital cutting machine out of the box it can be a little daunting. Not just learning the different functionality, dials and getting to grips with the design software but also what materials you should use for each project.

In this blog series I’m going to look at the main crafting materials, when they should be used, and what variations are best for which crafts. In this blog we are going to look at heat transfer vinyl. What it is, what the different options are ,and what they should be used for.

If you're looking to begin with adhesive vinyl, check out this post. Similarly, check out this post for tips on getting started with paper and cardstock crafts!

Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) is also known as iron-on vinyl and it is specifically designed for crafts on fabric. This includes, but is not limited to t-shirts, socks, robes, slippers, hats, and even bags. Unlike adhesive vinyl, which could be likened to a sticker, HTV only becomes sticky once heat is added. This makes it a great vinyl for beginners because you avoid the trap of being covered in stick vinyl scraps.

Heat transfer vinyl front and back
Back - side to be stuck down (left) and Front - behind the clear plastic (right)

Types of heat transfer vinyl (HTV)

The first thing to note is that, although heat transfer vinyl is a specific type of vinyl, there are also different types of HTV. Confusing, right? To lessen the burden of this minefield of options, I’ve picked out the main HTV types below and what you might look to use them for.

Regular. This is your standard everyday iron-on vinyl. It will apply easily to most surfaces and is a great option if you’re just starting out with HTV. It generally has a ‘matt’ finish and is available in a huge range of colours. When I first started out with HTV and was looking for a cheap pack of different colours to experiment with I bought this multipack from Amazon. It’s also handy if you are looking to try out layering (we’ll get to what that is shortly) and need a range of colours to work with.

Glossy. This is very similar to the regular vinyl but with a high gloss shiny finish. It’s a really great option if you want your personalisation or image to be a focal point to catch all the attention.

Glitter. Exactly what it says on the tin! It’s slightly thicker (and more expensive) than the regular and glossy vinyls listed above. It’s an amazing option for Christmas crafting though. Or anything that glossy vinyl just isn’t drawing quite enough attention!

Stretchy. Stretchy or stretchable vinyl is great for items where there is a lot of give in the fabric and your HTV will need to accommodate quite a bit of movement. Think workout gear, socks and babygrows.

Where to get designs, fonts and inspiration

The Cricut design space has a large library of different images which you can use, either for free or for a small fee. You can also get a Cricut Access subscription which gives you unlimited access to their files.

If you want to look outside the Cricut package there are a few things you need to know. Firstly, you want to source SVG files as these can be easily cut by your machine. They can also be easily resized and edited without losing quality. You can source lots of different SVG files free of charge for personal use, online via Google. Always make sure the image you want to use comes with a licence to avoid illegal use and potential copyright infringement. Beyond Google, I’d recommend looking on the following websites for freebies too: Lovesvg.com, Svgandme.com, Creativefabrica.com, hellosvg.com and 3dsvg.com.

You can also purchase SVG files from designers on these sites, and sites like Etsy, for a small fee if you’re looking for something more specific. Most sites and downloads will come with a licence for personal use. For commercial use, if you are looking to make items to sell, you’ll need a commercial licence. This might also be included or you might need to pay a slightly larger fee for the privilege.

For text based designs I would recommend searching on sites like dafont.com and fontbundles.net. These both have a catalogue of different font options and most can be downloaded for free, with a free license for personal use. Again, check the specifics for commercial use if you’d like to make money from your crafts.

My top tips for Heat Transfer Vinyl

So now you have the specifics of what you need to get HTV crafting, here are my top tips to remember:

Always use the mirror function! This has to be the number one waste (accidental) of heat transfer vinyl. Particularly when it comes to text based projects where direction counts!

Shiny side down. Again, this will save you countless sheets of accidentally wasted vinyl. Heat Transfer Vinyl comes with a clear gloss layer on the back so that once weeded it can be flipped over and ironed down. You don’t want your Cricut to cut through this layer so remember to always have the dull side facing you and the shiny side down. If you want to make extra sure you have it right, try peeling a corner slightly. The top layer should be your coloured vinyl and the bottom later the clear plastic.

Heat transfer plastic

Set your Cricut dial correctly. HTV is slightly thicker than regular adhesive vinyl and so on this function the cut may not quite be deep enough. For regular HTV I have always found that the 'Iron On +' and ‘Light Cardstock’ settings work best. Note that if you are using a thicker HTV, such as glitter, you might need a heavier setting again.

Weeding. Removing the excess vinyl around the edge and in the gaps of your HTV cut, or weeding as it is known, is so much easier with iron-on vinyl than adhesive. The main thing you need to remember is that HTV is a little bit more fragile so take it slow to avoid potentially tearing your design.

Layering. I told you we’d get to this section eventually! Once you have got the hang of basic iron-on projects you might want to consider using the layering technique to build more complicated designs. It is not a technique which is exclusive to HTV projects but this is probably where it is most commonly used. Different shapes are cut out from different coloured vinyl sheets and are then layered next to or on top of one another to make a detailed image. For example, if you wanted to print a rainbow pattern onto a t-shirt you would first need to cut out each of the coloured bands. You would then iron on each line to build up the final image.

Hopefully this introduction to the types, uses and key things to remember has been useful and you are now raring to go with you heat transfer vinyl crafts! If you have any questions drop me a comment on my Facebook and Instagram pages and I'll get back to you! Don't forget to share your makes in the comments section there too - I'd love to see how you get on!

Heat transfer t-shirt
Heat transfer bag

Happy Crafting!

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