I love working with heat transfer vinyl (HTV). It comes in oodles of colors and types: regular, flocked, glitter, holographic, stretch, and other specialties. You can create designs with intricate detail and itty bitty pieces. It’s easy to cut, easy to weed, and easy to get everything placed exactly where you want it. Love it, love it, love it.
Machines and people vary in how they do things, but here’s a rundown on what’s worked for me when using heat transfer vinyl.
This page includes affiliate links. Read my full disclosure policy here.
Mirror the image…always, always with HTV – Because HTV is placed bottom up on the mat and the machine cuts from the top, the design must be mirrored before cutting if you want it to appear as you’ve designed it, or in the case of words, if you want to read it!
To mirror or “flip” an image in Silhouette Studio, simply select the image, then right-click and select “Flip Horizontally” from the list. Cut the mirrored (flipped) image. An exception to mirroring is printed HTV, which is applied the other way (so the printing shows), and comes with a special separate carrier sheet.
If you forget to mirror – Everyone I know has done this at least once, including me, um, *cough*more than once*cough* so don’t be too hard on yourself when it happens to you. If there are no letters in your design that would read backwards and you can live with the rest of the design the reverse from what you intended, go ahead and use the non-mirrored version. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing board—mirror the design, pull out some fresh HTV, and re-cut. Don’t throw the mistake away, though…can you apply it to the underside of picture frame glass and frame it as art? Or perhaps you can salvage parts of the design (like the dog and paw prints above) to be applied to another fabric item. Reuse, recycle…
Now, you might be thinking. . .what if I remove the HTV from the carrier sheet and position it the right way on the fabric, lay the carrier sheet on top, and press? Nice try, but it turns out that only one side of HTV will adhere to fabric, so that won’t work. Points for thinking outside the box for a solution, though!
Place the HTV on the mat SHINY SIDE DOWN.
Cutting Mat or No? – Technically, you don’t need a cutting mat to cut HTV on the Silhouette Cameo—adjust the rollers to fit your HTV width, use “Load Media” instead of “Load Mat”, change your ‘Cutting Mat’ to NONE in the ‘Design Settings’ window, and away you go—but as long as my design is shorter than 24″, I always use a cutting mat as extra protection against slippage. I don’t have a large HTV supply on hand and I’ve heard some horror stories, so I play it safe. Since I generally do one-offs for personal use, I cut my material close to the design size to conserve HTV, and that usually means smaller than mat size. Also the cutting strip wears faster when you cut without a mat. When you cut with a mat, the mat protects the cutting strip, and it lasts much longer.
Cutting Long Pieces – Silhouette machines can cut material as long as 10 feet (maximum width 8″ for the Portrait, and 12″ for the Cameo). To cut pieces longer than the mat, feed the vinyl into the machine without a mat. Industrial cutting machines use punched holes along the vinyl sides (are you old enough to remember dot matrix continuous printer paper???) to keep the vinyl perfectly aligned, but the Silhouette machines don’t work like that. Instead, they rely on the rollers to roll the vinyl in straight. This, of course, isn’t as accurate and often results in vinyl going askew—which can waste a lot of vinyl, especially if you’re doing a really long design. To keep the vinyl from going off the rollers, use a Silhouette roll feeder. It gets the vinyl straight into the machine and keeps it straight. You can find more detail HERE on cutting long pieces with out a mat.
Settings – In the Cut Settings window (in the upper tool bar on the right), I use the following settings. Note: cut settings will vary with HTV brand (and sometimes certain colors within a brand, go figure.) and from machine to machine, but these are good starting points.
For Smooth HTV:
Cut Mode: Standard, Cut Style: Cut, Material Type: Heat Transfer Material (smooth), Blade: 2, Speed 3 (I cut almost everything at Speed 3…I get into less trouble when I slow things down, especially when cutting text and intricate designs), Thickness: 4, and Double Cut box checked.
For Glitter HTV:
Cut Mode: Standard, Cut Style: Cut, Material Type: Heat Transfer Material (flocked), Blade: 3, Speed 3 (I cut almost everything at Speed 3…I get into less trouble when I slow things down, especially when cutting text and intricate designs), Thickness: 9, and Double Cut box checked.
Weeding a simple design is pretty straightforward. Simply use a hook tool (I use a dental hook similar to this one, but Cricut and Silhouette both make tools specifically for this purpose) to remove the parts you don’t want from the carrier sheet and leave the design parts you do want. I like to leave my HTV on the mat while I weed it (or transfer it to a less expensive Cricut mat to preserve my Silhouette mat). It’s much easier to weed a design with the mat holding it in place.
Weeding an intricate design can be a whole ‘nuther ballgame. I wrote an entire blog post about the tools, techniques, and tricks I use when weeding intricate HTV designs HERE.
First and foremost – Follow the application instructions for the *brand* and *type* of HTV you’re using. I know this is super obvious, and I feel a little silly pointing it out, but you’d be surprised at how often people don’t follow the manufacturer’s directions and then—surprise!—the application is unsuccessful or the HTV lifts sometime later. Temperature and time varies wildly from brand to brand and even within a brand…regular HTV vs glitter HTV for example. Manufacturers spend a lot of time testing application methods to find the best one. Use it. :^)
Do I need a heat press or will an iron do the job? – If you read enough Silhouette Facebook groups, you’ll find posts that say you must have a heat press to make HTV adhere properly. It’s not true. What the posters mean is that THEY need a heat press to get their HTV to stick properly, but it IS possible to do just as good a job with an iron.
You need three things:
1. Low Temperature HTV
Many commercial HTV products are designed to be applied at temperatures much higher than home irons can handle. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you try and use a high temp HTV with an iron. Instead, look for HTV that is intended to be used at temps of 315°F or lower. Examples include Siser Easyweed, FDC 9000, Chemica Firstmark, and Silhouette, but there are several others. You can check the heat specs on the manufacturer websites. Sometimes they’re listed under ‘Application Instructions’ or ‘Technical Specs’ or something like that.
2. Hot Iron
Even the low temp HTV heat requirements are at the top end of the heat range of most home irons. Some irons just don’t get hot enough…many, it seems, given the chorus of people singing the “you need a heat press” tune. If your HTV isn’t sticking well, you can use an infra-red measuring device to measure your iron heat to see if insufficient heat is the culprit.
3. Proper Pressure
You need more than just heat to apply HTV properly. It’s necessary to have good solid pressure while applying the heat. If your ironing board is super padded or a little flimsy and can’t resist the hard pressure well enough, try a harder surface—work on a counter, tabletop, or floor (protect the surface from the heat!) and/or use something under the thing you’re applying HTV to. Some people use a tile, wood plank, or cookie sheet. I have an ancient ironing board that is wonderfully sturdy and quite flat (it’ll outlive me by many decades, I’m sure!), and it works well without any extras or having to resort to other surfaces.
If you’re using low-temp HTV, high enough heat, and a non-squishy ironing board, pushing down on your iron very firmly is sufficient pressure. See the Heat Press Rule of Thumb below to get an idea of what sufficient pressure feels like. You don’t need to be standing on your iron or planking it on the floor. In fact, the specs for Siser Easyweed call for “Medium Pressure”—planking or standing on your iron way exceeds that. And, interestingly enough, more pressure isn’t always better. The Siser folks will tell you that using too much pressure could make the HTV not apply properly.
***IMPORTANT***: These three things—low-temp HTV, high enough heat, solid enough pressure—are like the legs on a three-legged stool: if one is missing, it won’t work.
YOU. MUST. HAVE. ALL. THREE.
I’m convinced there are a lot of irons out there that don’t get hot enough. If you’ve handled the HTV type and pressure, and your HTV isn’t adhering well or it peels after washing, it’s probably time for a new iron, or heat press.
If an iron works, why would I want a heat press?
The larger heat plate on a heat press (15″ is a typical size) means you can press more design area at once. For designs larger than your iron heat plate, you’ll have to press one area at a time, press for full time, lift, move, press for full time, lift move, etc., until the whole design is done. If you’re making items for yourself or gifts for family & friends, the time difference probably isn’t a big thing. But if you do this as a business—e.g. you sell t-shirts, hoodies, onesies, book bags, stuffies, etc. with your htv designs applied—having a heat press will translate into a considerable time savings over using an iron. It’s also easier and faster to get a consistent application when you press a whole design at once.
If you have the room to store and use a heat press, and the money to spend on one, it’s a nice convenient tool to have. Many folks have one even though they aren’t in business. This one is very popular amongst Silhouette crafters.
3) More HTV choice
HTV comes in a range of temperature requirements, varying from brand to brand and even types within the same brand. Most home irons don’t get hot enough to apply HTV higher than about 315-320F (the low end of the HTV range), so using a heat press allows for a lot more choice in terms of vinyl type and brand—you have access to HTV in the full range of temperatures, including professional brands.
Heat press rule of thumb – Temperature and time are easy to control with a heat press. Simply set the thermostat on the heat press to the required temperature for the htv you’re using, and press for the manufacturer’s full recommended time. As for pressure, how do you know when you’ve got enough of that? A good rule of thumb is the dollar test. While the press is cold, place a dollar bill half on half off the plate on all sides, close the press, and try to remove the bills. If they’re stuck in there good and proper and you can’t remove them, you’ve got enough pressure. If you can pull the the bills out, you don’t have enough pressure and you should adjust your heat press. (This is also a good test to do if you use an iron. It’ll give you a really good idea of how hard you have to press.)
When an iron or heat press won’t do – Sometimes you want to apply HTV in a tight space or on an awkwardly shaped item and your iron or heat press plate is too large to do the job. In those cases, look for a hair straightener or mini iron. Hair straighteners come in a variety of widths (½”, 1″, 1¾” 2″, choose depending on what you want to do) and mini irons come in a variety of sizes & designs, too, such as this Dritz mini iron or this little Clover iron (which has a larger plate available for it as well). All of these alternatives will get hot enough to apply HTV, and some even have temperature controls to allow you to zero in on the temperature for your particular HTV.
Preparing the fabric – Before applying HTV, thoroughly press the book bag or t-shirt or whatever you’re applying HTV to. No steam. You want a nice flat surface with no moisture.
Can you see the clear carrier sheet?
Use a dry heat – Absolutely NO steam. Steam will ruin HTV…it ain’t pretty, trust me. Some irons will poof a bit of steam at regular intervals if there’s any water in the tank, so if you use an iron, I’d recommend emptying out the water and letting the iron sit a bit to dry up completely before using it to apply HTV.
Follow the instructions – As I said before, instructions vary, depending on the brand and type of HTV. If your HTV has instructions on the box or on an enclosed piece of paper, follow them. If your HTV arrived without instructions, Google the brand name, “heat transfer vinyl”, and “instructions” to find them. I haven’t tried all the HTV out there, but here’s what I do with these brands:
— Regular Siser Easyweed
— Siser Glitter HTV
— Smooth Silhouette Brand HTV
Don’t have the iron too hot – For the above brands, the cotton setting on my iron is the right temperature of just above 300°F. Follow temperature recommendations for the brand you’re using. Use a dry iron…NO STEAM (yeah, I said that before, but it’s super important so is worth repeating. ;^) Be aware that you *can* get it too hot, and if you do, you risk design distortion from the vinyl shrinking and curling. Been there, done that when I used my mom’s super-dee-duper quilting iron.Yeah, super-dee-duper hot isn’t better.
Cover the design with an old cloth or Teflon sheet or parchment paper before pressing. I tried using an old pillowcase, but even though I pressed at the recommended temperature and time, I kept scorching it. I’ve had no scorching issues with the Teflon sheet or parchment. I also like that I can see the design through the Teflon & parchment.
Press with solid pressure for about 15 seconds (or whatever your HTV instructions say). Heat presses have built-in timers, but if you’re applying with an iron, use a clock with a second hand to time your pressing; counting out loud is notoriously inaccurate. It’s better to go a little longer than shorter.
Press, don’t iron – I don’t move the iron around while pressing—I’m afraid I’ll move the not-quite-in-place design out of whack. Instead, I press down in a single spot, then lift, go to another spot, and press down again. Once the whole design has received its full 15 seconds at good pressure, I go over the whole thing quickly one more time.
Peel off the backing hot or cold? Again, follow the instructions on this one. Most will say you can do either. I find it easier to peel it off hot. Be careful…it’s, uh, hot. And press again… After removing the carrier sheet, place the teflon sheet (or pillow case or parchment paper) back onto the design and press all over again. For thick HTV materials, such as flocked or glitter, there’s no test you can do to know if you’ve applied it properly, so pressing for the full time, and maybe a titch longer, is important. For thinner HTVs, such a regular or stretch, you’ll know it’s applied properly when the HTV takes on the shape of your fabric fibers.
In this picture, most of the 8 is applied properly (see how the HTV has taken on the shape of the denim underneath?), but a small part of the 8 and the 3 need more pressing time (still smooth on top). This is very noticeable on denim, canvas, and other heavily textured fabrics. On smoother fabrics, such as T-shirts and sweatshirts, properly applied HTV still takes on the shape of the fabric…the effect is much more subtle, but it’s there. Look for it.
If your design contains different colors of HTV that butt up against each other, don’t give each layer the full application time. HTV shrinks a tiny bit when applied. It’s not usually noticeable unless you’re applying layers and one color has to fit exactly around another…say in an offset. If you give the first layers the full application time, they’ll shrink and it may be enough that the later layers no longer fit nicely, resulting in gaps. Instead, press the first layer just long enough to barely adhere it to the surface (a few seconds), then remove the carrier sheet, press the next layer for a few seconds to barely adhere it and remove the carrier sheet, and so on until all your colors are tacked in place, then cover the whole shebang with the Teflon sheet (or pillowcase or parchment paper) and press it for the full time.
About that Glitter HTV…
Layering glitter is tricky. You need to think about it a bit before layering or mixing with plain HTV. Most manufacturers advise that it’s okay to layer glitter HTV on top of plain HTV but not the other way around. (But…psssst, I’ve heard of more than one person who had success layering plain on glitter, so if your design desperately calls for it, experiment beforehand and see how it goes…give your experiment a wash test).
After weeding glitter HTV, you’ll probably end up with a haze of glitter bits on the carrier sheet. I’ve never had those bits adhere to the fabric after application—I just go ahead and apply the HTV as usual. However, if your design is made up of glitter *and* plain HTV, and you’ve already applied the plain HTV, the glitter bits from the glitter carrier sheet may become embedded in the already-applied plain HTV. You can avoid this problem altogether if you apply the glitter elements first, then the plain HTV. This is doable for some designs, but not all, and certainly not if you’re actually layering glitter on top of plain HTV. In that case, here are a few things you can do to get around this.
1. Trim off the glitter carrier sheet right to the design wherever the glittery carrier would come in contact with already-applied plain HTV. This works well for simple designs…where you’re adding a single piece of glitter HTV, say a bow, for example. For a more complicated design with multiple elements, such as a name, you could still do that, but it would be more finicky to apply separately. If you do this, have your Silhouette do the cutting. Simply change the blade to a larger number so it cuts through the HTV *and* the carrier sheet.
2. Remove the letters from the glittery carrier sheet and rearrange them on a used carrier sheet from plain HTV (with no glitter on the carrier sheet). Only one side of HTV will apply to fabric, so be sure to attach the same side of letters to the new carrier sheet as were attached to the glittery one. Apply as usual.
3. Trim the carrier sheet not right to the letters (or other design), but close so it acts as an offset (quarter inch? half inch?). This would keep all the letters (or small design pieces) attached to each other for simpler application and any glitter transferred to the plain HTV would be limited to that quarter inch/half inch area immediately around the letters and would look intentional. This cut could also be done on your Silhouette with a second pass. To do this, add an offset to the letters in the software, cut the HTV as usual (but with cut lines turned off for the offset), DO NOT UNLOAD FROM THE MACHINE, turn off the cut lines for the design, turn on the cut lines for the offset, change the blade to a higher number to cut through the carrier sheet, and send to cut again.
4. Create a knockout for the glitter design elements, then trim the carrier sheet to the whole glitter design you’ve knocked out. This is a good technique for more complicated designs. A knockout basically cuts away the plain HTV design areas that would be covered by glitter, so the glitter elements would be inset and the plain and glitter elements would fit together like puzzle pieces. I haven’t done a knockout tutorial on the blog yet, but if you search Youtube.com for knockout design Silhouette, you’ll get a bunch of tutorials on this technique.
5. Find a new HTV brand – If you do a lot of this sort of thing, it might be an idea to compare different brands of glitter HTV to see if there’s one that doesn’t have this problem.
Oops…did you make a mistake?
HTV is tricky to remove from fabric if you make a mistake, so the best advice I can give is “Don’t make mistakes”. LOL Yeah, I know…not helpful after the fact, but it really is the best advice. Carpenters have it right with their saying “Measure twice, cut once”. The HTV equivalent is “check the weeding & placement twice, press once”. If, despite being as careful as you can, you do make a mistake, it may be possible to remove some HTV and reapply it the right way or in the right place. Try to fix mistakes right away. The longer HTV is adhered to fabric the harder it is to remove.
To remove an HTV mistake, carefully heat it from behind with an iron (a mini iron might be easier to apply heat to a small area without affecting correctly applied parts of the design) and then use tweezers to pluck off the offending HTV while the HTV’s still hot. Repeat the heat & pluck until the HTV has been removed. If you have a larger area, or the HTV has bonded too well with the fabric, you may need to use a chemical remover. But even that should be used within 48 hours of application.
To avoid wasting HTV…
Get the right design size BEFORE cutting – Sometimes even though you measure and measure, it’s hard to know if a design is the right size for a project. (Okay, LOL, maybe that’s just me!) If I’m not sure about the size, I test it by printing the design in several sizes before cutting any HTV. I then cut the excess paper around the designs and hold them up against whatever I want to put the design on to choose the size that fits best. Going through a few sheets of paper is far more economical than having to re-cut HTV because something was the wrong size. Your HTV supply will go farther, too.
When cutting several designs at once – I arrange the designs as close together as I can. To make weeding easier, I use the ‘Draw a Line’ and ‘Draw a Polygon’ tools to draw extra red cut lines separating the designs. The blade will cut the vinyl, making it super easy to weed, but not the clear backing. After weeding, I cut the backing with scissors to get the designs apart so I can arrange them where I want them. This is how the ready-to-cut design mat looked for my shower curtain full of quotes project:Not much wasted vinyl there! For larger designs with lots of white space, you can create weeding lines over the whole design. I haven’t written about how I do that yet, but you can find excellent instructions HERE and HERE
HTV…not just for fabric…
It’s true. You can apply HTV to any flat surface that can take the heat of an iron (see warning below). I’ve applied HTV to cardstock and cereal cardboard (see my photobooth props project), wood, slate (the FREE DOBBY odd sock collector), and picture frame glass (coffee poem) so far.
Why would I do that? Well, sometimes it looks nicer, sometimes it’s because the HTV will melt into the crevices of the rough surface and stick better than adhesive vinyl (on slate, for example), and part of it is making my craft supplies go farther and having more options when materials can be used in different ways…for example, I may have red HTV on hand but no red adhesive vinyl, so I can get going on a project with the HTV without having to stop and buy red adhesive vinyl first. And HTV comes in many colors that adhesive vinyl does not, so that expands project possibilities, too. Have you seen how glittery glitter HTV is? Uh-huh…enough said.
Do not apply HTV to trivets, hot mats, or hot pads
that you intend to use to protect your table from hot dishes.
Although hot dishes don’t melt the HTV, dishes that are hot enough
(e.g. a glass pie plate after an hour in a 400ºF oven) will cause the HTV to release smelly fumes—not a huge amount, but it’s not a smell you want at your supper table, and heated vinyl fumes likely contain a variety of toxins.
HTV on cardstock (paper & cereal cardboard)
Use a much shorter pressing time. I find a few seconds is fine. And you don’t need nearly as much pressure, either. If you can’t lift it the HTV off the cardstock with your fingernail, then the HTV is on. I usually apply the HTV to the cardstock or cereal cardboard and then cut whatever shape I want.
My bat garland was made of mostly plain black cardstock bats, but about a dozen of them were glittery, thanks to HTV applied to cardstock. Sometimes a little glitter just adds that pizzazz, you know? I applied the glitter HTV to the cardstock (remember to cover with parchment paper or Teflon sheet), then cut out my little bats (about 2½” wide) from that.
HTV on glass…
I cover the design with a Teflon sheet, use the cotton setting on my iron, and press firmly for about five seconds on one part of the design before lifting and pressing in a new area, another five seconds, lift, new area, and so on until I’ve pressed the whole design.
This is a much shorter pressing time than you would use on fabric. When applying HTV to fabric, the idea is to press it long enough, hot enough, and firm enough that the HTV melts and bonds with the fabric in all the nooks and crannies. When applying HTV to glass, you want to heat it just enough to activate the stickiness sufficiently to stick it to the glass, but not so much that the HTV melts. On glass, the HTV has nowhere to go so if it melts, it spreads out onto the glass a little, ruining the crisp cut lines. You don’t want that. You also want to make sure you’re ironing on a flat surface so you don’t break the glass.
Make sure the work surface under the glass supports all parts of the glass. If it doesn’t, you may break the glass when pressing. Also, if glass is unevenly heated, it tends to split and shatter. It’s more of a problem when glass thickness varies, but even on a uniform surface, apply heat evenly over the entire surface to reduce the risk.
Most HTV instructions say you can peel the backing off hot or cold. I like to peel hot. If you’re a hot peeler like me (Hee…I didn’t mean for that to sound so risqué! LOL) you like to remove the carrier material right away when applying HTV to fabric. For glass, though, step back and wait a minute or two before peeling. The glass gets super hot and stays hot a lot longer than fabric does. Be careful.The good news with glass is if you don’t like what things look like after pressing, it’s easy to scrape off with a little heat and start over. Not that, uh, I would know anything about that from personal experience or anything *cough*oh-yes-I-do*coughcough* [grin]
HTV on awkward, non-flat surfaces…
I wrote a whole blog post about this. You can find it HERE: How to Apply HTV to Awkward Non-flat Surfaces
Now, it’s your turn…
If you have any questions about HTV, let me know. I’ll get back to you and add the answers here. And if you have any tips and tricks for working with HTV, I’d love to include them here. Leave me a comment or send me an email at eff…(at)…whatchaworkinon.com.
HTV adventures at Whatcha Workin’ On?
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee Poem (on glass)
The Universe is Made of Poems! Sjón Quote Book Bag
1890s William Morris Letter Book Bag
Stephen King Quote Book Bag
Calgary Stampede T-shirt
Photo Booth Props Galore
Shower Curtain full of Quotes
Doctor Who “Next Stop…EVERYWHERE!
Harry Potter FREE DOBBY Odd Sock Collector
Bohemian Rhapsody Misheard Lyrics
Split William Morris Letters
Book Drunkard’s Book Bag
For more HTV projects…search for HTV in the sidebar search box.
If you liked this tutorial and would like to know when new ones appear on Whatcha Workin’ On?, subscribe. I’ll send you an email each time a new project or tutorial is posted (usually about once a week)!
Ever felt like throwing your Silhouette out the window? (…or maybe I’m the only one who was that frustrated in Week One! LOL) Well, don’t. Once you figure out how the software works and how to handle different materials in the machine, you and your Silhouette will become great friends for a long, long time.
The Ultimate Silhouette Guide will help you replace your frustration with confidence. This guide clearly explains the Silhouette Studio design features and how to use them, and goes over all the cut settings to get you up and running and figure it all out quickly. It’s like having a mountain guide on that steep hike up the learning curve. Click on the book image for more information.