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Transfer Papers - Different Types, Applications And Common Uses

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transfer papers

There are a wide variety of methods to transfers text, images, designs, graphics, etc onto your chosen fabric and/or substrate. Most people know about screen printing (also referred to as silk screen), however now-a-day you can achieve very similar results by using speciality transfer papers, vinyls and films which can be used on inkjet or laser printers or other speciality equipment. Keep in mind that this is a very dynamic field and new innovations are being developed on a regular basis, therefore in the interest of time, I will only go over a few of the more popular and frequently used methods.

One thing they all have in common is they are applied using heat and pressure. To supply that heat and pressure, you will need either a heat press machine, or in some cased, just a home iron. With a heat press, you can select the exact temperature, pressure and time needed to effectively transfer the image. Prices for this machine widely vary, but usually start around $140.00 and can go up substantially depending on options and brand you chose. While some of these products can only be applied using a professional heat press, others can be applied using a home iron and can do a great job of transferring the image and only requires your careful application and monitoring to achieve amazing results.

Inkjet Transfer Paper

Perhaps the most used method to produce inkjet transfers for home use or for a small business is Inkjet Transfer Paper. This is a process of transferring an image, text, graphic, design, logos, etc, onto specially coated inkjet transfer paper. This is done using a normal inkjet printer, and using normal inkjet inks (dye based or pigmented). This method is suitable for both light and dark colored fabrics, however the methods of application are slightly different. When using on white or light colored fabric, the image is printed in reverse, sometimes referred to as mirror image, onto the transfer paper. The printed image is then placed face down onto the fabric and heat is evenly applied, either by heat press or home iron, to create a chemical process to allow the ink to bond with the fabric. The backing paper is then peeled away, leaving your image on the fabric. The image is the ‘set’ by placing a piece of silicone paper over the image and re-heated for just a few seconds. This further bonds or ‘sets’ the image to the fabric.  When using on black or dark colored fabric, the image is printed onto the transfer paper (no need for reverse printing) that is specifically designed for dark or strong or multi colored fabrics. You would then peel the image off the backing paper and placed it onto the fabric. A piece of silicone paper is then placed over the image and heat is applied. Once heat and pressure process is done, the transfer is complete. You can then remove the silicone paper and your image is set. If applied properly, both will produce a soft, flexible, stretchable image that is also washable.  This is by far the least costly method of inkjet transfer and can be used for a wide variety of purposes. It is also perfect suited for a heat press or a home iron. Please note this product works best on cotton and cotton blend fabrics, however it applied carefully, it can be used on synthetics. This product is also available for laser printers

Sublimation Transfer Paper

Sublimation transfer paper is used in conjunction with sublimation print systems and inks. With sublimation, the ink ‘sublimates’, or become a gas without liquefying first. The process lays down varying amounts of primary colors plus a clear coating onto the paper. The gas solidifies on the page, resulting in full-color images. The clear coat protects the ink from smudging during the heat/pressure stage. As the inks is transformed into a gaseous state, it can penetrate the fabric, very similarly to a dye, and therefore is permanent. This product is designed to be used on polyester, polyester blend and other synthetic fabric only, it is not suitable for cotton or cotton based fabric. It can, however be used to print other specially coated hard goods like mugs or promotional items as long as they are coated properly so that they can accept sublimation inks.This is considered an expensive method as the equipment needed is quite expensive and therefore this is not a cost effective way of producing small runs, for this reason, most print shops will not produce small or individual orders using this method.

Plastisol Screen printed Transfer Paper

Sometimes referred to as Hot-split or Hot-peel, this transferring method produces a finished product that is almost identical to screenprinting. Image is transferred onto the plastisol paper by use of a screenprinter, and the image is then transferred onto fabric with a heat press. The paper is then peeled off immediately after pressing. Because it is peeled off hot, full ink saturation does not occur, however the image will be fully transferred and the fabric will remain soft. While this method is cheaper than sublimation printing, it still requires costly specialty equipment such as a screen printer and a heat press. Additionally, with plastisol printing, you are limited to the variety of colors you can use and plastisol transfers can be applied to any cotton, polyester or blend fabric.

Cold-peel Screen Printed Transfer Paper

Very similar to plastisol, this is also printed using the screen printing method and requires expensive and specialty equipment to produce. Cold peel transfer paper for screen printing is a parchment paper. It is called cold peel because after applying your image with a heat press, it is allowed to cool before peeling off the backing paper. As it cools, more of the ink is transferred onto the fabric, thereby producing a slightly brighter and more vivid image due to complete ink transfer. Cold peel transfers feel more like direct screen printing however the image will have a slight rubbery feel.

Heat Press Vinyls

While this is not technically a ‘transfer paper’, it is a process to apply a transfer onto fabric. This product come in a range of different colors and surfaces, even a glitter. This however is not a printable product, but rather you can cut out your design by hand, or as is used most often, have the design cut on a vinyl plotter, which is programmed from your computer’s graphic software. Your design is then peeled off the backing paper, pleased on the fabric and applied with a heat press. This is a huge advantage if you are doing lettering and don’t what any background.

I hope this information has been of help. Again, these are but a few of the many different methods available for transfers. I will cover more in future blogs.