How Can You Print on Blank Shirts with a Heat Press?


Posted by AllDayShirts on to Printing Business Tips, Printing Techniques., Product Guides

How Can You Print on Blank Shirts with a Heat Press?

Design Preparation

Before you even power on your heat press, the first step is to have your design ready. Whether you're working with text, graphics, or a combination of both, ensuring your design is high resolution and correctly mirrored is crucial. This is because the design will be transferred in reverse from the transfer paper onto the shirt. Software like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop can be instrumental in preparing and fine-tuning your designs.

Choosing the Right Heat Press Machine

A reliable heat press machine is at the heart of transferring your designs onto shirts. These machines come in various sizes and types, including clamshell, swing-away, and drawer models. Each has its pros and cons, but what's most important is choosing one that can uniformly apply heat and pressure across the shirt surface. For beginners, a clamshell heat press might be more straightforward to use, while professionals might prefer the versatility of a swing-away model.

Selecting Suitable Transfer Paper

Transfer paper acts as the medium through which your design moves from paper to fabric. There are different types of transfer papers available, depending on your printer type (inkjet or laser) and the shirt fabric (cotton or polyester blends). For the Gildan 500 (100% cotton) shirts, you'll want to use transfer paper that best adheres to cotton surfaces. Meanwhile, for the Gildan G800 (50/50 blend), a transfer paper compatible with mixed fabrics is your go-to choice. Always follow the transfer paper's instructions for the best results.

Preparing the Blank Shirt

Choosing a high-quality shirt as your canvas is essential. The Gildan 500 100% Cotton Shirt offers a soft, comfortable feel with a sturdy fabric that's ideal for heat press printing, providing a vibrant and lasting design. On the other hand, the Gildan G800 50/50 Shirt combines the comfort of cotton with the durability of polyester, making it a versatile option for various designs and uses.

Before printing, some will pre-wash shirts to prevent any shrinkage or distortion after the design is applied but you should wait ample time post wash. Also, preheat your press to iron out any wrinkles and moisture in the shirt, ensuring a smooth surface for the transfer.

The Heat Pressing Process

Once your design, machine, transfer paper, and shirt are ready, you're set to begin the heat press process. Place the shirt on the press, positioning it correctly to ensure the design transfers to the desired area. Place the transfer paper (with your design) onto the shirt, design side down. Close the heat press and set it according to the transfer paper and shirt specifications—this usually involves adjusting the temperature and timing based on the fabric type and the ink used in your design.

After the pressing time is up, carefully peel off the transfer paper according to its instructions—hot, warm, or cold peel. This step reveals the vibrant design now permanently part of the shirt.

Advanced Temperature and Time Adjustments

- Fabric Sensitivity: While the Gildan 500 can generally handle higher heat due to its 100% cotton composition, the Gildan G800 requires a more nuanced approach due to its polyester content. Polyester is prone to scorching and melting at high temperatures. Begin with the lower end of the temperature range recommended for your transfer paper and adjust upwards as necessary, conducting test prints along the way.

- Color Considerations: Darker colored shirts may need a slight increase in temperature or time to ensure the design fully transfers. The darker fabric absorbs more heat, which can affect the transfer process.

Precision in Pressure Application

- Calibration Is Key: Regularly check your heat press for uniform pressure distribution. An uncalibrated press can lead to areas of the design not adhering properly. Most heat presses allow you to adjust the pressure; make small adjustments and use a pressure testing tool if available.

- Account for Thickness: If your design is near seams, buttons, or zippers, use a heat printing pillow or a pad to raise the print area. This ensures even pressure by compensating for the uneven surface.

Mastery Through Test Printing

- Replicate Real Conditions: Use a test shirt that's the same material and color as your final product. This will give you the most accurate representation of how your settings affect the print.

- Document Settings: Keep a log of the temperature, time, and pressure settings used for each test print, along with notes on the outcome. This documentation can become a valuable reference for future projects, helping you dial in your settings more quickly.

Enhancing Durability and Quality

- Pre-Press Routine: A brief prepress of the blank shirt removes moisture and wrinkles, ensuring a clean, flat surface for your transfer. This step can significantly impact the clarity and adherence of your design.

- Layered Designs: When working with layered designs, especially on the Gildan G800, press the background layers for slightly less time than recommended. This prevents overheating the layers as you add more. The final layer should be pressed for the full recommended time to ensure all layers are adequately adhered.

- Cool-Down Period: For materials sensitive to peeling or materials that require a cold peel, allowing the design to cool completely before peeling the transfer paper can improve the clarity and longevity of the design. This is particularly relevant for complex or detailed designs.

Post-Press Care

- Final Press: After peeling, placing a protective silicone sheet over the design and pressing for a few more seconds can help set the design into the fabric, improving durability.

- Care Instructions: Advise proper care to maintain the print's quality. Washing the shirt inside out in cold water and hanging it to dry or using a low-heat setting can extend the life of the print. Avoid direct ironing on the design.

By incorporating these advanced tips into your heat press printing process, you can achieve professional-quality results on shirts like the Gildan 500 and G800. Remember, the key to success is patience and willingness to experiment and adjust based on outcomes. Each project can provide valuable lessons that refine your technique and improve your results.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Encountering challenges? Here are quick fixes for common heat press printing problems:

- Uneven Prints: Check for even pressure distribution and ensure the shirt is laid flat.

- Color Fidelity: Test your color output on similar fabric before the final print to ensure accuracy.

- Durability: To enhance the longevity of your print, follow proper aftercare instructions, like washing on a gentle cycle and avoiding high heat in the dryer.

Maximizing Your Heat Press Potential

Beyond individual projects, heat press printing on shirts like the Gildan 500 and G800 can evolve into a lucrative business or an enriching hobby. Explore various designs, materials, and techniques to expand your repertoire.


In conclusion, mastering the art of heat press printing on blank shirts like the Gildan 500 and G800 requires more than just following the basic steps of design preparation, heat press adjustment, and pressing. To achieve optimal results, a deeper understanding of the nuances involved in temperature settings, pressure adjustments, and the specific characteristics of your chosen fabric is essential. Each fabric type, whether the durable and comfortable 100% cotton of the Gildan 500 or the resilient and versatile cotton-polyester blend of the Gildan G800, presents unique challenges and opportunities in the heat press printing process.

By paying close attention to the detailed tips provided, such as the importance of test printing, adjusting for fabric sensitivity, and ensuring even pressure, you can elevate the quality of your printed shirts significantly. Furthermore, understanding the importance of post-press care not only enhances the durability of your designs but also ensures that they remain vibrant and impactful for longer.

Remember, the journey to perfecting heat press printing is one of experimentation and continuous learning. Each project offers a chance to refine your technique and expand your creative repertoire. By documenting your process and learning from each print, you'll develop a keen eye for detail and a skilled hand that can bring any design to life on fabric. Whether you're creating custom apparel for a business, crafting personalized gifts, or simply exploring the bounds of your creativity, the world of heat press printing is rich with possibilities. Embrace the process, and enjoy the rewarding experience of transforming blank shirts into wearable works of art.

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