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how to make decals for shirts

How to Make Decals for Shirts – A Guide

On this page, we would like to explain the different options you have in making decals for fabrics as for shirts for example. We will also provide you with more information about the processes and materials involved in textile printing. Which technique is best for you depends on what you want to print, but also how fast and how much you want to spend.

Basically, we have three printing techniques available to us today, each with its own advantages and disadvantages and price points.

There is the Cutting Plotter, the Sublimation Printer, and finally the laser printer.

The Cutting Plotter

For most amateur hobbyists, cutting and pressing textile foil is going to be a very easy way to print simple designs for yourself. A cutting plotter is a kind of printer that has a knife instead of a print head. That way, the machine can cut the desired designs out of a textile foil.

This technique is especially ideal when you have designs that require less than three colors. But printing different colors is also possible. If you want to print more colors, you will have to cut each color separately and then print them over each other, it takes a little more time than with other solutions, but you can use as many colors as you want this way.

Textile foil is a kind of foil that you apply to textiles with heat and pressure. For this application, we recommend the use of a specialized transfer-press. Because when using the proper press, the pressure stays better in place and the decal will stay put a much longer time on the fabric.

Sublimation Printer

Another way to make decals for your shirts is by printing the textiles using a sublimation printer. Sublimation is a chemical process in which a substance changes from a solid phase directly to a gaseous phase. It may sound a bit tricky, but it actually means that the colors are fused into the surface of the material itself, and will therefore adhere permanently. This guarantees not only much-improved longevity but also the prints generally look better and their colors more vibrant.

In order to achieve this, you will use heat-sensitive inks that mix with the specially coated surface material. The result is a full-color print that is scratch and water-resistant!

For sublimation on textiles, it is important that the base material consists of at least 65% polyester. The best results are surfaces that are light in color. For dark surfaces, special films can be used though.

Laser Printer

Lastly, another great option is the laser printer. A laser printer can be a quick solution for prints with less than three colors. You print with the laser printer a black color on a no-cut flex film. This way the foil knows exactly where this color has to give off, on the black print.

The color of the no-cut film fuses together with the adhesive sheets, so you don’t have to peel. Working with a laser printer takes some practice, but after that, you can make very nice designs with this technique.

There are several steps necessary for making the transfer and for the application of that transfer. When making the transfers it is important to use a specialized transfer-press in order to achieve the best results possible.

How does it work and what do you need?

Now that you know what the options are, you will want to know how they work, and also you are going to want to know what is needed in order to make them work? But before making a decision on which technique and machine you are going to use, it is of course important to delve deeper into each one of them separately. Read below a number of short manuals with the steps included for printing textiles using a cutting plotter, sublimation printer, or laser printer and what you will need for each one.

Printing textiles yourself with a cutting plotter

Printing is always done in four steps.

  • Cut your logo or design into a mirror image, with the matt side up
  • Remove the remaining foil
  • Place the transfer, including the transparent backing, on the shirt and press it onto the fabric with the correct temperature and time settings*.
  • Remove the transparent backing immediately after pressing

*The correct temperature and time settings vary per foil used. Check the included manufacturer’s manual for more information.

Stuff needed:

  • A Cutting plotter, like for example the Brother ScanNCut SDX 1200 cutting plotter
  • Textile foil
  • A Transfer-press, like for example the renowned Hobbycraft transfer presses
  • Of course, the textiles you want to transfer the decals to

Read Related Article: How To Make Vinyl Decals – The Ultimate Guide

Print your own textiles with a sublimation printer

Another very popular technique in getting decals on your shirts is by using a sublimation printer. Sublimation gives a very high quality, professional, and durable final product, as long the textile has a minimum content of 65% polyester.

Sublimating textiles is actually very simple to achieve. One of the things that make sublimation especially easy is the fact that with sublimation you can print all colors at once on the clothing. With a cutting plotter and flex foil, for example, it would take much longer and be significantly more labor-intensive. This is one of the reasons that the sublimation technique is often chosen when large quantities of shirts are needed. Most of the decals on sports shirts that you will see when running the marathon or playing soccer are made through sublimation.

Printing is always done according to the following steps:

  • Print your image as a mirror image on the designated film
  • Cutaway the contour of your design and remove all excess film
  • Place the sheet on top of the target textile with the standard print sheet on top
  • Press all of this with a Transfer-press with the correct settings for the material, as prescribed in the included manufacturer’s manual
  • Remove the film only when it has completely cooled down
  • Place a non-stick sheet on the print and press this on, this will bring out the colors

Stuff needed:

  • A Sublimation printer, like the Sawgrass Virtuoso sg800 A3 sublimation printer
  • Sublimation film
  • Sublimation Ink, like for example the Virtuoso SG400 sublimation ink
  • Non-stick sheets, like for example the Anti stick A3 for Sublimation and No-Cut printing
  • A Transfer-press, like for example the ones from Hobbycraft

Print your own textiles with a laser printer

As stated above, with a laser printer it is a bit more difficult to press multiple colors, which has to be done in multiple steps:

  • Print your design as a mirror image on the A-film, like the Forever Flex-Soft (No-Cut) A-film
  • Cut off the excess edges around the printout
  • Pre-press the bottom heat plate for 30-60 seconds
  • Place one or two blank copy sheets on the bottom plate for protection
  • Place the A-foil on the center of the plate, printed side up
  • Place a sheet of B paper over the A foil
  • Cover this all with one or two blank copy sheets
  • Press the A foil and B paper together
  • Remove the copy sheets and rub the B paper with a textile cloth
  • Remove the B paper from the A foil while it is still warm, leaving it on the heat-press plate
  • Work in one slow, continuous motion while keeping everything flat

Stuff needed:

  • A laser printer, like the Oki Laser Printer for Forever Flex
  • A-film, like Forever Flex (soft) no-cut
  • B paper, like the B Paper from Forever
  • Non-stick sheets, like the Anti stick A3 for Sublimation and No-Cut printing.
  • A Transfer-press, like the ones from Hobbycraft

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James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.