Facts About Heat-transfer Printing

Written by leslie renico
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Facts About Heat-transfer Printing
Roll-to-roll printing is also common in the heat-transfer process. (Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Heat-transfer printing allows you to take images and impress them on different promotional products or clothing garments. When this technology was first invented, it was basically limited to the T-shirts you could buy on beach boardwalks and at other tourist attractions. As of June of 2011, though, anything from skis to mouse pads to ceramic tiles to casino chips can take heat-transfer printing.

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Types of Machines

There are two main types of heat-transfer printing machines. The first is a platen-press machine, in which the object receiving the image will lie flat and the image will be pressed down upon it. This is popular for smaller items like shirts, totes, shorts or ceramic tiles. The second type of machine is a rotary drum machine, in which long fabric or plastic items, such as banners, signs or quilts, are run through a machine. Also, if you're printing a lot of shirts with the same image, for example, you may find it more efficient to run them through a rotary drum machine with a repeated image.


If you have an inked image on carrier paper, you have a picture ready for heat transfer. Applying pressure and heat will move the image onto the desired product. Topical transfers actually print the image on the surface of the item, while sublimation transfers involve soaking the inks from the image right into the fibres of the item. If you're printing onto tile, wood, metal or other non-fabric items, you have to apply a coating of polyester so that the image will stay.

Transfer Sources

You can use three different sources to create the transfers. One source is a colour copier in which you can put paper designed for transfers. You can then take then copies and run them through your transfer machine. A second type of source is computer graphics packages that design images and then print them onto speciality transfer paper using an electrostatic or inkjet printer. A third type of source would be third-party suppliers that can sell you images that are either available for downloading and printing or that are already pre-printed for use in your machine.

Environmentally Conscious Process

There are other printing procedures that release liquid by-products that you have to dispose of to keep them out of the wastewater system. One reason for the popularity of heat transfer is that the only by-product is the paper from the image that you transferred. If you run a "green" printing shop, you can recycle your old transfer papers to minimise your "carbon footprint."

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