by Joe Whiteside
One of the most frequently asked questions by beginner shirt printers is will the heat transfer paper leave a “white background” once the image is heat transferred onto the t-shirt. I have answered this question so many times I figured I would just put it in my blog and refer people to the post.
There are many methods for printing onto t-shirts. Each method has it’s advantages and disadvantages. It’s up to the customer to decide which is best for their situation. Some deciding factors are cost involved, difficulty, space requirements and how you want your shirt to look.
Most people want to print shirts like they are accustomed to seeing. More than likely they have seen a screen printed shirt and they want their shirts to look just like that. Well if you want your shirt to look screen printed then you need to use the screen print method to create the shirt.
A lot of my customers purchase heat transfer paper for dark fabrics with intentions of creating shirts like they have seen. More than likely they are talking about a screen printed shirt. Once they have printed their design onto the transfer paper and heat transferred it onto the shirt I occasionally get asked “How do I get rid of the white background”? To properly answer the question it is only right for me to explain in detail the process of both heat transfer printing and screen printing.
Heat Transfer Printing
When printing with heat transfer paper you are printing with your inkjet printer onto a inkjet receptive film. That film is transparent when you are using heat transfer paper for light fabrics. The film is an opaque white when you are using heat transfer paper for dark fabrics.
Here is the reason why. Home use inkjet printers cannot print white ink. When you print on heat transfer for light fabrics (clear film) the design will utilize the light color of the fabric you are printing on as the white represented in your design. If you are printing on a yellow shirt your white will be yellow. If you are printing on an off-white shirt, your white will be off-white. Once the image has been heat transferred onto the shirt the clear film is almost not noticeable. Only on close inspection is it noticeable.
This is where the questions start. When printing on heat transfer paper for dark fabrics (opaque white film) the design uses the white of the film as the white in the design you printed. This is exactly like printing a color image on regular printer paper. If you print your design and heat transfer it to a dark colored shirt you will have a white square with your image on it.
Here’s the problem, most people do not want that white square around their image. There are a couple of ways to eliminate that.
- The easiest (but not always practical) way to eliminate this white square is to design your image with a frame around it. For example, if you want to heat transfer a logo that is an oval shape you could redesign the logo to have a square frame around it. When you print your design onto the transfer paper you can easily trim around the square logo thus eliminating an unwanted white square. Trim using a straight edge and knife?
- The second way is to take a sharp xacto knife and trim around the outline of your image. This technique can be very technical and requires time and a steady hand. I have done this many times with designs and I learned it is a lot easier to design the image so that it is easier for me to trim by hand. This is a fairly inexpensive technique but it does require time…….and time = money.
- The third way is the most expensive but by far the best way to go if you can afford it. It involves purchasing a plotter that can “contour cut” around your printed image. There are printers that will print and then cut (most expensive) and you have the kind that will just cut the image that has already been printed on your printer. I have seen these machines brand new on ebay for about $400 and I have seen them elsewhere on the internet for thousands of dollars. If you are thinking about purchasing one of these plotters/cutters I would suggest you do a Google search for “contour cutting printer” or do an eBay search for “contour cutting printer”. With this method you get the best possible results out of your heat transfer paper for dark fabrics. When a novice looks at the image they will not be able to tell if it is a heat transfer design or a screen printed design.