Custom t-shirts can be made with heat transfer vinyl

Everyone has a bad day now and then, but normally they don't have a lasting impact on us. But when your bad day negatively impacts your income or your reputation, it becomes a really bad day!

You can avoid some potential business bad days by avoiding the most common heat transfer vinyl mistakes. Working with heat transfer vinyl (HTV) takes some finesse and practice, but once you’ve mastered it, you will start finishing projects more quickly and confidently.

Let's do some heat transfer vinyl troubleshooting so you can become a master at applying it to your projects. How can you get to that confident level? Let’s talk about some tips to keep your HTV bad days to a minimum and your production at a maximum. 

Preparing, and even practicing, in advance of starting a personal or professional project will ensure that when you are ready to start, you will not be weighed down by the most common heat transfer mistakes. Remember that you can always chat with one of our experienced at SignWarehouse agents if you have questions about which vinyl to use for a project or have issues mid-project.

Why Can't I Cut My Heat Transfer Vinyl?

Most heat transfer film is very thin and soft and it's pretty easy to plot. If you have trouble cutting one of these products, the issue is most likely one of four things:

  1. Improper film loading. Most CAD T-shirt films are shipped with the liner facing outward, so when you load it on a standard roll fed plotter, you are cutting the face film from the bottom. If you load the film incorrectly, you will be cutting the liner, which may be much thicker and tougher. If reasonable amounts of cutting force are not working and it is your first time with a particular film, flip it over and do a test cut. 
  2. Extra liners. Some specialty films are shipped with an extra liner, which is designed to protect the face film during shipping and storage. This layer should be carefully removed before you plot your graphic. Only uncover an area large enough for you to cut your desired image so  the protective liner stays in place on the remainder of the roll. If you are cutting it off, don't cut too deeply or you'll mar the vinyl.
  3. Incorrect Blades. Most T-shirt vinyl can be easily cut with a 45° plotter blade. However, some vinyl is thicker or denser than average and requires a 60° blade, also known as a “flock blade.” (Coincidentally, flock is one of the products requiring extra blade depth. Glitter-flake films like Siser Heat Transfer Glitter, or Chemica Galaxy Stretchable Glitter HTV also require a 60° plotter blade. The glass beads in reflective heat transfer films like Logical Color Scotchlite Reflective also will not work with standard plotter blades. These specialty films also require a 60° blade.)
  4. Blade wear. If you’ve got the film loaded correctly, there isn’t an extra liner, and you’re using the right kind of blade, and you still can’t cut the material, it may be simply because your blade is damaged or worn out. Plotter blades are consumables and sooner or later, their usefulness is consumed. The more you use soft Polyurethane films like HotMark and Siser EasyWeed, the longer your blades will last. The more you use denser materials like Glitter heat transfer vinyl, the shorter your blade life will be. 

Why is This Vinyl So Hard to Weed?

Weeding problems are really cutting problems in disguise. If you are having trouble trying to cleanly weed a graphic, that's probably because you've cut into or through the face film, but not the adhesive.

You will also encounter weeding problems by going to the other extreme and cutting too deeply if you're using a film on a paper liner. Scoring too deeply cuts the face film, adhesive, and release liner. When you try to weed it, the liner comes up and clings to the film, which defeats your purpose. To reduce the chances of discovering one of these costly errors after having cut a full page of graphics, always, always, always, perform a test cut first, then weed it on the plotter before sending your job.

Graphtec Vinyl Cutters from SignWarehouse

The standard test cut from a Graphtec or Vinyl Express Q Series cutter is a triangle in a square.

  • Weed out the triangle.
  • Remove the rest of the square and look for light scoring in the liner.
  • If the liner isn’t scored at all, you haven’t cut all the way through the adhesive and a little more force is a good idea.
  • If the liner is deeply scored, you've gone to the other extreme. Lighten up the cutting force or check the blade depth to make sure your plotter blade isn't sticking too far out of the blade holder.
  • If you’ve done a test cut and it looked okay, but you’re still having trouble weeding the edges and corners of your graphic, crank it up a notch;  a little more blade force should do the trick.

Remember that not every film is made the same. Some come on a release liner with very little adhesive. These films are very easy to weed because the adhesive is heat-activated and isn't tacky when you're weeding the film. Others come on what is known as a self-adhesive carrier or liner. These films have a tangible tackiness to the liner which holds the face film tightly in place until you grip it and start pulling. These will require more effort.

If you're accustomed to a low-tack liner film like HotMark, using a vinyl like EasyWeed, which has a higher tack level, will be a different weeding experience for you. That doesn't mean the film is defective -- it's just different. 

Heat Transfer Vinyl choices from SignWarehouse

The benefit to a higher tack liner is the fact that you can weed more aggressively, knowing that only what you pull comes off. And if you goof and pull up something you didn't intend to, you can put it back in place because the self-adhesive carrier will keep it in place until you transfer it to the shirt. You might say it's goof-proof, preventing heat transfer vinyl mistakes.

We hope you find our heat transfer vinyl troubleshooting helpful for your business orders or crafting ideas. Heat transfer film projects can be rewarding, both creatively and financially. Yes, you can avoid the most common heat transfer vinyl mistakes. Mastering efficient weeding, using the right tools, and getting your own routine down will give you the satisfaction of a job well done -- several jobs well done!