How to make an Iron-on Heat transfer T-Shirt

Splash Paint Red T-Shirt
“Splash Paint” T-shirt made with iron on heat transfer.
(Buy this design on a t-shirt)

Homemade Iron-on Heat Transfer t-shirt:
Know how to iron a shirt? Know how to put paper into a printer? If so, you can make your own custom t-shirt in a jiffy. Iron-on t-shirt transfers are available where most printer/paper products are sold (Staples, Office Depot, Etc…note: these are just examples, find something near you.) The only catch is that you need some sort of graphics program that you know how to use on your computer. These days, most computers have some sort of graphics software already installed (i.e. Microsoft Paint, or some photo editing software) which will do the basic job. More elaborate programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, will offer more flexibility and can yield better results, however, personally, I’m a big fan of maximizing the resources available to you, so if you don’t have “fancy” image software, all is not lost. In fact, you will benefit from thinking outside the box while working with heat transfers…though they are great and get the job done it takes a little imagination to make them look like the “real thing”.

To get started you will need the following items in this list:

    -Access to a computer with a graphics program.
    -Printer, ink, and heat transfer paper.*
    -A household iron (preferably one with a “no steam” option).
    -A marble or marble-like (heat resistant) surface to act as your base.**
    -A t-shirt or fabric to print on!***

*inkjet printer, no laser printers
**you shouldn’t use an irononing board as you will need to apply pressure to the iron to get the best results
***check manufacturers recomendatons for best textiles to use

Propellers T-Shirt
“Propeller”. Another Dark T-Shirt iron-on t-shirt transfer.

Things to keep in mind when making homemade iron-on t-shirts:

-Resolution: Printing on transfer paper is akin to printing an image on regular paper: it is important to have high quality resolution (at least 150dpi) or pixelation might occur.

-Mirror Image Effect: Most transfer paper requires you to “flip” your image on its horizontal axis when you are ready to print it…this is so it will come out the right way when you place it down on the fabric. So don’t forget to do it! I’ve been making heat transfer tees for a long time and I still forget to “flip it” sometimes, and it can drive you crazy!

-Light vs. Dark Fabric: Heat transfer paper comes in two forms: for light fabrics and for dark fabric. Transfer paper for light fabrics tends to have less “hand” (industry term referring to the way the fabric feels to the touch after the transfer or print has been applied). Transfer paper for dark fabrics tends to act more like a thin film on top of the fabric and suffers from more of the “hand” effect.

-Trial and Error: Though this is a relatively straightforward process, getting the best results will require some trial and error. Just keep it in mind if your first t-shirt comes out a little funny!

The play by play instructions are available on the packaging of the transfer paper.

Man See Bird Fly T-Shirt
A typical iron-on t-shirt set up.

-Big table: give yourself some space to work with.

-Heat resistant plate under the t-shirt to absorb heat and sustain pressure.


1.Chris Faircloth : How to Make Iron-On T Shirt Designs.
These videos on Expert Village are a good source for a visual reference but perhaps not to be taken “word for word” as the process varies depending on the type of transfer you are using.

2.Coastal Business
Getting good at iron ons? Get cheaper paper (in bulk) and other heat transfer supplies at Coastal Business. I’ve purchased from them in the past. They have great customer service and return policies (the first heat press I bought was too small, I shipped it right back to them and upgraded with no problems).



  1. gartha flitcroft

    i have a picture and the transfer paper,but how do you flip the picture or do the mirror image so it comes out right on the t shirt?

  2. Hey Gartha…

    To make a heat transfer you need to print your image from your computer onto the transfer paper. Depending on the paper you are using (for light or Dark Fabrics) you may need to mirror the image (mostly done when transfering onto light garments)-transfer paper should come with instructions specifying the correct method.

    If you need to flip the image use an image editing program on your computer or download one for free from the internet. I did a quick search and found: I’ve never tried it before but it’s the type of program you are looking for.

    Hope that helps!
    Thanks for stopping by the site.

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