Using Iron on Transfer Paper to print on clothes

How to effectively use iron-on transfer paper to create custom designs or prints on clothing items - tips to easily transfer the designs onto fabrics using an iron.

Do you have a beautiful picture or a drawing that you want to see on your t-shirt; but are you wary of the mess you may make in the process or of the cost you will incur?

iron on transfer paper fabricprinting

When you want to transfer a particular design onto fabric, there are many options for you – including screen printing, direct printing on to fabric with high-end machines, or your own inkjet printer. But these methods have many disadvantages when it comes to transferring a one-off design onto a particular garment you own. You can use a comparatively cheaper and easier option of Iron-on-transfer sheets for this. This paper uses heat transfer using household iron to transfer the image printed on the paper to your fabric.

The iron-on-transfer sheets solve the problem of messy/costly transfer of images. Take a printout of the design on the iron-on-transfer paper and then apply it to your garment wherever you want it to be. Easy peasy. Here is the step-by-step

Disclaimer: Though the process is easy on paper, the results may be durable and vivid depending on many factors like the quality of your paper, and the printer.

What do you need to transfer your beautiful designs to clothes?

Standard Iron-on transfer paper.  Buy suitable paper for the color of your garment.

Which color fabric are you printing on ? Light or dark colored ? There are different types of papers for light-colored fabric and dark-colored fabric.

The iron on transfer paper for light fabric have backing paper on the top and the design is printed in reverse on the back side; Whereas the iron on transfer paper for dark fabric have the printable side on the top – design is printed as it is on this side and the back side with paper is peeled off and attached with heat

A garment – choose one made of cotton, silk or a blend of less than 50% synthetic. You need a fabric that can be ironed with a high enough temperature. Do not try this on nylon fabrics or a full polyester (polyester blend can be tried)

A design/photo and a graphics program to edit. You can use images, letters, pictures etc. Use a design with dark colors and heavy, stronger lines.

Inkjet printer – iron -on-transfer papers are used on the inkjet printer.

Sharp Exacto knife to cut the design and preferably a cutting mat to cut your surface or scissors.

Iron (not using steam vents)

How to use the iron on transfer paper

Step 1. Prepare the design

Choose the design you want. You can use a photograph you have taken, a wording, or a design you have created or a picture you have taken from free photo sharing websites like

One thing you need to know when you decide on your design is that anything that is white in your desing will appear as the background color of your clothing – this is because there is no white color in your inkjet printer.

You need a high resolution image of atleast 300 DPI (Dots per inch) for real clarity. When you take photos yourself in your camera, they will normally be of high DPI. Many images you can get for free from photosharing sites may have less than 100 DPI. You can check this in the following way.

How to check the DPI of an image on MS paint 

iron on transfer paper fabricprinting
iron on transfer paper fabricprinting

You can convert the image with a low DPI to one of high DPI. Follow the tutorial given here.

Enhance the design

You can change the background, add wordings or make a collage of different images – depending on your creativity and effort. Use a program like photoshop or online sites like for this.

The simple pencil drawing (scanned the drawing that my daughter made of her favourite somebody) looks better suited for printing like this when the background is changed. 

iron on transfer paper fabricprinting

Step 2. Reverse the design (for light transfer paper only)

For iron on transfer paper for light fabrics, If you print the image as it is and then use the iron on transfer paper, you will get an image which looks like a mirror image – this is especially noticeable when printing people or letters. It looks un-natural and you do not want that.

So to prevent this you need to reverse the design ie create a mirror image. 

iron on transfer paper fabricprinting

You can use a computer program like photoshop or even MS paint program to reverse the image. Some printers have a mirror image option.

You can reverse the print on MS paint this way. Choose the option – rotate and then flip. Choose on horizontal option.

iron on transfer paper fabricprinting

The image would be reversed like this.

This reversed image has to be printed.

For transfer paper suitable for dark fabrics this reversal is not needed.

I would prefer that you test print your design on a regular printing paper and keep it on the garment to check that it is the correct size

Step 3. Print

Print the design on the transfer sheet. There is a plasticky side and a paper side. The plasticky side is to be printed. The paper side will be peeled off later.

You need to print the design quite dense – ie choose top quality printing option. Apparently, my printer cartridges need to be changed.

Step 4. Cut the design

Cut out the design. You should ensure that there is no excess paper outside the design. You can leave a 1/4 inch margin or cut exactly for transfer paper for light fabrics. 

For transfer paper for dark fabric you will need to cut all white edge out of the design.

Step 5. Prepare the garment

If you have to wash, it should be done on the previous day. You may want to wash your garment to remove sizing, starch, any dust, dirt etc. Do not add any fabric softeners in the wash.

Experts boil the fabric to get all impurities out before any type of fabric printing- you can do this for starched or dirty fabric- add some detergent and washing soda and boil or use warm water to soak for some time. Then rinse and dry thoroughly.

Step 6. Iron

Iron the garment to remove all wrinkles – atleast where you mean to transfer the design. This is a very important step.

Step 7. Heat Press

Choose a flat hard surface as your heat press surface. Keep another fabric on top as a light cushion. Do not do the heat press on an ironing board or bed – you need a hard surface for the pressing to be effective.

Keep the design face down(plasticky side) on the garment. (the backing paper side up)

Press with the iron. Use dry heat – there should be no steam escaping. Ensure that the iron soleplate is very clean. And that, at no point does the fabric shift. 

Do not make the iron too hot.  A moderate temperature is what is needed. Use as much heat as the fabric will tolerate.

Use firm pressure and move in circles or back and forth, moving all the time. Start from the outer edges and move to the center of the design. You may have to move the iron across the design a number of times to make sure that the print is transferred fully. How much time you have to spend on a design depends on your design – for a moderate design you can press for about half a minute to even 2 minutes. But do not stop at any point – this may scorch the paper at that point. Move.

After you have finished, wait for the heat to cool off.

(For dark clothes – the ironing is done keeping the design face up. A silicon paper is kept on top of the design and the iron is used over it)

Step 8 Take off the backing paper

Peel off the backing paper from the back of the iron on transfer paper. (Wait till the whole thing is really cooled off). Hopefully you have fully transferred the image to the garment.

Step 9 Final press

This is an optional step – it will bring a matt look to your design and also adhere the image quite firmly. If you have parchment paper (used for baking), keep it above the design and then use a moderately hot iron over it. This will remove the plasticky look. Some papers will come with a special paper which can be used this way – to adhere the design firmly. 

Please ensure that hot iron does not touch the image at all – it will all melt away infront of you

Update and cautionary note after washing the above t-shirt: This printing is better done on something which you wouldn’t wash.

Related posts : Different types of fabric printing techniques; Different ways to print on t-shirts ; Different ways to make interesting texture and patterns on fabric.How to use iron on heat transfer stickers on clothes

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
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