DIY T-Shirt printing? No Problem! (almost)

After a long dry season of posts here on i proudly announce yet another garage-tinkering-tutorial: How to print t-shirts yourself. While this may not sound special or new at all, the technique we’ve chosen required a lot of fine tuning to yield *PROFESSIONAL* (and by that i mean really really REALLY good) results. So i considered it worth sharing.


While i must admit that i make a equipment-assumption that may not be the case for most, you can work your way around it. What i’m talking about is that recently a cutting plotter moved into this household. A cutting-plotter is almost like a normal plotter – except that it doesn’t paint or print the paths (read: vector-files) you give it, but cuts. For those who don’t know what a plotter is – imagine a printer that is able to print on a infinitely long roll of paper and doesn’t print per line, but prints a arbitrary path (e.g. a sphere, bezier curve, etc.) at a time.

This allows to scrounge off so-called “flex film/foil” from professional shirt shops (they always seem to have some oddments to give away) or buy it really kinda cheap on ebay. This can then be cut using that cutting plotter given a nice vector-file you did before (inkscape is great once you learn how to use it by the way!). The trick with cutting plotters is that the foil you use comes on another foil, the “medium”. This medium is not cut, but only the “useable” film on top of it. So after cutting you need to take away the excess outset and inset foil.

And this is the point where i like to stress that you can, in fact, do this even without having a cutting machine like this handy! If you have some patience (and we had before we had that machine) you could just print out your motif, trace it to the foil and then cut it by hand using a scalpel or hobby knife. Just be careful only to cut the useable film, not the medium foil!

But it’s only after this that the real work begins – everything before was done by machine (or, by hand, in that case that was the most work :P). The film needs to be pressed on using quite some force, a defined (short!) time and a defined temperature. For this purpose professionals use “transfer-presses”, machines likeseen here on the right…

So, what do we do at home? We hack! After some datasheet reading and one Shirt full of little bits and pieces to try around we’ve found out how to properly do it. What you’ll need is found in (almost) any household:

  • a hard, smooth piece of wood
  • a regular electric iron
  • baking paper
  • a stopwatch
  • a frind who’s doing body-building also comes in handy

Make sure the iron is set to around 170°C (thats ~338°F). The press time is roughly 8 seconds *per point on the film*. As you have to move the iron around you need to guess how long each point was pressed on around 8-12 seconds… but for the pics! And the further explaination of course – it’ll be under the pics as always…

Starting to lift the outsets of the film on the medium...


finished getting rid of in and outsets. You mag now recognize the famous mahjongg-player akagi


The iron and wooden board...


Now first lay out the shirt as flatly as you can


then iron it where you want to put the motif, just enough to be kinda smooth


This is the setup for fixating the foil on the shirt - you align the film/medium nicely, the baking paper over it (so you can move around nicely without moving the foil) and a stopwatch to time how long you've been pressing...


ready, steady....


GO! Press as hard as you can (or as your bodybuilder buddy to press even harder than you can) while slowly moving the iron around. Moving it has to be done to make shure the film gets fixated evenly!


press more ...


... and even more - until ever point on the foil got hot and was pressed on for about 9-12 seconds


For pictures this size (~14x14cm) this usually takes around 15-20 seconds


Now the film is fixated on the fabric, but the medium also sticks to it quite hard ... the trick here is TO WAIT UNTIL ITS *COMPLETELY* COLD.


You can, by the way, already see whether it worked by looking out for a silky~ gloss on the surface of the film


Then, after its COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY COLD start pulling it off at a angle as sharp as possible - and SLOWLY. Even if the worst case should happen and small parts peel off with the medium you could use your hobby knife to pull them back and fixate them later...


After finishing removing the medium - you can already see the film "burned into" the fabric.


But not enough yet! You need to burn it in a little more - fortuneatly this is possible when using baking paper again... i like to fixate every point for around 1:30min - which seems to be the point where "well fixated film" turns to "burned film"


Everything finished, not yet finally fixated...


closeups from after fixation - you can see the film burned nicely into the fabric


Here it seems i fin-fixated a little too much, the film started to melt and the black fabric comes through a little. Lucky me it isn't too bad!


The final result


With this technique you can achieve a almost professional result from everyday home-use items (except for the cutting plotter maybe…). Some professionals may cry out because of this tutorial – but it really works. Washable too, the first test-shirt didn’t break down yet…


I hope you had fun with this tutorial and are now put up to try it yourself. Really, even with hand-cutting easy motifs aren’t too bad to make… As always, feel free to ask!

Also look out for our post with tons of vectors for T-Shirt printing :).

5 thoughts on “DIY T-Shirt printing? No Problem! (almost)”

    • Hey Fu-Chan,

      what exactly do you mean by edges? If you mean cutting the whole flex-foil/film we use\’d a cutting-plotter. If you\’ve never seen a (cutting)plotter: imagine a printer that doesn\’t print but cuts the lines with a small knife. Thing is – you could also use your plain hobby knife, or even better a swivel-knife like this:
      to cut the flex-foil/film.

      Hope This Helps,

    • Hey!

      While i do not own a dryer i know that a friend regularly dries his shirts made with this method. If you apply the same precautions as for the commercially flexed shirts (always wash/dry inside out, also iron inside out) … i haven\’t had any problems. I even sometimes wash them not turned inside out – no problems so far. I expect them to be quite durable (after ~1.5-2 years i see some wear on my profesionally flexed ones too, so…)

      – Dario


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