Finding the right transfer types for different fabrics

Cotton is probably the easiest fabric to decorate

In this informative article, Andy Rogers, marketing manager at Target Transfers, details the right transfers to use for all kinds of different fabrics.

With Custom Heat Transfers, all you need to do is provide artwork. Once you are happy with your design, send it to your supplier and they will bring it to life. Created with ink, transfers are printed onto release paper and applied with a heat press.

With Custom Transfers, there are three main types of transfers to look for: Screen Printed, Print & Cut and UltraColour transfers. All of these will last the lifetime of the T shirt if applied correctly and used with the correct fabrics.

With heat transfers there are different recipes for different types of fabrics. In this article we will go through the key principles and simplified terminology.


Probably the easiest fabric to decorate with. Cotton can take a higher fuse time than most fabrics, which means that you can apply both screen printed and full colour transfers with ease.

The main consideration here is the colour of the fabric. On darker and more vibrant colours, you may find the colour coming through on lighter designs. For example, a white transfer on an orange T shirt may become a pale orange over time.

In this instance ask for transfer with a blocker. This way the integrity of your design will be preserved for the lifetime of the garment.


A synthetic which is considered the most versatile fabric around today. Polyester can be used by itself to make fabrics durable, fade resistant, wrinkle resistant, and water resistant.

Because of its durability, polyester can be heat pressed with no problem and, barring any chemical coatings, can handle any heat pressed transfers. If it’s heat-sensitive polyester, transfers that apply at cooler temperatures are best.

The main consideration for polyester is if the transfer is going to need to stretch. Most heat transfers are now built with stretch and rebound as standard. But it is always best to check with your supplier.

Tip: For best results used a lower heated power platen to apply your transfers on polyester.


Nylon is a synthetic fabric originally designed to replace silk. Today it’s used alone or mixed with other fibres to create everything from women’s hosiery to outerwear to sports jerseys. Nylon can be heat sensitive so opt for a transfer with a lower application temperature and always test to avoid burning the material.

With nylon, it is always recommended to talk to your supplier. Most sports and performance transfers will be fine. But for more sensitive nylon fabrics you can get a Nylon Screen or Nylon Full Colour Transfer. Just ask your supplier to build to this specification.

Performance wear

Performance wear is made to be tight, but flexible so it can be worn under a team uniform or as a uniform itself in some sports. Some performance wear has a loose fit. This apparel can be decorated with any heat applied product that is appropriate for polyester.

However, other performance wear is referred to as compression fit. This apparel is worn skin tight and will generally stretch to some degree.

For this fit, use heat transfers designed for maximum stretchability. For fabrics like this, the heat transfer needs to have four-way stretch. Sometimes referred to as ultra-stretch, this is normally is special order transfer.

Both screen and full colour heat transfers can be designed with four-way (ultra) stretch.

Tip: A screen printed transfer lends a very soft finish to performance wear. (See also Spandex).

Sublimated and fabrics with dye migration

Dye migration, or bleeding as it’s most commonly called, occurs when the ink used to dye the fibres of a polyester garment are reheated. At this temperature the inks are reactivated and released from the fibres. When they are released the dyes will come through heat transfers and cause discoloration, like a faint red (or pink) number on a red jersey.

In this instance ask for transfer with a blocker. This way the integrity of your design will be preserved for the lifetime of the garment.

Tip: Choose a heat transfer that applies at 160°C or below.

Other fabrics

If you are ever unsure, always ask. So long as the fabric can take heat there will be a solution. Other fabrics not covered in this article include, high-vis, softshell, Gore-Tex and many more. Just ask your supplier and they will find the right recipe.

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