How Does Transfer Paper Work

Transfer papers have been a great relief in the artist world. With a surge in customization of designs and items, transfer papers have helped match the demand immensely. You can now escape the hassles and mess of using conventional carbon papers or tracing papers to produce a copy of a design you wish to paint or embroider.

The contemporary transfer paper is a thin sheet of paper with pigment and wax. The papers are commonly used in textile works to add vibrance and texture to artistic designs. Also, transfer papers offer a neat and convenient way to achieve DIY crafts, including home decorating spaces, quilting, and sewing clothes. This article breaks down the features, requirements, and how to do transfer paperwork.

Transfer Paper Basics – What Fabrics Can I Print?

Garments come in a range of fabrics, from synthetic to all-natural materials. Therefore, you should understand how to utilize the transfer paper to match the various dyes and threads used in different fabrics. It is important to remember that not all transfer paper manufacturers provide products suitable for every type of fabric. Therefore, check the product’s details to determine if it fits your specific fabric.

Transfer Paper Basics – Which Type of Transfer Paper Do I Need?

Transfer papers are available in various types, including inkjet transfer paper, sublimation transfer paper, and vinyl transfer paper. The quality and type of transfer paper you use will affect the quality of your output. Sublimation and screen transfer papers are commonly used in fabric printing.

Typically, sublimation transfer papers offer faster and better results because sublimations are printed to the paper before being applied to the fabric. On the other hand, screen transfer paper relies on heat rather than ink to stick onto the fabric or substrate. However, sublimation transfer papers are relatively costly and difficult to find compared to screen transfer papers.

The type of paper you need depends on the fabric or substrate you intend to use. Therefore, it is prudent to understand the various transfer papers and their suitable purpose.

How To Use Transfer Paper on Fabric

Regardless of your motive for using transfer paper, you should know how to use it properly to create a clean and impeccable design. However, it is not challenging to learn how to accomplish the preferred outcome, and it requires minimal or no prior expertise. If you have never used paper transfer before, below are insightful tips to help you transfer designs onto fabric.

1. Choose Your Design

When using paper transfer, the first thing you should do is decide on the design. The design you pick entirely relies on the impression you seek to achieve. If you feel more adventurous and inventive, you can draw out your design, depending on how you want it to appear on the fabric.

Also, you can opt for a ready-made design from a craft store or download one from the internet and print off a copy. However, when downloading a design from the internet, ensure you have the legal right to reproduce the design and that it is not copyrighted to avoid any inconveniences.

It is important to note that transfer patterns with dark, solid shades generally turn up better on fabric than designs with light colors. If your design features very light-colored parts, those parts may seem discolored and skewed when the iron is pressed onto the fabric due to the light hues mixing with the fabric’s color.

2. Mirror Your Image for Light-colored Fabric

Transfer sheet intended for light-colored fabric creates a mirror image. Therefore, ensure you mirror your design image before printing, especially if it contains letters, to achieve desired results. To ensure your design is mirrored, test it on regular paper before printing it on the transfer paper. Also, the image should appear flipped on your computer screen.

3. Use The Most Suitable Type of Transfer Paper

Upon getting your design right, ensure you have the proper transfer paper before transferring the design. Transfer paper is available in two major varieties: transfer sheets for dark-colored fabrics and transfer papers for light-colored fabrics.

Each type of transfer paper produces unique and diverse outcomes on iron transfer, depending on the fabric material. Therefore, using the wrong type of transfer paper can alter the appearance of your design on fabric.

4. Cut the Transfer Paper

After deciding which section of the design you intend to use, gently lay the transfer paper for fabric over the part where you wish to apply the pattern, making sure the edges line up nicely and smoothing out any creases.

Depending on the type of transfer paper and design you use, part of the paper may still be noticeable on the fabric if you leave the edges on. Trim as close to the pattern as possible to eliminate visible edges.

Carefully strip away the backing paper until the desired portion remains adhered to the cloth. Peel the excess backing paper and firmly press it into place. If you attempt to iron on a design with extra paper, an unwanted shadow in the shape of the transfer sheet will remain on the fabric.

5. Test the Transfer Paper

After you’ve finally gotten your desired pattern printed on the transfer sheet, it is important to examine how it looks on the fabric. Therefore, obtaining as many transfer papers as possible is well recommended in case of any errors. Likewise, for the testing, you may use old fabrics and materials.

You can test the design pattern to see how it will appear on a shirt, just as you did previously with the printing. It is crucial to examine the print features such as the size ratio and color contrast. Finally, depending on the results of the samples, you can make any required modifications.

6. Protect Your Fabric and Surface

Once you decide on the perfect transfer paper trim, choose a smooth, flat surface that can withstand heat. A table, countertop, or ironing board is a great fit, as it will not get damaged or interfere with the print. Cover the surface with a heavy cotton fabric to further protect it from possible damage.

Also, insert a cardboard piece inside the shirt just beneath the spot where the transfer design will be printed.  Placing a barrier between the two pieces of fabric prevents the heated iron from transferring to both sides of the t-shirt.

7. Iron-On the Transfer

Lay the transfer on the fabric with the image side facing down. Follow the instructions on the transfer sheer to iron your design onto the fabric. If no instructions are provided, adopt the standard iron on printing technique and set your iron to the hottest setting to properly transfer the image onto the fabric. However, avoid using steam as it can make it difficult for the transfer to adhere to the fabric.

Iron on the design by moving the iron in a steady circular motion, working your way inwards from the edges to the center of the image. Ensure you apply pressure on the iron but move the iron back and forth to avoid scorching the transfer sheet.

8. Peel Off the Backing Paper

After ironing on the image, wait for the transfer to cool down for a few minutes. You risk ruining the image if you take off the backing paper before the design cools down properly.

Once the image cools down, gently peel away the backing paper while maintaining a tight grip of the fabric against the surface. Also, be cautious not to tug on the adhesive pieces as you risk the danger of ripping the cloth.

9. Add Decorative Accents

Once you peel off the transfer paper, you will see the original design on the fabric. Spruce up your design by adding embellishments. There are exciting decorations to help add pomp to your image, from buttons to ribbons, beads, glitters, and charms. You have the freedom to express your creativity with embellishments, showcasing your artistic identity.

How to Take Care of Your Printed Fabric

Wait for at least a day after applying the iron-on print to wash your fabric. This time gives the print enough time to set fully, ensuring you do not ruin the transfer. If the transfer was done on a garment, turn the cloth inside-out before washing it, offering extra protection.

Only wash and dry your fabric on a cool setting for machine washing. Alternatively, if you opt for handwashing, use a light detergent to protect the transfer. Also, to dry your fabric, consider hanging your fabric instead of using a drying machine. This soft drying will extend the life of your transferred print.


Transfer paper is a convenient and reliable way to customize your fabric designs. Now that you are informed about all you need to transfer your artwork and designs onto fabric, you are ready to create your masterpiece. While the information may sound overwhelming, you can master the essential tips. Follow the essential steps highlighted in the article attentively, and you will have your desired results in no time. All you need is practice, and you will soon be able to create flawless patterns.

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