Image transfers are handy way to add a little artfulness to ordinary items and when it comes to transferring images to fabric, there’s more than one way to get the look you want to create.
Without a doubt, you remember the classic printable image transfer sheets you can iron on- and the inevitable cracking with use that the image suffers. Not to mention the semi-translucent shadow you see around your image (your cut lines). If you’re looking to craft for yourself, others, or as a business- today we’re sharing three more methods, plus the pros and cons of each.
To illustrate the how-to and show the different finishes, these methods are demonstrated on tea towels. These tea towels have a very thick weave for reference. Oh, and as a bonus, that lettering from Lemon Thistle, ‘What’s Cooking?’ can be downloaded below so you can make one of these tea towels for yourself!
There is one method we don’t list here. You guessed it! Screen printing. And that’s a rocking option too- but that’s more involved to learn than we can teach you in a blog post. So if you’re interested in exploring screen printing, you can check out Erin Dollar’s Intro to Screen Printing class right here.
This method is by far the most professional looking with precision lines and shine. It’s also the least time consuming. But it’s the most costly. For this method, we used heat transfer vinyl, a cutting machine (Cricut was used here), the template, and iron. If you are looking to make a tea towel for yourself and maybe one friend but don’t have any of this equipment, this method will probably be too costly to bother. But if you have a cutting machine or if you plan to make more than a few designs- this method will be your favorite.
*You can use heat transfer vinyl cut by craft knife as well. This is not practical for an intricate design as shown, but is a great option for a simple design (perhaps geometric shapes).*
Load your design into your cutting machine’s software. If you’re using Cricut Design Space, you do that by selecting, ‘Upload Image’, ‘Simple Image’ (if your design is PNG as ours is), ‘Cut Only Image’. Stretch to resize to your preference, then adjust your settings for ‘Iron-On’. The most important step on this is to hit REVERSE IMAGE. Since you’ll be ironing it on, it needs to be reversed, especially if it’s wording like this design.
When your machine is done cutting, weed your design (remove all unwanted material from the design) and heat up your iron.
The best advice we’ve ever gotten on heat transfer vinyl is to iron it longer than you think you need to. Iron until the clear plastic separates on it’s own. Then let cool and you’re done.
This method is the second most professional looking. It works amazing on less plush materials. These tea towels have quite a plush weave which pulled up when removing the stencil. This wouldn’t happen on a classic grain sack tea towel.
We cut our stencil using a cutting machine as well but you could cut a stencil with a craft knife and some patience out of almost any material. We’re fans of adhesive stencils (we used vinyl for this) as it minimizes paint bleed.
To cut a stencil with a cutting machine (or by hand), the weeding is opposite, taking away the design and leaving the ‘white space’. To transfer a vinyl stencil, use transfer tape to pick up all the pieces (including the dots in the middles of your letters) at once. Press the stencil down firmly before painting.
Painting fabric, especially such thick fabric, is best done by dabbing rather than dragging your paint brush. A stiff brush is best to get into all the nooks and crannies. The fabric paint we used is called Tulip Soft Matte (the farthest thing from 90’s puffy fabric paint). When your design is dry, peel back the vinyl to reveal your art.
The white almost fuzzy looking edges on this design is due to the adhesive stencil being pulled away. The paint lines are clean and that fuzz would disappear after a few washes, but if you’re gifting it or selling it, that’s something to consider. Again, choosing a tight weave (such as grain sack) would have eliminated this.
Lastly, classic hand painting. This is the least costly method, but also the most time consuming. It’s also the most inconsistent (if you were making a batch, they would each be varied). The image is transferred to the tea towel using transfer paper (sold in art stores) layered underneath a print of your design. Trace firmly over the design to press a faint outline onto your surface.
This was difficult to do with such a plush weave as well, it would be much quicker with grain sack. If you were to go with a thinner tea towel or fabric, you could also tape down your tea towel over your design and trace it with paint (see an example of that here). This fabric was much too thick to see the design through the towels.
You will need a thin detail brush for this. Fabric paint is much thicker than standard craft paint, so it will need frequent reloading. Again, with painting fabric, to prevent the fabric from getting ‘fuzzy’, try to dab your brush more than drag it.