How to Print a Picture on a T-Shirt with Iron-On TransfersBy Shirtspace | Jun 07, 2017 | Updated Mar 25, 2021
Are you an artist looking to bring your designs to life by printing them on blank apparel? Clothing is a great option because people are often mobile - transporting your messages or artwork with them wherever they go. This is a great way for your designs to be seen. Every time someone wears the shirt you designed as their fashion choice, your design gets more exposure! Exposure to friends, family and even people they walk by on the street!
Or perhaps you want to start a small online boutique, a brick-and-mortar shop, your own apparel line or want to create branded merchandise for your business. Maybe you are a craft fanatic and love all things DIY. Whatever the motivation behind the draw, learning how to print a picture on a t-shirt is a great skill to have in your back pocket.
You may have a beautiful piece of artwork or a photo you want to display on a t-shirt, but you are stuck at the question of "how do you get the picture on a shirt?" Thanks to inkjet or laser transfer paper, you can print almost any image to your t-shirt, sweatshirt or any blank apparel. All you need is the image, a printer, some transfer paper, an iron and a quality t-shirt!
Factors That Will Impact Your Success When Learning How to Put a Picture on a Shirt
Shirt Color Matters When Ironing a Picture on a Shirt
The first step in ironing a picture onto a shirt using transfer paper is to consider the color of the shirt. If you are not mindful of these rules, you may end up with too light or dark of an image to distinguish - think contrast! Also always make sure and check your inkjet transfer paper specifications to determine what materials it can be ironed onto. This is very important for best results, especially when first learning how to print a picture on a t-shirt.
How to Print a Picture on a Light-Colored Shirt
Light-colored images will get lost on a light-colored shirt, which is better suited for dark or vibrant colors.
How to Print a Picture on a Dark-Colored Shirt
Dark shirts are better for light-colored images. The light colors will pop against the dark background.
Transfer Paper Choices to Iron a Picture on a T-Shirt
Image source: shopcraftables.com
When to Use Light-Colored Transfer Paper
Shirt color also affects the type of transfer paper you use. For light-colored shirts, choose thin transparent transfers, which make the background appear clear. This does mean any white in your artwork will also be clear, which can be a problem if someone in your picture is, say, wearing a white shirt.
When to Use Dark-Colored Transfer Paper
Dark-colored transfers are thicker, and are intended to be used with black tees or other dark-colored shirts. Dark-colored transfers have a white backing, so white areas of the photo will appear in the finished transfer. This also means that any clear background areas will appear white. While not a problem with most photos, if you’re transferring artwork you may need to carefully cut out clear areas before applying the transfer.
When preparing your artwork, be mindful that you’ll need to use photo editing software to “flip” the image before you put a picture on a shirt - especially if your image includes text or is a photograph. If you don’t do this, the finished product will be a mirror image of the original.
Once printed, trim any excess transfer paper from around the image. Anything left will be transferred onto the shirt when you iron the design on.
How to Iron a Picture on a Shirt
Image source: Heat Press Guide
Prewash the shirt to prevent shrinkage that can cause pulling on the edges of your image when the shirt is washed. Be mindful that even if you purchase a preshrunk shirt - it may still shrink slightly, so prewashing is still advised. Once dry, place the shirt on a table or other hard flat surface, and iron it to remove any creases or wrinkles. If you do not ensure that the fabric is completely smooth when you go to put a picture on a shirt, then the transfer may come out lumpy, not adhere to the fabric properly, or will not last through multiple washes.
Peel the backing paper off the transfer paper and carefully position the transfer on the shirt. Take your time with this part, so that you have the picture positioned just right.
Using the transfer backing you just peeled off, cover over the top of your transfer paper. This acts as a sort of parchment paper, however you can also use a soft kitchen towel too. Now, heat the iron to the temperature recommended by the transfer manufacturer. Starting in the center of the transfer, gently move the iron in a circular motion to the edges of the image and back again, repeating for as long as the transfer instructions indicate. The process can take three or four minutes.
Depending on the instructions listed for the particular transfers you are using, let the transfer cool completely and then peel the paper back off or peel it while still hot . When you begin to remove the transfer backing, carefully peel up the parchment paper or towel, starting at one edge. Once cooled and the parchment paper is removed, the process is complete!
If you are a visual learner, here are three fantastic YouTube videos that show you how to iron a picture on a tee:
How to Get a Picture on a Shirt: Recap Steps
1. Choose Your T-shirt
Light-colored images are best suited for dark, vibrant colored shirts. Dark images are better for light-colored shirts.
2. Choose Your Transfer Paper
Both inkjet and laser transfer paper are popular. Make sure and check your inkjet transfer paper specifications to determine what materials it can be ironed onto!
3. Prepare Your Artwork
Use photo editing software to “flip” the image if your image includes text or is a photograph. If you don’t do this, the finished product will be a mirror image of the original.
4. Print Your Artwork on Transfer Paper
Once you’ve printed your image, trim any excess transfer paper around the image. Anything left will be transferred onto the shirt.
5. Prewash the Shirt to Prevent Shrinkage
Pre-washing will prevent pulling on the edges of your image when the shirt is washed.
6. Place the Shirt on a Table or Other Hard Flat Surface
Use an iron to remove any creases or wrinkles in the fabric of your shirt. You want your design to be flush with the fabric for a smooth result when you put a picture on a shirt.
7. Peel the Backing Paper off the Transfer Paper
Carefully position the transfer paper on the shirt. Take your time with this so that you have the picture positioned just right!
8. Cover the Transfer Paper Using the Paper Backing You Peeled from the Transfer
This acts as a sort of parchment paper, however you can also use a soft kitchen towel.
9. Heat the Iron to the Temperature Recommended by the Transfer Paper Manufacturer
If you make the temperature too hot you may melt your transfer, or the design may not be opaque enough. If the heat is too low, the transfer may not adhere to the shirt properly.
10. Gently Move the Iron in a Circular Motion Starting in the Center of the Transfer
Move the iron to the edges of the image and back again, repeating for as long as the transfer instructions indicate. The process can take three or four minutes.
11. Let the Transfer Paper Cool Completely
Then, carefully peel up the parchment paper or towel, starting at one edge and moving quickly. Once cooled and the parchment paper is removed, the process is complete!
What's Next After You Successfully Learn How to Print a Picture on a T-Shirt?
You did it! You learned how to print a picture on a t-shirt! If your first try didn't come out perfectly, don't fret! Practice makes perfect and it's always worth testing fabrics, other materials and methods to find out what works best for you.
If you master the skill of ironing a picture on a shirt you may want to move to the next step and invest in a printing press. They can be spendy but more efficient and can produce better prints. When you learn how to decorate t-shirts with a heat press, you will be able to create your designs quicker - allowing you to make more shirts. The heat is also more evenly distributed with a heat press versus an iron, so you may yield more professional looking results. You may also try your hand at heat pressing vinyl on clothing as well for another garment decoration method using a handheld iron or a heat transfer press. Learning how to print a picture on a t-shirt can be a process of trial and error, but a worthwhile one!
Beyond the choice of method, you could also try printing on other forms of clothing besides t-shirts such as sweatpants, sweatshirts, hats, and even cloth face masks. Luckily the first step is usually learning how to print on a shirt, once you've got that down - the possibilities are endless! Tell us any heat transfer tricks you may have up your sleeve in the comments below.