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How to Print a Picture on a T-Shirt with Iron-On Transfers

By 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 t-shirts look best with darker designs printed on them.

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 colored tees look best with light designs or bright colors printed on them.

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

Use dark colored transfers for black tees or other dark-colored shirts.

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.

Photo Editing

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

Peel heat transfers quickly for best results when printing a picture on a t-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:

  1. How To Apply Iron-On Transfers to T-Shirts

  2. [How To Use] Iron-on Heat Transfer Paper

  3. DIY Custom Print T-Shirts | Iron-on Transfer Paper

How to Get a Picture on a Shirt: Recap Steps

1. Choose Your T-shirt
Choose light colored images to iron on dark t-shirts and dark images for light colored t-shirts.

Light-colored images are best suited for dark, vibrant colored shirts. Dark images are better for light-colored shirts.

2. Choose Your Transfer Paper
Choose thin, transparent transfer paper with a clear background, or dark color transfers with a white backing.

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 
Prepare your artwork with photo editing software, flipping it if the image contains text or is a photo.

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
Print your image and trim any excess transfer paper around the image.

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-wash your t-shirt to prevent shrinkage and pulling on the edges of the image.

 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
When the t-shirt is dry, place it on a flat surface and iron to remove any creases or wrinkles.

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 t-shirt and peel off the backing 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
Cover the transfer paper using the paper backing, or use a soft kitchen towel.

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
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 in a circular motion, to the edges of the transfer image and back again.

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
Let the transfer paper cool, then peel up starting at one edge.

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. 

How to Iron a Picture on a T-Shirt Tutorial

Comments

T-shirt supplier - May 02, 2021


Excellent coverage of this important topic. Your printing methods deserve praise. I would definitely recommend using these methods

T-shirt Manufacturer - Apr 29, 2021


This article is creative and informative. I actually am looking for such a website for our company. Your details about printing a picture on a t-shirt with iron-on transfer will definitely help me.

Maggie Jakeway - Oct 13, 2020


Transfer on sure i bought is stiff and thick. How do i soften it? I really love shirt, but the transfer is so stiff Tytyty! Maggie Jakeway

Melba mulvihill - Sep 13, 2020


My photos I transfer are stiff. Can I do anything to soften them?

Victor - Aug 04, 2020


Thanks for the process! Please one question— if the t shirt happens to be brand new, is it still necessary to pre-wash?

Matilda Gamby - Jul 31, 2020


Thank You so much

maida - Jul 11, 2020


Hi. Will these transfers stay on after a wash too?

Mohamed Mubarek Yosuf - Jul 07, 2020


Does it work

kalei - Jun 17, 2020


DOES IT WORK?

Amber Waltermier - Jun 04, 2020


Hi just got into this craft an i can not find transfer paper or whatever i need to print the pictures on to. Can you help me! Your blog helped me understand more into this just need to know what printer paper i need

Morgan - May 22, 2020


Is there any specific washing instructions for after transferring the picture onto the shirt?

King - Apr 17, 2020


Wow

Brian Kamelang - Apr 05, 2020


Hi, didn't know where to find information concerning printing images onto the shirts. After this information I have a better understanding to print using the transfer or the sublimation paper.

printlandokhla - Feb 28, 2020


I think this is one of the best blog for me because this is really helpful for me. Thanks for sharing this valuable information for free.

ShirtSpace - Feb 26, 2020


Hi German! We're so happy to hear that our article helped you in your efforts to find the best t-shirts for yourself! We appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. Please let us know if there is ever anything that we can help you with.

german - Feb 21, 2020


I have been having issues with finding the best T-shirts for myself. After reading this article, my issues has come to an end. I really love the information you provided here as it has helped me a lot. merely looking at the article, i can see that it is written by a PRO. please check my article on and give me valuable feedback. Thanks for the good write-up.

ShirtSpace - Jan 28, 2020


Hi Ixchel! Great job on ironing on your first transfer! Are you using parchment paper or a teflon sheet? It sounds like your heat may have been too high which is why you're showing a brown color on your transfer. If you didn't use parchment paper we would suggest giving that a try. If you did use parchment paper we would recommend reducing the heat. We hop this helps but please reach out if you have any additional questions!

Ixchel Cisneros - Jan 28, 2020


Hi! So I just finished Ironing on my image to my sweater but have fun into a bit of a problem. So this was my first time doing this, so maybe I just did something wrong, but the image I printed out was mostly white and when I finished transferring the image to my sweater, it came out brown. Do you happen to have any ideas at to what I did wrong?

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