The importance of using the best heat transfer paper available when transferring your designs should never be overlooked. Whether you are decorating the items for yourself or to gift to your friends, you’ll need good looking images that withstand wash after wash. This is even more serious if you are decorating t-shirts, pillowcases, caps, or any other artifacts for sale.
Ever printed an image on a t-shirt that later turned out to have an odd feeling? Are you wondering why your designs start cracking right in the middle or have some irritating crumpling noise? Well, the problem is most likely to do with the type and quality of the transfer paper that you use, not necessarily your printer or pressing machine.
Getting the best iron-on transfer paper for printing shouldn’t be so daunting. It can be a little tricky given the overwhelming choices that the market offers, but this can be much easier if you have an understanding of what to look for when making your next purchase.
Best Iron-On Transfer Paper: Buyer’s Guide
For the sake of those who don’t know much about heat transfer paper, let’s get some basics out of the way first. There are really only a few, yet important, things you should keep in mind when purchasing heat transfer paper.
What is a heat transfer paper?
A transfer paper is a special thin piece of paper or polymer usually coated with wax and pigment. It is used in arts and crafts iron-on projects to transfer digitally printed images and designs on fabric items including t-shirts, pillowcases, aprons, etc.
How does heat transfer paper work?
You must have known by now that heat transfer paper is used in conjunction with a heat press machine or iron and a printer. Heat transfer paper has a polymer film that creates a permanent image when printed onto. The paper is then pressed against the fabric for a preset amount of time using a heat press. As a result, the polymer film makes a permanent bond with the fibers of the fabric. Thus, the image is melted onto the fabric.
It’s always advisable to go for commercial heat transfer papers if you do image transfers for money. These papers have much better image quality with an excellent finish that lasts longer. Unlike cheap run-of-the-mill transfer papers, commercial papers give images that won’t bleed, peel, or fade easily. The images also don’t look so ‘homemade’ and will, therefore, give your projects a competitive edge.
What are the benefits of using heat transfer paper?
- They require minimal equipment unlike screen printing
- They are great for hobbyists
- They are inexpensive
- Have relatively low cost per transfer
- Prints on any type of garment
- They have clean transfers compared to screen printing
Considerations to Make When Purchasing Heat Transfer Paper
Choice of Printer
The type of printer that you are using or intend to purchase will influence the type of transfer paper that you’ll purchase. There are basically 3 types of printers that I list below.
- Inkjet printers that use pigment or dye-based ink cartridges in CYMK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (black) colors.
- Laser printers
- Sublimation printers
Your ideal type of transfer paper needs to be compatible with these types of printers and ultimately the printer you will be using. While any of these types of printers can be used for heat transfers, inkjet printers are most preferred. This is because they are relatively low in cost to purchase and are also universally compatible with a wide range of heat transfer papers. Most of these models also have a small footprint. On this note, check out our compilation of the best inkjet printers for heat transfers here.
On the other hand, laser printers can have great image quality and low cost per print. Unfortunately, unless you want a high-end laser unit printer for commercial purposes, these printers are way too expensive for basic home decorations. Again, be aware that not all of them are directly compatible with heat transfer papers.
The next big thing that you need to consider is the color of the fabrics that you’ll be transferring your designs onto. If you intend to transfer your image onto a white or light gray fabric, then you need to use a transfer paper that has been labeled for light color fabrics. On the other hand, dark fabrics call for dark color transfer papers and are usually labeled as opaque. For the absolute best results, purchase the paper for the intend shirt gradient.
What happens when you use light colored transfer paper on dark fabrics?
You see, light-colored transfer papers use a transparent polymer film. When pressed onto a light colored fabric, the image retains its color and vibrancy. Then, the empty space surrounding the image shows up as the color of the fabric.
Conversely, when you use the same light-colored transfer paper on a dark fabric, your image colors can become muted and as the color of the shirt will show through the print. The empty space takes the color of the fabric as well.
Quite different from light color transfer papers, dark color transfer paper uses white opaque polymer film. This white opaque polymer allows the image color to show up without distortion. However, when using dark color transfer paper on dark fabrics, the area around the image appears white on your projects. To avoid transferring the empty white space alongside the image, you’ll have to cut it before the transfer process. You can do this by hand or with a vinyl cutter like USCutter MH.
The next thing worth considering is the length of the transfer paper. The ideal length of your heat transfer paper depends on where you want to transfer your image onto and the size of your images.
Worth noting, the longer the transfer paper, the more freedom you have to work on larger images. Typically, 13″ X 19″ paper will give you the most freedom when creating graphics and pictures to be transferred to shirts.
Sorry to say, inkjet and laser paper transfers don’t always offer the best durability, although dye-based inks are usually just fine. You can’t compare them to fabric-based, sublimation, and cad-cut transfers. However, that doesn’t mean that all transfer papers are a total loss. The best inkjet transfer papers coupled with the correct heat transfer techniques offer designs that don’t fade, crack, or peel off easily even after numerous washes.
Durability is determined by evaluating the transfer paper by considering different variables including;
- Color vibrancy
- Resistance to cracking
- Hand feel
- Wash and fade resistance
Method of Transfer
Heat press vs. Iron: What should you go for?
Transferring images using heat transfer paper requires applying a constant amount of heat and pressure. If you aren’t producing a high volume of transfers or are not pressed for time, an iron will do. However, if time matters, you need to consider using a good heat press machine.
The difference between these 2 is that the latter is dedicated to offering the right amount of pressure and a lot of direct heat for a preset time. This is great as it takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. On the other hand, using an iron requires that you apply all these variables manually.
As you may have guessed, if not done well, you may end up scorching the paper and even burning the image when using an iron. However, it is still doable and should not be scary. If you would like to try it out, Wikihow has a great guide on how to use an iron-on t-shirt transfers.
Now that you now have a clue about paper transfers, check out our picks of the best heat transfer paper.
The Best Heat Transfer Paper – Reviews
Neenah 3G Jet-Opaque Review
Having got their first patent in 1980, Neenah Paper is no doubt a leader in heat transfer products industry. Their 3G Jet Opaque paper has for long been the best heat transfer paper for dark t-shirts. This paper uses an opaque layer that allows you to make professional and good looking inkjet images on dark and other colored garments.
The package comes with 100 sheets each measuring 11’’ by 17’’. This size is large enough to allow you to transfer large images but not so big to make fitting hard. The paper is incredibly easy to use and works well with synthetic fibers, cotton, and cotton blends. What makes it the best inkjet heat transfer paper for darks is that it has bright images with a smooth finish and a soft and more natural hand feel. Again, it’s also easy to weed out. So you’ll be able to complete numerous projects super fast.
Jet-Pro SoftStretch Transfer Review
Are you wondering how to replicate screen-print images without spending a chunk of change? Well, Jet-Pro Soft Stretch Transfer Paper is what you need. This transfer paper is designed for use on light fabrics. However, you can still use it on some slightly darker colors.
A standout feature with Jet-Pro SoftStretch (JPSS) is that it offers you a little room for stretching. The major problem with most transfer papers today is that they crack instantly even with the slightest stretching. So using JPSS gives you an assurance that your images will be transferred efficiently and are not prone to distortion due to accidental stretch.
As with other heat transfer papers from this brand, this paper prints well, peels off easily and has strong and true colors. Its prints have a nice soft feel and do not crack or fade off easily even after several washes and drying.
Photo ImageClip Review
If you are looking for the best heat transfer paper for laser printers, Neenah has a great option for you here. Formerly referred to as Photo Trans Image Clip, this is a high-quality transfer paper used especially in t-shirt printing businesses due to its best-in-class photo-quality image transfers.
Photo ImageClip is meant for use on light-colored fabrics only. The manufacturer recommends using it on items with a tight weave especially sweatshirts. The sweet spot with this transfer paper is that it’s super fast to use and less likely to mess your prints in the transfer process.
Phot ImageClip heat transfer paper offers weedless transfers. This means that you don’t have to trim the unwanted empty space around the image. Again, if you are using a heat press, you don’t have to wait for the print to cool down to peel off. You can do it while hot. As such, you are able to make several image transfers real quickly.
Avery Heat Transfer Paper Review
We would be very amiss to complete this list of the best heat transfer paper without including Avery. This brand is known for offering good quality transfer papers at an affordable price. They also have a heat transfer for dark colored t-shirts.
Avery 08938, for instance, is one of the best-selling transfer paper packs. The paper comes in a pack of 18 and costs around 15 bucks. The papers are designed to give professional results with 100% cotton/poly blend fabrics. Avery uses ColorShield Formula on these papers. This technology ensures that your colors stay bright and the prints hold up wonderfully for a long time.
For starters, avery.com offers a jackpot of ideas. It has great images and designs that you can use to personalize your tote bags, jackets, and t-shirts.
What do you think of our list of the best heat transfer papers? Have you had an experience with any of them? Which transfer paper do you think should have been included in this list? Please tell us about it in the comments section below. Again, be sociable, remember to share!
Hello, this is actually a question, not a comment. I have printed t shirts for years, using thermal transfers and a heat press. I’ve seen some shirts printed with a heat press using transfer sheets that only apply the printed portion of the sheet to the garment. I’ve tried and failed to learn more about this type of sheet. Could you please tell me anything you can about this? Thank you.
Hi Robert, thank you for reaching out to us with this is a great question! Typically you can use the standard thermal transfer and print your designs like normal. Once you have printed your design you would use something like a vinyl cutter to cut the only the printed portion of the sheet.
You can learn more about a great vinyl cutter in our Heat transfer Printer Guide where we talk about the Cricut cutter. Using the graphic software you should be able to upload you design a paper dimensions to instruct the cutter to make a precision cut.
I hope this helps!
What transfer paper do I need to use for dark polyester shirt? Can I use the light transfer paper for dark polyester shirt?
Hi Larry, for dark shirts it is always best to use heat transfers made for dark clothing. These transfers are more opaque so the darker colors do not bleed through the transfer and you are able to see the design much better.
I hope that helps!
You need to use “dark” transfer paper for a dark coloured shirt. You can use light transfer paper but any parts of the design you want to show up white will be clear/not visible.
From the reviews above of different heat transfer papers, do you recommend to use 3G Jet Opaque for dark colors and Jet Pro Softstretch for light colors? What is the best printer and ink to use with these papers?
Hi Maggie, yes those mentioned papers are what should work best. As for printers and ink, we have a very detailed heat transfer printer guide that has great information for you. Let us know if you have any other questions.
Thank you for this guide! Your site is very informative and I have saved a few links for later use?
Hello! Interested in purchasing the Jet Pro Soft Stretch to use with my inkjet printer. I’m mostly interested in continuing to make t-shirts (also some bags, pillow cases, and canvases). My dilemma has been that the entire transfer paper ends up on the fabric. I don’t cut out each individual piece of the design and therefore, they haven’t been looking as professional as I’d like. Does this transfer paper eliminate the need to cut out and around the entire design? Will I be able to use my heat press on the transfer paper and have ONLY the design / words transfer? Leaving zero residue from the transfer paper? Thanks for your help!
There are two methods to achieve your desired results. What you need is either self-weeding heat transfer paper which is sublimation paper and is printed on using sublimation ink. You can also use standard heat-transfer paper and cut the excess paper away from the design using a vinyl cutting machine.
I’m curious about the Craftopia transfer paper. The instructions and reviews that I have read show that it is a transfer paper for vinyl – not paper to use in your printer. Can you confirm this? Is the Amazon link correct?
I just did a design that I printed with an Epson XP-15000. I used the 3G JET-OPAQUE paper. I pressed it on both light & dark fabric (350 / 30sec). I got the same result on both. My problem I’m having is I used a gray color in the design that prints exactly what I want, but after it’s pressed its a pale pink. I had a pack of the AVERY 3275 for Light Fabric Transfer, it kept the gray color. Pressed it @ 350 / 1.45 min. It is a bit more stiff than the 3G Jet-Opaque and would prefer the softer application. Any idea why this might be happening?