At Flexible Designs, Lauren Beeks creates vinyl iron-on transfers that her customers can use to embellish things. One of her customers used Lauren’s transfers to create monogrammed napkins for her wedding.
Photo courtesy of Flexible Designs
Interested in selling personalized products like T-shirts, hats, and mugs? Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) offers an inexpensive option for customizing clothing, accessories, home décor, and more. HTV is first cut out with an image, logo, or lettering, and the design is heat-pressed to a product so it becomes permanent. If applied correctly, HTV is very durable and can last the life of the product.
Living in Franklin, Tennessee, Cissy Bonner says she’s always been crafty, but having a Cricut Maker has really boosted her creativity, allowing her to get started in this craft. “I started my heat transfer vinyl business five years ago,” Cissy says. “I don’t have an official shop anymore, but I still take custom orders via my personal Facebook page.” Cissy has enjoyed bringing in extra income with her HTV business while staying at home with her four young children.
Equipment Needed for HTV Business
One unique aspect of the heat transfer vinyl business is the low cost of entry. Makers can get started for the cost of a cutting machine (usually $150-$250) and vinyl (less than $1 per sheet). Those who wish to grow their business may find more equipment helpful. Here is a breakdown of the most common equipment used in the HTV business:
Heat transfer vinyl comes in many styles, including matte, metallic, glitter, flocked, and glow-in-the-dark. It also comes in solids and patterns, as well as inkjet printable vinyl. Look for “easy weed” varieties for your first project (which will make removing the image border a cinch). You can buy HTV in 12” x 12” sheets (sized to fit popular cutting machines) or in rolls. Note: If you’re looking to apply vinyl to glass, plastic, or walls, look for adhesive vinyl instead.
Cutting machine or scissors: For $300 or less, you can buy a craft cutting machine like Cricut Maker, Brother ScanNCut, or Silhouette CAMEO to cut vinyl. Don’t forget a cutting mat that fits your machine! Common sizes are 12” x 12” and 12” x 24”. Some crafters like to hand-cut their vinyl designs, so a sharp pair of scissors comes in handy.
Heat source: A regular iron can be used to apply the HTV, though a flat heat press can make the process more seamless. Some options on the market include the 9” x 9” Cricut Easy Press or a larger 12” x 15” VEVOR Heat Press Machine. If using HTV on mugs, you can consider a mug press.
Weeding tools: These are used to remove the excess vinyl that will not be pressed onto the product. Most craft stores that sell cutting machines will also supply some handy weeding tools—a hook that looks like something a dentist might use, a small spatula, or tweezers. Try this set of Cricut Weeding Tools. A straight pin works in a pinch.
Pressing tools: To safely iron the design to your item, you’ll need a teflon sheet, parchment paper, fabric scrap, or a thin towel/rag in addition to an ironing board. Heat press users should refer to the instruction manual for best results.
Product: T-shirts, blank wooden signs, canvas shoes—there are many great options when it comes to applying HTV! Avoid paper, plastics, or other materials that cannot stand up to a heat of 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Some great beginner projects include a baby onesie, throw blanket, monogram pillowcase, drink koozie, or dish towel.
Computer and cut files: There are loads of SVG cut files (and fonts!) online that you can download and save to your computer, either free or for a small price.
A few of the heat transfer vinyl designs offered by Flexible Designs.
Photo courtesy of Flexible Designs
Using Heat Transfer Vinyl
When it comes time to cut your design, remember to mirror or flip the image horizontally. Cutting machines typically come with software that helps you plan out your projects, layer different cut files on one sheet, and scale images to fit your product. Persia Lou shares a tutorial on how to digitally format your designs and iron them to products, while Craftables has a handy chart of size suggestions. If hand-cutting your designs, you can use SVG files as inspiration.
HTV should be right-side down on a cutting mat (which is tacky, to hold it in place). After the design is cut in reverse from HTV, you can peel the vinyl sheet off the cutting mat and begin weeding away the excess vinyl from the clear plastic backing. Weeding takes time and patience, but it is necessary to remove all of the little bits of vinyl that you don’t want to show up in your finished project.
Next, place the plastic sheet with the vinyl design face down on the product, and cover it with another layer of protection such as parchment paper or fabric. Read the manufacturer’s directions on your vinyl to learn how long to press a design and at what temperature. Apply pressure and heat using an iron or heat press. Peel back a corner of the plastic to make sure you are happy with the pressing job; if it needs more time, replace the cover and press again.
Selling Heat Transfer Vinyl Products
Bonner enjoys offering custom work and mixing up her product offerings each season—such as youth sports equipment, pumpkin décor for fall, T-shirts for the last day of school. “Personalized water bottles and insulated travel mugs are also popular year-round, and make great gifts,” she says. During the holidays, she has offered custom wood signs, ornaments, and giftable mugs featuring a child’s artwork. (Note: Some crafters swear by Mod Podge to seal HTV mugs and make them dishwasher safe.)
Lauren Beeks of Chicago, Illinois started her HTV business, Flexible Designs, in 2016. “Most of what I sell is just the transfer for the customer to apply on their own,” she explains.
“For me, this is very creative as I create all my own designs by hand. I enjoy the collaboration with customers to make something visually appealing based on their needs.”
As a part-time graphic designer, she currently divides her time between her freelance work, the HTV business, and being a mom to a 1-year-old.
Beeks allows customers to choose between matte, metallic, and glitter vinyl in a variety of colors for their custom designs. “There are design limitations with different types of vinyl which have to be accommodated for and communicated clearly to customers,” she says. “Managing customer expectations is also always a challenge and opportunity for learning. I have found these challenges to be near-universal in the customer-facing creative world, however.” Before she started her business, there was a bit of trial and error. “Like with most creative endeavors some patience, flexible thinking, and experimenting are required!”
Lindsay is a modern quilter, writer, and editor. A multi-book author with C&T Publishing, her latest project was designing sampler quilts for FreeSpirit Block Party (Stash Books, September 2018). She also works with Craftsy and Baby Lock sewing machines, and is an editor for Frommer's Travel Guides. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, son, and two cats, who were the inspiration for her adult coloring book and Kickstarter "Project of the Day" Lazy-Ass Cats. www.lindsaysews.com, www.lazyasscats.com