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Tools for Applying Craft Vinyl

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You need the right tools to apply craft vinyl to your project surfaces

You need the right tools to apply craft vinyl to your project surfaces

Applying Vinyl to Your Craft Projects

Today we are covering the types of tools and presses that will apply vinyl to your projects (called substrates).

There are several different types of machines that can be used to apply vinyl to your projects. They vary in price so there are a few things to take into consideration when deciding which one is right for you.

  1. How often will you use it? That is the first consideration. Are you planning to do just an occasional vinyl project, are you a hobbyist, or are you thinking about a way to make extra money as a professional crafter?
  2. What kind of projects will you be doing? Are you strictly into t-shirts and fabric projects? Do you just want to stick to mugs? Or are you into decor for your home?
  3. How much space do you have for working and storing equipment? A home iron does not take a great deal of space. But heat presses require sturdy countertops.
  4. What is your price point or budget for vinyl application equipment? Prices vary from somewhere in the range of $30 to several hundred dollars to get started.

The right tools to apply craft vinyl depend on the type of vinyl you are using and what kind of surface you are planning to put it on.

Vinyl decals require special application so that the decal goes on evenly

Vinyl decals require special application so that the decal goes on evenly

Tools for Applying Vinyl Decals

These are the tools you need to apply a decal to a car or window:

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Level
  • Masking tape
  • Squeegee

When to Apply a Decal

Put your decal on your chosen surface when it's between 50–90 °F (10–32 °C) outside or in the room you're applying it in. If it's hotter or colder, the decal won't stick properly. If you're not sure what the temperature is, use a weather thermometer or feel the surface you'll be putting your decal on with your hands. If it feels hot or cold to the touch, you may need to wait to apply your decal.

How to Prepare the Surface for a Decal

Use a mixture of two parts dish soap and one part rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle. (if you do not have a spray bottle, use a bowl for your cleaning mixture. Make sure that the mixture is either shaken or mixed for the best results. Apply to the surface with a rag or spray on and wipe dry with a separate dry clean cloth. Make sure that you get all the grime and dirt off the surface so that the decal sticks (if you are unsure about using the mixture on your surface, stick with the dish soap and some water)

Steps to Applying a Decal to a Car

  1. Clean the area where you plan to apply the decal. DO NOT use any cleaner that leaves a film or oil on the car. This residue will prevent the decal from sticking properly to the vehicle. Rubbing alcohol or basic car wash soap both will clean the area sufficiently. Be sure to rinse the area thoroughly if you use car wash soap. Allow the area to dry completely. either dry the area you cleaned with a towel or allow it to air dry completely before moving on. If you opt to use a towel, use a chamois cloth to avoid damaging the paint.
  2. Position the decal. Use a tape measure to center the decal. Hold the decal in place to make sure that you have it in the right position. If you are placing identical decals on either side, ensure they are an equal distance from at least three points on the body of the car to make the placement match on either side.
  3. Use pieces of masking tape to mark the location of your decal. Use pieces of asking tape to mark all sides of the decal placement location.
  4. Peel off the beginning of the backing. Depending on the size of the decal, you can remove part or all of it. If the decal is really large, you may want to you may want to peel off the backing in thirds to make application more manageable.
  5. Apply the decal. Use the tape on the car as a guide as you begin by applying the corner of the decal to the vehicle. Press the corner into the vehicle firmly, then use a straight edged tool such as a credit card to press more of the decal down in a controlled manner. Keep the decal pulled tight as you press it into the vehicle to prevent bubbling from occurring. Using a straight edged tool helps ensure you apply pressure over the entire decal, which will force out small bubbles.
  6. Unpeel the decal as you go. As you apply more of the decal to the vehicle, peel more of the backing off to reveal more of the decal. Peel the backing off a few inches at a time to ensure you can keep the decal straight as you apply it without worrying about other parts sticking. Continue to apply the decal to the car while peeling back more of the backing as you progress.
  7. Leave the transfer tape on the decal while it dries in place. Waiting 30 minutes can make removing the transfer tape much easier and reduce the chances that you’ll pull any of the decal off with it. Allowing the decal to sit in direct sunlight will make the transfer tape easier to remove. Do not attempt to speed up the process by using a heat source such a hair dryer, as it may melt the decal.
  8. Peel the transfer tape off. After thirty minutes or so, peel the transfer tape off starting at one corner. Peel the tape back slowly while watching for any areas the decal may peel back with the transfer tape. If the decal begins to peel off with the tape, press the tape and decal back into place firmly, and begin peeling the tape away again from another angle.
  9. Use a squeegee or credit card to press out any bubbles. With the transfer tape removed, you will be able to see the decal on the vehicle. It is normal for there to be some bubbling in the decal. Some of those bubbles are easy to remove by pressing a credit card or other flat tool onto the decal and pushing the bubble toward the edge.
Heat press pillows are handy when applying heat transfer vinyl to fabric projects

Heat press pillows are handy when applying heat transfer vinyl to fabric projects

Heat Press Pillow

A heat press pillow is a soft foam square that is completely enclosed in a nonstick fabric. What do they do? Heat press pillows go inside shirts or under surfaces that you are heat applying the vinyl onto. It can also be referred to as a heat transfer pillow or a heat printing pillow.

They come in lots of configurations and sizes. Decide which ones are best for your needs.

Heat press pillows go inside shirts or under surfaces that you are heat applying the vinyl onto. They allow thick seams, zippers, buttons, pockets, collars, and other burdens to be absorbed into the pillow so that you can get an even pressure to apply your vinyl. Vinyl sticks best when you use the perfect “recipe” and pressure is one of the key ingredients!

You would use this tool when you have super thick seams like in a baby onesie. The heat press pillow levels the fabric so that when you apply the vinyl, you will get even pressure on the vinyl.

Without the pillow, you might get it to stick but after a wash or two, you may get some peeling in the corner of the design where you didn’t get enough pressure. Polo shirts, backpacks, drawstring hoodies, hoodie pockets, or cinch bottom sweatpants might all be other instances where you would need to use a heat pillow.

They can be sold as individual items or in bundles. If you are planning a lot of projects, the bundles are more cost effective.

Heat press release sheets are used to protect garments

Heat press release sheets are used to protect garments

Heat Press Release Sheets

Heat Press Release Sheets are great to protect your heat press and your garments! When you are pressing multiple layers or if you have vinyl that is exposed to the heat press, put this heat press sheet over your garment before pressing. Cover Sheets are placed on top of transfer material, inks or vinyl. A cover sheet prevent the materials underneath from scorching while still transferring enough heat to create adhesion. The sheets create a non stick surface so things like ink or vinyl do not stick to the heating elements.

Sheet can be made from Teflon Teflon® Coated Fabric Cover Sheets have a slick, non-stick surface. When you are pressing multiple layers or if you have vinyl that is exposed to the heat press, put this heat press sheet over your garment before pressing. Most of these sheets have a maximum temperature use, so be sure that you understand the temperature rating for your sheets It is also highly resistant to wear, tear, cut through and breakage, even under conditions of extreme temperature and pressure.

Silicone (silicone works for InkJet and Laser transfer papers.) Silicone sheets get 5 times per sheet which is great if you are using for transfer paper or dye sublimation transfer

They come in different sizes so be sure to select the right size for your needs.

tools-for-applying-vinyl

Heat Resistant (Thermal) Tape

Heat-Resistant Tape can handle the heat from professional heat presses and is ideal for adhering heat-transfer vinyl (HTV), iron-on, Infusible Ink designs, and other heat-transfer materials to a variety of base materials

Heat resistant tape is heat resistant and can be pressed or ironed. Use a bit of heat tape and it will help keep your design in place while you transfer the design to your project surface. Heat tape is especially helpful when working on an awkward surface such as a hat or stuffed animal!

Sime tapes are designed to be used with specific materials, so make sure that you read the description for the product you are considering.

Sublimation heat tape is specifically designed to withstand temperatures up to 425 °F and is generally easy to peel after use.

A good heat tape will work under high temperatures but leave no residue.

Protect your hands when working with hot transfers. Certain applications, such as sublimation, require you to peel or expose while warm or hot

Protect your hands when working with hot transfers. Certain applications, such as sublimation, require you to peel or expose while warm or hot

Heat Proof Gloves

Heat transfer is all about getting things hot. Whether you’re just working with a freshly pressed shirt, or if you’re trying to press an awkward project to the top plate of your heat-press, heat-proof gloves would save your digits from getting burned.

Other Tools and Accessories for Vinyl Application

  • T square ruler (helps you place your vinyl evenly and correctly)
  • Three-ring binder with page protectors (stores pieces of leftover vinyl that can still be used)
  • Embossing Heat Tool (you can heat small pieces of vinyl off a project when a mistake happens)
  • Upper Paten Protector (A useful tool for protecting your garment from getting scorched or burned during the transfer process as well as protecting your platen from acquiring any residual mess from your design. The upper platen protector negates the need to constantly adjust a pro grade nonstick sheet along your garment and is just as long lasting.)
  • Lower Paten Protector (The heat press base cover wraps and protects the rubber pad from stains and damage. This item serves as a replacement to the cloth cover.)

Home Iron

Mostly you will be using an iron to apply Heat Transfer Vinyl to garments and fabric projects. So yes, you can use a home iron to get the job done. The trick to using a home iron is to find the heaviest iron you can with few or no steam holes in the base. You need the weight to get the most pressure on your projects. You never use steam with vinyl projects. The steam holes affect the pressure, so the fewer the better.
Consider a dry iron of at least four pounds. That will give you the pressure that you need to get the best results.

You will want a dry iron. Oster makes a heavy weight dry iron that is one that you should consider. It averages in the price range of $59.

Pros of the Home Iron

  • Does not take a lot of space
  • You may already have one
  • Easy to use
  • Less expensive

Cons of the Home Iron

  • Results may not be as good as other tools
  • Temperature settings limited
  • No timer
  • Easier to burn items
  • Steam holes can affect the pressure

Tips for Applying Vinyl With an Iron

  • Always make sure that if you are using a steam iron, the steam setting is off
  • Use the setting between cotton and linen. Test a small area. If it does not seem to be sticking turn the setting to cotton.
  • Always use a flat hard surface, never an ironing board. A wooden surface would be better.
  • A large flat wood chopping board or block is a good surface to select.
  • Always iron your fabric before applying vinyl. It will remove wrinkles and moisture for a better application
  • Use a Teflon sheet or parchment paper between the fabric and your iron. It protects the fabric and your iron. You can also use a thin pillowcase. The iron will also glide easier over the project.
  • If you are just starting out with vinyl, take some Heat Transfer Vinyl and some scrap fabric and get the feel of the application.
  • Make sure to apply even pressure when you apply the iron to the project. Make sure to stand above the project so that you can apply pressure.
  • Make sure to use a Teflon sheet or a piece of parchment paper on top of the project and iron on that. Do not use a back and forth movement. Keep constant pressure in one spot and move to the next. Try to maintain even pressure. Press and hold for 25-30 seconds.
  • Do not slide the iron around the project. Do a section and then lift and go on to the next section.
  • Remove the carrier sheet slowly. As you remove the sheet, make sure that the vinyl is sticking to the project. If the vinyl is lifting with the carrier sheet, lay it back down and reapply pressure for 25-30 seconds. Then repeat the process.
    • Once the vinyl is set, allow cooling to the touch before removing the carrier sheet.
    • Do not wash the project for 24 hours
    • Always wash the project inside out
Cricut makes three sizes of Easy Press

Cricut makes three sizes of Easy Press

Easy Press

Many vinyl crafters consider the Easy Press the best iron on the market for craft vinyl projects. It has the weight that you need to get the job done. It has time and temperature settings so you can set the precise settings that are right for your project.

You do have to apply some firm pressure when you are using the Easy Press. But you use less pressure with the larger sizes. It is only a short amount of time. And it is less pressure than using a regular iron with better results.

An Easy Press is a form of a heat press that can adhere iron on vinyl to blanks like t shirts, shorts, bags or any other cotton material. It is an easy-to-use heat press. It gives professional results with a product that is easy to store,

The Easy Press comes in three sizes. They all professionally iron in 60 seconds or less. They have ceramic coated heat plates. Temperature control can go up to 400 degrees.

  • Easy Press 2 -6" by 7" at about $117-baby clothes, accessories, hats
  • Easy Press 2-9" by 9" at about $149-tote bags, medium sweatshirts, pillows, etc.
  • Easy Press 2-12" by 10" at about $203-large shirts, sweatshirts, blankets

Choose the size that will fit best for the type of projects that you will be doing the most.

There is an Easy Press mat that is an additional purchase available. It protects your work surface as well as giving you a more even press. It is heat resistant up to 400 degrees and you can also use it with a glue gun.

There are plenty of knockoffs on the market. If you are looking at places like Amazon, be sure to read the reviews and information carefully.

Cricut Easy Press Resources

What to Look for in a Mini Press

  1. Heating Plat Size (Even though it may be a mini, the unit can still have a well-designed press area. Manufacturers have a size on their box or in the product description. Consider the size of the heating plate when making a purchase.)
  2. Safety Features (The safety features of the product you are considering should be at the top of your list. Look for a unit that has automatic shut-off features when it overheats. Ensure that the heat press comes with an insulated base to prevent burning up the surface.)
  3. Multi Use Heat Press (You can look for a heat press machine that can be used as a heat press machine or as an ironing machine. This means it’s a 2-in-1 unit. Such heat presses are the best as they are space-saving, cost-effective, and convenient to use.)
  4. Design (Check the heat press machine parts to ensure that they will provide you with the best functionality. Look whether the machine has a temperature control system and a digital timer. This allows you to easily set the temperature while allowing you to see the functionality and the performance of the machine. Remember that with extreme temperature, you can easily burn your t-shirt fabric. To avoid that, get a unit that comes with the temperature control system.)

Mini Heat Press

Manufactuer & Name Of ProductSizeTime To heat UpCostNotes And Features

Aonsey

90 seconds

5 heat settings.

BS Now

3.9*2.3 inches

$36.99

2 in 1 design for heating and ironing Heat temperature reaches up to 374℉ It has an automatic shutdown mode

Cricut Mini Easy Press

$49.00

3 heat settings

Dododum Easy Press

Mini

$37.99

3 heat settings available-low, medium and high. Comes with a bag and a spray bottle

Gr8ware

1.94 x .92

$32.21

Automatically power off after 30 minutes if unused The mini heat press can quickly switch between Fahrenheit and Celsius

Htvront

2.6” x4.4” heating plate

20 seconds heat-up time

$36.59

3 heat setting levels which meets all your different heat transfer demand. Low temperature: 284℉(140℃), Medium temperature: 320℉(160℃), High temperature:356℉(180℃). 3 Modes by One button, allowing you to freely control the heating degree Comes with an insulated bag and a storage bag

Lussmioe

17.7cm x 9.8cm

Heats up in 3-5 minutes

$50.97

Has three heating levels which are controlled by one button. What’s more, it automatically shuts off if left unused for 10 minutes

Cricut Easy Press

9" x9"

Close to 60 seconds

$129

This machine distributes the heat evenly and quickly for professional results.Temperature can heat up to 400℉.

Offnova

9” x 9”

Heats up to 400℉ in 5 minutes

$98.99

Auto shutoff and overheat protection. Has a 12 month warantee

Fierton

12" x10"

$100.99

The package is included with anti-skid cloth, silicon mat, and user manual, and 10 pieces of transfer paper.

Many heat presses have accessories that help you do a multitude of projects

Many heat presses have accessories that help you do a multitude of projects

Full Size Heat Press

The heat press is the ultimate tool for any kind of vinyl application. They range from about $135 and go up into several hundreds of dollars. When you are choosing a heat press either for a business or home use there are a lot more options and a lot more to consider.

As you consider the amount of money for each heat press, you will find that there are some things that are essentials and some things that are just considered bells, whistles and luxuries.

Business use or home use, you need to consider size and space required for the equipment, as well as the volume of projects you expect to do. Why is volume important? A good heat press and paten will stay at or near the prescribed temperature for many presses in a row without losing its heat.

The majority of people who craft with vinyl and use a heat press use the clam shell press. It is a little smaller and lighter than other types. And it can be moved if you are planning to do a craft show. Clamshells are just what they sound like. A top that closes like a clamshell. The clamshell is mostly used for t-shirts.

If you are planning on crafting a lot of different objects, you may want to consider a five-in-one or an eight-in-one model.

The swing away heat press is a little different. These presses work similarly to the clamshell. Except that the top plate in this model can rotate 360 degrees. And it can be moved totally out of the way. They are considered safer but sacrifice some sturdiness and need more clearance room.

Unlike the other two, the draw heat press has a moveable bottom place rather than the top. This bottom plate can be pulled out like a drawer.

Heat Press Size

There are many variations when it comes to heat press sizes. The smaller presses tend to be in the 11" by 15" range. The intermediate size is about 15" by 15" and 16" by16". Larger presses go 16" by 20" and beyond.

Heat Press Accessories

The paten is the surface that is on the press. Some heat presses come with extra patens. Some of these patens make certain projects easier. Even if you are not buying them with the machine, the accessories will be available as your talent grows.

Temperature Range

Remember, that aside from plate size, the temperature range is another factor that will affect the kind of projects you can create. T-shirts should require no more than 350 degrees. But things like hoodies, sweatshirts, and blankets may require a higher temperature.

You will also want to look at the type of temperature controls the machine you are considering have. You want to be able to set the exact time you need for your project.

Bottom Line

Know the space that you have available, know what you plan to use your machine for, know what features you need, and know the amount of money you have to spend. Then do your diligence. Make a decision based on research and knowledge. Once you find the model and machine you want, look for the best price available.

Maintaining Your Heat Press

There are a few steps to keep your heat press working for a good long time. These tips will help you get the best products with a machine that is working to its' best capacity:

  1. Read and use your instruction manual. It has valuable information that will not only help you keep your machine in good working order but will also keep your warranty for the full amount of time of its' coverage.
  2. Keep your workspace clean and dust free. Dust is your enemy. Keep your work area dust free to extend the life of your machine. Use canned air to clean the machine.
  3. Keep the upper paten (cover) clean. An upper paten free of dirt, dust, ink and debris will guarantee the best results on your projects. A clean paten will assure better and more even pressure and temperature

How to Clean Your Paten

  • Turn off your machine.
  • Let the paten completely cool down. Take a soft cloth and apply mineral spirit, iron cleaner or alcohol to it. Use the soft cloth to wipe the entire residue from the upper platen.
  • Clean the upper platen every month with a soft cloth.

You should never use a rough cloth on your patens, It will scratch the teflon coasting.

If your paten has a Teflon coating, it is important to remember that anything that is rough will scratch your paten and cause problems with your projects. Watch for any buttons or zippers that may cause problems. The upper paten teflon cover is replaceable.

Maintaining the Lower Patten

The lower patten has a rubber pad that needs to be maintained. The rubber pad is also referred to as a silicone pad is another important piece in that it gives the pressure to the project.

If the pad gets punctured or damaged, will cause problems in getting the best results for your garments and other projects.

All you need to do is to cover the lower platen with a Teflon coating. It acts as a shield for the rubber pad. Also, Teflon coating ensures an even distribution of pressure from the edges to the platen centre. You can slide the garments on the rubber pad without puncturing it.

Cricut mug press creates professional looking mugs

Cricut mug press creates professional looking mugs

Specialty Heat Presses

There are a range of specialty heat presses that apply vinyl to your bases.

While some regular heat presses have accessories to the same tasks sold with the heat press or as a separate cost to be used with the heat press, these specialty items stand on their own as totally separate machines

The advantage is that if you want to make say, mugs, you will not necessarily want to purchase a heat press to get the mug press that goes with a heat press.

Mug Press

Made by Cricut, this mug press will allow you to create professional mugs in minutes. You create your design with infusible ink materials. Then you attach your design to the compatible mug blank. Insert the mug into the machine and the mug press does the rest. Adult use only. Use in well-ventilated area. Vapor emitted during heat transfer. See cricut.com/help/infusible-ink-warning

Features

  • Cricut Mug Press for 11 - 16 oz (350 - 470 ml) Infusible Ink compatible mugs*
  • Make pro mugs in minutes with easy, one-touch settings
  • Get peel-proof, dishwasher-safe results with Infusible Ink™ materials
  • Thoughtful safety features include auto-off
  • Requires Infusible Ink Transfer Sheets, Pens, or Markers & compatible mug blanks (sold separately)

What's in the Package

  • Cricut Mug Press™ heat press for mugs
  • USB cord for activation*

Average Price: $200

Hat Press

Now you can create professional looking hats with the Cricut Hat Press. Cricut Heat™ app sends ideal time & temperature settings to Cricut Hat Press via Bluetooth® connection. Create your design with iron-on (HTV) or Infusible Ink™ materials. Attach your design onto hat, then press with the curved heat plate.

Features

  • 3 heat settings up to 400 ºF (205 ºC) for iron-on/HTV, Infusible Ink™ & sublimation project
  • Safety Base and auto-off feature
  • Product will not function until activated with Cricut Heat app and compatible internet-connected mobile device.

What's in the Package

  • 5 in x 3 in (12.7 cm x 7.6 cm) curved heat plate for heat-transfer applications on hats
  • Includes Cricut Hat Pressing Form for firm, ideal pressing surface
  • Compatible with Cricut Heat™ app for wireless connection & step-by-step guided flow
  • Safety Base
  • Strong Heat Resistant Tape
  • Iron-on design

Average Price: $150

More Vinyl Application Resources

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