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Digital Decorating

How to Apply Oversized Heat Transfers

Give your clients’ orders a fashion edge with big designs and trendy placements.

August 30, 2013

By James Ortolani, Contributing Writer

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  HOW TO: How to Apply Oversized Heat Transfers

Following the trends in retail, custom apparel decorating shops can expand their product mixes and bottom lines by offering garments with allover embellishment and oversized designs in unorthodox placements. There are numerous production methods to achieve this end, from fitting your screen printing press with oversized pallets and screens, to mastering certain techniques of digital printing. The method with perhaps the lowest cost of entry and one that’s easy to manage is buying (or printing) oversized transfers.

Applying these transfers is a little trickier than applying more ordinary transfers in conventional placements. But anyone who can operate a heat press can do oversized prints. Here’s how:

If you currently use a heat press to decorate garments, chances are you have a model with a heating element that is 15" x 15" or 16" x 20". Those two common heat press sizes can apply 95% of all stock designs sold by the major transfer houses in our industry. But with fashion trends once again calling for decorators to “go big” with their designs, heat press manufacturers have responded with new models featuring oversized heating elements that make applying these larger graphics a breeze.

If you have just a few small jobs requiring large transfer applications, you can do it with your regular press, though it requires extra time and care. Getting a larger heat press allows you to increase production speed and lessens the chance of spoilage.

If you’re going to invest in new heat transfer equipment, you will want an oversized heat press in the range of 20" x 25" or larger.

Oversized heat presses are commercially available in either clamshell or swing-away designs and can be manual or automatic. Manual heat presses require the operator to set the temperature and dwell time. Many manuals have an “auto open” feature — a digital or analog timer that will automatically open the press at the end of a pre-set dwell time. True automatic heat presses are driven by compressed air, and they close, dwell and open at the press of a button.

The machine featured in this article is a 20" x 25" manual swing-away press. Most heat presses in this oversized range require 220-volt service due to the wattage demand of the heating element. The press I used here requires 220-volt service to power its 4,300-watt, 18-amp heating element. So keep this in mind when planning for your oversized heat press purchase, since you may need to add a 220-volt electrical receptacle in your production area.

Go Big
As mentioned above, 95% of stock transfer designs offered by heat transfer manufacturers are designed to work with standardsized heat presses. Do your homework and research which transfer manufacturers stock oversized transfer designs.

Another option is to order custom oversized transfers from your supplier. These large transfers will cost more than smaller commercial transfers, but you can charge a premium for the finished product — which should cover the extra cost and more — and most of your competitors will not be competing with you in this niche market. The transfer we used in this article was a 25" x 16" custom flock transfer.  

A Digital Alternative
Another application for oversized transfers involves sublimation printing. Using an inkjet printer loaded with sublimation inks, you can print your own full-color, oversized transfers on demand in your shop. Keep in mind that these dye sublimation transfers can be applied only to polyester or cotton/poly blended fabrics (they don’t work with 100% cotton).

When the sublimation transfer is heatpressed onto the garment, the heat actually turns the sublimation ink into a gas that bonds with the polyester fibers — just like a dye. The finished image can be extremely colorful — even photorealistic — and produces a print with almost no hand and is tremendously durable and washable.

The freedom of printing your own step 6 Now you have a finished garment with an oversized flock transfer design featuring skulls and other tattoo-style imagery. The image starts at the left shoulder and goes all the way down the shirt, almost to the bottom hem. oversized heat transfers adds new flexibility to your business without a large investment or a long, technical learning curve.

Just look around the mall and you’ll see that oversized prints are hot again in our industry. Now is the time to cash in on this reemerging fashion trend and stand apart form your competition.

James Ortolani has more than 25 years experience in the decorated apparel industry, specializing in hands-on direct screen printing and heat transfer production. He has worked for man industry suppliers, and currently serves as national sales manager for Hix Corp. For more information or to comment on this article, e-mail James at

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