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All About Heat Transfer Vinyl

by Samantha Watson on October 13, 2020
Life is too short for boring T-shirts!
Grab your iron and a handful of our vibrant decorative heat transfer films and transform your wardrobe.
Feeling adventurous? Get creative with bags, purses, journals, you can even press onto wood!
Explore our treasure trove of spangles, sparkles and much more.

In this post you can find the following info:

- What are Heat Transfer Films?

- Types of Heat Transfer Film

- How to use Heat Transfer Film

- Applications - Where can you use Heat Transfer Film

- Inspiration

-Frequently asked questions


So, what exactly is heat transfer vinyl?

Heat transfer vinyl, often abbreviated to HTV is a thin flexible film with a heat activated adhesive coating on one side and a clear, usually tacky, carrier liner on the other. Rarely is it actually 'vinyl', more commonly it is produced from film types such as Polyester or Polyurethane, there are also a huge range of colours, textures and special finishes.Generally, unless you have an HTV that is designed to be printed first, the dull adhesive layer sits on the top outer surface of the roll or sheet. Unlike self-adhesive vinyl, the adhesive coating is not tacky, as it is only activated when heated, therefore when you cut your shapes you must remember to reverse the design as you will be turning the material over so that the built in carrier liner sits on top when you heat press or iron your media. This liner is usually tacky, ensuring your design remains in place whilst you apply the film.

Peace of Mind

Our range of HTV is sourced from premium brands within the industry and has been supplied to businesses large and small for over thirty five years, giving you peace of mind and confidence that your projects will continue to delight for many years.


Store in a cool dry place, remember the adhesive is unprotected on the outer surface of the roll so ensure you keep this clean and safe from damage.

Key types of heat transfer vinyl.


Flex HTV is available in a wide range of colours, textures and finishes including some printed designs. Most different types of flex can be overlaid and pressed on top of each other to create multicoloured designs, however textured films such as Glitter, Carbon and Mirror must be pressed as the top layer only. If you want to combine these films together in a design you will need to use the cut out method and inlay the shapes like a jigsaw rather than overlapping them. Some Flex such as the Poli-Tape Turbo range are designed for high speed pressing at lower temperature which makes them particularly suitable for heat sensitive surfaces.

Flex Nylon

Flex Nylon has been specifically designed for heat sensitive fabrics and those which have been treated with a water repellent coating such as swim bags, umbrellas and sports wear. They normally have a much lower application temperature and shorter press time but the special hot-melt adhesive is specific to nylon and hydrophobic surfaces.


Fuzzy as a peach, flock gives a soft, slightly raised texture when heat pressed onto fabric. Available in a wide range of colours including fluorescent shades it is suitable for cotton, polyester and acrylic blends and can be combined with other heat transfer films to produce eye-catching yet tactile designs.

How to use Heat Transfer Vinyl.

HTV is usually kiss cut on a vinyl cutter, but may also be hand and die cut into decorative shapes and letters and heat pressed onto a range of garments and all sorts of textile based and heat resistant surfaces. Some smooth non textured films can be layered on top of each other, however textures, such as glitters and flock for example, will not provide a suitable surface for other films to adhere to so must be inlaid like a jigsaw when reproducing multicoloured designs.

Surface Preparation

Before you press your painstakingly cut and weeded design you want to make sure that your surface is well prepped to ensure your graphics look good and last for as long as possible.

Firstly make sure your application surface can withstand the temperature required for pressing your chosen HTV.

If you are pressing onto a new garment it is worth laundering and drying it first to ensure that any chemicals which are commonly applied to new clothing, to stop them wrinkling and attracting dirt in store, have been removed as these can compromise the adhesive.

Brush over the application surface to remove any dust or loose fibers. Moisture is the enemy of HTV so briefly iron or press without steam to ensure your surface is fully dry and crease free.

Line up your design. If it helps, Fold your garment in half and iron the fold prior to applying your graphic, this can make for easier alignment as you can see the centre point of your surface.

As heat transfer films vary in thickness, finish and film composition it is important that you check the individual application instructions for your particular product.

Thicker films, or those more resistant to heat will require a higher temperature or a longer pressing time. Some Turbo' films or those designed for Nylon are designed for heat sensitive surfaces so have a special low temperature or fast activating adhesive, others may be designed for use on textiles with a waterproof coating and may require different settings. Once heated it is also important that you confirm the 'peel' guidelines to avoid removing what you have so carefully applied. Check whether you should remove or 'peel' away the liner while still hot, warm or cool to ensure the best bond with your substrate.

When it comes to your heat source you can't beat a professional heat press, remember, these films require even heat and pressure for the best results. Hand presses and irons can be used successfully (and frequently are) but you need to hold them in position rather than using a normal ironing motion and apply firm pressure for successful results. Irons tend not to have an even temperature distribution across the plate, this can affect the bond and the finish so always perform a test first and remember - practice makes perfect!


Where Can I Use Heat Transfer Films?

Not just for textiles, HTV can be applied to lots of different heat and pressure resistant surfaces such as wood and leather. When experimenting please ensure you carry out a test first to avoid damaging your surface. Some materials may require a lower heat setting but a longer press time.

Check out our handy table with application guidelines and care instructions for Poli-Tape heat transfer films here.

Applications are almost endless. . . Use heat transfer films on t-shirts, sports wear and garments, soft furnishings such as cushions and throws and fabric lampshades, unfinished wood, tote bags and purses, journals, school bags and pencil cases, caps, fabric storage boxes and laundry baskets, beach bags and towels, toiletry and cosmetic purses, umbrellas and coats . . .

A step by step guide to creating and applying your own textile graphics. Whether you are new to HTV or a regular crafter, check out our Blog posts for useful tips and time saving hacks.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does heat transfer vinyl work?
HTV has a heat activated or hot melt adhesive which is activated when using heat and pressure forming a bond onto garments, textiles and many other products. Usually the adhesive layer is on top so you need to remember to cut your design in reverse. Head on over to our knowledge base section for more details.

What are heat transfer films used for?
Heat transfer films are used for product personalisation, decoration and safety markings on clothes, textiles and many other products where self-adhesive vinyl may not be suitable.

How to use heat transfer vinyl with an iron?
You can apply heat transfer vinyl with an iron but ensure the steam function is turned off and that your iron is fully up to temperature before pressing. Do not move the iron backwards and forwards as you would when ironing clothes but press down in one place for the recommended duration then lift and reposition if required. Check the recommended application temperatures here.

Can heat transfer films be layered?
Absolutely, but remember to always use textured finishes such as flock or glitter on top, click here for more information when layering.

Is heat transfer vinyl washable?
Yes, check out our Knowledge base section for washing instructions.

Is heat transfer vinyl dishwasher safe?
We do not recommend washing HTV in a dishwasher, it will look good and last longer if hand washed.

Is heat transfer vinyl permanent?
Heat transfer film is not designed to be removed, however if care instructions are not followed the product will be damaged and could peel off. If you need to remove HTV, adding gentle heat to the reverse of your garment whilst peeling away your graphic may allow it to remove cleanly. Please be aware that this is not guaranteed and ensure that you protect your hands and use tweezers the lift the film to avoid burns.

Is heat transfer vinyl the same as iron on?

What are heat transfer vinyl sheets?
These are sheets of polyester, polyurethane or similar, coated with a heat activated adhesive, designed to be cut into decorative shapes or text and applied to garments, textiles and many other products. They are also available in rolls. Check out our range here for inspiration!

Why is my heat transfer vinyl not sticking?
There are a few things that could cause HTV to fail. Firstly check your substrate, is it suitable for HTV? If it is Nylon or a water-repellent surface you may need a different type of film, click here to see more.
Secondly, ensure that you are using the right temperature for the correct amount of time. Not enough and the adhesive will not be activated, too much and you can damage the adhesive as it gets cooked!
Thirdly, and probably the most common cause of failure if you are using an iron or hand press, is lack of pressure. HTV requires a significant amount of pressure for the adhesive to bond into the textured surface of most textiles. If you are using a thin heat transfer film such as Flex, the surface of your graphic should take on the texture of the surface you are pressing onto.
Lastly, check the peel recommendations for your specific HTV. Different heat transfer films require you to 'peel' away the protective liner whilst still hot, warm or cool. If you remove the liner on a warm or cool peel too soon it will likely remove your graphics with it as the adhesive needs time to stabilise.
Always wait at least 24 hours before washing a freshly pressed graphic and ensure you follow the care instructions.
Find the recommended application settings for our HTV here.
If you are having problems with a product that you have purchased from us please contact us so that we may assist.

Is heat transfer vinyl toxic?
HTV is safe to use and wear and many of our heat transfer products conform to Oeko-Tex standard, however always supervise young children when using heat transfer vinyl as small shapes may provide a choking hazard. HTV should not be eaten, please call a doctor immediately for advice if HTV is ingested.

Which side of heat transfer vinyl goes up?
Generally, before cutting, heat transfer vinyl has a clear shiny polyester liner on the reverse side and a dull adhesive layer on the top, you then flip it over for application, remember to cut your design in reverse! If you have a printable heat transfer film then the adhesive will be on the reverse side instead and you do not have to reverse your design before cutting although you will need to protect the printed surface when heat pressing.

What is heat transfer vinyl printing?
Some specialist heat transfer films can be printed before application, please ensure you have a product designed specifically for the inks that you are using. Different options are available for solvent, dye-sublimation and water based inks.

Can heat transfer vinyl be used on glass?
Yes, although we don't recommend this as the high temperatures and pressure involved during application can cause the glass to shatter or crack. Self-adhesive vinyl would be a better option here, head on over to our self-adhesive section for inspiration.

Can heat transfer vinyl be used on wood?
Yes, although different finishes may give variable results and the heat required during application may damage the surface so always test on an inconspicuous area first.

Can heat transfer film be used on polyester?
Yes, HTV is suitable for cotton, polyester and acrylic blends, there are also products available for nylon and water repellent surfaces.

Can heat transfer vinyl be used on plastic?
This is not recommended as the temperatures used to activate the adhesive could melt the plastic or damage your surface. Self-adhesive vinyl would be a better option here, head on over to our self-adhesive section for inspiration.