Step 1

Select Your Vinyl

If you’re like me, and working on fabric, choose your preferred colors of iron-on vinyl. I’ve heard good things about the Cricut product, but like I mentioned already, there are less expensive options for vinyl products too, especially if all you’re doing is free-handing your design and not needing to run it through a cutting machine. I’ll tell you right now that I really did like the finished quality of this product, the ironed graphics were really soft, flexible, and the material was easy to work with. If you’re planning to apply the vinyl graphic to something other than fabric, you’ll want to look into the other products available (like the traditional or premium vinyl for temporary applications, or for things like customized hanging signs).

Step 2

Cut Shapes

I think the main oversight had by crafters today is the idea that you have to have a powerful $300 machine to make wonderful graphics. Here’s proof that you can use scissors and an X-Acto blade to easily design and produce your own shapes.

There will be a shiny side, and a matte side to the vinyl when you unroll it. The matte side is what’s going to press against your fabric when you position it for ironing; the shiny side will actually peel away, leaving you with a permanent, matte graphic.

Step 3

How to Cut Letters

For more complex designs, I found that drawing on the shiny side of the paper with a non-permanent marker was effective at helping guide my design. (Don’t draw on the matte side, because that will be stuck behind the graphic when you iron it on, and you’ll be really sad if black marker is showing through the permanent decal!) For straight lines, I relied on a straight edge to help with cuts.

If you want to produce letters without completely free-handing them, print your letters in black ink on a piece of standard printer paper, and layer it with the vinyl material against a window for the classic letter tracing technique.

Step 4

Position Vinyl

Quite honestly, going old school and cutting your own vinyl graphics is wonderful because you can scale and design them however you want. My design for this shirt was inspired by one of my favorite artists (Cheers to Charley Harper).

When you’re ready to iron it onto your shirt, center and lay the vinyl shiny side up.

Step 5

Overlay Paper on Graphic

It’s important to create a barrier between the hot iron and the vinyl itself; in one of my tests, I allowed the vinyl to get too close to the heat, and it puckered a little bit like if you were to touch flame to a piece of plastic. The best reviews I read recommended using sheets of plain printer paper in between the iron and the vinyl (five sheets thick worked well), and to that point, I found that the paper was transparent enough that you could start with a single sheet over the graphic (just to see through and ensure that none of your details were shifting around). Once I could tell that the graphics were held in position under one sheet of paper, I was gave the paper a quick tap with the tip of the iron (no steam!) to begin to bond the vinyl, and then laid the other 4 pieces of paper on top before ironing over it for 15 seconds to affix it completely.

For larger graphics, I found it helpful to bond the fabric and graphic in stages, and not try and do it all with one swoop of the iron.

Step 6

Apply Iron to Graphic

Five pieces of paper fully covering the graphic was enough to disperse the heat and bond the vinyl to the fabric. One tip – check it after every 10 seconds or so, because iron settings can vary and if you leave it on too long you risk the vinyl over-melting. When it overheats, not only could it pucker, but it can also bleed outside the edges of your intended design! A very big problem if you’re looking to have crisp lines.

Step 7

Remove the Plastic Layer

One easy way to tell if your iron-on transfer is bonded is to check a corner of the graphic, to see if you can easily peel up the clear plastic glossy layer. If the colored vinyl lifts, you’ll need to apply heat for another few seconds, but if it lifts easily like this, feel free to remove it completely.

Step 8

Ready to Wear

With the top layer of plastic lifted, the shirt is immediately ready for wear! This is so exciting, guys. The patterns I chose to do include the above leaf and a lady bug (both Charley Harper inspired, even though the lady bug also looks a little like a robot, oops), and initial tank tops for both of my daughters. The possibilities are endless! Perfect way to dress up or customize shirts for the kids or events.