Did you know that you can print on t-shirts from the comfort of your home? All you need is an inkjet printer, an iron, and print transfer paper.

Printing a t-shirt at home costs much less than using a professional printing service. Get ready to dive into a fun project; we have everything you need to know about how to print on t-shirts with a home printer.

For this project, you will need the following:

  • A 100% cotton t-shirt
  • Print transfer paper (This project uses Koala Light T-shirt Transfer Paper)
  • An inkjet printer
  • A flat iron
  • Scissors
  • Image editing software

Once you’ve got these items, you can find out how to design and print your shirts below.

1. Create a Design

If you want to achieve great results, use design software such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to prepare your image. If you don’t already have access to this software, free options like GIMP or Inkscape work too.

Make sure to use high-resolution photos or images. Or, if you’re creating a design from scratch, working with vector images will help prevent your design from being pixilated. If you want to use a design you already have on your computer, you can also learn how to vectorize an image in Adobe Illustrator.

2. Prepare the Shirt

Only use a shirt that is safe to iron on, with a smooth and tightly woven texture. This will help your design stick to the t-shirt correctly. The safest option is to use a 100% cotton shirt before experimenting with different fabrics, and a great way to save money is to buy a used t-shirt from a thrift shop.

For a brand new t-shirt, it’s best to pre-wash it to allow any shrinkage to happen before you apply the design. If you’re not sure what type of fabric you are working with, you can find out most of this information by checking the care instruction tag.

3. Buy the Right Transfer Paper

In general, transfer paper is divided into light-colored and dark-colored fabrics. Make sure to pick the right type of transfer paper for your t-shirt, or it won’t work.

Check that the transfer paper is compatible with your printer, too. For this project, we used an inkjet printer and used print transfer paper specifically made for inkjet printers. Using the same product on a laser printer can ruin the printer, so be warned!

If you’re wondering what brand will give you quality results, take a quick look at 3DInsider’s list of the best t-shirt transfer papers.

4. Test Print

Start by running a test print using regular printing paper to see if everything looks good. Adjusting the printer settings to the best quality settings also helps to improve the overall print quality.

In the macOS Preview navigation bar, select File > Print. Then, select Show Details and choose Preview > Media & Quality from the drop-down menu. A slider will appear with the option to change the quality to Draft, Normal, or Best.

You can also improve the quality of your print by changing the DPI of an image.

Now that you have a design, a suitable t-shirt, and the matching t-shirt transfer paper, it’s time to start printing.

If you are using transfer paper for light-colored fabric, you will need to mirror the image. In our example, we used Preview on macOS to do this by selecting Tools > Flip Horizontal. If you can’t find the mirror option on your printer settings, there are several more easy ways to flip a photo in Windows that you can try.

Once you’re happy with your final design, put one sheet of transfer paper into the printer. Be careful to pay attention to which way the paper has to be inserted; in our example, the design had to be printed on the white-coated side.

When it’s finished printing, handle the paper carefully–making sure to avoid touching the surface of the transfer paper. Finally, wait until the design is dry before moving on to the next step; this will normally take 5-10 minutes.

6. Iron the Design

Now, you are ready to iron on the design.

Begin by setting up a hard, flat surface where you can iron. Do not use an ironing board as the surface is too soft. Instead, use something like strong cardboard on a table. After that, preheat your iron for 5-8 minutes on the hottest setting–usually the linen setting.

Next, trim away any extra space around the design with a pair of scissors, leaving about a 1/4 to 1/2 inch margin. After that, line up your freshly printed design on your shirt to see where you would like it to go. When ready, place the transfer paper with the image side down onto the t-shirt.

Each brand of transfer paper will have its own special instructions for how to iron the design, but in general, apply heavy pressure while ironing and evenly press over the entire design.

In this project, we followed these recommended ironing times:

  • Full A4 page: 180 seconds
  • Half an A4 page: 90 seconds
  • A quarter of an A4 page: 30 seconds

Once the time is up, remove the iron and let the design cool down completely for about 10 minutes.

7. Complete the Transfer

After the transfer paper has cooled down, you can peel back the release paper. Gently fold the fabric near a corner of the design and peel back the paper in one smooth and even motion.

You may be required to re-iron the design to make sure that the transfer paper has bonded to the t-shirt well. If this is the case, cover the print with wax paper and iron over the design once again. For a large A4 design, iron for another 60 seconds and go over every part of the image. For half an A4 sheet, reduce the time to 30 seconds; for a quarter of a sheet, 15 seconds will be enough.

Wait for the image to cool down again, and then your transfer is complete!

Top Tips for Printing on T-Shirts

Here are a few more tips to help you successfully print on your t-shirt:

  1. Always check if the image needs to be mirrored before printing. This is usually the case for light-colored t-shirt transfer paper.
  2. To check if your iron is too hot, iron a sheet of plain white paper first. If the paper starts to turn yellow, lower the heat one step down to the cotton setting.
  3. For best results, iron using heavy pressure. Ensure that the hottest part of the iron (the center) reaches every part of the design.
  4. The first time you wash the printed shirt, turn it inside out and wash it separately from other clothes in a cold wash setting. Air-dry the jersey immediately after washing.

DIY Printing on T-shirts, Pillows, Bags, and More

Now you know how to easily and affordably print designs on a t-shirt using little more than your home printer and an iron. It’s a great excuse to learn how to use image-editing software or create awesome custom t-shirts for a special occasion or gift.

Why stop there, though? This process also works for hoodies, sweatshirts, cushions, pillowcases, bags, aprons, and more!