Sometimes, even when you followed all the instructions, T-shirt vinyl can fall off the garment. Most people blame the t-shirt vinyl, but the problem is probably in (or rather on) the fabric itself!
For most fabrics, heat transfer film or ‘T-shirt vinyl’ is a reliable garment decoration method that goes on easily and sticks permanently. These films use adhesives engineered to stick permanently to a wide arrange of textiles. This is the case for most cotton, polyester, Lycra, acrylic, and cotton-poly blends.
So what is the problem in this case?
Some materials have pre-applied chemical treatments that can interfere with heat transfer films. These coatings have long been a problem for decorating Nylon used in tents and umbrellas. And recently, we received a question recently from a customer about how to decorate a polyester construction vest. Performance apparel is very popular right now. This has added a whole new class of heat transfer challenges. Most of these problems are solved with a few extra steps. Here are some T-shirt vinyl tricks for decorating coated or pre-treated fabrics and getting the T-shirt vinyl to stick.
Nylon has always been a challenge for decorators. Most T-shirt vinyls on the market aren’t suitable for use on Nylon. Compatible t-shirt vinyl options for Nylon include EasyWeed Extra or HotMark Revolution. Easy Weed Extra is made specifically for application on Nylon. HotMark Revolution is a universal heat transfer film that can be applied to Nylon as well as cotton, polyester and blended fabrics.
But not all nylons are alike. Many are treated by the manufacturer with Teflon or some other moisture-resistant coating. The moisture-resistant coating can usually be removed simply by adding an extra step to your transfer process. Preheat the nylon for 15 to 20 seconds with parchment paper. The heat and parchment paper should leach the coating off of the nylon exposing the base fabric and creating a workable space for your appliqué. Then apply your Easy Weed Extra or HotMark Revolution following the time, temperature, and pressure settings recommended by the manufacturer. After removing the liner, re-press to seal the deal.
Notice that we said these coatings can usually be removed. There are some exceptions. Teflon coated nylon such as that commonly used for tents won’t work. The Teflon cannot be removed by pre-heating. If you have to decorate a fabric like this, you may have to resort to a more aggressive tactic to remove the bothersome coating. This more aggressive tactic also works for our next challenge; coated polyester.
Generally polyester is an easy fabric for garment decorators to use. But coated polyesters used in specialty applications can pose the same difficulties as coated Nylon.
Recently, we received a question from a customer trying to apply heat transfer vinyl to polyester construction vests. After consulting with our manufacturers, we received this recommendation from Siser. The water-resistant coating on these products cannot be removed by pre-heating the film. For these, you’ll need to use an adhesive remover.
We have two such products available; Stain-B-Gone and VLR 1020. Stain-B-Gone is a general purpose stain remover in a 20 oz spray can that also works on most heat transfer vinyls. AlphaChem VLR 1020 is a new product designed specifically for removing heat transfer vinyl. VLR 1020 contains no chlorinated solvents or California PROP 65* ingredients. Both products are easy to use and should be effective methods for removing the chemical pre-treatment on these kinds of challenging garments. With either product, we recommend that you test it in an inconspicuous area to ensure that it won’t damage or discolor the fabric.
There is another kind of chemical pre-treatment affecting garment decorators that’s more common than the construction vest problem noted above. A recent innovation from Dupont has produced a vexing problem for decorators of sports and performance apparel.
Antimicrobial coatings reduce body odor by killing microbes. The result is apparel that lets you work up a healthy sweat without running off your significant other. But the coating can also repel the adhesives used in T-shirt vinyls. Pre-heating sometimes works, but it’s not guaranteed.
For more about antimicrobial coatings, please click here for our SignCollege article. The best strategy here is an ounce of prevention. If you can have some input with your customer and guide them to apparel you know will work, you can avoid this problem altogether.
If you’re doing everything right, but your favorite heat transfer film won’t stick, you may be dealing with pre-treated fabric. Whether you’re decorating Nylon tents and umbrellas, construction vests, or performance apparel, these coated fabrics are becoming more common. It helps to have some strategies in place for dealing with these specialty items.
- Try pre-heating the area with parchment paper before applying your HotMark Revolution, EasyWeed or other T-shirt vinyl.
- If that doesn’t work, try an adhesive remover like Stain-B-Gone or VLR 1020. Test it discretely before treating a whole batch of garments.
- Proactively counselling your customers about how to avoid pre-treated garments is the best strategy.
*California Proposition 65 names a list of naturally occurring and synthetic chemicals that are known to cause cancer or birth defects or other reproductive harm. These chemicals include additives or ingredients in pesticides, common household products, food, drugs, dyes, or solvents.