Using Transfers

Iron-on transfers are easy to use.

Transfers are an easy way to embellish projects, but using transfers involves more than just ironing or rubbing. By knowing the types of transfers available and how to effectively pair designs with projects, crafters can create stunning work with beautiful transfer detailing.

Types of Transfers

There are two basic types of transfers: those applied by heat and those applied by pressure. For both, the design on the transfer paper is literally transferred to the project material. Depending on the manufacturer, transfers may also be called decals, rub-ons, or iron-ons.

Tips for Using Transfers

Transfers can be delicate. The slightest shift during application can cause blurring. Inconsistent pressure or heat may only partially transfer the design, leaving holes and gaps. Always refer to the manufacturer's instructions about appropriate surface preparation, application, and care.

For iron-on transfers, remember the following tips:

  • The fabric should be clean and dry before applying the transfer.
  • Place the correct side of the transfer on the fabric or it will stick to the iron.
  • Iron on a hard surface such as a countertop or table so all the heat is transferred to the project rather than being diffused through an ironing board.
  • Use the highest heat setting recommended by the transfer manufacturer, but avoid steam settings that may cause the design to bleed or run.
  • Press the iron firmly across the entire design, paying particular attention to the edges to ensure complete application.
  • Peel away the backing while the design is hot so it does not rebond to the adhesive paper.
  • Let the design cool completely, preferably for 24 hours or more so it can thoroughly bond to the fabric.

To apply rub-on transfers:

  • Apply the design with the appropriate side on the project or else it will scratch and scuff without being applied to the underlying material.
  • Use tape to secure the design so it will not move or shift while being rubbed.
  • Do not use heat to apply rub-on decals; heat will damage the pattern and may destroy its adhesive capability.
  • Rub the transfer firmly but not too hard to avoid tearing or wrinkling the pattern.
  • Use a blunt, sturdy object with a flat edge to rub the transfer. The edge of a popsicle stick or ruler is ideal, and many transfer kits come equipped with similar tools. Avoid using pointed items such as pen cap; it may damage the decal and it will be more difficult to fully transfer the design.
  • Allow the design to cure for 48-72 hours before washing or embellishing so it thoroughly bonds to the project.


There are thousands of different transfer patterns available. When choosing a design, crafters should consider the background of the project as well as the style of decal. A small, detailed transfer will be lost in a busy fabric, while a bold decal is better suited to bright projects with large surfaces. Furthermore, a very delicate design may be difficult to apply to textured material, and simpler patterns are easier for novices to experiment with.Once basic project considerations have been made, the most difficult step will be to choose a pattern from among nearly limitless options, including:

  • Floral, leave, and vine natural designs
  • Abstract shapes and scrollwork
  • Copyrighted designs such as Disney characters
  • Comprehensive themes such as back to school, military, weddings, or travel
  • Hobby, career, and sports themes
  • Object collections for bugs, food, music, or other interests
  • Nostalgic collections of whimsical characters, Americana, quilting, and similar motifs
  • International designs including flags, maps, and currency
  • Alphabets and popular words or phrases

Making Your Own Transfers

There are printable heat transfer papers available and tech-savvy crafters can create their own decals from personalized logos, photos, or graphics. Before printing on the specialized paper, print a test sheet to verify size, colors, and placement rather than risking unusable designs on expensive transfer paper. Individuals who still want to create their own designs but do not have the printer or technological expertise can contact decal and transfer design companies for customized work.

Project Ideas Using Transfers

Just as there are thousands of different types of transfers, there are also many projects that can be made even more personalized and creative by using transfers, including:

  • Personalizing or embellishing purses or backpacks
  • Creating unique t-shirt or sweatshirt designs
  • Adding designer elements to ceramic pots or tiles
  • Personalizing sporting equipment for flair or identification
  • Adding designs to plain candles, vases, or decorative boxes
  • Labeling shelves or cabinets
  • Adding color and creativity to school reports and projects
  • Creating scrapbook pages, stationary, or greeting cards without adding bulk
  • Adding quick and easy flair to costumes
  • Using large transfer designs as artwork directly on a wall or other permanent surface
  • Personalizing holiday projects such as stockings or candy dishes

Regardless of the project, there is a transfer design that can coordinate with it.

Caring for Transfers

Special care may be required to keep transfers looking their best for years to come. Always refer to the manufacturer's guidelines for cleaning information; some transfers cannot be washed without the design being affected.

It may be possible to apply a sealer coat over the transfer to safeguard against accidental damage, but it is always wise to avoid scratching, wrinkling, or otherwise manipulating the design unnecessarily. For iron-on transfers, avoid washing the fabric frequently to prolong the life of the transfer.

Finding Transfers and Decals

Crafters interested in using transfers can find them in many craft and hobby stores, as well as online merchants specializing in craft embellishments and decals. Scrapbook stores have larger selections of rub-on transfers, while fabric stores carry more iron-on variations. If a favorite store carries only a few designs, it may also be possible to special order additional transfers from a catalog. Regardless of how you find them, once you start using transfers you'll want to "transfer" all your crafting efforts to these fun and easy embellishments!

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