Heat transfer vinyl (or iron-on vinyl) allows you to make custom t-shirts, tote bags, onesies, and more! This step by step guide with photos and screenshots shows you exactly how to cut heat transfer vinyl with a Cricut machine and iron it onto a t-shirt!
I love making baby onesies with heat transfer vinyl; there’s nothing cuter than baby clothes, and being able to completely customize them is a ton of fun! And it’s SUPER easy to cut heat transfer vinyl with a Cricut machine and then apply it to a shirt or onesie so you can get professional-looking results in just a few minutes at home!
This step by step guide will show you exactly how to use heat transfer vinyl with a Cricut machine, with photos and screenshots along the way so you can easily follow along on your own machine. (Don’t forget to grab the “Cousin Crew” SVG file I used in this tutorial!)
If you want to learn how to cut adhesive vinyl with your Cricut machine, like if you want to make wall decals or customized tumblers, check out my other tutorial!
How To Use Heat Transfer Vinyl With A Cricut Machine
This tutorial will show you how to cut heat transfer vinyl using a Cricut Maker and Cricut Design Space, the free online design software that comes with all current Cricut machines (Cricut Explore Air, Explore One, Explore Air 2, and Cricut Maker). The steps are basically the same no matter which Cricut machine you have, but I’ll be sure to point out areas where something looks different for anyone not using a Cricut Maker.
Here’s what you need to get started.
- heat transfer vinyl (I love Siser Easyweed HTV but Cricut has fun iron on too)
- a blank shirt, onesie, tote bag, etc.
- a Cricut machine (I used the Cricut Maker for this tutorial but any Cricut machine will work!)
- StandardGrip mat
- weeding tool
- Cricut EasyPress 2 (or a household iron)
- EasyPress mat (or a super fluffy towel, folded up)
Step One: Create a Design Space project
Open up Cricut Design Space and create a brand new project. I used this cute Cousin Crew SVG file I designed but you can use any image or design you’d like. For simplicity’s sake I chose to make my design just one color. If your image has multiple colors, no problem! We’ll talk about that later.
If you want to use your own design, follow these steps to upload your own image to Design Space.
Step Two: Prepare your design for cutting
If you’ve uploaded your own image or SVG file, there are a few simple tricks for dealing with layers, colors, and groups so you can get the image ready to cut.
You can test whether your image is ready to be cut by clicking the green Make It button in the top right corner to preview the mats for cutting.
Design Space automatically positions graphics and text on the cutting mat to make the most efficient use of the material you are cutting. But if the alignment of your design matters (like if you have letters that form a word) you might not want this to happen! If your image or text looks “smushed” on the Preview screen (like in the image below) then you need to click the grey Cancel button to go back and make a few adjustments before sending the design to your Cricut to be cut.
In order to keep the spacing of your image correct, the shapes need to be “Attached” in Cricut Design Space. And in this case, I also wanted the arrow to be the same color/material as the letters so that I can cut the entire image out of one piece of vinyl. To change the color of a layer, select the image on the canvas or select the layer in the Layers panel on the right, then click on the colored square under the Linetype menu at the top to select a new color. In this case I changed it to the same teal color as the letters.
To attach your letters and shapes and maintain the spacing in your finished project, select all the shapes and letters of one color, then click the grey Attach icon in the Layers panel near the bottom right. This will group the layers together so that they all move together when you move or resize the image.
Attaching the layers also forces them to line up exactly as they show on the screen when cutting, rather than treating them as a bunch of individual shapes that can be rotated or moved to fit.
Once you’re ready to cut out your design, click the green Make It button in the upper right corner.
Step Three: Cut out your design with your Cricut machine
On the Prepare screen, make sure you toggle the Mirror option under the thumbnail on the left for all of your mats; when cutting heat transfer vinyl you ALWAYS need to mirror your designs!
Click the green Continue button.
I used Cricut’s Everyday Iron-On vinyl for this project, so that’s what I selected as the material in Step 1. If you used a different brand of iron-on, you can select that instead.
If you are using an Explore machine, you won’t see this “Set Material” dialog. Instead just set the Smart Set Dial on the top of your machine to “Iron-On”.
Next you need to load the blades and cutting mat into the machine.
Place your heat transfer vinyl shiny side down onto the green StandardGrip mat. Gently press down the vinyl to make sure it is stuck to the mat everywhere and that there are no wrinkles.
Load the fine-point blade in Clamp B; you don’t need any tool or accessory in Clamp A when cutting heat transfer vinyl.
Then load the mat into the machine: set the mat in front of the guides and then press the Load/Unload button.
Once your mat and blade are loaded, press the flashing Go button on your machine to start the cut!
Step Four: Apply the design to your project
Once the cut is complete, press the Load/Unload button to unload the mat from the machine. Flip the mat over and gently peel the mat away from the heat transfer vinyl, holding the vinyl flat against the table to keep it from curling.
Weed away the background heat transfer vinyl, using a weeding hook to get the small pieces like the centers of letters.
I like to pre-heat my shirts and other blanks before applying the heat transfer vinyl; I find that warming up the fabric gets rid of any moisture and makes the heat transfer vinyl stick better. If you’re using an EasyPress, you can check the Cricut Heat Guide to find the correct temperature, pressure, and time settings for your project.
For Everyday Iron-On and a cotton t-shirt, I pre-heated my EasyPress to 315 degrees. Once it reached the correct temperature, I pre-heated my t-shirt on top of my EasyPress mat by pressing with the EasyPress for 5 seconds. Then I positioned the heat transfer vinyl design on the shirt.
The clear transfer sheet backing on heat transfer vinyl is slightly sticky, and that’s usually enough to hold your design in place while you press it. But if the transfer sheet isn’t sticky enough or you’re piecing multiple layers together, you can use heat resistant tape to tape down your design before pressing.
Once your design is positioned, place the EasyPress on top of the design and press down lightly for 30 seconds.
Wait a couple of seconds for the shirt to cool down, then carefully peel away the clear transfer sheet from the vinyl while it is still warm. (If the vinyl starts to come up with the backing sheet, put it back down and press again before removing the transfer sheet.)
I like to press a second time on the back side of the shirt, just to make sure the heat transfer vinyl is really well stuck. You can either turn the shirt inside out, or just flip it over and press again for another 30 seconds using the EasyPress.
Let the shirt cool down for a few minutes, and you’re done!
In general, you can wash shirts made with heat transfer vinyl in the washing machine as long as you turn them inside out and wash them on a delicate cycle. You can either hang them or lay them flat to dry, or dry them in a no-heat tumble dry cycle in the dryer. But double check the instructions on your specific shirt and on the vinyl you used to be sure!
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Below is a printable version of this post; click the large “Print” button to print out the instructions. If you like this post, leave a review by clicking the stars below the thumbnail image! That way I know which types of how-to’s and projects you guys like and which I should do more of!
- heat transfer vinyl
- a blank shirt
Cutting the heat transfer vinyl
- Open up Cricut Design Space and create a brand new project with at least one image in it.
- Attach any layers where the spacing of the images or text is important by selecting all the layers and then clicking the grey Attach button at the bottom of the Layers panel on the right.
- Click the green Make It button in the upper right corner.
- On the Preview screen, toggle the Mirror option under the thumbnail on the left for all of your mats.
- Click the green Continue button.
- FOR MAKER USERS: Select Everyday Iron-On or whatever heat transfer material you are using. FOR EXPLORE USERS: Set the Smart Set Dial on the top of your machine to “Iron-On”.
- Place your heat transfer vinyl shiny side down onto the green StandardGrip mat.
- Load the fine-point blade in Clamp B.
- Load the mat into the machine by pressing the Load/Unload button.
- Press the flashing Go button on your machine to start the cut.
- When the cut is complete, press the Load/Unload button to unload the mat from the machine.
Applying the heat transfer vinyl
- Weed away the background heat transfer vinyl, using a weeding hook to get the small pieces like the centers of letters.
- Check the Cricut Heat Guide to find the correct temperature, pressure, and time settings for your specific project.
- Pre-heat your EasyPress to 315 degrees (or whatever temperature the Heat Guide indicates for your specific project).
- Pre-heat your shirt on top of your EasyPress mat for 5 seconds.
- Position your heat transfer vinyl design on your shirt.
- Place the EasyPress on top of the design and press down lightly for 30 seconds.
- Carefully peel away the clear transfer sheet from the vinyl while it is still warm.
- Flip the shirt over and press again for another 30 seconds.
The temperature settings and timings in these instructions are for Cricut's EveryDay Iron-On on a cotton t-shirt, but you should always check the Cricut Heat Guide to find the correct temperature, pressure, and time settings for your specific project and materials.
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