Can you use an iron instead of a heat press for transfer vinyl?

Sublimation is a lovely process you can use to customize your fabric products. You can personalize pillows, T-shirts, tote bags and many more, and you can also use different materials to print the design on.

You can print designs with a specific printer using infusible ink (which you can do at home or at specialized printing centers), or you can use HTV, which is heat transfer vinyl.

This kind of vinyl will give your project a really nice, durable finish. But all these processes need a heat source to transfer the product onto the fabric, and the ideal equipment you need is a heat transfer.

However, can you use an iron instead of a heat press? Let’s find out!

How to use heat transfer vinyl in sublimation processes

As said before, heat transfer vinyl (HTV) is a really nice material used for sublimating fabric products, and, as it is applied with a heat source, it will be resistant to the heat of your washing machine and maybe your drier too.

As its name says, this kind of vinyl is not only stuck on the surface but it also needs heat to get adhered to it.

Friendly reminder: if you have your own Cricut machine, always remember to cut a mirrored design, as you will need to invert it to apply it.

Can you use an iron instead of a heat press to apply HTV?

In case you want to invest on a Heat Press specially manufactured for this purpose, you can get to the Cricut website and choose the option that suits you best.

You can choose from 5 different options according to the project you are working on.

These are:

  • The 9×9 EasyPress,
  • The 12×10 EasyPress,
  • The EasyPress Mini,
  • The HatPress,
  • The  AutoPress.

As you can see, each of them has its own size and offers different functions:

  1. Both EasyPress appliances work for projects as big as T-shirts or pillows, they allow you to choose the temperature and you have to press it onto the fabric by yourself.
  2. The EasyPress Mini is a tiny, versatile version that allows you to get to small pieces and corners, for example, on shoes, bags or even plushies.
  3. The Hat Press is a special curved hot press ideal for hats as you can apply the pressure evenly on the whole surface at once.
  4. And Cricut’s latest hot press creation is the AutoPress, the biggest option in the catalog that presses the fabric automatically! This way you will be able to sublimate your T-shirts effortlessly.

However, we have to admit that Cricuts are quite expensive, especially if you also have to pay shipping around the world.

So, can you use an iron instead of a heat press? Of course, you can! You only need to keep some things in mind to get the best iron for this kind of work:

  • You should be able to regulate its temperature
  • It shouldn’t have holes
  • It should be big enough for the project you want to make

The ideal iron to use in sublimation projects

As we said, the ideal iron for sublimation is that which allows you to adjust its temperature.

HTV needs a very high temperature for a correct application and adherence, near 400° Celsius, so you cannot use an iron that only reaches 200°, or that doesn’t have a clear temperature range, for example, saying “low, medium and high” temperature.

Besides, it is ideal if it doesn’t have any holes. Logically, the holes in the metal surface will apply less heat on the surface than the metal that is directly in contact with it, and this can cause your vinyl to break with time, as it won’t get such good adherence.

This is even more important with other kinds of sublimation that use infusible ink.

Vinyl is sticky, so at least it will get stuck on the fabric as if you were working with a regular sticker, but infusible ink is worse for this as it isn’t sticky at all and won’t even get stuck on the surface. It won’t be transferred to your product at all.

The last thing you need to keep in mind is the size of the designs you want to apply on your surface.

Remember you need to apply steady pressure on the vinyl, so you cannot be rubbing the iron back and forth on the fabric to cover all the surface.

That’s why, if possible, try to get an iron with a big metal surface so that you won’t need to apply your vinyl in several parts and you can do it all in one shot.

In general, irons who fulfill all these features are older ones. New ones usually come with holes for spraying water and softener on clothes, so they aren’t the best choice for this.

Besides, manufacturers are trying to make appliances smaller to fit small houses and apartments, so maybe a vintage 80’s iron will be the best to go.

How to iron on vinyl?

Once you’ve got the ideal iron and you have decided upon a design, let’s get our hands on! 

You will need:

  • A piece of HTV with the (mirrored) design cut on it
  • A piece of Teflon paper a little bit bigger than the design or a piece of canvas cloth
  • The iron
  • A surface to sublimate on
Can you use an iron instead of a heat press

Iron the area where you are going to apply the design. This is for preheating the area, which will provide it with more adherence, and it will clear all possible wrinkles to get you the neatest result.

Place the vinyl on the area of the surface you want to sublimate which is now completely straight. Cover it with a layer of Teflon paper or the canvas cloth and set the iron on about 375°.

You will get the exact temperature you need to use on the vinyl packaging. Press the iron on the paper and press firmly for at least 30 seconds.

Remove the backing paper off the vinyl, cover it again with the Teflon paper or cloth and apply the iron for another 30 seconds to ensure the best adherence. And violà!

So, in conclusion, can you use an iron instead of a heat press? Of course you can! Put these pieces of advice into practice and find out by yourself.

If you’ve done a transfer some time before and after that, you can see your transfer starting to peel off your shirt, here’s an article that might help you know How to keep iron on transfers from peeling.

Happy crafting! 😉