How to Guide – Tips for Using Heat Transfer Vinyl on Dark Fabrics

How to Guide – Tips for Using Heat Transfer Vinyl on Dark Fabrics
Authored By Michael Soltis 0 Comment(s)

Heat transfer vinyl is the material that lets you customize t-shirts, caps, and other wearables. Usually, people gravitate to lighter fabrics when working with heat transfer vinyl. However, with a few things to keep in mind, you can get just as good of a result when working with darker fabrics. Today we will provide tips for using heat transfer vinyl on dark fabrics.

Heat transfer vinyl – the basics

First, let’s go over a few things about heat transfer vinyl. The world of vinyl has been an absolute boon for crafters and makers. There are so many kinds with varying applications. When it comes to working with fabrics, however, sidestep adhesive vinyl and go right for heat transfer vinyl.

Here’s why: adhesive vinyl is a non-printable material that is cut into intricate patterns, words, or shapes. It’s great for decals, signs, wall décor, or for use on glasses or mugs. It is transferred to a surface via transfer tape. However, it is not formulated to hold up well on softer materials like a t-shirt. While you may get a good result transferring adhesive vinyl to a stretched canvas or other tightly woven material, what is holding the design in place is an adhesive that can be peeled away and is not suitable at all for the movement, sweat, washing, and other things we do with t-shirts and wearables.

Heat transfer vinyl is formulated differently. It is activated with heat to create a strong and lasting bond. When properly applied, this bond holds up during machine washes, sweaty gym workouts, and more. The vinyl is flexible to resist cracking and colorfast to resist fading.

As the vinyl is transferred with a heat source, you’ll need either a household iron or a heat press. As described in a blog on our site called Working With T-Shirt Transfer Vinyl: What You Need to Know, an iron is a great and economical choice for small projects. It will get hot enough to do the job and you probably already have one at home. If not, they are easy to find and purchase. A heat press is better suited to large batches, such as if you are making a t-shirts for a team, for a family reunion, or as a business. The blog further mentions heat settings for various fabrics.  We also have an infographic on the blog that summarizes how to use heat transfer vinyl.

Working with dark fabrics – tips and tricks

When using heat transfer vinyl on dark fabrics, start with the vinyl itself. You can get heat transfer vinyl that specifies if it should be used for light or dark fabrics, or is formulated to work on both.

Next, think about your design. If you want the design to really pop, you’ll need to focus on contrast. For example, let’s say you are working with a dark grey t-shirt. Avoid muted shades in your design like blue or purple. Against the dark grey it will simply fade in and be hard to see. White is always a good color choice for high contrast, as are neons, reds, and pinks.

That being said, there are times you want a more muted design. You still need to have the right amount of contrast to make it work. Try printing a spectrum of muted colors on a clear sheet or sacrifice one transfer sheet that you can use as a guide for several different projects. Hold up the spectrum against the fabric to see which colors provide the level of contrast you like. Then go ahead and make your design.

The next tip deals with your printer. In our blog More Desktop Design Terms You Should Know, we talk about a term called WYSIWYG, or what you see is what you get. Light fabrics are very forgiving when the color you see on your screen doesn’t quite match the color that comes out of your printer. Dark fabrics are much less forgiving to this discrepancy. The WYSIWYG factor is important for getting the colors right. Again, a test sheet with a variety of colors can help here. Expect, if you have an entry-level printer or off-brand refilled ink, some variation in what you see on the screen vs what is printed. Those variations will affect the contrast.

Our final tip deals with residue. You’ll be setting the adhesive with heat, so you want the backing and heat protective sheet to pull away cleanly. Again, lighter fabrics hide some melted residue or improperly weeded spots (weeding is removing vinyl strategically between design elements). On dark fabric, adhesive or poorly weeded elements are going to pop. Buy quality heat transfer vinyl to ensure a better, faster transfer and setting of your design.

Have fun and experiment with the heat transfer vinyl

Making t-shirts and other wearables is an easy and affordable way to pass the time, make a gift, start a small business, or have a family crafting night. Don’t forget to have fun! Try using a variety of dark fabrics and a variety of designs to see what you like best. You can buy cotton t-shirts in bulk or cheaply at stores like Michaels if you want to do some experiments or just have some fun learning how to use heat transfer vinyl.


Heat transfer vinyl is fun and easy to use. Make sure you are choosing heat transfer vinyl, not adhesive vinyl, for working on wearable fabrics. An iron is perfectly suitable for small heat transfer projects. Check the vinyl you want to use to see if it is formulated for dark fabric or formulated to work on either dark or light fabric. Think about contrast. If you want the design to pop, go for high contrast colors. If you want a muted design, print a test sheet with several colors so you can identify the level of contrast you desire. A test sheet will also help with the WYSIWYG factor – sometimes the color on your computer screen is slightly different than the color that comes out of the printer. Use high quality heat transfer vinyl, especially if you are weeding a design. Residue is hard to hide on dark fabric. Our blog has even more tips about working with heat transfer vinyl, along with design advice. Remember to have fun! Heat transfer vinyl projects are affordable, a great way to pass the time with family, and you get a wearable result.

Ready to get started? Royal Elements sells printable vinyl, adhesive vinyl, and heat transfer vinyl along with transfer tape, laminating sheets, magnetic sheets, and more in our online store – and our blog has plenty of design tips. We love to see the projects you make using Royal Elements products. Post your results online with the hashtag #royalelementsstickers so we can feature your designs on our social networks (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube).  Visit to learn more.


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