A Basic Guide To Layering T-shirt Vinyl

Galaxy on Fashion on HotMark applied to cotton t-shirts

There are many ways to measure progress.  Buying new clothes used to need hours at the mall.  Now you can do it from the comfort of your home  with the click of a mouse.  Fifteen years ago home computers had 400 mb hard drives. Now PCs with 2 terabyte hard drives and lightning-fast processors are commonplace.  And not long ago, most manufacturers of heat transfer film advised customers against layering T-shirt vinyl. Being limited to one color per shirt was a source of some frustration for garment decorators. Due to advances in manufacturing, most of our EnduraTex, Chemica, and Siser heat transfer products can now be safely blended and layered.  As you might expect, there are still a few caveats. What kinds of materials can be layered and how does it work?

Different face films and adhesives

In order for a decorated garment to use layers of various flex or flock heat transfer films, everything has to work together.  The film’s adhesive has to adhere well to the fabric, and to itself. If you layer a cold peel flex film like HotMark or Resolve Plus with a hot peel product like Siser Easy Weed or Chemica’s QuickFlex, the different adhesive compound may adhere well enough to the fabric, but not to each other.  The varying degrees of softness and plasticity of the face films may also result in different levels of stretch and rebound as the garment is worn. The layers may stick initially, but come apart when laundered. This is the most common failure point for blended heat transfer garments. This is why the conventional wisdom for the past decade has been not to mix disparate films on the same garment. There are still some barriers, but within a brand’s product line, the cautions against mixing and layering are falling by the wayside.

How to make it work

Layering Galaxy on Fashion on Hotmark

Layer 3 types of thermal transfer film on cotton?  It’s possible! This close-up shows Galaxy on Fashion on HotMark .

As noted above, it’s best to select thermal transfer products with similar face films. An easy way to do this is to try to stay within a brand family. Products from one manufacturer are more likely to have compatible adhesive properties and similar face films. So if you want to design a variegated garment, try mixing EnduraTex Resolve Plus with Style or Starlight.  If your film of choice is Siser Easy Weed, your layering options includes Siser Holographic, Easy Weed Stretch, and Glitter.  Chemica fans can mix and layer HotMark with FirstMark, Galaxy, Fashion, etc.

But even within brand families, there are some important caveats. Metallic and glitter-flake films offer unique challenges because of the foils used in the face film. Shine works better as a top layer than a base layer. Pressing multiple layers of Shine, or Chemica Metallic on a shirt can reduce the glossy metallic finish. To avoid this, it’s best to apply them only as the final, or top layer.
If  you must apply or overlap something over Shine, do so with abbreviated press cycles. Press the Shine or Metallic for only  2 – 3 seconds: just long enough to warm up the adhesive. Let it cool, peel the liner then press the second layer for 2 – 3 seconds and so on; Quick press, cold peel. Repeat. The final layer should be pressed for the full 20 seconds.

To help you handle all this data, we’ve organized it into a handy EnduraTex Layering Guide. Use this as your multi decoration guide for EnduraTex Resolve, Resolve Plus. Style, Star, Shine, Bling, Vibe, and Iron On.

How to Read the Layering Guide
Fig 2: The new EnduraTex Layering Guide is simple and easy to read.

Fig 2: The new EnduraTex Layering Guide is simple and easy to read. A Check mark means Yes, X means No.

The EnduraTex Layering Guide has our cuttable EnduraTex heat transfer products, arranged in vertical and horizontal columns.

  • The check mark represent a winning combination. These products can be layered and laundered.
  • A Capital T indicates a film that works best as the Top layer.
  • A Hand indicates a combination that will work, but is not recommended for machine washing.
  • And the big X of course means this combination will not work or is not recommended.

The list of products in the horizontal row across the top shows the materials that can be applied as an upper layer on top of a different product. The list running vertically down the left side shows the same products’ suitability for use as the bottom layer (under itself or a different product). For instance, the top row of check marks indicates that everything but Bling and Iron On can be applied on top of Resolve. The Second row of check marks shows that all of these films can be applied on top of Resolve Plus.  Reading down the side, we see that EnduraTex Iron On has a row of Xs. That’s because it’s a hot peel film and should only be used as a bottom layer with itself.

Chemica and Siser: The same basic rules apply to Chemica and Siser T-shirt vinyl. Please consult the Chemica Layering Guide for layering and overlapping instructions for HotMark, FirstMark, QuickFlex and the rest of the family.  The layout of the Siser layering guide is a little different. Each combination is presented with varying degrees of washfastness.  A shirt with Easy Weed Electric over Easy Weed will last over 30 washes. But layering Easy Weed on itself  will only last about 5 – 10 wash cycles. Click here for the details.

Mixed Media: Sawgrass inks and Rhinestones.

Once you start blending your heat transfer products, you might be inspired to try some more interesting combinations like mixing CAD flex films with dye sublimation, ChromaBlast ink, or hot fix rhinestones. Most of these mixes are viable and can be used to produce some really unique, high value products. But, as you might expect, there are a couple of things to avoid.

  • Keep rhinestones on the borders. Rhinestones can be added to garments with heat transfer film as long as the stones are affixed to bare fabric, not the applied film. The hot fix adhesive on the bottom of the stone will adhere initially to Polyurethane T-shirt vinyls, but the bond is not washfast. See our rhinestone mixed media blog article for details.
  • Accents for Sawgrass shirts: Flex and flock films can also be applied on or around printed sublimation or ChromaBlast transfers. One of the nice things about this approach is the expansion of color gamut of the process inks by adding spot colors and metallic hues. The only thing to avoid here is applying light colored heat transfer film on dark sublimated garments. Since dye sublimation is also a heat activated process, applying a layer of film on top of a sublimated print may reactivate the dye and cause it to migrate into your HotMark or Easy Weed. You can avoid this by applying HotMark SIR (Sublimation Ink Resistant) on these darker prints, or by adding your thermal films to ChromaBlast, which is less likely to migrate into the applied layer of flex film.

You may find that metallic border accents on printed shirts are just what your bling addicted customers want. It may also allow you to charge and extra $5.00 per shirt and enhance your bottom line. Some people measure progress by faster data processing or being able to shop in their pajamas. Others measure it in finding new ways to make money by making custom apparel. Who knows? Maybe getting more out of your heat transfer materials will generate enough money to buy a faster computer and a new purse or two…or three.