What is Considered a Light Colored Fabric?

“For use with White, or Light Colored fabrics.”  You often see this in the instructions of light heat transfer papers.  What does this mean?  Where is the boundary between light colored shirts and dark colored shirts?

The answer isn’t that simple.  It really is a case by case basis.  When determining whether your colored shirt will work with your light transfer papers, you need to determine the type of image it is.

All Black Images
If your image only has black in it such as simple black text or simple line graphics, etc.  It is likely to work on a darker colored shirt such as red and blue shirts.  For most light transfer papers, you will still have to trim around your image to reduce the polymer background.

Photographs/Graphics with solid, non-neutral colors such as reds, deep or dark blues, and greens.
These images can be printed onto colored shirts like pink, beige, or light blue.  But keep in mind that there may be a bit of color distortion depending on the image and the shirt color.

Photographs/Graphics with gradients, drop shadows, light or neutral colors such as grey, light blues, and some yellows.  
These images should only be printed on white fabric only.  This is because colors will distort significantly due to the large amount of white used in the graphic.  Wherever white is used (in gradients, drop shadows, and to produce light colors such light blue), the shirt color will show through and mix with the image.

Black Only Image
Examples of a Black Colored Image on white, pink, and a dark colored fabric.
Black Colored images work well with the colored fabrics shown above
Colored Image
Examples of a Colored Image on white, pink and red fabrics
This colored image works well with both white and pink colored fabrics. On the red fabric, the yellow mixes with the red and the image cannot be printed well on a dark colored fabric.
Photo comparison
Examples of a Light Colored Image on white, pink, and red fabric.
This image only works with a white colored fabric. This image will not print well with most colored fabrics

On light transfer papers, keep in mind that any white areas of any image will become the color of the shirt, as most laser and inkjet printers do not use white ink.  The white comes from the paper.  When using light transfer papers, the white base paper is peeled off leaving the ink and a transparent coating on the shirt.

If unsure whether your image will work on a colored shirt, it is a safer bet to use a dark heat transfer paper instead of a light one.  Dark heat transfer papers will work on any colored fabric.  However, dark transfer papers tend to be a little bit thicker and costs a little more than light transfer papers.

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Cutting Dark Transfer Papers

Dark Transfer Papers need to be trimmed before applying to fabric.  The reason for this is because areas that are unprinted and untrimmed will appear white on the shirt.  There are a number of ways you can trim dark transfer papers.  You can use a pair of scissors, an exacto knife, a paper cutter (for square images), or a cutter/plotter with an optical eye (recommended method).

Using a cutter/plotter with an optical eye is the best method simply because it is extremely accurate and efficient.

How does the Print and Cut Feature Work On a Cutter/Plotter?
Most of the programs provided to you by the manufacturer to run your cutter will have a print and cut option (CutStudio for Roland GX 24, and GreatCuts for GCC cutters).  You simply turn on the print and cut feature either before or after (CutStudio is before and GreatCuts is after) you have finished laying out your graphic and cut lines.  Although you may have the print and cut option in your program, please ensure that your cutter has an optical eye.  Without an optical eye, the print and cut function will not work.

Once print and cut is activated in your software, you will see 3 or 4 registration marks on the corners of the transfer paper.  From this point, you can print your graphic along with the registration marks out on your printer.  This is how they would look:

  

After printing your graphic with the registration marks, you are ready to load your transfer paper into the cutter.  Once the paper is loaded, simply select cut in the software and the cutter will start cutting.  First the cutter will activate its optical eye system and you will see a red dot moving.  This is the cutter’s way of scanning for the registration marks.  Once it has read all 3 or 4 registration marks, it will cut the graphic out.   You can then weed the excess paper off the sheet.  Peel off the graphic or use tack to keep non-continuous parts together.  Then place on top of your fabric with image face up on your heat press.  Ensure you protect your graphic/image with a silicon or teflon sheet when pressing.

Here is a link to a video of this print and cut feature using CL Dark Premium

Why Do You Need the Print and Cut Registration Marks to Cut with Your Cutter?
The print and cut system is used so that the printer can communicate with the cutter via registration marks.  Simply put, the printer uses registration marks to tell the cutter where it has printed the graphic on the paper.  Without the registration marks and an optical eye, it is near impossible for the cutter to determine where the printer has printed the graphic on the paper.