How to Print on T-Shirts Without a Transfer Sheet

by Karen Jones

Truth is, everyone has that creative feel-good moment. You know, that moment when you have an idea and feel super confident of pulling it off. It could be to make an artwork, practice weaving, or even design a tablecloth and t-shirt. Whatever creative idea you suddenly get, one certain thing is the need and urge to do it.

Creating designs on T-shirts is a popular practice nowadays. There is hardly any day you will go out and not find multiple people t-shirts with graphics printed on them.

There are different methods to print on T-shirts, however only one is particularly popular. This method is the use of transfer paper to print on t-shirts with the application of heat. However, there are also some tricks you can use to print and customize your napkins, pillow covers, tablecloth, t-shirt without using transfer paper.

Without further ado, let's get to it.

How to print on a T-shirt without Transfer Paper

How to print on a T-shirt without Transfer Paper
How to print on a T-shirt without Transfer Paper

The methods discussed here come with varying levels of difficulty and some require more equipment, tools, and supplies more than the others. Some methods are also very easy to complete while some are relatively labor-intensive.

Print directly on the T-Shirt
Print directly on the T-Shirt (source)

As the title implies, what you do in this method is print directly on the T-shirt. It is pretty labor intensive but cheap to do. It allows you to print directly on clothes and create beautiful images. However, it does take a lot of effort to complete.

Below is a list of items and supplies you need to complete this method:

  • Freezer paper
  • Iron and Ironing board
  • Scissors
  • Cricut Cutting Mat

TIP: Freezer Paper is available for purchase on Amazon. You can also check your local store to see if they have any on sale. The Cricut Cutting mat is an optional item on the list. It does help when cutting the design out of the freezer paper but it is not necessarily important to have.

So how do you combine all these items to print on your t-shirt directly?

i. Place the Freezer paper on your T-shirt

There are two things you need to consider here. First, you have to ensure that the shirt and the freezer paper have a matching color or are not opposite colors. You don't want to print red freezer paper on a yellow t-shirt. This would only lead to discolored final images.

Next, you have to place the shiny side of the freezer paper onto the shirt - the part of the shirt you want the image to be printed.

TIP: You can always pretreat your t-shirt. This is an optional process but it does help ensure that the printed image is durable and long-lasting.

ii. Print and leave to allow the ink to dry

Next, place the shirt in the dedicated printer for it and print it. Carefully remove the freezer paper and leave for a few hours. Rinse the t-shirt in vinegar solution once the ink is thoroughly dry. Coldwater would also do just fine.

This method uses involves the use of a chemical called Citra-solv, a chemical, and a photocopied image produced on a Xerox copy machine. Other copy machines that have similar functions to the Xerox machine would also work just fine. For instance, you can print a picture on any inkjet printer and then copy the picture on any copy machine.

Key things to note before we proceed on the steps involved in this method:

  • You need the mirror image

This is the first thing you need to do on the editing software you are using before printing. Not reversing the image means that when you transfer the image to your t-shirt using the chemical, it would not appear right. It would instead appear backward. This might not be a glaring issue if the image you are printing is the face of a person, animal or if the image is an object. However, it quickly becomes an obvious error if the image is text or a logo.

  • Make sure the room is well-ventilated before starting the procedure

Citra-Solv is a degreasing chemical. It is mostly used diluted because it has a very strong citrus smell when concentrated. Thus, keeping the room ventilated helps reduce the odor as you have to use the Citra-solv in its concentrated form when printing.

List of items needed for this procedure:

  • A bottle of Citra-Solv chemical
  • Small bowl
  • PaintBrush
  • Tape
  • Iron
  • Metal or Wooden spoon (large size)
  • Large metal or wooden spoon
  • Safety glasses (optional)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Clean cloth

So how do you use all these to achieve the right results?

i. Place the T-shirt on a flat surface. Keep a clean cloth (preferably white, and in case you do not have one, a layer of an old newspaper would do) under the T-shirt itself.

NOTE: If you use a newspaper, there is a chance the ink from the newspaper would bleed into the back of the t-shirt.

ii. Place the reversed printed image on the T-shirt and tape it to keep it in place.

iii. Put on your safety rubber gloves and safety glasses (if you have one). While a safety glass isn't necessary, using rubber gloves helps protect your skin, so it is important to have one.

iv. Pour a small quantity of Citra-Solv into a small bowl then gently apply the Citra-Solv to the back of the taped image using a paintbrush. Next, gently rub the back of the paper with the back of a large rounded spoon. Continue this process for several minutes.

NOTE: Only use the right quantity to make the paper wet. You don't want to completely soak the paper!

NOTE: under no circumstance must you sneak peeks at the image being printed. This not only misaligns the image. It also means the image would be blurred and as a result, look unprofessional.

Once you're done, remove the paper with great care and air dry the T-shirt. After the T-shirt is thoroughly dry, place the t-shirt on your ironing board and iron! This last step traps the Citra-Solv image in the fabric for good.

NOTE: After continuous use and washing, you would start observing certain parts of the printed image are fading.

NOTE: Depending on the image and color it was printed in, you might have to darken the image after printing it on your T-shirt.

This is the last method on this list to print images on a T-shirt without transfer paper. The biggest drawback of this method is that you can only use images printed by a Laser printer. Images printed from any other type of printer simply won't give the desired result.

List of items you need for this method:

  • Gel (Any brand would do e.g. Liquitex)
  • Paintbrush or foam brush
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Printed Reversed image
  • Scissors
  • T-Shirt

Provided you follow all the steps mentioned here you shouldn't run into any problems:

i. Photocopy the image

Print on T-shirt using a laser printer and Gel
Print on T-shirt using a laser printer and Gel

This step is only necessary if you do not have a laser printer. In which case, you have to print out the image using any printer you have then make a copy of it using a copy machine. Copy machines use lasers when duplicating images.

NOTE: It is important to reverse the image before printing it out. This is because it would come out wrong when you transfer it to your T-shirt.

ii. Apply the Gel

With the help of a paint or foam brush, coat the face of the printed image with Gel. You can also coat the face of the fabric (the area you want the image to appear). This is mostly down to personal preference.

NOTE: Make sure you apply the Gel evenly on the entire surface of the paper. Bumps would lead to breaks in the image itself.

iii. Next, place the face of the paper (the face you coated) onto the t-shirt and gently press it in. Gently rub the paper, starting from the middle, and work your way towards all the edges to remove lumps.

iv. Now, you have to leave the fabric and gel coated paper for a minimum of 8 hours to dry.

v. Lastly, moisturize the t-shirt and paper with water from a spray bottle. This is necessary so you can remove the paper from the T-shirt.

TIP: To make the image last longer, you can add a layer of gel to the image on the T-shirt using a brush. Leave for about 5 hours, then wash!

Which Method is the best?

There is no perfect method when it comes to printing images on a T-shirt without transfer paper. However, our recommended method is the procedure that involved the use of Gel i.e the third method.

The major reason for this is because it is not a difficult procedure and you don't have to do much work in terms of labor. You can easily do other tasks while this process is going on.

Final Word on Printing on T-Shirts no Transfer Sheet

So there you have it. Agreed, the methods do seem unconventional but to be honest, without transfer paper, an unconventional method is the only way to go. Hopefully, with all that has been said, you can easily customize your T-shirt with an image of your choice without any setbacks!

About Karen Jones

Karen Jones has always been a writer at heart. As a freelance writer and social media marketing consultant for the last decade, she's honed her skills in crafting catchy and interesting articles that reel in readers. She also enjoys traveling, which is where she gets most of her ideas for her writing. In fact, if you can't find Karen around her friends and family, it's likely because she's holed up in her home office working on refining her writing composition and printing press!

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