9 Tips for layering HTV on tote bags

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Besides t-shirts, tote bags are my favorite base for using HTV. There are a lot of reasons why I think tote bags make great blanks for HTV projects:

  1. large surface to work on
  2. made of sturdy material like cotton or canvas that can support high heat and multiple layers
  3. don’t get washed frequently so you don’t have to worry about the durability of the vinyl through laundering
  4. they make useful, cool gifts that can be stored easily
  5. you can never have too many, and you’ll never outgrow a tote bag!

Here’s a list of tips and advice to help you layer HTV on tote bags. If you have any questions or your own favorite tips, please let me know in the comments!

In a hurry? Here’s the summary (jump to each tip):

Video: 5 tips for layering HTV on a tote bag

The tote bag I made for this project was part of a Heat Transfer Warehouse Garment Decoration Challenge. I was sent a high quality cotton tote and 15 different kinds of HTV, and I made my own design for the theme “superheroes”.

In short, I created an Umbrella Academy themed bag, featuring Klaus and Ben and quotes from the show. I decorated the front, back and sides of the tote using the following:

Klaus design (Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls)

Ben design (This might be your dumbest idea yet…)

Side 1 (Hand prints) – WALAKut Express black and white

Side 2 (Klaus quote: “I am sexy trash”) – Siser Electric red

These tips for layering HTV can be used for any project, not just complex designs like the one I did for this challenge. This article includes a few tips that I didn’t have time to discuss in the video, so keep reading!

My tips for layering heat transfer vinyl on a tote bag:

1. Check the instructions for each HTV you want to use

I have read a lot of people in crafting groups say that they always press HTV at a certain time and temperature regardless of the vinyl they use – please don’t take that advice!

HTV is made by many brands and comes in a wide array of types/finishes, and all of those types of HTV have different requirements for cutting, pressing, and peeling the carrier. Always check the manufacturer’s instructions before using! Layered HTV projects require you to know how the different HTVs will work together and with the blank you’re pressing.

We have printable time and temperature guides with the manufacturer’s instructions for HTV from Siser, Cricut, and Specialty Materials (ThermoFlex) available for free from our Resource Library.

(When I received the HTV for this project from Heat Transfer Warehouse, I was interested to see that they have started to include a helpful label with the press temperature, time and pressure, and the peel temperature for each vinyl.)

Heat Transfer Warehouse includes a press instruction label on their HTV rolls
Heat Transfer Warehouse includes a press instruction label on their HTV rolls

2. Test cut and test press any vinyl you haven’t worked with before

One of our cardinal rules of working with HTV is to test cut and test press before we start our assembly. If there is a vinyl product we haven’t used before, we do a test cut and see how it weeds. For this latest bag project, we had worked with every vinyl type except WALAKut Fashion Patterns Glitter Wavy Lines.

Even though the manufacturer recommends cutting this vinyl on the Iron-On setting with a Cricut, we wanted to verify before cutting a large element for the project. Ultimately, we did 3 test cuts on our Cricut Explore Air 2 machine using the Smart Set dial:

  • Iron On – (185 grams-force)
  • Iron On+ – (203 grams-force)
  • Light Cardstock – (272 grams-force)
Test cut of patterned glitter HTV
Test cut of patterned glitter HTV

Iron-On and Iron-On+ didn’t cut cleanly through the vinyl, but when we dialed up the cutting pressure to Light Cardstock, we got a clean, easy-to-weed result. If you are using a Maker or Maker 3, we recommend starting with the Glitter Iron-On setting (Maker: 205 gf; Maker 3: 167 gf) to test cut this HTV.

If you are using a Silhouette Cameo, the recommended settings for your first test cut are: Heat Transfer, Smooth; Blade 4, Speed 8, Force 11.

Note on test cuts: industry pros recommend cutting a triangle in a box as a test cut. Weed around the triangle. You won’t waste a bunch of vinyl in the process, and you’ll be able to determine if your machine is overcutting or undercutting corners.

Test pressing HTV

Not only do I test cut vinyl I haven’t used before, I test press to verify that the recommended temperature works. Normally I just cut a small strip of vinyl off the sheet or roll, and cut that into small pieces.

First I press the HTV on its own, and then I test press any vinyl that I’m planning on layering together. For example, in this project, I had not layered ThermoFlex Plus and Siser Metal before, so I did a test press of those materials to make sure they worked well together.

This is a small step that could be overlooked, but testing the recommended cutting and pressing settings for your HTV can save you a lot of time and stress during your project.

3. Prepare your blank surface before you press

To prepare the cotton tote, I wiped the surface with 70% isopropanol and let it dry thoroughly. Then I used a lint roller to remove any debris from the surface. Pre-press the fabric for a few seconds before you press your HTV to remove any wrinkles or moisture.

4. Layer the HTV with the highest application temperature first

Every layer and press time/temperature for the tote bag project
Every layer and press time/temperature for the tote bag project

When you are planning the layout of your project, a good rule to follow is that you should press your highest temperature vinyl first and work up to the lowest temp vinyl.

We broke that rule in our project, and used the lowest temperature vinyl in base layers, but we had tested the WALAKut Express by doing multiple higher temperature presses on it, and it performed well.

There were three factors to consider when layering our vinyl.

First, we were limited by our material and color selection. We had Siser, WALAKut and ThermoFlex, but our black and white happened to be low temperature HTV. I could have created a design based on the vinyl temperatures, but that’s not how I design.

Second, I could have sliced any overlapping sections of vinyl apart so the vinyl colors were all a “just fit” and never more than one layer deep. That would have been extremely tedious, and I probably would have been opening myself up to making more mistakes both in the software and while pressing. The canvas bag was a natural for laying the vinyl on thick, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and just build from the base up and have lots of overlapping layers.

Finally, some high temperature vinyl cannot be the lower layer in your project. Bringing me to tip 5…

5. Certain types of HTV must always be the top layer

There are some types of HTV that have to be the top layer, and depending on your design, you may end up pressing a high temperature specialty HTV on top of a low temperature base layer. For example, in my project, I cut text out of Siser Metal and pressed it over both ThermoFlex Plus and WALKut Express. The Metal and the ThermoFlex Plus were pressed at 330oF, but the WALAKut white was pressed at 305oF.

Glitter and Holographic HTV are also high temperature materials that must be pressed as a top layer only. Here’s a partial list of HTV types (not necessarily brands) that are generally top layer only.

6. Use Heat resistant tape to secure HTV so it doesn’t shift during pressing

Heat resistant tape holding a piece of HTV in place
Heat resistant tape holding a piece of HTV in place

Heat resistant tape was a lifesaver for me on this project. I was working with vinyl that came in rolls, not sheets, so after I cut different pieces, a lot of them retained a pronounced curl from being rolled up.

I always cut my carrier sheet very close to the vinyl to avoid leaving carrier sheet impressions. One downside of this is that having less carrier means you have less sticky material to keep your HTV in place.

Thermal tape solves this problem. It’s also indispensible when you’re working with HTV with a static (non-sticky) carrier. When I was using WALAKut Puff on a tote bag in a previous project, I wish I had used thermal tape to help keep the vinyl in position during pressing.

I was nervous about laying the thermal tape across HTV we had already pressed and peeled, but the tape did not have any negative effect at all.

7. Use short press times at the minimum temperature to adhere each layer

Once again, when you layer HTV you need to use enough heat, time, and pressure to get the vinyl to adhere properly, but don’t over-press!

The key to layering HTV is using short press times at the minimum temperature required to stick each layer down. The cumulative press time you use shouldn’t be much longer than the recommended total press time for the vinyl.

For example, if you have a 3-layer project using EasyWeed, with a recommended temp/time of 305oF (or 335oF if using an EasyPress/craft press) for 10-15 seconds:

  • first layer: 1 second press
  • second layer: 1 second press
  • third layer: 10-12 second press; layers 1 and 2 will now have been pressed for 11-14 seconds total

Siser EasyWeed is hot peel and has a 1 second tack, although I have found that sometimes 2-3 seconds is better for tacking down my EasyWeed pieces. I used a 2-3 second tack for the WALAKut Express in this project because it took a little more time and pressure to adhere to the heavy cotton canvas. Once again – test press when you are using a specific vinyl for the first time!

8. Craft presses are great for tote bags

The Cricut EasyPress 2: 12" x 10" (left) and 9" x 9" (right)
The Cricut EasyPress 2: 12″ x 10″ (left) and 9″ x 9″ (right)

Although clamshell, swingaway, and draw heat presses are fantastic (and superior) for most HTV applications – especially high-volume production – they have their limitations. The tote bag I used for this challenge is a great way to illustrate the power of the single-platen craft press (e.g. EasyPress): versatility!

I used a 12×10″ EasyPress2 for the challenge, and if I had to do it over again I might even choose to use my 9×9″ EasyPress. I was able to press all 4 sides of this bag, negotiating around seams and the tricky bottom corners of the tote.

This allowed me to selectively press only certain sections, protecting the HTV from over-pressing. For example, the middle section of the Ben side has Siser Metal and WALAKut Fashion Pattern HTV as the top layers. That section had to be pressed before I put down the ThermoFlex at the top and bottom of the design.

I was able to press in 3 sections (middle, then top, then bottom), avoiding re-pressing the center portion when doing the high-temp application of the ThermoFlex and Metal at top and bottom.

One thing to remember when using an EasyPress on a cotton tote: you will need to use firm pressure!

9. Use parchment paper as a cover sheet to see your HTV alignment

using parchment as a carrier sheet allows you to see the vinyl underneath and verify alignment
using parchment as a carrier sheet allows you to see the vinyl underneath and verify alignment

I like teflon sheets for HTV application because they don’t get crispy and I can reuse them forever. But I’ll never drop parchment paper from my toolbox, because sometimes you want to get a better look at how your HTV is positioned.

I switched from teflon to parchment paper when I was pressing the top and bottom of the Ben side of the tote so I could avoid re-pressing the glitter and metallic vinyl in the center. Parchment paper is great when you’re pressing a lot of layers.

I hope you find these tips useful! If you have any questions, ask in the comments.

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