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How To Use Iron On Vinyl (and Grab a Cut File)

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Learn how to use iron-on vinyl, also known as heat transfer vinyl or HTV, in your Cricut projects for t-shirts, crafts, and more!

One of my favorite things to make with my Cricut Maker is t-shirts. Every Christmas, Alex and I have a MASSIVE baking weekend to make goodies for friends and family. And every year I make t-shirts to commemorate the occasion.  This year I thought our shirts should reflect the, uh, uniqueness, of 2020. We haven’t been able to do any of our yearly traditions like visiting Cedar Point or going to fall festivals, but this is one tradition we can definitely still do!

A quick PSA here – iron-on vinyl isn’t just for t-shirts. You can add HTV to wood, leather, canvas, and more! 

Let’s dive right in and learn how to use iron-vinyl to make our Christmas baking weekend t-shirts.

What’s in this post:

What is Iron-On Vinyl?

First things first, what is iron-on vinyl and how is it different than regular adhesive vinyl?

Adhesive vinyl is meant to adhere directly to a smooth surface like glass or ceramic. You can always tell if you have adhesive vinyl because there will be a paper backing. You cut adhesive vinyl from the top, meaning the paper backing is on the mat. The excess vinyl is weeded from the paper backing and then transfer tape is used to get the design from the paper and onto your surface.

Iron-on vinyl, also known as heat transfer vinyl or HTV, is a special kind of vinyl. HTV does not have a paper backing. Instead, there is a clear plastic carrier sheet that covers the vinyl. The other side contains the adhesive which is only activated with heat (so it isn’t sticky to the touch when you’re working with it). The side with the carrier sheet, or the “shiny” side is placed face-down on your mat and the design is cut into the side of the HTV with the adhesive.

Where’s the Best Place to Buy Vinyl?

Most craft stores like Hobby Lobby, Joann, or Michaels sell iron-on vinyl but it can be expensive to buy your vinyl there. And coupons or store discounts usually don’t work on Cricut-branded merchandise. I prefer to buy all of my vinyl online, whether it’s HTV or adhesive because it’s more cost-effective.

My very favorite online store for vinyl is Happy Crafters. They have a great selection of vinyl, the prices are great, and shipping is always speedy. They also sell tools and blank items like bags and shirts. AND they have a reward program that allows you to earn points on purchases for use on a future purchase.

Other places you can buy vinyl are Amazon, Expressions Vinyl, or Vinyl Outlet to name just a few.

Working with Iron-On Vinyl in Cricut Design Space

OK, let’s get started!

The SVG file I created for this project is available to download for free until 12/5. After that, it will still be available in our shop for $2.50. Just add it to your cart below and checkout to download.

See How To Upload SVG Files to Cricut Design Space Like a Boss for help in getting your file into Cricut Design Space.

If you’re using my design, once you get the file uploaded to Design Space it will look like this.


iron-on vinyl design space

You may want to resize to fit the particular material you’re using. I’m using these cute raglan shirts I found on sale at Joann. I didn’t see this style the last time I was there but here’s a similar shirt from Amazon.

HUHOT Cotton Crew Neck 3/4 Sleeve Jersey Shirt Baseball Tee Raglan T-Shirts

Once you have the design resized the way you want it, you’re ready to make it!

There are 4 different colors of iron-vinyl in this design, so once you hit “Make It” you’ll see 4 different mats. Here’s a quick tip on cutting different colors of vinyl on the same mat. 

The rolling pin and whisk are smaller items so you can move those to the corners of one of the other mats. To move an object to another mat, click on it with your mouse in the Prepare Mats screen and then click the 3 dots that appear in the top left. Choose Move Object and then select the mat you want to move it to.

Iron-on vinyl tip

 I’m going to move these to the red mat. Then you just need to cut smaller pieces of vinyl in the correct color and place those on the mat in the same spot to get cut.

Move Objects to other mats

Super Important Step!

There’s one final step before you’re ready to cut your design and THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Since we’re working with iron-on vinyl, we need to set the mirror option to On. Remember with HTV we put the shiny side down and cut into the vinyl on the side with the adhesive. We need to mirror the design so when we flip it over to attach it to the material, the words are facing the right way. If you need a visual for this, check out the picture below.

I’ve forgotten this step more than once and ended up ruining my design so learn from my mistakes. 🙂

Since the rolling pin and whisk can face either way to look right, I’m not worried about having them on the mat to get mirrored.

Iron-On Vinyl Mirror Design Options

Placing the Iron-On Vinyl on the Mat

Before I cut, I need to lay my vinyl on the mat. Here’s a shot of what my mat looks like with 3 different colors on it. I’m using a glitter red vinyl for the lettering and silver and gold metallic vinyl for the whisk and rolling pin. The Cricut machine can’t tell what the color of the vinyl is on the mat, it just knows to cut where you placed the elements. I’ve placed all the vinyl shiny side down so I’m ready to cut!

Placing the Vinyl on the Mat

Transferring Your Design

After my vinyl has been cut and weeded, I’ll lay it out on my shirt to get an idea of placement. I like to trim as much of the carrier sheet from around the design as possible in case of any overlap with nearby pieces. 

And here’s a quick tip for centering your design on the material. Fold it in half and then give it a quick press with your EasyPress or iron to create a crease. Now it’s easy to see where the middle is and you can align your pieces using the crease as a guide.

And here’s what my design looks like laid out on my shirt. See how the crease in the middle makes it easier to line everything up?

Vinyl design placement on shirt

Cricut EasyPress Settings

When I first started working with iron-on vinyl I struggled with finding the right heat settings for my iron so the vinyl would stick. Last year I purchased a Cricut EasyPress which made things so much easier. I love that you can set both the temperature and a timer so you’re able to apply the right amount of heat for the perfect amount of time. An EasyPress isn’t required – you can use a regular household iron if that’s what you have. See my tips below for using an iron to transfer HTV to your material.

If you have an EasyPress, Cricut has a handy heat guide on their site that will tell you the right temp and length of time to apply heat to your vinyl. You choose the type of EasyPress machine, the HTV type, and the material you’re using. And you can even select whether you’re using a towel or EasyPress mat underneath. Very cool!

Iron-On Vinyl Heat Settings

Per the Heat Guide, I should preheat my shirt with my EasyPress for 5 seconds first at 330°. Then I need to apply the heat to the vinyl for 30 seconds with light pressure (so don’t press down too hard on it). Don’t move the EasyPress around as if you were ironing clothes. Just keep it in place over the vinyl for the entire time. Then move on to the next section.

Cricut also recommends flipping the shirt over and applying heat from the other side for 15 seconds. This will ensure a nice adherence for the vinyl to the material. 

You’ll see a recommendation for a warm peel or cool peel. A warm peel means you remove the carrier sheet while it’s warm and a cool peel means you’ll wait a few minutes for the heat to dissipate a bit first. 

Tips for Using an Iron With HTV

Probably the number one tip for using an iron to apply iron-on vinyl is DON’T USE STEAM. Steam is the sworn enemy of HTV. It will mess with the adhesive on the vinyl and you won’t be able to get it to stick. I would make sure that the water reservoir is completely empty before you start just in case. You don’t want to ruin your project because of some sneaky water or steam!

It might take some trial and error to figure out the right settings and press time for your particular iron. Generally speaking though, you’ll want to set your iron for the highest temp (usually cotton or linen). 

As with the EasyPress, don’t move it around – just leave it in place over the vinyl. Also, keep in mind that irons don’t have a consistent temperature over the whole surface. It’s usually concentrated in the center. You may need to make several passes over the entire design to get it to stick.

My final tip is to apply more pressure when using an iron. Even though the settings for the EasyPress suggest using light pressure, you’ll want to make sure to press harder with an iron to make sure the heat really penetrates the layers to activate the adhesive.

Adhering the Vinyl to the Material

Now we’re ready to get this vinyl onto the shirt. My EasyPress mat is under my shirt already. If you don’t have a mat, no biggie. A folded towel works too! Just make sure to smooth it out so there are no weird bumps or ridges underneath the shirt which might cause the vinyl to not lay smoothly.

My EasyPress is 9×9 so I won’t be able to do the entire thing at once. I’ll start at the top and work my way down.

I’ve set my EasyPress to the recommended settings – 330° and 30 seconds on the timer. Now I just need to gently lay the EasyPress onto the material and wait. I’ll be doing a cool peel so I’ll leave the carrier sheet in place until I’m done.

Place EasyPress on vinyl

Next, I just need to move on to the next section and repeat the process again.

Once I’m done with all the vinyl on the front of the shirt, I’m gonna flip it over and apply heat from the back.

Turn shirt over to apply heat to HTV

Tips and Tricks for Preserving Your Project

I’m sure you’ll be making tons of projects with iron-on vinyl now that you know how easy it is, right? 

Here are a few tips for keeping your iron-on project looking good for the long haul.

  • Wait at least 24 hours before you wash it. This gives the vinyl time to cure and it’s less likely to peel or get damaged in the wash.
  • Turn the piece inside-out before you throw it in the washer. This will help protect the vinyl from being directly in contact with other clothes and the moving parts of your washer
  • Either air-dry or dry your piece on a low heat setting. HTV is activated with heat so if it gets too hot it might loosen and shift around

I hope that answered the questions you had about using iron-on vinyl with your Cricut. I’m constantly learning new things and tricks so I’ll update this post with any new info that comes my way.

Happy crafting!


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