6 Ways to Heat Set Your Screen Printing Ink

Jul 10, 2019 | Cricut Projects, Heat Setting, Screen Printing, Tutorials


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How to heat set speedball fabric ink
Is your closet full of t-shirts with the vinyl starting to peel off? Maybe it’s time to give screen printing a try. One of the reasons I love screen printing over HTV, is how the garments hold up over time. If you properly heat set the ink on your screen printed items, they will far outlast those made with HTV.

Heat setting is the final step in the screen printing process when using Speedball water-based inks. Applying heat to your shirt makes the ink permanent (sets the ink). If you don’t heat set Speedball fabric ink before you put your item in the wash, the ink will not hold up. You’ll likely see fading or lose the design altogether.

Everything I will discuss in this article involves the final step in the screen printing process – heat setting your ink. If you’re completely new to screen printing or if you’re still not sure you can do it on your own, let me show you how in my step by step course Beginner’s Guide to Screen Printing with Craft Vinyl.

Once the ink on your newly screen printed garment is completely dry, it is time to heat set. If you aren’t sure how to dry your ink, check out this article where I walk you through my step by step process.

Over the years, I have heard of many different ways to heat set ink. I know how hard you all work on your projects and I wanted you to know if these ways really work or not so your projects don’t get ruined. What better way to find out than to do a little heat setting experiment of my own!

The Heat Setting Experiment

For this little experiment, I screen printed the same design on 6 tea towels using Speedball black fabric ink. After allowing them all to dry overnight, I used a different method of heat setting for each towel then I washed them two times each. Keep reading to find out how each method held up to the test.

6 ways to heat set screen printing ink water based

  1. Heat Press
  2. Easy Press 2
  3. Basic Household Iron
  4. Clothes Dryer
  5. Kitchen Oven
  6. Heat Gun

The Results

The “before” picture shows the dry ink – before the towel went through the wash. The “after” shows the same towel – after it was washed twice.

1 : Heat Press

Heat set screen printing with heat press
The heat press is one of my favorite craft tools. If you use HTV, you know what I mean. I might not do HTV any more but I definitely still use the heat press, just in a different way. Now I use it to heat set my screen printing ink. I love using the heat press because I can fit my entire design under the heat. This means just one 40 second press and I’m ready to press my next item.

PROCEDURE:Set heat press to 320 degrees F and press for 40 seconds. That’s it… it can now go in the wash.

✅ RESULT: After washing the towel twice, the ink did not fade.

2 : Easy Press 2

Heat set screen printing easy press 2

If you are a Cricut fan, you may already have the Easy Press 2. I have 2 sizes, the bigger 12×10 works great for large designs while the 9×9 size is great for smaller designs or onesies. This press is very compact – making it easy to store away when not in use. If your craft room has limited space, this is a great alternative to a clam shell heat press.

PROCEDURE: Set Easy Press 2 to 320 degrees F and press for 40 seconds. Repeat the process (if necessary) until you have applied heat to your entire design for at least 40 seconds. That’s it… it can now go in the wash.

✅ RESULT: After washing the towel twice, the ink did not fade.

3 : Basic Household Iron

Heat set screen printing with iron

Not ready to invest in a Heat Press or Easy Press 2? No problem, you can still use your basic household iron to heat set your ink.

PROCEDURE:  Set iron to the setting that matches your material. Cover the design with parchment paper (optional) and iron over the entire design for 3-5 minutes, moving the iron constantly.

✅ RESULT: After washing the towel twice, the ink did not fade.

4 : Dryer

Can you heat set screen printing in in dryer
I often heard that you can heat set in the dryer but I hadn’t tried it until this experiment. It seems like a convenient method if you are doing a large quantity of shirts, so I wanted to give it a shot.

PROCEDURE: After allowing the ink to air dry overnight, I put the towel directly in my household dryer on high heat for a timed dry of 40 minutes. After heating the towel in the dryer for one 40 minute cycle, I did the wash test.

❌ RESULT: After washing the towel once, I noticed some fading. After the second time in the wash, it faded substantially. I believe this method could work with longer time in the dryer, but more than 40 minutes in the dryer didn’t seem very practical to me so I didn’t try this test again. If you plan to try this method, you definitely want to leave your garment in the dryer longer than 40 minutes.

5 : Kitchen Oven

Heat set screen printing with oven

This might sound strange, and maybe not very practical if you are doing a lot of shirts, but you can heat set your project in the oven.

PROCEDURE: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the towel in the oven and immediately turn off the heat. Allow it to stay in the oven for 10 minutes.

Note: For this experiment, I put the towel on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to keep the towel from touching the bottom of the oven and burning.

✅ RESULT: After washing the towel twice, the ink did not fade.

6 : Heat Gun

Heat set screen printing with heat gun

I purchased a heat gun to speed up the ink drying process when using my screen printing press. I wanted to experiment to see if I could heat set the ink with the heat gun as well.

PROCEDURE: Set heat gun to high heat setting and move it back and forth over design for 1-2 minutes. Keep the gun about 4-5 inches away from the material. Be sure not to leave the heat gun in one place too long or it will burn your material!

Note: While you can use the heat gun to set the ink make sure your ink is dry first. If you are using the heat gun to dry the ink too, it will take a bit longer.

✅ RESULT: After washing the towel twice, the ink did not fade.

Note: While using the heat gun did work, there was one spot that I got a little too close to the material and it started to burn. If you look closely, you’ll see some faint burn marks on the white material around the “est 2005” part of the design. This could be prevented by keeping the heat gun a little further away from the material and moving it around constantly (like a hair dryer).

flash dryer screen printing ink dry heat set

Bonus: Flash Dryer

Since only 5 of the 6 results were successful, I wanted to share a 6th method for curing your fabric ink. This one is a bit more of an investment but very worthwhile if you are starting a screen printing business. 

A flash dryer will dry and cure your ink in one step. This is a huge time saver as you take on bulk orders.

The settings for a flash dryer can vary based on the machine you are using and the conditions of your room. I use a laser temperature gun to gauge the heat on my shirt. Once it reaches 320 degrees, I leave it under the heat for 40 seconds.  

Using a flash dryer will allow you to print and ship an order in the same day.

Conclusion

I’m excited to report that you can use a heat press, Easy Press 2, household iron, oven, or heat gun to get good results with your Speedball Fabric ink.

My method of choice will still be the heat press or Easy Press 2 because they are the quickest. It’s also helpful that I can ensure even heat over the entire design in just one press.

If you are screen printing at home or just starting your small business, you may not be ready to add extra equipment like the Easy Press 2 or a standard heat press.  If that’s the case, try your iron or oven!

how to screen print with craft vinyl pigskins and pigtails

Frequently Asked Question about Heat Setting Speedball Fabric Ink

Q: When using the Cricut heat press do you place it directly on the design or should you put a paper or scrap fabric in between?

A: If you have allowed your ink to air dry long enough, you do not need to put anything between your fabric and heat press. Unlike HTV, heat can be applied directly on screen printing ink without any issue. However, it does not hurt to put a piece of parchment paper or Teflon sheet between your fabric and press if you prefer.

Q: Does the dry time determine if the shirt will fade or not? I have a few shirts that the design has faded some after 2 washes!

A: It could be that the shirt didn’t get dry enough before setting the ink. When air drying your shirt, make sure you have good ventilation. A fan can help circulate the air and improve the dying process.  You can also try pressing the shirt twice if you aren’t sure if the ink is dry.  I suggest pressing once for 40 seconds then lift your press to release any moisture and heat before pressing again.  

Q: Do you know if there is a time limit on when you have to heat the design? My friend has a heat press that I would be able to use. Can I make some screen prints and then take them to her place and use the heat press when I have a chance?

A: No time limit.. in fact, the longer you let the shirts air dry before heat setting, the better!

Q: If I have a heat gun and use that to speed up the drying of my Speedball Ink, do I still need to wait to heat press or can I do that immediately after the heat gun?

A: If you use the heat gun to speed up the drying process, you can immediately heat press.  I would suggest heat pressing twice as mentioned above. This will ensure your entire design was dried so that it can cure properly.

Q: I have 50 t-shirts that I have Speedball fabric ink screen printed on front and back. They have air dried for over 24 hours in front of fan on hangers. Can I put multiple shirts in the oven to dry ink?

A:  When I have used the oven method, I have always spread the design out flat. I have not tried with shirts overlapping or folded.  I would imagine you would need to adjust your timing longer for the heat to reach the ink on the non-exposed areas. Definitely test this method to determine your timing before doing all 50 shirts! 

41 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your talents with us! You’re awesome!

    Reply
    • Thanks so much! I’m enjoying sharing this craft with fellow creatives!

      Reply
    • When using the cricuit heat press to you place it directly on the design or should you put a paper in between?

      Reply
      • I’ve done it both ways. Out of habit, I tend to put a piece of parchment paper or teflon down. I haven’t ever had issues with the ink sticking or transferring but that would be the only reason you would want to put something between.

        Reply
        • Hey there,
          Does the fry time effect if the shirt will fade or not? I have a few shirts that the design has faded some after 2 washes! I heat seal the design with my Easy Press, the shirt ink has dried for 2 days… Can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong!
          ( I’m using speedball fabric ink).
          Kemah

          Reply
          • It could be that the shirt didn’t get dry enough. Make sure you have good ventilation. A fan can help with that! You can also try pressing the shirt twice (lift it up in between so it releases the heat) just to be sure it’s getting heated long enough.

      • Hello! So High temperature! I thought It needs just 160 degree to be cured! Thanx a lot (I will try with my newly buy heat press)

        Reply
        • Yes! I’ve found 320 is the sweet spot for me, but definitely adjust if you find something that works better for you!

          Reply
  2. Wow, thanks for this information. It’s always good to know if something works so a project doesn’t get ruined.

    Reply
    • I’m so glad you found this helpful! I’m always willing to try and see what works! Let me know if there are any questions you have..I’m always looking for the next experiment!

      Reply
      • Is the 320 degrees for 40 seconds for all tshirt blends? Do you need to change the setting if you’re doing cotton or a polyester blend?

        Reply
  3. Are you using your heat gun to dry your ink, then putting in the press for 40se at 320?

    Thanks

    Reply
    • You can use the heat gun to set the ink instead of the press, but I usually press just to be sure. It’s hard to tell if you covered all of the ink when using the heat gun. If you miss a spot, that part may fade. I usually just use the heat gun to speed up drying between layers of ink or when I’m doing multi-color shirts.

      Reply
  4. Do you know if there is a time limit on when you have to heat the design? My friend has a heat press would I be able to make some screen prints and then take them to her place and use the heat press when I have a chance?

    Reply
    • No time limit.. in fact, the longer you let the shirts air dry before heat setting, the better!

      Reply
    • I printed a design on cotton fabric from my printer. I heat set it a couple of times on Cotton setting. I tried washing it today and the colors ran. What did I do wrong and how can it keep it from running?

      Reply
  5. Great info thank you! Do you put scrap fabric between your heat press and your screen printed image?

    Reply
    • never mind just read some of the additional comments. Thank you!

      Reply
  6. Thank you!!! Your videos are incredibly helpful and your work is motivating!!

    Reply
  7. Do you need to wait 24-48 hrs for the ink to dry to then use the Heat Press? I have been using the Cricut Easy Press…..but I think I want something bigger and faster. But I am not ready to purchase the Flash dryer.

    Reply
    • Whether you use a heat press or EasyPress, the drying time is the same. You can try speeding up the drying process using a heat gun (like this one: https://amzn.to/2ZKPzmQ). The flash dryer dries and heat cures all in one.. and since it covers the entire shirt, you know it’s getting heated evenly. But, yes, it’s a pretty big investment to make just to speed up the process!

      Reply
  8. Hi! If you mess up, how easy is it to get the ink off before you hear set it?

    Reply
  9. I know you’ve said in other comments to let the garment air day and then use the EasyPress. However, have you used the Easy press right away? Would that not be recommended?

    Reply
  10. Do you have videos on the whole process? I tried the infused ink sheets and they faded after the first wash.

    Reply
  11. Your tutorials and blog have been a valuable tool for this newbie to screen printing! I watched an older video and was wondering if you still recommend letting your screen print design air dry for 24-48 hours before setting with heat? What I’m trying to figure out is how to handle pressing multiple shirts and what to do with them as they are air drying, so you can continue using your screen press. I hope that makes sense. Thank you in advance!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad to hear you’ve gotten started screen printing! When I print a bunch of shirts, I lay them all over the room – backs of chairs, table, floor – to let them dry. It is important to let them dry properly or the ink will fade when you wash them. If you have a heat gun or fan, that will speed up the process a bit. Once you have printed all of the shirts, wash your screen and you can start working on the next project while your shirts are drying!

      Reply
  12. I’m using speedball ink and I have a heat press. I did a couple hoodies. The design is very thick. I’ve been letting it dry for a few days. Does the thickness/ size of the design determine how long to press it? Or should I still stick to 320 for 40secs?

    Reply
  13. Hi and Thank you for all of your wonderful information here! If I have a heat gun and use that to speed up the drying of my Speedball Ink, do I still need to wait to heatpress or can I do that immediately after the heat gun? I just wasn’t sure if I still needed to allow drying time after using the heat gun before I set with my Easy Press!?

    Reply
  14. What temp & how long to heatset on heat press 100% polyester?

    Reply
  15. thank you SO MUCH for sharing your methods and results! I’m a micro batch printer just learning and experimenting with painting with Speedball screen printing inks. I’m typing this up as my recent prints are heating in the oven…. your article is so helpful and interesting!

    Reply
    • Hey Kristina! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. It means a lot to hear feedback from a fellow printer! I hope your project turned out great!

      Reply
    • Dean and Kristina,

      In the same boat doing small batches! Thanks for the all the help. For the oven, have you found that all the design has to be visible, or could you roll a tea towel up and assume the heat gets into the middle layers?

      Reply
  16. Do you think the heat gun method would work for water bottles such as a yeti or hydroflask?

    Reply
  17. thanks for your interesting report about the printing process. Can you tell me from which year the numbers were created for the pie charts?

    Reply
    • Super helpful! For the heat press, is that 320 degrees celcius or Fahrenheit? Thanks

      Reply
  18. I reckon Fahrenheit, I don’t think that my kitchen oven can go to 400°C…I’d rather use 200°C.

    Reply
  19. Do you have a link to where to buy those towel blanks? I’m wanting to try my hand at screen printing tea towels too 🙂 thanks!

    Reply
  20. I’m new to screen printing ink and this guide is so incredibly helpful. Thank you!

    Reply
  21. Great information. I have 50 T-shirt’s that I have Speedball fabric ink screen printed on front and back, that have air dry for over 24 hours in front of fan on hangers. Question: can I put multiple shirts in the oven to dry ink? 2. Will it dry/set the ink on the front emblem as well as the back emblem at the same time during the oven process?

    Reply
  22. Thanks for sharing this idea it’s really helpful. I will definitely use it in my next project.

    Reply
  23. Thank you for sharing your ideas. Very helpful!

    Reply

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