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The final step to screen printing with craft vinyl using Speedball water-based inks, is to heat set the ink. Applying heat to your shirt makes the ink permanent. This allows you to wash and dry your shirts just like you would with other t-shirts.
One of the reasons I love screen printing over HTV, is how the garments hold up in the wash. If you properly heat set the ink, they will last for many, many washes!
Your first step is to screen print your design. If you haven't tried screen printing with your Cricut, you can learn here: Beginner's Guide to Screen Printing with Craft Vinyl.
The final step is to cure the ink by heat setting it.
What Happens If you Don't Heat Set 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.
In order to get the best results from your screen printed project, follow these instructions to properly cure the ink.
Dry it first!
Before you jump into heat setting your design, you need to make sure your design is completely dry. With water-based ink, like Speedball Fabric Ink, that means leaving it long enough for the water to evaporate so the pigments can cure properly.
If you are like me and doing screen printing at home, as a hobby or small craft business, you don’t have a fancy forced air dryer that screen printing shops use to speed up this process.
Without any special equipment, you have to leave your shirt flat and let it air dry. It is important to leave the shirt flat so the ink doesn’t get messed up.
Remember, the ink may feel dry within an hour or so, but it’s really not. You just have to be patient with this step and give it time.
I typically leave my shirts alone overnight when I am air drying them. The longer you can wait the better. Speedball recommends 24-48 hours.
Personally, I haven’t had any problems with heat setting them after less than 24 hours of drying. If you are selling your shirts, I would suggest waiting at least 24 hours before moving on to the next step so you don’t mess up something that can earn you money.
Now You are Ready to Heat Set
Now that your shirt is completely dry, it's time to heat set the ink. The Cricut Easy Press 2 is perfect for the job. I have 2 sizes, the 12×10 works great for large designs while the 9×9 size is great for smaller designs or onesies.
I set my Easy Press 2 at 320 degrees for 40 seconds. Place the Easy Press 2 on your design and start the clock. If you have a larger design, you will need to move the press around until all areas of the design have been heated for at least 40 seconds.
That's it! Now your shirt can be washed and dried like normal. I recommend washing and drying based on the label in your garment. No special modifications are needed once you have properly heat set the ink.
NOTE: While 320 degrees for 40 seconds has worked great for me, you should always test your settings, especially if you are selling your shirts!
Why is my design still fading after I heat set it?
If you notice fading after you've washed your screen printed shirt, there are a couple things to check.
You may need to let your shirt dry a little longer. If your ink does not dry all the way, it can not be cured. Try placing a fan by your shirts to help circulate the air in your room and promote faster drying. You can also use a heat gun to speed up the drying time.
You should also check the accuracy of your heat press. If your press is not getting to 320 degrees, your ink won't be cured. I use a laser temperature gun to check the surface temperature of my press.
With proper heat setting, your shirt should hold up great wash after wash. If you notice cracking in your inks after washing, read this article Screen Printing with White Fabric Ink.