How to use an iron on transfer with cotton fabric

Hello Everyone, hope your week is going well?

This week I would like to address some concerns you may have had with using an iron on transfer with cotton fabric, but firstly a bit about sublimation printing and how an iron on transfer is created.

Iron On Transfers

Iron on transfers are a life changing solution for transferring an embroidery outline to fabric – no more wobbly tracing lines now you can have a clean, clear line to stitch on and it only takes two minutes! You can find these in the online shop here.

What is Sublimation Printing?

Without getting too technical, a dye-sublimation printer is a digital printer which uses heat to transfer dye onto materials such as a plastic, card, wood, or fabric.  The printer uses special dye inks which are printed on to transfer paper and this paper is used together with a heat source to transfer the design on to fabric. Normally the sublimation dye only works on polyester fabric and to achieve a print on cotton leaves that plastic coating that you sometimes find on cotton T shirts, but the Printers and I have sort of forced it to work on cotton and linen. The initial testing process took many months of trying out different transfer papers till we found one that would work on cotton, but of course the imprint will never be as bright/dark as it would be on Poly cotton.

Dye sublimation printer for polycotton T shirts

Now for some reason it works beautifully on linen fabric, the print is dark and clear, but slightly less so on cotton. In an ideal world a heat transfer press would be used to achieve the perfect imprint, but as this is impractical for most of you, we have tested them using a domestic iron. The problem with ironing the transfer paper on top of the fabric is that the transfer tends to slip whilst ironing which results in slight bleeding or thicker lines.

Iron on transfer on linen fabric

Having played around with cotton fabric I have found a solution………….. the answer is to place the iron on transfer face up on your ironing board/mat and then place the fabric on top of the transfer.


  • The fabric holds the transfer in place, no slipping. If you find it is still slipping slightly you can secure it with heat tape to prevent it moving.
  • You can move the iron around slowly to distribute the heat evenly and cover the design, as the transfer stays in one place the lines do not bleed.
  • You can see the outline through the cotton fabric which allows you to centre the design on to the fabric.
  • As you iron you will see the ink being transferred on to the fabric so you will know when the complete outline has been transferred and you can remove it.
  • The result is a beautiful clear transfer without bleeding lines.
Transfer on cotton fabric
Embroidery Vintage Rose


  • Set your iron to the hottest, dry setting you have such as cotton/linen.
  • Iron your fabric first to heat it up before placing over your iron on transfer.
  • If necessary use parchment (baking paper) to protect your fabric and prevent scorching.
  • You should be able to get at least two good prints from your transfer and up to 5 slightly lighter prints.
  • The outline is permanent and will not wash out.
  • The lines can easily covered by your stitching.

You can watch this short video on how to use an iron on transfer on cotton and if you need to refer to it in future it can be found on my site under help and again on the iron on transfer page or download a PDF here

Try it out and let me know what you think. Till next time wherever you are in the world, keep smiling and happy stitching.



2 thoughts on “How to use an iron on transfer with cotton fabric”

  1. Trish, I think i have just jumped right over the moon!!!!I have just discovered you live in Cape Town. I live in White River, Mpumalanga, and thought all these beautiful needle artists are all overseas!!!! So far away!!! I am beyond excited! Now to save some money for a visit to Cape Town. I went to a Mall bookshop to find any of your books, but there was almost nothing in the way of needlework, much to my disappointment. Blessings. You have made my day.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.