How to Make a Custom T-Shirt Using HTV and Laser: DIY Tutorial

You don’t need a vinyl cutter to make a custom t-shirt with a laser. Time and time again people tell me that they need to buy another machine to do this and the truth is, you don’t. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about vinyl when it comes to laser machining. There are some laser-safe vinyl materials and for this project, I’m using two that I received from Siser NA. 

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Let’s jump into the project and I’ll tell you all about how to make your own custom t-shirt.

Table of Contents

Materials Used

This is a list of all the materials that were used to create this project. These items may contain affiliate links.

Machinery and Settings Used

This is a list of all the machines and their respective settings that were used to create this project. These items may contain affiliate links.

Video Tutorial

Step-by-Step Process

Step 1 – Design Your Shirt

Design based on the type of process you want to use. If you’re going to be creating a large design with a lot of empty space, it will be easier to weed and faster than trying to raster engrave it. For this, you will want to use outline paths to kiss-cut the vinyl material.

If you have a very intricate design where it will take longer to weed than engrave, it makes more sense to have this as a filled area that is engraved away. You can also use a combination of both processes to weed large areas and engrave more intricate areas to maximize your efficiency.

TIP: When machining this vinyl, you will be machining the backside of the material. This means that you’ll need to flip your design so that it machines in reverse in order to get it to turn out in the correct orientation.

Step 2 – Set-up Your Material

When machining the HTV, it will be important to make sure that it sits flat and even across the bed. One of the best ways to do this is to use a sticky mat. This sticky mat will hold the vinyl down and make sure that it doesn’t lift during the machining process. When putting the vinyl onto the stick mat, make sure that there are no air bubbles or uneven areas as this can affect machining quality.

Step 3 – Machine Your Design

Once you have the vinyl in the machine and it’s held down properly, you can run the machining process. Make sure that you watch it as it’s machining to ensure nothing weird happens. After it’s been machined, finish prepping the vinyl for application. If the design was kiss cut, you’ll have to weed the parts you don’t need. If the design was engraved, it would be worth blowing it off with an air compressor or a dry cloth to get rid of any residue that may have been produced.

Step 4 – Apply The Vinyl

Once the designs are ready, make sure your heat press is warmed up. You can pre-heat the press while your design is machining if desired. You can find the settings for the heat press on Siser’s website

The first thing you want to do is pre-press the t-shirt for 4-5 seconds to get it to be nice and flat for application. After that’s done, place your design onto the t-shirt where you want it to stick. Once it’s in place, press the heat press down and wait 15-20 seconds for it to apply the HTV to the shirt. Some types of vinyl are cold peel and some can be peeled while they’re still hot. Make sure to pay attention to this as you use these. I know that I mess this up sometimes. Oops.

Finished Project

Once it’s all done, enjoy your custom t-shirt! These are great projects for kids’ clothes, family trips, and so much more! Unlock the power of your laser and be able to offer a new product.

Trevor Wanamaker

Trevor Wanamaker

Trevor Wanamaker is the owner of Maker Experiment and Lasers Made Simple. He works with Epilog Laser and LogoJET on creating video content for his YouTube channel Maker Experiment. In addition to this he works with other laser businesses to help them grow their own profitable laser businesses.