Why won’t my HTV stick? The ultimate troubleshooting guide

If you have just started out working with heat transfer vinyl also called HTV, you may have experienced a bit of a learning curve using this material. But when you are in the middle of crafting, it can be very frustrating when your HTV refuses to stick.

There can be several reasons why HTV might not stick to your project. Here you can learn about 15 different reasons why this might be so and their solutions. If you are in a rush, take a look at this table that summarizes why your HTV might not be sticking and how to fix it quickly and easily.

Let’s take a look at each of these problems and their solutions in turn. I will start with the most basic obvious reasons first and move on to the more obscure ones as we go.

1.     Have you followed the manufacturer’s instructions to stick your HTV?

This one might seem obvious but there are so many little nuances when it comes to making HTV stick perfectly to whatever material you are working with.

Each kind of HTV comes with its own unique mix off circumstances or ‘recipe’ if you will. This recipe must be followed exactly to make it stick perfectly to the particular material you are working with.

At its crux, this HTV recipe has three key ingredients: time, temperature and pressure. You must nail these down exactly and follow it up with the right peeling temperature too. Only then will you get perfect HTV adhesion.

So for example, if you have a hot iron and you are pressing your HTV for the given amount of time, your HTV might still not stick. This is because an iron cannot yield near enough even pressure across your project as a heat press.

This can be frustrating and time consuming. So make sure that you are following the HTV recipe properly and that all your equipment is in perfect working order.

In this way, you will know that you have ruled out this basic reason why your HTV is not sticking. Now we can explore some other reasons why this might be so.

2.     Incompatible fabric = HTV won’t stick

This is a natural extension of the last point we discussed. HTV comes in a wide variety of types. Depending upon the project you are working on, you need HTV that is designed specifically for your material.

Most of the times, we want to save money on our craft supplies. And so it can be tempting to use, for example a cotton jersey HTV on spandex bottoms.

But if the HTV is incompatible with your material, you will genuinely struggle to get perfect results. Unsuitable HTV might curl or rip or peel off if you try to use it on a mismatched fabric.

So make sure that the HTV that you are using is designed for the specific fabric that you are working with

3.     Buttons and zippers and collars, oh my!

When you are pressing HTV on to any fabric, you need to make sure that there are no lumps or bumps under or next to your project interfering with even pressure. If there are any buttons, zips, seams or collars, they will prevent your vinyl from sticking properly.

To overcome this problem, you can use a special pressing pillow. This allows the heat press to apply even pressure to your project as the pillow cushions the buttons and zips.

4.     Peel right to stick your HTV

This is something that I personally struggled with for a long time when I first started using HTV. I did not care to wait for the project to cool down before peeling off the protective plastic sheeting.

While this is fine for hot-peel HTV, it wreaked havoc on my cold-peel HTV projects. This is because cold peel vinyl behaves completely differently from hot peel vinyl. If you start to peel it while it is still hot, it will melt and stretch away from the fabric.

So even if you have given it the perfect amount of pressure and temperature, your HTV will not stick.

Moral of the story: follow the manufacturer’s instructions. They are there for a reason. Take your time to let the HTV cool down before peeling and you will be rewarded.

5.     Did you pre-heat your fabric before sticking the HTV?

Even if you are trying to put HTV on a brand new garment or fabric, it is very important to pre-heat it. This is because fabric absorbs moisture from the air.

And even though it might not feel moist, tiny water molecules are still in there between the fabric fibers. This can prevent HTV from adhering properly to the fabric fibers.

Therefore whatever project you are making, make sure you first put it for a few seconds under the heating element to remove any moisture. Now you can proceed as usual.

6.     Are you using a steam iron?

This point stems from my last point about pre-heating your fabric. If you are using a steam iron to press your project, please stop. The steam will settle tiny molecules of water in between the fibers of your project and this will prevent your HTV from sticking.

Switch off the steam function on your iron!

So make sure that you empty out the water chamber on your iron and switch off the steam function.

7.     Are you using the correct pressing tools to stick your HTV?

When I first started working with HTV, I went for the most frugal method. So I took my old domestic iron and a piece of flat wood that I padded up with a sheet of covered foam.

But even though I followed the instructions exactly and watched plenty of Youtube tutorials, I still could not get a satisfactory result with this technique. The vinyl would burn or curl or melt or just refuse to transfer altogether.

I wasted a lot of vinyl along with perfectly good tops because the HTV just would not stick properly. Worst of all was the accompanying frustration and the time wasted on a project that was destined for disaster. In time, I learned that the domestic iron along with manual pressure simply cannot produce the exact conditions required to properly fuse HTV to fabric.

Human arms vary in the amount and length of time that they can exert even pressure on to a surface. Not only this, the domestic iron also cannot produce an even heat spread across its pressing plate.

It’s like trying to boil a pan of water held over a candle. You will eventually make that cup of tea, but wouldn’t it be better to spend a little on a cheap kettle instead?

A heat press makes everything easier

A heat press makes it a joy to work with HTV

For me, everything changed the day I purchased a cheap little heat press off the internet. It is nothing fancy, nor is it very big. But it takes all the guesswork out of setting the correct time, temperature and even pressure needed to produce perfect results.

Once you have the basics of heat pressing nailed down, pretty much everything else falls into place.

Lately I have seen the Cricut press advertised extensively online. However I have not personally used their products so I don’t know how effective they are.

If you are in doubt, do what has been done commercially in the T-shirt industry: buy a cheap traditional heat press that will fit into your space. Even if it is a pre-loved one.

8.     Is your fabric coated with something?

HTV in its most basic form is a very thin layer of flexible plastic material. To successfully transfer it onto any fabric, you have to heat it until it melts off its carrier sheet and seeps into the fabric. Here, it physically wraps around and fuses with the fibers of the fabric itself.

Note that I use the word fusing and fibers. This means that HTV is not designed to simply sit on top of any fabric that you are working with. It is actually supposed to seep beyond the fabric’s surface and nestle among the fibers.

So if your fabric is coated with an outer protective layer, for example a fireproof layer like Teflon or a waterproof layer, then you will not be able to successfully use HTV on your fabric. The outer coating will simply prevent the HTV from seeping into and bonding with the fabric.

There are a few different ways of dealing with this problem. However use these tips with caution because you risk compromising your fabric or garment.

Using HTV on fire proof materials

For materials coated with a fire retardant, it may help to use rubbing alcohol on the spot where you want to use the HTV. Gently rub away at the top surface of the fabric. If possible, spot-wash the fabric and allowed to dry completely.

Now you can use HTV on the spot.

However be warned: rubbing alcohol can discolor certain fabrics. There is also no guarantee this will work so proceed with caution.

Using HTV on nylon coated materials

For fabrics with a nylon coating, you could try preheating the fabric with an absorbent sheet on top. Simply cover the fabric with a few layers of absorbent craft paper and then press down with a hot press.

The heat should melt the nylon coating and the absorbent paper should absorb it, leaving the fabric exposed for HTV reception.

Once again, take great care before doing this because it can compromise the finish of the garment or fabric you are working with. If at all possible, work with fabrics which are receptive to HTV like cotton or cotton jersey, felt, burlap etc.

9.     Have you used fabric conditioner on your fabric?

Fabric conditioner can also leave an invisible layer on top of fabrics that can prevent HTV from fusing with the fibers.

Avoid using fabric conditioners on your project fabrics.

So if your project has been treated earlier with fabric conditioner, try to wash it out by using just detergent and the hottest temperature that your fabric allows.

This will strip the fabric of any chemicals that might be stopping the vinyl from adhering to the fabric fibers. Once dry, you can proceed to use HTV as usual.

10.Is your pressing pressure on point?

Typically when you use a heat press, you will find that there is a knob or lever that allows you  to set the height of the pressing plates. The higher the pressing plate, the lower the pressure and vice versa.

Use paper to test your heat press pressure

To test if the pressure on your project is correct, simply take a sheet of paper and sandwich it under the pressing plate while your press is still cold. Make sure that part of the paper is sticking out the side of the plates.

Now clamp the heat press shut and pull on the paper. You should not be able to remove the paper without ripping it. This is the right pressure to fuse the HTV to your fabric properly. If the paper can slide or wriggle, you need to increase the pressure on your project by lowering your pressing plate.

On the other hand, if the paper is clamped really tightly, you could try easing off the pressure a bit to find out the lowest setting where the paper still remains firmly wedged between the pressing plates.  This is the sweet spot at which you should be pressing your project.

However it is very easy to get this setting wrong. For example if you have just heat pressed a thick material for example a jersey hoodie, your pressing plates will inevitably be set higher than usual. If you use the same setting to press a thin cotton material, the pressure might not be enough to fuse the vinyl properly to the fabric.

In this instance, you need to adjust the pressure every time you use a different material under your press.

Use your strength to test your heat press pressure

Another way to check whether the pressure on your heat press is high enough is to get a feel of the locking lever as you lift and lower the pressing plates.

Typically you should be able to feel quite a bit of resistance as you lock the pressing plates in the clamped position. Similarly you should feel quite a bit of resistance as you unlock the pressing plates to open the heat press.

If it is too easy to lock and unlock your heat pressing plates, you will know that the pressure is not enough. So you will need to adjust the plate height to make sure your HTV sticks properly to your material.

11.Is your heat press distributing heat evenly?

When it comes to temperature, the main difference between a heat press and a domestic iron is that heat presses are supposed to evenly distribute the heat across the surface of the pressing plates.

An iron on the other hand has varying temperature distribution across its plate. The tip is usually hotter than the rest of the plate to allow you to press collars and seams perfectly.

However over time, the temperature distribution across the plates of a heat press can become compromised. And this can affect how well your HTV sticks to your project.

Use an Infra-red (IR) thermometer

If you have an old heat press which is giving you a lot of trouble and you are not yet ready to buy a replacement, it is worth investing in a point-and-shoot IR thermometer. This works by detecting temperature at the exact point where you are pointing it.

You could use it to take temperature readings from different points on your heat press plates to see if the distribution is even. If you are getting spots of varying temperatures, you will know that your machine is not working properly.

You can watch a tutorial on how to do this here.

Use temperature strips

You can also check the temperature on your heat press using temperature strips. Simply stick the strips to the base plate of your heat press and fire up your machine as usual. The strips change color according to the temperature detected.

Any discrepancies in the color can warn you of cold spots or uneven temperature.

 it goes without saying that if if the heat distribution is uneven across the plate off your heat press it may be time to get a new one or I get this one repaired.

Whichever method you choose to use, the point is that it can help you take an informed decision. You can then choose to have your heat press repaired or replaced without second-guessing yourself.

12.Is your heat press shooting beyond your current settings?

This is a common issue in cheap heat presses bought online. These heat presses are actually very basic machines that contain a simple thermostat to regulate the temperature. When you set a particular temperature, the machine will start heating up.

Once it reaches the set temperature, the thermostat will switch off, killing the electrical connection with the heating plates. This remains until the digital thermometer detects a drop in temperature below the initial instructions, at which point the heating plates switch on again.

This should yield an accurate maximum temperature. But the fact is that the actual heating plates tend to overshoot the set temperature by a few degrees at least. This can result in heat press temperatures which are higher than the recommended settings for your HTV.

A simple way to overcome this problem is to set your heat press to a temperature slightly lower than your recommended temperature.

For example if the recommended temperature is 165 degrees, I usually set my heat press to 160 degrees. When the machine reaches 160 degrees, its thermostat disconnects the electrical signal. But the heating plates continue to get creep up to 165 degrees at which point I quickly press my project. This yields perfect results for me every time.

13.Are you double pressing your project?

Most crafters when they are starting out with heat pressing simply follow the HTV instructions and stop after they have peeled away the protective plastic sheeting from their project.

This is a classic mistake which can result in your HTV not adhering properly to your project. It can also result in peeling when you wash a product later on.

For perfect results, you should be double pressing your project: once with the plastic sheeting on and then again after removing the plastic sheeting.

You can double press your project in two different ways:

Flip your project over

After installing your HTV, peel off the protective plastic. Now flip over your project and press it again for 5 to 8 seconds while the plates are still hot.

Use a cotton or Teflon sheet on top of the HTV

After installing your HTV, peel off the protective plastic. Now cover your HTV with a sheet of pure cotton or Teflon and press it again for 5 to 8 seconds.

Whichever method you choose, double pressing your project really fuses the vinyl to the fibers of your project, ensuring a strong bond.

The best way to check whether your HTV has stuck properly is to look closely at your finished project. You should be able to see the weave of the fabric through the HTV.

Alternatively, after double pressing, should be able to see an imprint of your Teflon sheet on top of your project. In this way you will know that your HTV is really properly stuck.

14.Are you laundering your materials correctly?

This point is about why your HTV might not be sticking after washing your fabric or garment.

When we do laundry, our fabrics go through a great deal of rough and tumble within the washing machine drum. This can damage HTV if you are not careful.

To be on the safe side, always wash HTV garments inside out, ideally on a cold setting to prevent the vinyl from softening and shifting.

15.Are you ironing your HTV projects carefully?

A hot iron has the same effect on HTV as a heat press. They both can make HTV melt and get gunky.

If you iron a HTV product carelessly, you can shift and deform it. You can also ruin your project and iron as well.

So whenever you are ironing any products that contain HTV, always try to either flip them inside out or cover the HTV with a thin muslin sheet. You can easily use a steam iron once your HTV project is ready. But you should definitely not let the iron come into direct contact with the HTV or you will risk damaging both.

In my experience of using heat transfer vinyl, 9 out of 10 times the problem has turned out to be a lot more basic than I had first thought. So if your HTV won’t stick, first go back to the basics and check the instructions to see if you are following them properly.

You can then eliminate each possibility in turn until you nail the problem. The solutions are all here for you to use.

Related queries

 Will HTV stick to felt?

Yes! HTV sticks beautifully to felt if you do it properly and follow the instructions on the packet along with the tips I’ve given you here.

HTV sticks beautifully on to felt! I made this quiet book for my nephew. The jigsaw pieces are made of felt with HTV letters on top.

You can create beautiful HTV and felt projects including my favorite kind: quiet books! You can learn all about using felt to create quiet books here. Or simply browse this website for free quiet book tutorials, templates and PDF printouts.

Happy crafting!

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