Tricky Ts – T Shirt Design

Design Thinking

This is the last project of TDE 110, and it’s a “Group B” project, which is more challenging, interesting, and complex than the “Group A” project. The project I chose is “Tricky Ts – T-Shirt Design”, which allows us to design our own T-shirts with heat transfer vinyl and a Heat Press Machine.

There are no written instructions for this project, and all the process is advised by the instructor with his kindly mind and enthusiasm. For the design part, I was told victor images(Scalable Vector Graphics, SVG file) would be suitable for the software, and the instructor recommended Inkscape. However, due to the compatibility issue, I use Adobe Illustrator to do my design. The design process took me about one and a half weeks because I cannot have great ideas about the design. I hope the design can be simple, but with some complexity(I know it’s hard to be simple and complicated at the same time), and the most important is that it needs to be visually appealing. To achieve my goal, I decided to put the demand for beauty as the priority, and after some consideration and revisions, I choose to use four white Chinese Characters with a red, slightly rounded background, positioning them at the left top of the T-Shirt.

Initially, I want to have one of the background colors different from the others. However, it won’t increase much about beauty but dramatically increase the complexity and potential failure possible, which was abandoned in the design process.

(The character on the top left is 人, “Human” in English.)

After this, I decided to have a unified background color, and the text can be transparent/white since my t-shirt is purely white. By doing so, the level of beauty remains almost the same but the process is much easier.

After several changes and modifications, I got the file I wanted and I successfully exported it from the .ai file to the .svg file.

(The characters from top to bottom, from left to right is 中国雪糕 in Simplified Chinese, 中國雪糕 in Traditional Chinese, “Chinese Ice-cream” in English. The font is Libian, “clerical change”.)


By putting your own design on a t-shirt, you will need heat transfer vinyl and a Heat Press, Home Iron, or anything else with similar material and shape. The cutting process is mainly performed by MH 871 Vinyl Cutter, which is already provided in the lab area.

MH 871 Vinyl Cutter

After the design is completed, according to the instructions of the machine, you will need to flip your design horizontally to make it a mirror image of itself. After doing so, place the shiny plastic side down on the cutting mat.

The next step is to load Transwonder HTV vinyl into the machine, try a small design to adjust the force, speed, and depth of the needle for each roll or piece. If the sample is ok, now you can proceed. When I was cutting with this machine, due to the fact that both instructor and I are new to the cutter, we failed about four to five times, but we made better than before after each failure.

After you have gotten the cut pieces you want, you can take away the unwanted pieces with any tools you like. I choose tweezers because my design is with many details and I need to be extremely careful.

Heat Press

The next step is applying the HTV vinyl to a T-shirt with Heat Press. It is quite straightforward and easy, but you need to be careful because it is extremely hot.

  1. Set heat press to 300 Fahrenheit to 320 Fahrenheit.
  2. Preheat the garment with medium pressure for 2-3 seconds.
  3. Apply transfer as instructed above on garment and cover with a Teflon Sheet.
    • Place the garment or fabric flat onto the heat-press, then put the design on the garment or fabric with the shiny plastic side up.
    • If you do not place it on a flat, even, solid, and sturdy surface, the vinyl would easily peel off from the object, and always make sure there are no wrinkles on the fabric.
  4. Apply medium pressure to the garment for 10 – 15 seconds.
    • Hold your press steady, apply 10lbs or 4.5kgs above pressure. If you think the vinyl is not sticking, put the Transwonder Premium Teflon sheet above the vinyl and heat again for 5 seconds.
  5. Allow the transfer to cool for 45 seconds before peeling off the clear carrier sheet.
    • Slowly!


I really like this project! By doing this project, I can design something on my own and I’m really proud of myself and my design.

One issue that I come up with is exporting the .ai file to a .svg file. When exporting, it is necessary and important to choose “Convert to outline” and “Embed image location” if you have utilized external resources like fonts and images when creating your design. I was not familiar with the format of the .svg file and I got the issue that my font is not recognizable on the lab’s computer. Since the SVG file is all about vectors, I was thinking, there must be some workaround to fix this issue. After some digging on the internet, I found one discussion on Adobe Community, which helped me to fix the problem.

I learned how to transmit HTV vinyl to other materials like fabrics, and how to use the cutter machine. Meanwhile, I have valuable experience in designing my own t-shirt, which is something I have never thought about before. If I can do this project one more time, I think I would try some other complicated design that is really appealing for me. Due to the narrow lab time, I cannot have enough time and opportunity to try all of my ideas.


Bali, S. (2020, October 18). Convert Text to Outlines using Illustrator. https://Community.Adobe.Com.