Dark T-Shirt Transfers with White Toner Laser Printers
The OKI PRO 920WT and 711WT LED printers are excellent choices for printing full color dark t-shirt transfers on dark apparel.
They produce brilliant color and opaque white much more efficiently than white ink direct to garment systems–and for a lot less money. They use innovative two-step self-weeding transfer papers and work with a variety of popular graphic design platforms. There are some important tips and techniques you’ll need to know in order to get the most out of this promising new technology. Our Basic Guide to OKI WT printers is the place to start.
This OKI WT Beginner’s Guide covers the basics of:
- Selecting the best paper
- Setting the printer
- Preparing your artwork
- And we’ll wrap it up with a few troubleshooting tips for fine tuning your transfers.
Two options for Two-step Transfer Paper
We have two paper options for decorating dark garments with OKI WT LED printers. Both papers are similar. Each sheet of paper is two parts; an imaging sheet and a transfer sheet. The imaging sheet is coated with a special polymer. You print your graphic on the imaging sheet, then place it face to face with the transfer sheet and press them together. When you separate them, the transfer sheet removes the polymer coating from the un-printed areas of the imaging sheet. When you press the imaging sheet to the garment, only the toner is transferred to the shirt. This is essentially the same process used to decorate dark garments with the GO UNO or OKI C831-TS. For a video demonstration of this process, please view segment five of our GO UNO Webinar.
The difference between the way these papers work with the GO UNO and OKI 920 WT and OKI 711WT is that the OKI WT printers add a white layer over the Cyan, Magenta and Yellow toner. Since the image is printed in reverse, the white layer is applied on top of the color layer. When the imaging sheet is pressed to the garment the white topcoat becomes a white under-base that serves as a barrier between the color of the fabric and the process colors in the printed image. Got it? Good! So, there are two paper options for this process; Neenah Image Clip Laser Dark and EnduraTRANS F2. With either paper, the first step is to press the imaging sheet to a transfer sheet. This removes the polymer coating from the unprinted areas and coats the toner to adhere it to the garment. Separating these sheets with a cleanly coated, usable image can be tricky. There are several factors involved including the quality of your heat press (see below). One thing we’ve learned is that this step works much more consistently if the lower table of the press is pre-heated. Otherwise the papers will begin to cool while you’re separating them and cause frustrating inconsistencies. Pre-heating the platen can make a world of difference, whether you use Neenah Image Clip or EnduraTrans F2 (Click here for a more in-depth look at why this works). Having said that, you might wonder which one is best for you.
- Neenah Image Clip Laser Dark works well, but has a few drawbacks. The heat press temperature setting must be increased from 250° to 375° between step one (pressing the imaging and transfer sheets) and step two (pressing the imaging sheet to the garment). In some shops, that can produce unnecessary down time while the press heats up. Image Clip Laser Dark also has lower flexibility than the alternative, so it’s more prone to cracking after the transfer is applied. And it costs much more than the EnduraTRANS F2 solution. Neenah’s advantage is that it works on both the WT printers and the GO UNO, so it’s a more versatile product.
- EnduraTRANS F2 works same way as the Image Clip Laser Dark, but both steps are performed at same temperature, so there’s not downtime waiting for the press to heat up. It’s also more flexible. Properly applied F2 transfers won’t crack when shirt is stretched. And tabloid sized packages of EnduraTRANS F2 costs $108 less, so it’s more wallet-friendly. Its disadvantage is that it only works well with OKI WT white toner printers, so it’s not recommend for use with the GO UNO.
White toner setting:
One of the adjustable limits on the OKI WT printers is a white toner density setting. The range is from +3 to -3. The +3 setting produces the densest, most opaque white. Since the purpose of the white toner is to offer opacity to support vivid color on dark fabric, one would assume that the brighter and denser the white layer is, the better the transfer will be. To paraphrase and old show tune, it ain’t necessarily so.
Actually Graphics One recommends the lowest setting, -3. Why is that? In the words of Graphics One laser transfer product specialist Eleni Barefoot, “This is because white toner actually has a higher melting threshold than the CMY toners, and as such, takes a bit more heat to really integrate into fabric. Less ‘density’ or thickness helps with this.”
So the lower density setting makes the transfer softer. And soft transfers are what most people want to wear. There is another benefit. Eleni adds, ” Toner adhesion is the basis for maximizing durability and is inversely correlated with the density levels (more density, less adhesion) which is why we recommend decreasing the density level for white.” In other words, The lower density setting on the white toner makes the transfer last longer in terms of wash and wear. A properly applied WT transfer will last for at least 20 washes; probably more. Increasing the white toner density might make the transfer marginally brighter, but it will be less durable.
Before you can transfer anything, you have to design an image. One of the most common questions we receive from people considering an OKI WT printer is how to prepare the artwork. In order to print on dark garments with white toner, your artwork must include a white element that the printer can interpret as a layer. This is pretty easy to figure out with vector based software like LXI, FlexiSign or CorelDRAW. It’s a little trickier with raster applications like PhotoShop or PhotoPaint. Here are some suggestions.
• VE LXI Master Plus, FlexiSign: To print vector objects like text and shapes, just select white as the fill color. If the final applied element is intended to be white, that’s all you need to do. To add a white under-base to a colored vector object, just duplicate the object, change the fill of the duplicated one to white and place it beneath or behind the original. To add a white under-base to a colored vector object, just duplicate the object, change the fill of the duplicated one to white and place it beneath or behind the original. To add a white under-base to an imported bitmap object like our favorite Spider-Man graphic, use the magic wand to select the background, invert the selection, then use the Convert marquee to mask tool. This will place a solid vector mask on top of the bitmap image. Just move it to the back and it becomes a white under-base. For detailed instructions on this process, please click here to view the article from our Tech Support blog (See Fig 1).
• CorelDRAW: CorelDRAW users can set up white and colored vector objects the same way as FlexiSign and LXI users. For bitmaps, the process is a little different. It’s harder to render the background of an imported bitmap transparent in CorelDRAW, but you can simply trace the entire thing and place the traced version beneath the original. Then select the new vectorized version and change the fill to white. Voila, instant under-base. CorelDRAW has several tracing options. If you select trace it as clip art, then simplify the traced version, it’s easier to convert it to a simple white layer.
• PhotoShop is a horse of a different color. The recommended solution for creating WT transfers in Photoshop is to create a duplicate layer of the colored object layers and fill it with white. Make the background transparent. Then select it with the magic wand, invert the selection and use the Path tools to convert the selection into a clipping path. Save the path, then save the image and send it to the printer. The OKI WT print driver will read the clipping path as the white layer. Please Click here for step by step instructions.
When you’re designing graphics for black or colored shirts, it’s always a good idea to add a bottom layer matching the fabric color to help you visualize how the graphic will look on the garment (See Fig 2). In Photoshop, turn off visibility for that layer before printing. In CorelDRAW, LXI or FlexiSign, you can use the Object Manager or Design Editor to turn off printing for that layer so that data isn’t sent to the printer. And no matter what application you use, remember to flip or “mirror” the image before printing, or activate the mirror function in the printer driver. If you can read the text on the sheet that comes off the printer, it will be backwards on the garment. And vice versa.
Other application tips
Once you’ve mastered the design phase, there are a few other wrinkles to figure out in printing dark t-shirt transfers. Most of these tips can be found on our EnduraTRANS F2 instruction sheet, but here’s a quick list of things to remember
- Swing away heat presses work better because their vertical closing motion produces even pressure across the transfer. Clam shell presses close at an angle, putting more pressure at the back of the platen than the front. If you must use a clamshell, place the transfer at the back of the table to maximize pressure.
- It’s easier to separate the imaging and transfer sheets at the end of step one if they’re not exactly the same size. (This is why the 11″ x 17″ Neenah Image Clip Laser Dark transfer sheets are about 1/4″ smaller than advertised). If you’re using EnduraTRANS F2, clip a corner off of the imaging sheet before you press them so you have something to grab to pull them apart.
- Fine tuning the time and temperature. If your transfers are not separating cleanly and completely at the end of the first step, you may need to cook them a little longer. An extra ten seconds and/or ten degrees should solve the problem. This is especially helpful when you have several small images on one sheet. Before you take these extra steps, it’s a good idea to make sure the output from your heat press is correct. Click here to find out how.
- Wear gloves. At the end of step one, the paper is rather toasty. The peeling must be done very quickly while the toner is warm. Time wasted playing hot potato with a fresh transfer can affect quality. Wear at least one glove so you can handle the freshly pressed sheets with confidence.
- For media weight settings and more application tips, please click here for the full EnduraTRANS F2 instruction sheet.
There are a lot of variables with laser transfer, even more with the two-step, white toner process. But if you choose the right paper, dial in the white ink density, setup your artwork correctly and fine tune your heat press, you’ll soon be cranking out stunning and highly profitable, full color transfers. These guidelines will help you get started more quickly, but they are by no means all there is to know about white toner laser transfer. If you come up with a different way to prepare artwork that you’d like to share, feel free to offer it in the comments.