Teflon Sheet

Every screen printer should have a heat press and teflon sheets. Not only will you be able to offer vinyl and foil as a service, you’ll be able to use the heat press and teflon to smooth out prints. Let’s dive into the uses of teflon sheets and heat presses as well as exploring insider tips. 

brown teflon sheet

WHAT IS A TEFLON SHEET

A teflon sheet is a piece of fabric-like material that is coated with an anti-stick material called teflon. While textured teflon exists, most teflon sheets come with a smooth finish. The main purpose of teflon is to use it as a non-stick, protective barrier between ink, vinyl, or other decorations like embroidery surfaces and the heating element of the heat press or iron. 

WHY IS TEFLON USEFUL

Since its main purpose is to protect, teflon can be used in multiple ways. 

jonathan putting a teflon sheet on a shirt on a heat press

Photo by Golden Press Studio.

SMOOTHING PRINTS

Printing white ink on a black shirt and noticed the shirt’s fibers are sticking through the print? Maybe the print is rough, with areas that are thicker compared to the rest. A heat press and teflon sheet may be the answer to your problems. 

If you need to press the fibers back into the shirt, you’re going to accomplish the task either with a heat press or a smoothing screen. A heat press can make a print buttery smooth if you do it right, or it can make it too smooth (making it look more like a heat transfer). Many printers are under the impression that the ink needs to hit cure temp in order to smooth it out. That’s not true. To smooth out a print, all you have to do is get the ink warm enough to be pliable. Say you want to smooth out an ink that cures at 320°. Set the heat press to 270° with light or medium pressure and press for five seconds. The print will be smooth while still maintaining the screen-print look. Now, these exact settings will not apply to every heat press and shop. Press time can range 3-7 seconds. The heat may need to be adjusted. In the end, your goal is to apply the right amount of pressure and heat to press down the fibers. If the pressure or heat is too high, the heat press will push the ink into the fibers, thinning out the ink deposit. The thinner, flatter print will look more like a heat transfer.

a close up of a white plastisol ink print on a black shirt

PRO TIP: When placing a teflon sheet on ink and applying a heat source to ink, some of the ink may stick to the teflon sheet. (Ink sticking to the sheet usually happens when the teflon has been removed too quickly.) Make sure to clean off the teflon sheet between each use. 

Using a teflon sheet and heat pressing an uneven ink surface will smooth it out, as long as the dips and the peaks of the ink aren’t drastic. If one area of the print has a substantially thicker ink deposit compared to the rest, that ink has to go somewhere when it’s being squashed by a heat press. Think of it like a s’more. Before you hold the marshmallow over a fire, it’s soft but it maintains its shape. Once it heats up, it softens. When you place the graham cracker on top of the marshmallow, it oozes everywhere. It’s the same concept with thicker areas on a print. When you apply the heat press to it, the heat warms up the ink. When the ink is warm, it can move. By smushing an area that has too much ink will prompt the ink to ooze, potentially closing up details or losing edge quality. If you’re trying to smooth out an uneven print, use light pressure. If the thicker ink deposits are in the middle of the design, you should be able to maintain the print. If the thicker parts are along the outsides of the design or near fine detail, you will lose the integrity of the design. Heat pressing can save a print, but it has its limitations. 

It’s important to note that when you put a teflon sheet on top of any ink, it will cause the ink to look shiny due to the sheet’s smooth surface. Shine reflects off of a flat, unbroken surface. If you use a textured surface like parchment paper, it’ll break up the surface of the ink so it doesn’t reflect light; therefore it’s less shiny and more matte (check out this article to learn more about creating shiny or matte prints).

If you don’t have a heat press, you can use an iron. Place the teflon sheet on the shirt and press with medium pressure until the print is smooth. You can get a matte or glossy finish with your print when using this technique by using different textures of sheets. If you are not wanting a glossy finish, make sure to use textured teflon or parchment paper.

If you notice on press that the shirt’s fibers need to be flattened, you could also use a smoothing screen. Smoothing screens effectively smooth out prints like a heat press. You have two options to make a smoothing screen. One method is to purchase a special teflon sheet to adhere to a screen. The other method is to coat a screen and properly dry and expose it. For more information on smoothing screens, read this article.

person inputing the settings on a heat press

HEAT TRANSFERS

Heat transfers are fantastic for many situations. If you offer vinyl as a service, you know how important a teflon sheet is. Just remember that adding a teflon sheet or parchment paper on top of the transfer (or print) will drop the temperature. If the ink cures at 300°, the applied temp would be 290°. It’ll also take longer for the heat to penetrate through the sheet.

PRO TIP: Never fold, crease, or set things on top of teflon paper. If there’s a crease in the teflon sheet, it’ll transfer that texture to the print. Put teflon sheets in a safe, flat area.

LEARN HOW TO SCREEN PRINT PLASTISOL HEAT TRANSFERS

a silver foil print of a submarine suit on a black shirt

FOIL TRANSFERS

To cure foil transfers, you’d use a heat press. Before pressing down on the garment, you would need to lay a teflon sheet on it to protect the foil design. As the heat press lifts off the garment, creating a vacuum. Without a teflon sheet, foil will respond to airflow since foil is light and the foil adhesive is hot and still pliable. Hot, pliable ink may not have completely adhered to the foil, so the gust of air can lift the foil off the adhesive. The foil adhesive has to cool down and adhere to the foil before peeling it off. When the teflon is on the foil design, it acts as a buffer between the suction created from the heat press and the foil, protecting the design from possible damage.

LEARN HOW TO PRINT FOIL TRANSFERS

PROTECTING GARMENTS AND OTHER GARMENT DECORATIONS

A teflon sheet is a protective barrier, so you would use it to protect other parts of a garment or decoration on the shirt when using a heat press. You can use teflon to protect buttons, seams on a shirt, the numbers on a jersey, etc. A teflon sheet can help reduce the effect of the “heat press box” look on the garment. The heat press can flatten the shirt’s fibers. Without the teflon sheet, you’ll see where the heat press was applied on the shirt. Throw the teflon sheet on the garment and you don’t have to worry about it.

Having a heat press and teflon sheet on hand is beneficial in many ways. We recommend having 2-3 different types of teflon on hand. These types range from the typical teflon sheet to textured teflon. If you cannot find textured teflon, parchment or butcher paper will work just fine. 

In the end, it’s all about doing what you can to provide a high quality product to your customer. A heat press and teflon sheet provides a backup plan to smooth out any issues (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Producing the best product possible increases the chance of the customer returning or sharing their positive experience with others. Happy customer means happy printer!

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