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Watercolor Halloween Towel Tutorial - For Beginners

Melissa Bastow

Have you wanted to try using watercolor designs but you don't want to invest in sublimation equipment?  You can make these Halloween towels with just a few simple and cheap products in just a few minutes!

watercolor inkjet tutorial

What you'll need:

• The digital watercolor files and a computer (try my Halloween designs at DBJJ!)

• An Inkjet printer (most regular home printers are inkjet)

• Heat transfer paper, I suggest Red Grid 2.0 or Jet Pro SS

• Scissors

• A ruler

• A heat press (I have a cheap fancier heat press and it works great)

Parchment paper and/or teflon sheet

 • Kitchen towels (here's a link to the towels I used but this will work with almost ANY white or light colored towel)

The first thing you need to do is measure the area of the towel that will contain the design.  Make sure to keep in mind that you'll probably be folding the towel in half to hang it so you won't want your design to extend beyond that fold.

Then open the digital watercolor design of your choice on your computer.  There are lots of programs that can help you size the design to match what will fit on the towel. I personally use Photoshop, but any image editing program will work.  Even Microsoft Word can size images.  Or you can always choose a size percentage to print the design (100% is the original size around 12x12").

This is what my screen looked like before I printed.  I opened an 8x10" document and sized the design within that space.

Once you have it sized, you'll need to check a couple of things.  First, make sure you have your transfer paper in your printer all ready to go - and make sure it's going to feed in correctly and then come out printed on the correct side.  Then change your printer settings so it knows the paper is a little thicker than regular paper.  And since we're putting these designs on a white (or a light colored) towel, you will absolutely have to MIRROR the design.  Usually this option will be somewhere in your print settings.

Once you're confident with the size and settings, go ahead and print onto the transfer paper.

This is a good point to start warming up your heat press.  Every press (even ones that are made by the same company) will need a little tweaking, but it should be around 350 degrees.  Take the time to set the timer to somewhere between 15-20 seconds as well.  Different combinations of printers, presses, and materials will all do better with small changes in the temperature and time - it's something you can't really figure out without experience.  Most heat transfer paper will have suggestions and included instructions.  And as you get more experienced you'll get used to the little changes your equipment likes.  It's actually really easy to become a pro at this once you've completed a few projects!

While the press heats up take some time to trim around your designs.  The white part of the paper won't show on a white or light colored towel, but you will be able to feel it a little bit.  So getting rid of it is always a good idea.

You can trim as close to the design as you want.  I've found that the texture of the transfer lessens with each washing, so I'm not as careful as some people.  Just make sure you don't cut INTO the design, which sometimes, if you're not being mindful enough, you'll do.....said the person who has done just that......more than once.

This is what my designs looked like after I trimmed them.

Hopefully now your heat press is hot (if not you'll have a few more minutes for a snack break or something).  Before you do anything with the designs you'll need to prepress your towels.  This gets rid of any moisture and just gives you a nice flat surface to work on.  You can also use a lint roller on it, if you're worried about excess fuzzies getting trapped under your design.

To prepress the design, just throw it into the press and clamp it shut for about 10 seconds.  This is also a good time to test the pressure of your clamp.  You want it right at that point where it's a bit hard to press down all the way, but not quite to the "oh my gosh, is it breaking the machine....or my arm?!!" amount of pressure.  Most heat presses have a manual knob to adjust the pressure, so check for that if you want to adjust it.

Now comes the fun part!  Adjust it so your towel is lined up straight in the press, and then lay your design on.  Make sure it's centered, not upside down, and that the backside of the paper is facing up.  You have to do this a little quickly, and very carefully, because there's that really hot surface right there which can make the paper start to curl (or burn you if you touch it).

Once you're happy with where it is, clamp the press shut and wait for the timer.  Like I said, times will vary, but somewhere between 15-20 should be a good starting point if this is your first project.  I very recently got a new printer and I'm still kind of tweaking things.  So don't be nervous, just because there's always room for improvement doesn't mean that you can't be amazing at this!

When your timer goes off, lift the press and pull your towel out.  Some papers like to be peeled cold and some hot.  I generally peel the Red Grid hot.  But I've also done it cold too, because it's actually REALLY hot when it gets out of there.

If your towels have zero stretch to them you can skip this next step.  But if they give at all, I wouldn't.

The ink will set better and last longer if you throw your towel back under the heat to warm it up and then give it a good stretch.  But now that the backing of the transfer paper is off you'll need to use some parchment paper or a teflon sheet to protect your press from the ink.  I am an overkill weirdo and use both.  So I throw the towel back in the press and put on the parchment paper.

This is just standard baking parchment paper.  I've had this sheet for a bit, so you can see it's a bit yellow from the heat.  Once it gets noticeable like this I just chuck it and then walk into my kitchen and rip off another section to use.  It's a cheap and easy way to keep your press safe from sticky designs, and it peels away a lot cleaner than other things.

But sometimes I still kind of worry about it so I throw my teflon sheet over it too.  It looks like this.

Then it just needs a quick 10 second press to warm up the towel.

I always just watch my timer and open it early when I'm prepressing or warming things - that way I'm not constantly having to change it.

Once you pull it from the hot press you want to IMMEDIATELY stretch it in multiple ways.  Give it a nice stretch horizontally, vertically, and diagonally. 

Then put the towel back in the press one more time.  Don't forget your parchment and/or teflon.  I always press it another full amount just to make sure that design is going to be happy there for a long long time.  If you're afraid your towel is going to burn, a few seconds for this press is ok too.

Then just let the towel cool on a flat dry surface and you're done!

I know this seemed like a really long tutorial, but it actually only takes a few minutes to throw one of these together.  That's what I love about inkjet transfers - it's SO FAST AND EASY. 

With inkjet transfers, you can purchase a design online and download it immediately, then just print and press it onto lots of different fabrics and surfaces.  Sublimation requires special printers and inks, and then you have to be careful with the types of fabric you're using.  I just like to make things for my friends and family, so I like that the only special item I really need is inkjet transfer paper.  And I've seen my kids be really rough on the things I've made, and then they go through a bunch of washes, and they still looking amazing!

I hope this in-depth tutorial has helped inspire you to try out inkjet heat transfers and watercolor designs.  You're going to love it!

Halloween inkjet transfer designs on towels - a tutorial


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