Big thank you to Cricut for sponsoring this post! As always, I only share products that I truly love. Read my full disclosure and policies here.
Did you know that you can transfer iron on vinyl to wood? If you’ve been following along with my Canada 150 instalment, you’ve heard me chat on this already and I’m a total fan. It doesn’t have the same shiny appearance of stick-on vinyl and looks a lot more like paint. Plus… it’s WAY easier than cutting vinyl to stencil paint on. It saves the whole painting process! When I was selected to create the Canada 150 instalment, I’d planned to paint it. But as I got the panels built and realized just how GIANT of an undertaking that would be, I partnered with Cricut and learned all about ironing vinyl on to wood. It was a total game changer for me.
In this post I’m going to share a little about the difference between heat transfer/iron on vinyl and peel and stick/traditional craft vinyl AND all the tips and things I learned while ironing on 45 rolls (seriously!) of the stuff.
UPDATE: I made a more detailed video and post about this! I chat about different surfaces and different kinds of vinyl. So your questions are probably answered RIGHT HERE!
I first heard about transferring iron-on vinyl to wood from my friend Virginia at Fynes Designs (amazing Canadian blogger!). I knew that I had to try it but never remembered- it’s such a habit to pull out paint when I’m making a sign! This giant project was a great excuse to give it a try and now that I have, I’m probably going to do this over painting on 90% of my wood signs now! It’s so much quicker and cleaner looking.
The difference between peel and stick vinyl and iron on/heat transfer vinyl is pretty simple. The peel and stick traditional craft vinyl is what those wall decals are made out of. It sticks to a surface and can be pretty easily removed without damaging the surface below. There are outdoor/permanent vinyls that function the same way but take more work to remove. Heat transfer vinyl isn’t sticky itself, but bonds to the material using a heat press or iron. This makes it permanent either on fabric or (you guessed it!) wood. I’ve used it on both stained/sealed wood (the large one) and untreated wood (as in the title image) with no issues.
You can totally use peel and stick vinyl on wood but I’d recommend using the outdoor quality. I’ve used the indoor variety and found that it just falls/peels off way too quickly. I ended up adding layers and layers of clear coat on top to seal it on, but it was a total pain. The thing is- peel and stick vinyl has a completely different texture than paint. It’s a sticker and you can tell. And outdoor vinyl is usually even shinier than regular vinyl so it would definitely be clear it’s a cut out- not paint. Iron on vinyl though? It’s pretty darn thin. I mean it goes onto fabric and can bend with that. When it transfers, unless you’re using the glitter variety (which is pretty darn cool itself), it goes pretty matte so it does look a lot like paint. Virginia will even destress her signs a bit using sandpaper on the heat transfer vinyl and it looks amazing. I don’t have a photo of the stick on vinyl on wood- but here’s a photo of it on the wall (above) from this post so you can kind of see what I mean about the shine.
Both kinds of vinyl are best cut with a cutting machine. The one I use and love is a Cricut Explore Air. You can technically cut vinyl by hand too but it’s a lot more time consuming- especially if you want to do a design like the hand lettered ones I created. The Cricut will cut through the vinyl but not through the backing that iron on vinyl comes on so you get one piece all perfectly lined up piece instead of having to piece it together with transfer tape.
You can do this with any design- one you create and upload (I share all about how I do that with hand lettering here) or with one of their designs or even just fonts. Before you hit GO on your machine, just make sure to check the little box to mirror the design for iron on (shown above).
Once it’s cut, just as you would with other vinyl- peel away the parts you don’t want on your design (called weeding) until you’re left with your transfer. Stick it onto your wood surface and heat up your iron. There’s a few things different about ironing this stuff on to wood rather than fabric. The first is that you don’t need to preheat the wood with the iron (as is recommended with fabric). The second is all about how long you need to iron for. I scrapped the towel between the iron and transfer because it took FOREVER with it. I still had to iron each piece for about a minute before it was ready. If you iron it for too long, you’ll see that it wrinkles up from the heat- so check regularly to see when you’re getting to that point. I found the backing would start to wrinkle before the vinyl so that was a good indicator to stop. Wait for the backing to cool enough before touching it or you’ll have sore fingers #fromexperience.
Some mistakes I made (that you can avoid!) other than ironing for too long and getting shrivelled/wrinkled edges?
The biggest one (and I did this a few times) was relying on the sticky backing to hold the design in place as I’m ironing. Wood is smoother/more slippery than fabric so make sure that you cut your backing large enough to be able to hold it still with your fingers in a corner. This is especially important if your design is larger than your iron and you will be moving your iron to cover the whole design. That ‘S’ above was wrinkled pretty badly from this. The other mistake I made was trying to fix it. Don’t mess with it! I found the cleanest way to patch mistakes like this was to use a utility or craft knife to cut off the damaged part of the vinyl and re-apply a new piece instead.
The other mistake I made, and this is totally, totally avoidable, was lining up all my pieces of transfer and letting the backing overlap. I ended up ironing the vinyl ON to one edge of another piece’s backing and had to cut that piece out and do it over. A totally brainless mistake, you guys! But if you’re using multiple pieces- it’s easy to get in a groove and forget.
I also wanted to address ironing over gaps and uneven parts in wood- whether that be a knot or between wood planks as I did on this piece. These boards weren’t completely even SO if I just ironed flat overtop of the Canadian maple leaf, I would have had vinyl that didn’t fully transfer along the edge of the lower board, and the edge of the higher board would have started to shrivel from being ironed for too long. Apply your design, ironing the lower board piece first- butting the edge of the iron against the edge of that upper board. When that part of the transfer is ready, do the part of the transfer on the upper board before peeling back the whole designs backing. Let me know if you have questions about that- I read it a couple times to try make sure it’s clear but it still seems a bit confusing.
That’s it! That’s all the tips I have for you right now. Let me know if you have any questions at all about the process or if you’re having issues and I’ll do my best to answer them! If you haven’t tried ironing heat transfer vinyl onto wood I totally recommend it. But it’s a bit addicting, so be warned ;)
I found this article from Google search and exactly got my information what I was looking for. Let me try mine. Thank you for your writing, appreciated! :)
So I’ve been doing this to wood and just put a saying with iron letters on painted wood. I see I need to redo a few words because they are not straight. And one of my letters I forgot to move closer to the other letter as the natural font writes the first letter far away from the rest of them. Do u happen to know if I pull those letters up will there be a indent make of the letter showing in the paint? Or will it still be smooth paint no sign the letter was there?
I’m not too sure Sarah! I haven’t actually removed off of painted wood… I have removed off of stained wood and was just left with adhesive residue. Best of luck!
Hi Colleen! I came across your post prior to my first attempt to try HTV on wood! Thanks for all of your tips and tricks. I did have one mistake happen (I started to peel up the backing too quickly and one piece of vinyl stuck to the one next to it), so I’d like to remove that little part and re-apply with new vinyl. How do you recommend removing?
I just cut it exactly where the issue was and then used the heat to soften the glue to pull it back!
I have a lot of experience with my Cricut and different vinyls. One problem I’m running into is I stained my wood let it dry for about a week and my iron on isn’t ironing on until about 5 mins or so and still some parts are not ironing on. I went to this because I would make a stencil for painting and my stencil wouldn’t stick or my paint would bleed underneath. Help!! THanks!
When ironing heat transfer to stained wood – you mentioned sealing it. I tried doing this after staining a piece of wood and I could not get the vinyl to stick! I wasn’t sure if it was the stain (I didn’t use a sealer), or that it was gold foil iron on. Any thoughts?
I haven’t tried it with the iron on foil! It is a trickier transfer to fabric even I find so I’m not sure what to recommend!
Can you layer vinyl doing hybrid on wood?
Hi Bonnie- I haven’t heard the term ‘hybrid’ with regards to vinyl transfers before!
Hi thanks for this article. I’ve tried a few times, but only on painted wood, and the HTV doesn’t stick at all and it melts & pulls up the paint. Do you have any suggestions or does it only work on waxed / raw wood? I really need help with this. I’d appreciate your thoughts. I’m using Americana acrylic paints
Hi Suze, I’m sorry you’re having issues! I have only tried this with Cricut brand iron on vinyl- not the foils or any other brands. I also haven’t tried it with Americana acrylics although I’m assuming that shouldn’t be the issue! I would try try a lower heat setting if it is melting your HTV. Good luck!
Hi, I want try heat vinyl on wood do you still need parchment paper when ironing and how long should I leave the iron on the wood. Should I wait till it is totally cooked down before removing the sticky clear film?
I am having the same issue with the HTV pulling up the paint and not sticking. Did you find a solution or have any suggestions?
Hi can iron vinyl be put on plexiglass or glass
I have never tried it! But I would probably stick with the permanent/outdoor vinyl myself :)
Hi yes you can use HTV on glass I just tried it on a wine bottles and love it , so much easier then regular vinyl.
Can you use a heat press instead of an iron or would you recommend just using an iron on it? Wasn’t sure if the heat press would effect the wood at all.
HI, this article helped alot! I just started with the cricut machine and worked one project with regular vinyl and it worked good. I want to try the heat transfer vinyl just because it’s what I have right now. For the ironing I make sure it has no steam and no water in it correct? Thank you!
Yes! Steam off for sure :)
I’m making a stove top cover. I want to use the iron on. Do I need to seal it after so it withstands cleaning? If so, with what? Thanks!
what did you use to seal your wood sign?
this one was a stain and sealer in one from varathane!
Do you varathane to seal after the heat transfer is applied?
I didn’t notice which setting/temperature is best for wood. What would you recommend using the easy press? Thank you for the great info!
300 degrees for 40 seconds!
Can you apply the htv to a board that has already been polyurethaned?
I would! I haven’t had an issue doing this.
What types of stain do you use? I have had a few issues with discoloration around my letter as well as the letters smudging. Is it the oil based stain? Too much heat? Sos!
I’ve used both the stain and poly in one and just regular old oil based stain with a sealer on top. Did you seal it?
I have been doing this and have been getting an adhesive residue around the words. Any tips on removing that or how to avoid it?
Hi Jennifer! I’ve found I get that residue when I apply too much heat! Try less hot or for less time :)
so to be clear, you do not need to put a sealer on painted wood before you put on the HTV. Would it be a good idea to use parchment paper so the residue doesn’t come out
Hi there can you tell me if the htv sticks to oil based stain and if your sealing before you iron on the htv or after or both? What are you using to seal?
Instead of using an iron, do you think it would work with a heat press?
The wood would have to be thin enough! It works with an easy press because it doesn’t have a back- a heat press would be tricky because can only press flat items :)
As long as it doesn’t have a back, then for sure! An easypress would be perfect :)
How can you remove the residue? Can you do this without having to completely start over? I tried iron on with a stained wood and got the residue around my htv. It wasnt bad enough for me to want to try to remove it, but for future projects it would be nice to be able to remove it without having to start over if it happens again.
I have used heat and then scraped- it’s not perfect, but it was good enough for this project! I have thought about trying lemon essential oil because that stuff works on everything.
hi- so i am currently working on project that involves gaps on my piece of wood but your paragraph about that wasn’t clear to me . can you please advise me on what i should do in order to get the best result. i attempted the heat transfer vinyl but quickly learned the temperature was too hot because it ruined it.. so back to square one. also my word is sliced in half in order for my cricut to create it.
It takes a bit of playing! I found this to be the perfect temperature and used the tip of the iron to get in the grooves. You could use a knife to slice the cracks if the look bothers you!
I was super excited to see HTV on wood, it is so much easier. However, I am having problems with it on stained wood. I have a ton of leftover stain from various projects, it is oil based, then I seal it with the minwax water based poly. The letters are not sticking after ironing and if I iron too much the letters turn a brownish color. Do you recommend a water based stain instead of oil? Or maybe a different poly? Any help would be appreciated.
I haven’t had that happen! Are you letting it cool before peeling it back? I’m wondering if either your poly hadn’t set enough or if you were trying warm peel (it won’t stick until it’s cool!)
Hi! I am thinking of doing this on a wooden tray that I bought. It already has a clear poly finish on it. I am wondering if it will stick and also would you be able to wash the tray if it is used? Any experience with this? Thanks!
I wouldn’t wash the tray, no! But definitely should stick even with the poly coating :)
Do you seal with a spray or something so the vinyl doesn’t come off? Do you feel like the HTV is durable on wood? Im doing some projects for mother’s day but Im not sure is the vinyl will stay on the wood for a long time.
I didn’t, but it depends on where you’re going to put it! You could always spray a sealer!
What if the lettering and vinyl start to peel once it has cooled? I have pictures to share but don’t see where I can share them with you!?
I’d like to use this method for a cheese tray, but would like to seal it after so it can be washed. Do you have any experience with that, or recommendations?
No, Colleen hasn’t researched or tried any food safe products for that.
How do I avoid the white or clear residue around the letters on the wood. I have the mini heat press from Cricut.
Less heat or less time!
Loved your tutorial! Answered several of my issues! I have 3 memory boxes I would like to do for my grandchildren. Much prefer HTV as I find it so easy to cut, weed and apply. My question is, the boxes are untreated/unpainted, could I apply direct onto them? I have the Cricut mini iron, not sure which setting I’d use on it?
Hi Anne! You could apply it directly on the wood. The settings of your easy press depend on the type of vinyl you’re using. Cricut has a temperature settings chart on their website that I use!
Any tips for getting rid of the faint outlines of the clear backing that appear around each part of my design. It’s very faint but I can notice it .