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 ;)