Thursday, December 10, 2009

What’s In A Name Tote Bag Tutorial

Recently I promised a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a quick gift using a purchased tote bag and inkjet heat transfer paper. It’s personalized, but subtle. I made these bags for a couple of tween girls, and didn’t want their real names plastered on the side. Here’s how to make your own.

Gather Your Materials
You’ll need:
-- Translucent Inkjet Heat Transfer Paper
-- Large hardcover book
-- Aluminum Foil
-- Baking Parchment
-- Iron
-- Tote Bag in a light color (I used a ready-made one)

Prepare The Image
Use a search engine to find a site like this one that will help you find the meaning of the recipient’s name.

Open a blank 8-1/2” x 11” document. You can use photo imaging software, Microsoft Publisher, or even Word. Using a word-art tool, type the meaning of the recipient’s name, choosing a font that matches the recipient’s style. Make the text more subtle, if you like, by making a copy of the text block, changing the text color to white in the copy, then layering the white element over the original element just slightly off-register. Flatten, merge or link the two elements. Copy that and paste several versions on the page. Flop (mirror image) some of them. Fill the page with this background.

Use a search engine again to find a site like this one that will translate a name from English into Chinese characters. If you can’t find the name you need, translate the meaning of the name instead of the name itself. Right-click on the image to copy the Chinese characters.

Paste the characters on your document on top of the word art. Resize the element as necessary. I used characters in two different sizes – a large one centered on the page, with a much smaller one centered below it.

Frame the Chinese characters with ruled boxes and put a frame around the whole image. It’s almost ready to print on inkjet transfer paper.

Print The Transfer
This kind of transfer reverses the image when you iron it to the fabric. So before you print, find the mirror image feature in your print properties box.
Read the directions so you know which side of the paper to print on, and run a test print on regular paper to make sure it looks “backward.”

Put one sheet at a time in the paper tray, print, and remove the sheet from the outfeed tray before printing anything else. Let the ink dry completely before stacking printed sheets. Important: Never run an inkjet product like this through a toner or laser copier; the heat could melt the coating and damage the machine.

Make The Transfer
The manufacturer’s directions may tell you to work on a hard surface like a pillowcase spread on a counter. I prefer to work on a hardcover book covered with aluminum foil.

Place the foil book at on a firm surface at a height that lets you apply pressure with the iron – maybe a table, rather than a countertop, if you’re short like me. In any case, you probably won’t get the best results if you work on your ironing board.

Trim away the margins outside the ruled box that frames your image.

Place the foil-covered book inside the bag. Position the trimmed transfer element printed-side-down on the fabric. Apply pressure with a dry iron preheated to the hottest setting (for a cotton tote bag). Do not use steam!

Keep the iron moving but don’t apply pressure as it moves. Once the transfer is warm, the image can slide and smear if pressure is applied while the iron is moving. But if your iron has steam vent holes on the sole plate, you must reposition the iron. Otherwise, you may not be heating the parts of the transfer under those vents.

The manufacturer’s instructions may say to heat for 2-3 minutes. If you’re working on a foil-covered book, reduce the time. If you do transfers one after the other, the book will get hot and you may need to reduce the time for later transfers.

Let the transfer cool, then peel away the paper. It may look kind of plasticy. Not to worry. Cover the transfer with baking parchment and iron (still using a hot, dry iron). Let cool, then peel away the parchment. Repeating this step will make the transfer less glossy, more satin.

That’s it. If you like, you can add fabric paint or embroidery around the image. Or you can just wrap the tote in recycled fabric and ribbon, and it’s ready to go under the tree.


  1. You are awesome. Love the new blog and great tutorial.

  2. Thanks for the nice comment -- and for all the times you have so graciously helped me through my tech growing pains!


This blog has moved to I hope you'll join the conversation there!