Learn to Decorate

The Process of Design to Production

As with any decoration onto garments, textiles, and substrates, the decoration method has a certain process that you must follow in order to achieve the final result. And, with hot fix element designs – like rhinestones – it is no different. With many of the decoration methods offered in this type of industry, it starts with the same first steps and questions. We must first decide what we are going to decorate and what we are going to decorate it with?

Step One

What will be decorated? This is a great place to start – this is the first step to let us know if we can, in fact, decorate the garment with the desired decoration. For example, if I want to decorate a shirt with rhinestones, I have to understand the process and make sure I have the right equipment to create the end product. In leading with this question, we will explain in the next several steps how the method works with hot fix elements.

In many cases, we see garments such as women’s shirts decorated with a rhinestone design on the front. From fashion to branding to logos, there are many different market opportunities to decorate this sort of garment.

Step Two

What is the design we are going to embellish onto the item? With this question, it will help us understand the requirements needed to create the end product. Just as with artwork for printing and designs for embroidery, there are stock designs that can be purchased in addition to the custom designs that would have to be created from custom images. Stock designs have already been converted to the rhinestone layout and are ready to be output to the machinery. Typically, you will need some sort of software to read these designs – and, the software to read these designs as well as create custom designs can be one in the same.

Typically, with custom designs, we start with an image and then convert that specific image into a rhinestone (or other element type) template. Changing over images into rhinestone designs require software for the design conversion. There is a wide variety of software that is used to create designs, but it is important to know what the designs require from basic to advanced designs & techniques.

We will use rhinestones as our example – rhinestones come in a very wide range of colors as well as sizes. If you would like a design to have 1 color rhinestone but in 2 different sizes, then we need to make sure our software, as well as the machine, can accommodate this.

Step Three

What supplies are needed for the design creation? After the design is created, it’s important to understand what is needed to have a finished product. The staple item, rhinestones, is a must. In the design, the artist has defined the rhinestone size and color. Usually, we will also have count of how many rhinestones are needed for the design. So, to complete the project, there must be enough rhinestones of the correct size and color – and type.

In addition to the rhinestones, the template requires a transfer tape – or a foil – for the rhinestones to stick to. This is to ensure that the stones stay in place and hold the design when it is applied to the garment or textile. These are the basic supplies that are needed to create the template, but in some cases, the process may require other elements needed such as glue or specialty paper – it is dependent on what is being decorated.

Decorating hard substrates like glass or metal require a cold glue that will create a permanent bond to the substrate. Specialty decal paper can also be used to create a pattern that will adhere to different substrates. Depending on what the rhinestones are being bonded to, it must be determined what is needed. But, for basic garment design, these extra supplies are not needed.

Step Four

How do we take all these pieces and create the final design template? First, the design needs to be input to the machine – for the machine to read the design. The machine will convert the design into coordinates and place the stones in the correct spots. If the design is more than one color or stone size, then the machine will need to be programmed (with the design) to choose the stones from the correct holding pot (hopper).

After the design is input into the machine and the settings are input, the workspace needs to be set up. The transfer tape can come in rolls or pre-cut sheets. The transfer tape has two pieces to it – the backing and the clear sticky side. The tape will have to be separated from the backing and placed onto the machine with the sticky side exposed.

Lastly, the machine’s holding pots (hoppers) will need to be filled with the stones appropriate for the design. It’s also important that the machine is set up for the appropriate elements – sometimes the nozzles will need to be changed for the correct stone size or adjusted for the correct element type.

The Final Steps

After everything is set up – the design has been created, the machine has been programmed, the stones are in the holding pots, and the transfer tape has been applied – the machine can start. The machine will automatically pick up the appropriate stones and then lay them down on the transfer tape. The stones will stick to the tape with the glass side down (shiny, pretty side) and the flat side up. After the design is completed, the backing can be reapplied for storage or shipping purposes – or the design can be taken directly to the garment to be heat pressed.


The components that are needed in the process are necessary to complete the finished decoration. A basic setup requires supplies & consumables (garments, textiles, rhinestones, transfer tape, etc.), design software and/or access to stock designs, rhinestone machinery and a heat press. The heat press is needed for hot fix elements – these elements (like rhinestones for a shirt) have a layer of glue on the back of the stone that activates as soon as heat is applied. The glue will adhere the element to the textile to create a finished product.