A heat press is a device used for transferring designs onto printable materials and is a modern and easy way to add your artwork to t-shirts, sweaters, blankets, mugs, plates and other items. Incredibly versatile, the heat press has many different uses allowing the owner to make a wide range of creations, as the heavy pressures and high temperatures permanently print the design onto the product.
Wondering how to use a heat press effectively?
Some other common uses for a heat press include dye sublimation, which is when a special ink is printed onto special paper via a transfer before being heat pressed onto a polyester garment. This allows the user to do more complicated designs. A heat press is also used to transfer rhinestones to add extra sparkle to your materials and vinyl, which is often used for names and numbers on sweatshirts and sports jerseys.
Common types of heat presses
You will find that there are two common types of heat presses, notably the clamshell and the swing away.
Ideal for beginners and perhaps the most common, the clamshell heat press is one that opens and closes like a clam and is similar in design to the shell. The top plate opens, allowing you to place your chosen material and transfer design on the bottom, and is then lowered shut as the set temperature and pressure get to work pressing your design.
They are favoured due to their high reliability and can be used to transfer graphic designs in a large quantity onto a wide range of materials. These machines also require the least amount of workspace, are easy to operate and are portable.
The swing-away machine is designed so that the upper plate swings and rotates away from the lower. The sideways swing action gives you more freedom to move and rearrange your materials and design, as it gives you full access to the lower plate. Incredibly versatile, you can usually press thicker materials and use items of any kind with a swing away, making it perfect for those with commercial businesses. Due to the swing nature of the machine, a larger floor space is required; however it offers you extra safety while working with the heated plate alongside a more accurate design placement.
Common pressing temperatures
Not only will you need to keep in mind the fabric that you are using but also what kind of transfer you have. This is because different materials damage at higher temperatures compared to others.
Multi-purpose materials are commonly used the most when using a heat press due to their broad applicability. It is generally recommended that a temperature of 350°F should be used for roughly ten to twelve seconds, as this will ensure that the graphic print is applied without causing any damage.
Typically heat press machine temperature settings run in conjunction with time settings. This can vary for each machine, so, unfortunately, this won’t be the same for every heat press. Please note that some machines are more effective and efficient at applying heat than others. They tend to vary depending on the colour of the materials, and on the type of fabric that you are pressing. For light coloured materials you would only need a temperature of around 350-380°F, however, when it comes to dark colours a slightly lower temperature of 320-360°F will suffice.
Common temperatures for certain fabrics include:
- Polyester – known to be more challenging to work with while printing, experts recommend using a temperature of 270°F for 10 seconds for best results.
- For stretch materials, such as swim or gym wear, an increase to 330°F for 15 seconds is usually recommended.
- Glow in the dark, vintage and glitter finishes need varying amounts of time; however, all three will require an increase in temperature of up to 350°F.
- Cotton materials require a much higher temperature of 380°F for 15 seconds to deliver the best results, while T-shirts and sweaters generally need a slightly lower temperature of 370°F for 10 seconds instead.
It is highly recommended that you should always ensure that your heat press is clean and well looked after. Having a well-maintained and clean machine also plays a favourable and crucial role in the application process and will ensure that it lasts longer.
It is also recommended that you should allow the machine to heat up for some time before beginning to apply the design, as the change in temperature as it is heating could affect the effectiveness of the print and cause issues.
How to use a heat press
There are many types of heat press printers currently available on the market, and each one will vary in use and come with slightly different instructions. However, there is a basic step-by-step operational standard that is constant with all of them.
- Once you have chosen your design and the material that you want to use, you will need to prepare the heat press. Open the press up and turn it on.
- Adjust the time and temperature by using the up and down arrows, or by turning the thermostat knob until the desired level is reached.
- Next, set the pressure that you want by adjusting the pressure knob. The chosen pressure will depend on the thickness of the material that you wish to use. In most cases, a medium to high pressure will be needed.
- Place your chosen material onto the bottom plate, making sure that the side you want to be printed is facing up towards you. It is often a good idea to iron your material beforehand to make sure that it is as straight as possible as creases and folds will lead to a bad print. Set the transfer paper face-down on top of the material. Note that for embroidered designs, this will need to be placed adhesive side down.
- Once everything has been placed correctly onto the plate, bring down the handle, which will most likely lock into place, press the start button, and allow it to rest for your set amount of time. Once the time is up, open the press and remove your garment before removing the transfer paper while it is still hot. Your chosen image should now have been successfully transferred.
You may think that you need to rent out an entire space for your heat press printing operation to be successful and have more room. While it might be nice to have the extra space, especially if you aspire to be a commercial business, it’s really not necessary when you are just starting out. The renting and insurance costs alone will set you back tenfold at the beginning, potentially placing you in financial difficulty with no guarantee of a profitable return.
Set up your own workspace in your home, making sure that it is clean and tidy, with no potential hazards lying around. If you have children, make sure that this is an area in your home that they cannot get to. Keep your workstation clean and dust-free as dirt and dust can potentially damage your heat press, particularly the electrical components.
Once you have your heat press all set up, you can get started on your projects and see where it takes you. Many people who have found success with their own T-shirt or tote-bag businesses started pressing at home. Just be patient, and with hard work, passion and creativity, you are bound to see successful results and returns in no time.