Get Started with Sublimation: Choosing a Heat Press

Note: This post is the third in our series “Get Started with Sublimation” which will be co-authored by our sublimation expert, Tom Chambers. In this series we will lead you through the steps you need to take to set up your own sublimation shop and will give you tips that will help ensure you get the right equipment and supplies for your needs. This post deals with choosing the right heat press for your sublimation set-up.

Every once in a while someone will offer a special on a printer and inks and paper which they claim includes “everything you need for sublimation”.  Their claim, in those cases, is half right.  The package that is being offered contains everything you need to print a sublimation transfer, but not everything you need for sublimation.  To properly finish your sublimation project,  and to get the printed transfer on to the desired polyester or poly coated substrate, you need a heat press.  You job won’t be finished without one.

When you are purchasing a heat press for sublimation, there are three main factors to consider before you make your choice.

1. What size will you be pressing? –  Make sure to take into account the largest transfer you will ever print and the largest item onto which a transfer will be placed.  Both those factors will have a bearing on the size of the heat press you finally select.

2. Do you prefer a swingaway or clamshell press? –  A clamshell press can be an economical option and they work quite well, but they aren’t the best choice in every sublimation situation.  If you plan on pressing anything other than thin, flat goods, a clamshell press is not a wise choice.  Clamshell presses  are hinged at the back so when you attempt to close the cover to press a non-flat item, the back will meet up with the item and prevent closure and the subsequent sublimation of the item.   In cases where you are sublimating more bulky items, a swingaway may be the better choice.  Swingaway presses are generally more robust and designed for longer term use, and usually have a larger platen.  They also might be a bit higher in cost.

3. How long do you plan to run your press in an average day? – Press grades range from casual, occasional use or entry level all the way up to industrial grade.   Most heat presses sold by EnMart include a usage level listing in the description of the press.    If you plan to use your press more than 6 hours a day, you may want to look into purchasing an industrial grade press.

When purchasing a press you should also keep in mind that there are special presses for specific items.  If you plan to sublimate a lot of mugs, you may want to investigate purchasing a mug press.   If you plan to do a lot of different items, an All-In-One press which allows you to do caps, mugs, plates and more might be a good choice.  What ever press you choose to buy you should always remember that a heat press is a very important part of your sublimation set-up.  It   could have a great influence on the success or failure of the items you sublimate, so make sure to always purchase the best model you can afford.

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