Your Heat Press and You

by Tom Chambers

My esteemed colleague and professional writer Kristine Shreve has written much ado about heat presses over the years.  Among those articles are “Buying a Heat Press“, “ Uses for a Heat Press“,  “5 Things to Consider When Buying a Heat Press“, and “A Heat Press Primer“.  I’m sure there are more, and there is a ton of useful information in those articles.

So why am I writing yet another article about a heat press?  Because at some point after you read all the above articles and did all your research, you made the decision and bought a heat press.  Now you have to set it up and learn to use it.  How do you do that?  I know, that may seem obvious and simple, but there’s a bit more to it than just taking it out of the box and plugging it in.  That’s where this article comes in.

Setup

The very first thing you need to do when you receive your new heat press is to open up the manual, read what the requirements are, and do a bit of preparation.  If you have access to the manual before you receive your press, you will be ahead of the game when it arrives.

Before you set it up, you need to have a work area large enough for both the press and the work you will be doing.  If it’s a clamshell, you’ll need enough overhead clearance so the upper platen can be raised and lowered without hitting your knuckles on a cabinet bottom (or anything else).  If it’s a swing-away or drawer press, you’ll need additional space to the side and/or front.  You’ll also need a sturdy table, counter, or dedicated stand to place the press on.

The press should be conveniently located near an electrical source that meets or exceeds the requirements of the press. The electrical requirements will be expressed in amps, volts, and watts in the manual (or on the web site) for the press you bought.

You should make sure that you do not exceed the capacity of your electrical circuit and always plug directly into an outlet, not an extension cord.  Overloaded circuits can cause issues ranging from simply tripping a circuit breaker, all the way up to starting a fire and burning down the building.  My recommendation is that if you don’t know what you are doing here, consult an electrician.

If it is an air operated press, you’ll need an air compressor with enough capacity to supply the press, an air supply line of an appropriate diameter and length, plus any fittings necessary.

Not having appropriate electric and air supplies can also cause issues with the operation of the heat press.

Settings

Once you’ve set everything up, you should familiarize yourself with the features your press offers, especially the controls and how to change the settings.  For example, many presses offer the ability to store presets for various products in memory for easy recall.  This can be a real time saver if you have to press a lot of different products with different settings.

No matter the manufacturer, model, or style of heat press, they all have 3 settings in common.  Those are:  time, heat, and pressure.  Whether you plan to do sublimation, vinyl, transfers, rhinestones, or anything else, every single thing you will want to use your heat press for uses those 3 in varying degrees (bad pun fully intended).

Therefore, you will need to know what those 3 settings should be for whatever you are pressing at any given time, and that the settings will vary widely between products.  Manufacturers and distributors have recommended settings, and you will usually obtain those from your place of purchase.

Of the 3 settings, “time” is most consistent and reliable from press to press.  Typically this is a digital timer that either prompts you to release the press, or automatically does it for you, after your set period of time has elapsed.

You would think that the second setting, “temperature” would be consistent as well, but that is rarely the case.  Most heat presses vary anywhere from a few degrees to 20 or 30 degrees F from their displayed temperature, and this can change as they age.  It is important to know what your actual temperature is, because that directly affects the end results of what you are pressing.

Knowing the actual temperature requires a tool called a pyrometer with a surface probe, and purchasing one will be the best investment you make for your heat press.  It can potentially save you hours of frustration and thousands of dollars in ruined products.

Finally, there’s “pressure”.  On a manually operated heat press, setting the pressure is simply an educated guess.  Heavy pressure means you have to put a good amount of force on the handle to fully close the press.  Light pressure means you only have to put a little force on it.  Some manual presses provide a sensor and graphic display for the pressure, but those should not be taken as precise.  By contrast, an air operated press has an adjustable gauge or dial that shows you exactly how many psi (pounds per square inch) of line pressure is set.

Support

Now you are ready to press.  Follow any additional instructions for your press, but don’t be afraid to experiment either – it’s common to have to make some adjustments to published manufacturer settings as you press different things, and what works on one press may not be exactly the same on another.

It’s usually best to leave your press on even if you won’t be using it for an hour or two.  Turn it off only when you aren’t going to be using it for several hours or more.

Be sure to drain water from any air lines daily, follow any manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations, and keep support numbers handy for any questions or repairs.

As always, contact us with any questions.

Tom Chambers is EnMart’s sublimation guru,  the guide and mentor regarding all things sublimation.   Tom was instrumental in introducing inkjet sublimation to industrial laundries, and has been working with the process since the early days of thermal ribbon sublimation. 

5 Things to Consider When Buying a Heat Press

Buying a heat press is a big investment,  and the decision about which type of press to buy should be made carefully to ensure that you get the type of press you need and one that will provide the most utility for your shop. Since a heat press is one of the more costly items that people who create sublimated goods will need, it pays to do the research and the math before purchasing a press. When making your buying decision, here are five things you should consider.

#1 Is Cheaper Better – A heat press is a big investment and, especially if a business is just starting out with sublimation,  the impulse might be to go with a no-name Chinese press from eBay or to start with a smaller press that is less costly.   There are,  however,  a couple of problems with this approach.   One is that no-name presses often don’t have service or technical support which leaves you with few to no options if your press breaks.   Buying a smaller, less expensive press can also be problematic as the size of the press will place limits on what can be sublimated.   The rule of thumb is to assess your needs and take into account technical support and repair options and then buy the biggest press you can afford.

#2 Consider your physical abilities – No, running a heat press isn’t as physically taxing as mining coal or being a mover,  but it does take a toll on the body.   Smaller people may have more issue with opening a manual press.  Standing all day can have an impact on the knees and feet.   There are options like auto release pop-up which can make a press easier to operate.   Don’t assume that everyone will be able to operate a press with the same level of ease.   Take into account the physicality of running a press for hours at a time and do what’s necessary to make that physical toll a little less.

#3 What type of goods will you be sublimating? – One of the biggest questions that needs to be answered before any heat press purchase is the type of goods your shop will be selling.   If the goal is to just do garments,  a flat press,  most likely a swing-away press,  would be a useful option.   If you want to do hats or mugs or something that won’t work well in a flat press,   your best bet would either be a specialty press or a combo press.  For those shops doing a variety of items,  a combo press may be best,  as it combines a flat press with the specialty press options.

#4 Where’s the best place to buy a heat press? –  The temptation to buy a heat press on eBay or Amazon,  where the prices seem cheaper may be overwhelming,  but that’s not always the best place to buy a press.   In our opinion,  the best option for purchasing a heat press is from a company that knows and uses heat presses.   If you can purchase directly from the manufacturer that’s great.   When that’s not possible,  the next best option is purchasing from a supplier who uses the presses they sell and knows them well.   Keep in mind the place that sells you the press may also be the place that provides technical and repair support.   The better they know the press,  the more able they will be to assist you when you have an issue.

#5 Can you add other disciplines to maximize the utility of your press? –  Yes,  sublimation is one decoration discipline that requires a heat press,  but it is not the only one.   If you’re buying a press,  you might also want to consider what you already do,  or could add to your shop which could make a heat press that much more useful.   Rhinestones,  screen print transfers,  adding patches to hats or bags,  there are a variety of options for how a heat press can be used.   Spreading the utility out over a variety of disciplines may help your press pay for itself faster,  and help you justify the expense of a bigger and better press.

How to Choose a Sublimation Paper

Way back in 2010 we did a 2 part series detailing everything you needed to know about choosing a sublimation paper.   Eight years later (doesn’t time just fly) it seemed like a good idea to summarize some of what was in that series in an effort to help a new group of sublimation printers make their paper choices.   The original posts are still very relevant and worth reading in full, so if you’re inclined,  please take a moment to read Part 1 and Part 2.    If you’re short on time,  this summary will give you the basics.

To begin,  let’s talk about the three categories into which we at EnMart divide sublimation paper.  Our categories may be different than those other suppliers use,  but our experience has shown these category designations to be accurate, so they’re the ones we use.   In our experience, sublimation paper is either

  • High release
  • Low or Standard Release
  • Hybrid (combines properties of both)

High Release paper typically requires less time to press to release the majority of the ink onto the substrate.  This type of paper tends to work well for soft goods and may provide slightly superior color transfer.   One of the main issues with this paper may be smearing,  as high release paper tends not to dry quickly.   You may also experience “blow out” on hard goods like ceramic tiles of FRP key chains,  as the dye may be released so quickly that the harder materials can’t absorb it fast enough.    High release paper may also be more prone to curling, printer jams,  humidity and other environmental issues.

Low or standard release paper is pretty much the opposite of high release paper.   It dries quickly,  so smearing issues are minimal.   This type of paper works very well with hard goods and has little instance of “blow out”.   A potential drawback of low release paper is that it takes far more time in a press to draw the dye out.   Extensive time in a heat press can cause damage to or yellowing of coatings or fabrics,  but shortening the press time could result in colors that are less vibrant than desired.   On the positive side,  low release paper does tend to be resistant to jams and other environmental factors.

Hybrid paper,  as the name implies,  combines the qualities of both high and low release papers.   Some hybrid papers are more on the high release send of the spectrum while other are similar to low release paper.   The goal with this type of paper is to capitalize on the good points of both the other types of paper while minimizing the down side.   Based on our experience,  hybrid papers tend to be the best for all around use on all substrates.

If you’re wondering what type of paper Mpres Paper,  the sublimation paper that EnMart sells is,  it’s a hybrid paper.  The time required in a heat press is closer to the high release end of the spectrum,   but it mimics the low release papers in it’s capacity for quick drying to eliminate smearing, and the excellent release of color.   This is the paper that our parent company,  Ensign Emblem uses to create sublimated patches every day.     It’s been battle tested and proven worthy and we highly recommend it.

 

Think Ink

Cobra Ink.   No name ink from China.  Sawgrass Ink.   When it comes to sublimation,  it seems like there are a lot of choices for the ink that can be used,  but that’s a bit misleading.  Yes,  there are a number of inks that advertise themselves as sublimation ink,  but not all of them work the same way in your printer.   An ink that isn’t high quality can cause nozzles to clog,  print heads to break and designs to print with reds that aren’t red and blacks that look gray.   The quality of the ink you use matters,  for a couple of reasons.

The first is the fact that calling sublimation ink by the name ink is a bit of a misnomer.   Sublimation ink is made up of a carrier fluid that carries dye solids.     Because of this,  sublimation ink has a high viscosity and, at times,  more trouble going through standard inkjet print heads.   Keep in mind,  this is not in all cases.   We have countless examples of customers who have printed successfully for years with their Ricoh 3110 or 7700 printers.  Still,  sublimation ink does have an increased potential to cause problems when used in a standard inkjet printer.  One of the reasons that the Virtuoso Printers were created was so they could be designed specifically to meet the special needs of sublimation ink.

Another issue that can create problems for sublimation printers is refillable cartridges.   When it comes to printer systems,  there are generally two types,  a closed system and an open system.   A closed system is one in which the cartridges are prefilled and installed directly into the printer.   In this type of system,  there is no opportunity for dust or other contaminants to mix with the ink.    By contrast,  an open system,  one where ink from bottles or bags is poured into refillable cartridges offers the opportunity for air bubbles or contaminants to mix in with the ink.   The result can, at worst,  be damage to the print head.

Those of you reading this,  after even a cursory glance at the sublimation section of our website,   will probably notice that we carry Sublijet Ink and Virtuoso Printers and may,  as a result,  conclude everything we’ve said up to now is biased,  but you’d be wrong.    EnMart,  or EnMart’s parent company, Ensign Emblem,  has been working with inkjet sublimation practically since the process existed.    We were instrumental in bringing inkjet sublimation to the industrial laundry and rental uniform community.   After years,  even decades,  of sublimating emblems,  and occasionally making mugs and mousepads and shirts,  we understand how sublimation works,  and we know that the products we sell will provide the best finished goods,  because we use them too.

Buying a Heat Press

dc16ap3A question that often comes up in forums and groups about sublimation is what kind of heat press is necessary.   Do you need specialized presses for mugs?  How big should the press be?   Is a cheap press made in China that you found on eBay going to work?  What brand of press do experienced sublimation experts recommend?   A heat press is a larger purchase,  so it’s easy to understand why there would be a lot of questions.   Since we’ve been sublimating and dealing with sublimation supplies (and heat presses) for a lot of years,  I thought I’d try to answer some of the questions I see most frequently.

Q1:  Do you need a specialized press for any good that isn’t flat?  For the most part,  yes.   Hats,  mugs,  plates,  anything that isn’t flat will most likely require a specialized press in order to take a sublimated print.    In some cases,  where a lot of different items will be sublimated,  a combo heat press might be the best option.  This type of press is usually a flat swingaway press that comes with attachments that will allow you to do mugs and other goods that aren’t flat.   A standalone cap press will have a curved platen that allows you to sublimate caps faster and more easily.    Mug presses are generally adjustable and are designed to handle different sizes and shapes of mugs.    If you’re planning to sublimate a lot of one particular item,  investing in a specialty press can be a wise move.

Q2:  How big should the press be?  What’s the biggest thing you’ll ever be likely to sublimate?   The answer to that question will help determine how big your press should be.   Keep in mind that smaller presses may have smaller price tags,  but they aren’t always suitable for a production environment.   When deciding on the size of your press,  you should also take into account how often it will be used,  and for how long each time.    Optional extras like air operated opening should also be considered.   They may add to the cost of the press,  but they’ll save a ton of wear and tear on the operator.

Q3:  Is a cheap press worth the money? There are a lot of off brand heat presses from China available on eBay,  with prices that can be very attractive when you’re on a budget.   Two things to consider before purchasing a press like this are 1) who will service it should it break down and 2)is cheap necessarily going to translate into reliable and accurate?   A press from an eBay seller that may have been made in a foreign country is not likely to have maintenance or tech support attached, and that matters.   Service for a malfunctioning machine can help extend its life and get you back to work faster.   Tech support can help you solve problems and teach you how to use your heat press more efficiently and profitably.     A cheap press may also come with a set of reliability and accuracy issues.   Temperature gauges may not accurately reflect temperatures.   The platens may not heat to the required levels.   There are good bargains to be had,  and there are people who have purchased off brand presses and had them work fine,  but it’s a calculated risk.

Q4:   What brand of press do experienced sublimation experts recommend?  To answer this question,  all I can do is tell you what we know,  from years of experience.    We sell George Knight heat presses,   and the reason we sell them is because we’ve used them.   Our parent company has six plants across the United States,  and all of them have heat presses.   George Knight presses have been in our shops,  working day in and day out for years.     The presses are reliable,  easy to use,  and George Knight has top notch technical support.   So,  when asked,  George Knight is what we recommend,  and not just because we sell them.   We’ve used them,  so we know how well made and reliable they are.   Yes,  they may cost a bit more,  but they’re worth every penny.

If you have a question about sublimation,  please feel free to leave a comment here or to contact us and ask.   We’ve been working with heat presses and sublimation for quite some time,  and we’re always happy to help.

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New Sublimation Blanks = Great Holiday Gifts

beltbuckle1_lThe holidays are coming,  and one thing that is always true about the holidays is that people love personalized gifts.   EnMart has added some great new sublimation blanks to our offerings this year.  We’re sure one of these new items will make the perfect gift for someone on your gift list!

Belt Buckles – Our belt buckles can be easily personalized with sublimation.   The sublimation insert is large enough that the image can be clearly seen,  but not so large that it looks like the gift recipient is wearing a championship belt of some kind.   All buckles are made of brass and accompanied by a sublimatable insert.

State Ornaments – While we don’t yet carry every state,  our stock of state ornaments is growing.   Celebrate the sun with an ornament in the shape of Alabama or California or Florida.    Show your midwest roots and display an ornament in the shape of Illinois or Michigan.    Create ornaments to celebrate a favorite vacation spot or to commemorate a hometown that may now be far away.    Keep in mind,  this item can also be used as a luggage tag or a souvenir.

Pendants  – A personalized necklace is something anyone who wears necklaces would be sure to love.    Available as both a square and a round,  these pendants have patterned embossed back and are recessed to accept an aluminum sublimation insert.    Sublimate a family picture,   a favorite saying,  or simply an intriguing design to create a one of a kind piece that is sure to be treasured.

Pet Tags – Don’t forget Fido or Fifi when handing out the gift wrapped packages this year.     Sublimatable pet tags are a great way to identify your pet and give them a bit of style.   Our pet tags are aluminum and can be printed on both sides.    These tags are also great options for key fobs,  luggage tags,  zipper pulls or necklaces.

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Sublimation Section Update

sublimation blanksIf you haven’t been to the sublimation section of our website lately,  you may want to pop in and take a look.   We’ve added some new things and rearranged things a bit to make it easier to find the items you want to purchase.     Today I thought I’d give you a brief tour.

First let’s start with the sublimation blanks section,  as that has probably had the biggest overhaul.    We added some new items,  like blank fabric and Christmas stockings and also now include Vapor Apparel in the sublimation blanks section.    If you’re looking for mugs,  mousepads,  t-shirts or ornaments,  this is the section to visit.

In the sublimation ink section,   you can find all the ink you would need for your Ricoh or Virtuoso sublimation printers.   Inks are sorted by the printer for which they are intended.   If you have an Epson printer,  or don’t see the ink for your Ricoh printer on our list,  please contact us and ask about it.  We sell all currently available Sawgrass inks, and can obtain and stock anything that isn’t in our current inventory on request.

We are proud to say we still offer Mpres Paper,  the only paper we carry and exclusive to EnMart.    The paper is still getting rave reviews on our Facebook page.   It’s a great paper and one we not only sell,  but use as well.   If you’re interested in a sample,  send your request with address information to mpres@myenmart.com.    We’ll be happy to send you a sample via USPS.

Finally,  we should talk about the sublimation accessories category,  which has also had some new arrivals.  We’ve added individual PFTE pressing pillows as well as a pressing pillow kit.  We also have waste ink collectors,  heat tape and mug and bowl wraps.  If you need items to make your sublimation go more smoothly,  this is the category to visit.

 

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Custom Sublimated Patches

sublimated patchesSublimated patches can be a great way to present artwork that may have traits that would not allow it to render well in another decoration discipline.   Gradients and fades don’t work well with embroidery.   Tiny details may not show up as well on a screen printed emblem.   Sublimation offers photographic detail and the ability to play with color,  all at a price that is easily within most shops’ budgets.

Many shops will elect to create sublimate patches themselves.  For those that have a sublimation system and access to blank patches,  this may seem like the easiest route to take,  but that isn’t always the case.   EnMart can create custom blank patches at very reasonable prices,  relieving a shop’s burden of production and freeing up time for other revenue generating activities.

If you’ve never ordered a sublimated patch from EnMart,  it’s really quite easy to do.

  1. Go to the sublimated patch section.
  2. Select the shape for your patch.
  3. Select the size.
  4. Select your merrow color (this should harmonize with the colors in the artwork) and the number of patches you wish to order (minimum order is 25).
  5. Complete the order.
  6. E-mail artwork to design@myenmart.com.   Make sure to include your order number in the subject line.

It’s that simple.   Creating sublimated patches will take a few days at most,  depending on the size of the order.    If your shop sells patches,  but doesn’t have the ability to sublimate them,  or if your shop sublimates patches in house,  but could use the time to do other things,  order your sublimated patches from EnMart.   You’ll save time and money,  and your clients will get a quality product they can wear proudly.

 

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Sublimated iPhone Cases – Made in the USA

We all know that personalization is a trend that never dies.  People like giving their possessions individuality,  and adding names or miphone-5-black-rubber-usa-3onograms or a picture that has special significance is one way to do that.    When it comes to mobile phones  which,  less face it,  are pretty bland and boring right out of the box,  the way to add individuality is with a personalized case.   If you’re a company selling sublimation,   this could be an entirely new market for you,  provided you can get the blank product at the right price.   Fortunately,  EnMart is here to help you with that.

We are proud to offer rubber iPhone 5 cases for sublimation. Instead of being made of hard plastic,  like most cases, these iPhone 5 sublimation cases are made of durable, flexible black rubber that is comfortable to hold.    These cases are also anti-micobial.  They also have pre-applied adhesive with an easy to remove backing paper, and come with one high quality gloss white sublimation metal insert.  Instructions for pressing and a template for creating artwork are available on our website.

The cases are for the iPhone 5,  but may be compatible with other phones as well.   If you would like a test sample,  please contact us.   We would be happy to provide a sample upon request.

 

Don’t Limit Your Sublimation Success

sublimation blanks. jpgWhen most of us think of sublimation – we probably think of coffee mugs or t-shirts,  which are great items and which can bring in a nice profit,  but which are kind of limiting if that’s all that you do.   The fun thing about sublimation is that there are a number of products that can be sublimated,  some of which can be made into unique gifts or souvenirs.  If you’ve been stuck in a coffee mug or corporate polo shirt rut,  make 2014 the year that you investigate some additional things you can sublimate.   Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Many people put time and effort into creating the perfect kitchen,  and accent pieces can be the ideal way to complete a decorating scheme.    Sublimated cutting boards offer the option of monograms or scenic views,  as well as protection for counters and other surfaces.     Use sublimated tiles to create a backsplash behind a sink or a border along the edge of a counter.    You could also offer unique sublimated place mats that compliment the decor of the room,  are easy to clean off, and which protect fragile table linens.    These placemats can also double as message boards, so that grocery list is easy to write.

Pets are another area where sublimated items can be big sellers.   All pet owners want their pet identified in case of loss,  so sublimated pet tags can be a great seller.     Personalized pet bowls are also a fun idea,   and can help separate Fido’s food bowl from Fluffy’s.    Another big area of animal related products is patches and decals for service dogs and search and rescue animals.  Blank patches which you sublimate can allow you entry into that market.

You should also remember not to neglect the gift and souvenir market.  Jewelry boxes with scenes from well known landmarks in your area can make great keepsake boxes.    Collaborate with local vendors to create boxes that showcase local food items or crafts for a one of a kind souvenir.    Puzzles are another great option when it comes to preserving a scenic view.  Personalized puzzles are even more fun,  offer to put a favorite vacation photo on a puzzle and preserve a memory forever.

The main thing to remember is that there are a number of items out there which can be sublimated,  your job is to find them and figure out how to sell them to your target market.   Money is out there waiting to be made.  Why shouldn’t it end up in your bank account?