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.