A Heat Press Primer

Anyone who works in garment decoration will probably acknowledge that a heat press is generally a vital piece of equipment in any garment decoration or ad specialty shop.   Heat presses can be used for sublimation,  direct to garment printing,  inkjet transfers,  screenprint transfers and, in a pinch, simply for getting the wrinkles out of a garment, or the moisture out of transfer paper.   A good heat press, which is the right size and type for your shop, can be a huge asset.  A heat press, on the other hand,  that is the wrong size and type, or which doesn’t function properly can be anything but an asset.   If you’re just starting your business, or are looking to purchase a new heat press,  here are some basic tips to help you make the right decision for your business.

One of the first things to decide is the type of heat press you need.   EnMart sells two types of heat presses – clamshell and swinger or swingaway.    A clamshell heat press is a hinged press where the top platen lifts straight up.  These presses generally require a bit less space,  but they also are a bit more limiting.    If you are going to be doing thicker garments or want to sublimate items other than garments,  this type of press may not be for you.

A swinger or swingaway heat press, by contrast, is one where the top platen lifts up and then swings to the side.   This sort of press requires more space,  as the platen needs to be free to swing.   It also is a bit more forgiving when it comes to the thickness of the items you will be pressing.   Swingaway presses also move the top platen completely out of the way, which allows for easier loading and unloading of your press.

Another thing to consider when looking at presses is the size of the items that you will be pressing.  A 9″ x 12″ heat press may seem like a great way to start because it doesn’t take up much space and it’s less expensive, and for some people it will be the ideal press.    If you are looking at doing a wide variety of garment sizes,  however,  this press may be too small and too limiting for your needs. When choosing the size of heat press you think will work for your business, always take into account the size of the largest thing you think you could ever possibly press and buy a press that will accommodate that size.

You should also take into account your physical abilities when considering the press you will purchase.  You can find heat press which are air operated,  heat presses with auto pop-up functions,  and presses that will need to opened and closed with good old muscle power.   If you believe your press will be used quite frequently, or if you’re a smaller person,  you may want to consider a press which opens more easily and doesn’t rely on brute force.

Finally, when you purchase your press,  you may also want to consider purchasing a digital pyrometer and surface probe kit.  The temperature gauge on your heat press may not always accurately reflect the true temperature of the press.   A digital pyrometer will allow you to spot the differences between the temperature reading on the gauge and the actual temperature of the press.

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.