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As former retailers, we used our first heat press in 1978. Over the decades we used dozens of different types and, as suppliers, continue to use them. Our article is based on that experience.

What you must know-

Selecting the right heat press for your work is important. However, for many, selecting a heat press can be intimidating. The task will be easier if you keep this one simple thought in mind- All heat presses do the same thing: provide heat, under pressure, for a specified time.


This article may seem a little long butall of your imprinting work revolves around a heat press. The more you know, the better your chances of picking the right one for your needs.


Here arethree important featuresthat you should always consider:
  • Size: Think about the size of the work that you want to do and make sure that the press is large enough for want you want to do. There are 5 general groups of sizes and each group has its advantages, depending upon your needs. They are:
    • Very Small: 4x6, 6x6 and 6x8 presses are perfect for small items like baby clothes, awkward items like tote bags with seams (they can be opened and pulled onto the press) and even very large items where heat is only needed in a small area. This class is usually referred to as “Label Presses”.
    • Small: 9x12, 11x15 and 12x14 presses are excellent for maximum portability (and very low price), 8½ x 11 heat transfers that you print, patches and other small items. Be aware that many preprinted heat transfers are larger than the heating area on small presses.
    • Medium: 16x16, 15x15 and 14x16 presses are large enough to do the work for most decorators. They offer the advantage of much more power (wattage – important if you are doing a lot of repetitive pressings) than the small presses, a much cheaper price than a comparable 16x20 heat press and the ability to press the typical preprinted heat transfer.
    • Large: Any type of 16x20 heat press is considered to be a “large” heat press and very few have a need for anything larger. This size of press easily does 11x17 transfers that you print on an inkjet printer, the largest preprinted transfers offered on the market, large names and numbers on garments and multiple small items. Salespeople in most companies automatically offer this size because it is a bigger commission for them but you need to carefully consider if you need something this large as a start-up.
    • Very Large: These monsters range in size from 18x20, 14x36 and 20x25, up to a gigantic 40x64. If you think that you need a very large press, speak with a reputable dealer and discuss what you want to do. A smaller press may be more than adequate.
  • Heat Press Type: Swing-away, Draw and Clamshell heat presses are the three major types of presses. Each type will have certain advantages (remember, thinking about what you need and want), depending upon how the manufacturer constructs the press.
    • Swing-away Presses: These presses lift straight up and then the top platen is swung to the right. When doing shirts, most will swing the top platen to a point slightly past the perpendicular (about 100°). Some of the swing-away presses will have a separate “swing-arm” (on the left side of the upper platen) to make platen movement easier (especially on the big 16x20 presses). Sizes of standard swingers range from 9x12 to 16x20, although there are much larger, for specialty needs.

 
    • Draw Press: The draw press is unique in its class. The only one that I know of is the 16x20 Hotronix® Draw. This innovative press combines the features that most like in a swinger, with the space saving advantage of a clamshell. The press lifts straight up (2”) like a swing-away. However, instead of swinging to the right, the lower table is pulled out on a precision ball bearing slide. For some, this ability makes it more desirable than even a swing-away.

 
    • Clamshell Presses: The top platens of all clamshell presses just lift straight up, to open all the way. They are offered in 11x15, 15x15, 16x16 and 16x20 sizes. For many, the simple efficiency of this type of press is very desirable. However, upper and lower platen construction can affect your pressings, depending upon your type of work.

 
      • Rigid Upper & Lower Platens: Clamshells move with a “hinging” movement. If both platens are rigid, the back of the upper platen touches slightly before the front, as you close it. This produces torque (uneven pressure), if the items are very thick. T-shirts, on up to soft mouse pads are fine with this type of press. Items much thicker than that can present a problem.
      • Rigid Upper & Tilting Lower Platens: The lower platen tilts up, on this type of press, as the upper platen touches it. This feature minimizes torque on thicker items like heavy jackets and rigid items like license plates and even a few ceramic tiles (the latter two are done with sublimation, not heat transfers).
      • Floating Upper Platen & Rigid Lower Platen: This type of clamshell eliminates torque. The upper platen floats free so it is always parallel to the lower platen, as the press closes. This type of clamshell is very useful if your work consists of a variety of thicknesses.

You cannot see, when looking at a picture, what type of platens is on a heat press. You will have to ask or read the manufacturers specs.
  • Safety: A cheap, poorly made (or worn out in the case of used) press may be no bargain. Be very cautious about used presses (they never have a warranty) or presses bought overseas (at least make sure that you buy them from a reputable dealer). If everything else is equal, consider a heat press with UL or ETL electrical safety certification. It’s the only way to know for sure.

Six other features that could be very important to you:
  • Weight: Will you always be working in a fixed location or will you sometimes be doing mobile retail. If you need mobility, how much weight could you and a friend pick up? Because of manufacturing differences, the same size heat press can vary greatly in weight. Weight has nothing to do with sturdiness or heating efficiency. The examples are all excellent presses, but:


16x20 Clamshell
90 lbs.


16x20 Swing-away

108 lbs.


16x20 Swing-away

185 lbs.
  • Form and Function:Because of design or accessories, many presses can offer extra advantages (if you need those benefits). In no particular order, here are some examples (there are more) of what I mean:
    • Smaller lower platenscan be purchased for some heat presses (sometimes handy for very small items).
    • A cap and mug attachmentcan be added to the Knight DC16 heat press, as well as smaller tables. This can be useful (the attachments cost less than a full press) in a fixed location but is not practical for mobile retail and the mug attachment will only print one side of a mug at a time.
    • The same type of press can accept different thickness of items: for example, in the 16x20 size, the Hotronix® Swinger & Draw accepts up to 2”, the HIX Swingman 20D 1½” and the Knight DK20S 1”. If this is important, make sure you find out about the press you want.
    • All cap presses come with a lower platen(called a form on a cap press). Most have two other sizes of forms available. The Stahls’ Hotronix® and Mighty Press® cap presses have five additional sizes of forms available. This can be very important with the great variety of sizes and shapes in modern caps and visors.
    • All modern mug presses are full-wrap, with usually negligible coverage differences. However, there are two major differencesin how they heat a mug. One is called a “rising” temperature press and the other a “constant” temperature mug press.
      • Rising temperature mug presses idle at a lower temperature and then rise to full temperature when the press is closed. These type presses transfer faster than constant temperature presses.
      • Constant temperature mug presses stay at the same high temperature at all times. While usually slower, they are best if you will be sublimating ceramic and metal travel mugs (rising temperature presses get too hot, too fast, to use for metal mugs).
    • Voltage: Standard presses are always 110 volts. You usually must specify 220 volts to get that type of press. While there is a little room for discussion, the advantages of a 220v press (minimal) should be weighed against the total ease of plugging 110v presses into any standard wall socket. Note: Never plug a press into the same circuit as your computer.
    • In smaller presses, the power (wattage that powers the heating element) rating can be quite different. This can be important if you will be quickly transferring to many items that draw heat from the platen, as the platen may not have enough time to recover heat, between pressings.
    • Air Automaticheat presses use a compressor, are almost effortless to operate, are most commonly 16x20 in size but can be a clamshell or swing-away in design. They can be ideal when constant high volume pressing is needed. However, this benefit should be carefully considered against the much higher costs (and noise) of an air automatic versus a good manual press.
    • Pressureon a manual press is controlled by a knob on the top of the press. Changes in pressure settings are usually needed because of changes in the thickness of the items you are pressing (you raise or lower the top platen). With most manual presses this is done by “feel”. While it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to develop a feel, it can be a nuisance if you have to do it a lot. A few presses offer methods that are more precise. The Stahls’ Hotronix® press line (Auto-open, swinger, draw, cap and label press) uses a patented pressure sensor in the press housing to provide accurate and repeatable pressure setting. The Geo Knight swing-away presses use a height gage to repeat pressure settings and the HIX SwingMan 20D has a height indicator gage on the side of the back support arm.

There are many other benefits of form and function that may be important to you and it is difficult to learn about them all. The best way to start the process is to visualize exactly what you want to do and then pick the press that best offers those benefits. Remember that a feature is only a benefit, if it helps you, in your work.
  • Easy opening and closing: This is important to those who don’t have 100% use of their hands and shoulders and is also often desirable for those who will do a lot of pressings in one day. Presses range from Air Automatics that run on compressors to Auto-Opening manuals that require nothing to open and very minimal strength to close to swingers that are “finger-tip” light to open and close, because of CAM’s or progressive linkage to others that are relatively easy to open and close to others that actually require a bit of muscle to open and close. If this is an important benefit to you, be sure and mention it to your supplier so that they can make sure that the press fits your physical requirements.
  • Elevated lower platen: Many heat presses have an elevated lower platen. This comes in very handy when you want to pull a shirt over the lower platen, press an image, reverse the shirt and then put an image on the other side. Hotronix® and Mighty Press® Digital presses have this ability, as well, the HIX HT-400D, HT-600D, Presto 20 and the Knight DC16.
    Note: for maximum ease of sliding a shirt on (or onto) the lower platen, you should get a Teflon slipcover for the bottom platen your press.
  • Digital time and temperature: Analog [using a dial] timers are often not quite as accurate as digital timers (and many only go up to sixty seconds) and analog temperatures are often read from a tiny gage that is often hard to judge correctly. In the real world, a totally digital press is not essential (i.e., it does not affect the ability of the press) it just makes you more efficient, with less to deal with.
  • Budget,of course,is always a consideration. While it is not necessary to get the “biggest and the baddest” (if you don’t need it) we do suggest that you get the best that you can afford. While you don’t need an 18-wheeler to go to the grocery store you also don’t want to buy a VW, when you need at least a pickup truck. Give yourself some room to grow.

It may well be that no one heat press (that fits into your budget) has every feature and benefit that you would like to have. In that case, pick what are the most important features that you need and get that press.

In our supply business we constantly hear the refrain, “well I can’t really afford this press but I don’t want to have to buy another in a year”. We advise folks to take a different perspective.

Only get what you need and can afford. If you work hard, grow and prosper, it will be an affordable joy to buy another heat press.
We hope this article has been useful and wish you good health and prosperity.

Jack Franklin & Roy Hinkle – Alpha Supply Co.
www.alphasupply.comwww.dyesubinks.com
 

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Who gives clear & concise directions regardingthe processes involved in printing out the digital transfers. I guess I am a bit overwhelmedat all there is to learn. The transfers shouldn't be too difficult provided I have a good heat press.
Look forward to any help at all.
 

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alpha supply has done a good job...but let me say this...there is no safe entry into this biz..regardless of you choices...at some point you will regret one or more of those and have to regroup...I started 7 years ago..and have made several mistakes...some more than once!...so take your best choice on the information at hand and go for it...match your paper to your printer and the correct garment and go for it
 

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Who gives clear & concise directions regardingthe processes involved in printing out the digital transfers. I guess I am a bit overwhelmedat all there is to learn. The transfers shouldn't be too difficult provided I have a good heat press.
Look forward to any help at all.
We do offer a bit of a tutorial site on the heat transfer business. We cannot post a URL in a message but the discerning eye might get a clue in our signature at the end of the article.
 

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This Is So Awesome Thanks Alot For This Great Information!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You are more than welcome. One way or the other (and on differing subjects) we have been teaching almost 40 years.

The basis of almost every successful decision stems from collecting knowledge and understanding choices.

Have a great evening.
 

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You are more than welcome. One way or the other (and on differing subjects) we have been teaching almost 40 years.

The basis of almost every successful decision stems from collecting knowledge and understanding choices.

Have a great evening.
It's people like you that makes this business much easier. Thanks again for the knowledge. I really appreciate it.
 

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hello all, I have a 16 x 24 heat press but I need more power to run it. Does anybody the know the process of setting up a generator so that i may run it outside in the garage or something like that. I rent so I can't get a dedicated line. I would like to know what kind of generator would be needed and if anyone has any experience with this. Thanks
 

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hello all, I have a 16 x 24 heat press but I need more power to run it. Does anybody the know the process of setting up a generator so that i may run it outside in the garage or something like that. I rent so I can't get a dedicated line. I would like to know what kind of generator would be needed and if anyone has any experience with this. Thanks
You may want to post this question in the Heat Transfer section of the forum as a new topic. That will make it easier for people to find your question.

Not everyone reads every thread, so if they have the answer to your power question, they may not see it at the end of a thread about "how to choose the right heat press"
 

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Hey,
I'm just starting out. Still not really sure what I need in a press.
I'm wanting to do transfers on t-shirts, and need to be able to do many shirts.
What would be good for a start?

thanks
 

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Hey,
I'm just starting out. Still not really sure what I need in a press.
I'm wanting to do transfers on t-shirts, and need to be able to do many shirts.
What would be good for a start?

thanks
The above article should help you decide. What exact questions do you have after reading the article?
 

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The above article should help you decide. What exact questions do you have after reading the article?
Well, my question was more concerned with the "brand" of press, at the time I didn't realize that all the brands perform the same task, but it's the style of press (clamshell, swinger,etc.) that performs differently.

Thanks, this is a really great site!
 

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HELP!!! I bought a used ball cap press a few years ago and I think it's still collecting dust in my garage.The spring to keep it tight so I get a good tension never worked,and the guy I got it from on E-Bay just blew me off.Is it possible to get it fixed? I am handy as can be but this one baffles me..I spend $250.0 and it is just a "boat anchor" in my opinion.
Thanks in advance
mary
 

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thank you for all this info! im looking to make t-shirts using color inks and different color t-shirts. we want high quality but on a low budget and not to complicated. i was thinking using plastisol what equipment do u think would be best?
 

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Yo nice article let me ask you a question real fast....I just bought a brand new clamshell heat press of this company on Ebay and although the power button comes on Im not getting anything from the temperature gauge and it doesnt heat up at all......I live in Ohio where would I go to get this thing fixed right....
 
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