Types & Sizes of Heat Presses
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Heat Press Machine Buying Guide
Choosing the right heat press for your projects, space, and budget is important but we know the choices can be overwhelming. Here we’ll break down some of the biggest things to know and think about when shopping for a heat press. This includes the types and sizes, temp and pressure, and features.
Types of Heat Presses
The first thing to consider is the type of heat press you need. Four main form factors are clamshell, swing-away, handheld, and specialty presses.
Clamshell presses are the most common and feature a hinged top plate that allows it to press down like a clamshell. When the top plate is lowered, the plate clamps shut, applying even pressure and heat, typically with a clamp, to help maintain pressure.
Swing-away presses have a movable top plate that swings to the side rather than a fixed hinge. This allows for easier access to your work area on the lower plate without needing to work underneath a top plate. The trade-off is that swing-away presses require more space to allow the top plate to rotate away.
Handheld Heat Presses are common to see in big box retail stores and the size can be convenient, but these have a few big tradeoffs to consider including temperature, pressure, and the smaller work-area.
The combination of the right temp and pressure is critical for your vinyl and transfers to properly stick and have a consistent product that lasts. One of the most common issues among people starting out with HTV and transfers is vinyl not sticking and peeling off garments, due to not applying consistent and appropriate pressure and temperature for the transfer. A standard style heat press eliminates these issues by providing a solid stable platform and consistent reliable heating surface, and why we generally recommend these over handheld for most use-cases if you have the space.
While the size can make them convenient to store, the smaller pressing area can also potentially limit your ability to make larger designs. Finally, often the heating element behind the plate in these low-priced presses can be more inconsistent than a higher quality traditional press. Inconsistent heating of the plate can create cooler spots, potentially creating a situation where you are actually pressing below your material temp specifications.
Heat Press Sizes
Two big things to consider around heat press sizes are the size of designs and pressing area you want and the amount of space you have available.
Smaller Craft Heat Presses, such as the 9" x 12" Clamshell Presses and Handheld Presses, are good budget-friendly options if you don’t want a press to make up a lot of space or if you are doing small projects where you don’t need the versatility of having a larger plate and pressing-area. We recommend measuring out these plate sizes and thinking about the designs you want to make now and in the future. You can find some of these on our Craft Heat Presses page.
Mid-Large Sized Heat Presses typically include sizes of 15X15 through 16x20. These provide much more versatility for your projects with a bigger plate, even if you don’t need them for your immediate project. You typically have more options in this range, including clamshell and swing-away and other options like auto-open timers. The 16”x20” is a decent step up in size and overall footprint, and we generally recommend these more for users who know they want the extra work-area space or for white toner printers as they make it easier to transfer A-B Sheets.
We typically recommend this range for small businesses or users who just know they want the features or a larger work area. These can be more suited towards garment businesses and people doing a lot of volume, than for people just getting started.
Wide Format Heat presses are large, commercial heat presses, usually for businesses. Generally, they are much larger and more expensive, and more suited for things like banners and flags.
Temperature, Pressure & Auto-Open Timers
Pressing your designs at the right temperature, for the right amount of time, and with enough pressure is critical for avoiding issues with adhesion and with your transfers to ensure you have a high-quality final product that lasts.
Pressure Application - One of the most common issues beginners run into is HTV not sticking; often, these users use handheld-style presses. Traditional hinge (clamshell) style presses feature adjustable pressure knobs that allow you to adjust your pressure prior to pressing your garment. Different materials can also specify different application pressures. Being able to adjust pressure, test it, and make sure it is applied consistently throughout the entire pressing duration can be helpful.
Digital Temperature Controls allow you to be much more accurate than dial controls to ensure you are pressing at the right temperature for your materials. This feature is quite common on most heat presses now, and comes as a standard feature on all of our heat presses.
Auto-Open heat presses are typically clam-shell in style but usually feature a timer and hydraulic spring opening that automatically releases and opens after the appropriate pressing time. This is a convenient feature so that you do not need to be watching the pressing time yourself or applying pressure. This will allow you to multitask or prepare your next garment or transfer. It’s a convenient, nice-to-have option, especially if you will be doing multiple back-to-back transfers or don’t want to have to track time separately.
Other Features, Materials Quality & Durability
Quality Heating Elements - A high-quality heating element with a large amount of coiling of the wires inside helps avoid cool spots, increases reheating speed and heat retention as the press cools during a press, can provide a more consistent temperature and is more reliable. All of our heat presses feature quality heating elements.
This can also help with consistent transfers, as they will have constant and even temperatures across the heating surface. Low-quality and cheaper heating elements can sometimes result in inconsistent heating across this plate, resulting in cool spots that can be problematic for
Build Material & Wear - Consider the materials a press is made out of. Most heat presses are made out of steel or aluminum, but heat presses made with plastic bodies may not hold up well. Additionally we recommend looking for hydraulics rather than springs for the component that controls the opening and lowering of the top plate, as springs can result in another wear and failure point.
All WALAPresses are built with steel bodies and with slow opening hydraulics, along with most other presses we carry on our website.
Threadable Lower Platens - This feature is available on some presses that allows you to press on only one side of a shirt, by having additional room underneath the lower plate to thread the t-shirt around. This is important for situations where you do not want both sides of the garment being exposed to heat or during certain applications like with sublimation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a heat press?
A heat press machine applies evenly distributed heat and pressure to blanks or garments to apply for vinyl and transfers.
How do you use a heat press?
First, preheat your heat press to the temperature for the vinyl or material you are pressing, which you can find on the product pages of our website or on our HTV temp and time guide.
Next, arrange your shirt or garment on the heat press, and pre-press your shirt for a few seconds. Then apply and arrange the transfer on your garment, and press it for the appropriate time for your material, also noted on the product pages and temp time guide.
What is a heat press machine used for?
Heat presses are used to apply vinyl or a variety of different transfers.
What sizes of heat press machines are there?
Heat presses can vary significantly in size. Heat Transfer Warehouse offers 9"x12" to a 44" x 64" Twin Heat press.
What is the best heat press?
If you are a crafter or hobbyist, we recommend a basic heat press such as our 9"x12" Craft Press. If you run a shirt-making business, we recommend an auto open 16x20 heat press.
What supplies do I need for my heat press machine?
We would recommend Kraft Paper/Release Sheets and platen covers. All heat press accessories can be found here. You will also need transfer and/or vinyl.
Buying a heat press machine is a key purchase. As always, if you have questions please contact our customer service via chat or phone.