A heat press is a multifunction piece of equipment that will allow you to do many different kinds of art projects.
Especially if you are looking to get into the t-shirt business a t-shirt press machine is a real must-have item. You don’t want to transfer all those vinyl templates by hand!
Fortunately, a modern heat press is not as expensive as they used to be anymore and are easy to use, such that even beginners can start making their own designs pretty quickly.
In today’s article, we will go over everything you need to know to find the best heat press machine for T-shirts.
Heat Pressing Basics
A heat press will let you print designs or templates from some kind of substrate onto fabric such as t-shirts, bags, hoodies, socks, etc., by applying heat for a short amount of time. This is an easy way to make customized gifts or products in very little time.
Depending on the substrate you are working with, you will have to heat press at different temperatures for different amounts of time. Most modern models have a computer interface that will let you accurately set the required temperature and time.
What Fabrics Can You Heat Press?
The exact materials you can use in combination with your heat press depends on the exact heat press model. Of course, you will have to make sure that the materials you are using can withstand high heat.
Some materials commonly used for heat press T-shirt printing are cotton, nylon and spandex. Of course, you can also print on other items made from similar fabric like bags and hoodies.
You can use different transfers with your heat press as well. Some commonly used heat press transfers are heat transfer paper, heat transfer vinyl, rhinestone or embroidered patches.
T Shirt Printing Press Types
There are 4 standard heat press models and they all come with their pros and cons.
Although the performance of most types is the same, the type you choose will influence your workflow greatly.
The projects you want to do and your previous experience will largely determine which is the best heat press machine for you.
Clamshell Heat Press
The Clamshell shell model heat press is the most straightforward and intuitive model. If you are looking to buy a heat press for the first time, we would recommend going with this model.
The upper plate opens up to an angle of around 75 degrees similar to a clamshell or alligator’s mouth. Since the top plate opens vertically it can be operated in small spaces.
A common drawback to cheaper machines with this model type is that they don’t always pressure evenly.
Swing Away Heat Press
Swing away heat press models are ideal for transferring onto thicker products such as tiles or plaques. The upper plate opens straight up and then swings to the side. This allows for even pressure across the entire plate.
Additionally, it gives an open workspace so you don’t have to worry about accidentally burning yourself on the top plate.
Slide Out Heat Press
Unlike the previous two models mentioned, a slide out drawer model will allow you to move the lower plate instead of the upper plate.
It is easy to operate and relatively safe but requires more space than either the clamshell or swing away model.
Multifunction Heat Press
If you are looking for more than just a t-shirt press machine, this might be the kind of model for you. Multifunction models allow you to interchange different heating plates. Normally these are labelled as a 5 in 1 heat press, but sometimes you can find 6 in 1 or 8 in 1 models as well.
It also allows for extra add-ons in case you want to print on curved surfaces like mugs or cups.
— Quade Joseph (@QuadeJoseph) 28 November 2017
What To Look For In A Vinyl Heat Press Machine?
The best heat press machine for you depends on your personal preferences and goals. Besides the different models described above, the size of the plates and the temperature at which you press are very important.
Additional features are offered by heat presses at a higher price point, but these are not strictly necessary for beginners that are still learning how to use a heat press machine.
Temperature and pressure are the most important factors for a successful transfer. Depending on your substrate (paper, vinyl, rhinestone) and onto which material you are transferring (fabric, ceramic) you might need different temperatures. Make sure that the maximum temperature of the heat press is adequate to do the job.
Also, verify if you can easily adjust the temperature and the indicated temperature is the actual temperate of your heat plate. You can easily measure this with an infrared thermometer.
Cheaper models only have a heating element in the center of the plate and therefore have a lower temperature towards the edges of the plate than the center. This may lead your substrate to stick when you try to peel it off.
The size of the heated plate can be a limiting factor in some projects. You can only go as big as you heating platform, while you can go as small as you can print on your transfer paper or vinyl. You can’t transfer a full chest image if your press is smaller than the image itself.
Bigger is not always better though. If you plan on only transferring small design, onto a sleeve, for example, a smaller model might be easier to work it. Choose the size that fits your project.
That being said, if you plan on doing a wide variety of projects or not quite sure yet, bigger might be better after all.
If you opt to buy a t-shirt press machine for small businesses or industrial application, you might find a lot of additional features. For amateurs, these might seem like an unnecessary luxury while for others it’s the ideal way to speed up the manufacturing process.
Some noteworthy features that the best heat press machines offer include a timer that will automatically stop heating and automatically opens the plates for a faster work pace and prevent burning any fabric.
Additionally, some machines will allow you to save several different routines with a preset temperature and time. Reducing the hassle of setting up the machine every single time.
Finally, if you buy a foreign brand it will be convenient to make sure it has an option to change between a Celsius and a Fahrenheit display option.
Best Heat Press Machine
To save you a lot of time and frustration, we have gone through the popular heat press models on the market and summarized the most important information.
You might want to check our three recommended heat press models below before buying one yourself.
PowerPress Heat Press
One of the most popular heat press machines for beginners is the PowerPress model. This clamshell model heat press is ideal for many applications such as transferring letters, numbers, and images on not only t-shirts but also bags, jigsaw puzzles, ceramic tiles, etc.
Is is durable enough last for several years and can handle dozens of shirts in a single hour after getting used to the workflow. Although the PowerPress is a pretty cheap heat press machine, it has all the functions you will need just starting out.
Plate Size: 15”x15”
Weight: 53 lbs
Temperature Range: 0-500 F
Time Range: 0-999 s
Electronic Timer and Heat Control
Zeny Heat Press
The Zeny heat press pro 6 in 1 will allow you to take on a wide variety of projects. The additional element allows you to even press on hats or mugs, which is impossible to do with a regular flat plate.
Besides the regular platen press, this model comes with a heat press, mug press, silicon pad and cotton pad.
Due to the many different options, it might take a while to learn how to use this heat press machine properly. Many have mentioned that the manual is very difficult to understand.
Plate Size: 12”x15”
Weight: 56 lbs
Both Fahrenheit and Celsius Scale
Detached Cradle Unit
Electronic Timer and Heat Control
Fancierstudio Heat Press
The Fancierstudio heat press is slowly becoming more and more popular amongst amateurs. It is an industrial-quality digital heat press that is highly durable, which makes it a good long-term investment.
The compact and upward-opening model makes it easy to work with and doesn’t need a lot of space.
It is very versatile and can be used for many different projects. Think for example about making mouse mats, jigsaw puzzles, ceramic tiles and transferring images onto t-shirts.
This heat press is sold in 7 different colors, so make sure to find your favorite before buying!
Plate Size: 15”x15”
Weight: 51 lbs
Temperature Range: 0-699 F
Time Range: 0-999 s
Digital Temperature and Time Control
Silicon Rubber Base