How to use a Heat Press Machine with Vinyl Step by Step

Are you a new entrepreneur that want to make and sell your own T-Shirts and are you using heat transferable vinyl to transform your ideas into reality?

Then there will be a good chance you are going to spend a big chunk of time heat transferring your artwork onto the shirts. This is where the heat press kicks in.

In this article, we will tell you all you need to know to find the best heat press machine for small business aiming to sell their own T-shirts.

What is a Heat Press?

You can use a vinyl heat press machine not just to transfer your designs to T-shirts but also a variety of different surfaces. Think for example of backpacks, hats blankets etc. As long as you make sure that the thing your transfer unto can withstand very high heat. Be careful with synthetic or very thin materials since they might melt at higher temperatures. Commonly used materials are cotton, nylon and spandex.

It is common to prepare your designs or logos with a vinyl cutter and then transfer them using a heat press. However, not only can you use these machines to heat press vinyl of many different kinds, use can also use them in combination with many other materials. You can think for example about Silhouette heat transfer vinyl, inkjet transfers, laser copier transfers, embroidered appliques and even rhinestone patterns.

How Does a Heat Press Work

Best Heat Press Machine

Since this article is about how to make vinyl shirts and on how to print T-shirts with a heat press, we will focus just on using the heat press machine in combination with vinyl.

Heat press machines come in a variety of different models such as the clamshell, swing away and slide out. You can read more about their differences in our guide on choosing the best heat press machine.

Despite the difference in their design, they all operate using the same principle. The heat press will normally consist of an upper and lower plate.

The upper plate can be heated to very high temperatures while the lower plate will keep your T-shirt in place.

If you look at the vinyl heat transfer sheets carefully, you will see two separate layers. One side of vinyl and the back side will be made out of clear plastic.

At lower temperatures, the vinyl is firmly attached to this plastic backing. But when in contact with the high heat of the heat press, the vinyl lets go of the plastic and instead is firmly attached to the shirt underneath.

How to Use a Heat Press for T-Shirts

Before turning on the heat press make sure you prepare your design using a vinyl cutter. If you are using a Silhouette Cameo to heat transfer vinyl you can use their free Silhouette Studio software to make your own design. Alternatively, if you own a Cricut vinyl cutter you can use their software and follow the same steps used to heat transfer vinyl with Silhouette vinyl cutters.

Keep in mind that the design will be flipped after heat printing on a T-shirt. If your design is not symmetrical consider mirroring it using the design software of your vinyl cutter.

After you have cut and peeled off the parts of the vinyl that you don’t need, you are ready to start. If you are working with letters, don’t forget to remove the small areas inside A’s and O’s.

Using a Heat Press for T-Shirts Step by Step

Although different machines might slightly deviate, here are the general steps you will follow for heat pressing T-shirts.

  1. Using the T-shirt heat press machine of your choice; open the heat press, turn on the power and set the thermostat to the right temperature. (Check the instructions of the vinyl you are using to find the best temperature).
  2. Adjust the pressure using the pressure knob or the machine interface. The thicker your project is, the more pressure you will need to apply for a good transfer.
  3. When the thermometer indicates that the machine has reached the desired temperature, open the heat press and spread your T-shirt and place the heat transfer vinyl on top. Remember that the vinyl design should face the T-shirt and the plastic backing should face upwards.
  4. If your heat press as a timer, set it to the right amount of time as indicated by the instructions that came with your vinyl. Normally you will need 40 to 60 seconds with vinyl. If your heat press doesn’t have a built-in timer, make sure to check the time on a clock or use a stopwatch.
  5. Close the heat press until it is firmly locked to start applying the heat.
  6. Wait the required time needed to transfer the vinyl as indicated by the instructions that come with the vinyl.
  7. Open the heat press again and remove the shirt. Be careful not to burn yourself as the shirt can be quite hot. Some vinyl transfers are hot peel while others are cold peel. Depending on your vinyl you might have to remove the transfer while it is still hot or after it has cool down.

If you did everything correctly, you should now have your design on the shirt and the plastic backing should no longer have any vinyl attached to it. Give your newly created T-shirt a few hours to a day before washing, to prevent the design from coming off right away.

Quick T-Shirt Heat Press Machine Tips

  • Wash the T-shirts before using the heat press. In most cases, this will prevent the shirt from shrinking and looking wrinkly after washing the heat pressed shirt.
  • Make 100% sure that you place your T-shirt correctly on the heat press. The last thing you want is your design transferred to the wrong location under an awkward slant. You can use the tag of the shirt and the armpits as a guide to find the center.
  • Wash your newly pressed T-shirts inside out and don’t dry them using a dryer to make them last much longer.
  • If it is your first time or you simply changed to a different vinyl or T-shirt, make sure to do a trial run.
  • You can use a regular iron to transfer really small designs that fit underneath the iron.
  • If you have trouble smoothing out the T-shirt, press it without any transfer for a couple of seconds. This removes any moisture and smoothes out the shirt for you.