Use your heat press to expand your customization capabilities

Over the last decade, heat transfers have become an increasingly effective and affordable means of decorative printing and custom brand identification. Opportunities to use transfers are expanding daily, and with it, opportunities for using your heat press as a tool to greater customization and profit-making.

Advancements in inks, papers and heat press equipment have expanded the use of transfers far beyond the realm of garment decoration and have made heat transfer application a pervasive method of custom printing for many industries. Gone are the days where transfers are restricted to fabrics and wearables. Instead, opportunities are exploding for transfers in diverse markets.

Transfer printing is now heavily used in a variety of industries – from apparel to automobile, athletic, awards, home goods, team sports, promotional goods and so much more.  Within these industries, the variety of substrates transfers apply to boggle the mind. Why the popularity? Heat transfers are not only perfect for small orders and on-site printing but also affordable, efficient, and customizable. Here are some types of customizable printing options available in the market today:

  • Color Copy Printing
  • Direct to Garment Printing
  • Sublimation digital printing
  • Transfer Printing
  • Cad-cut printing
  • Label printing
  • Dye-sub printers/Signage

The improvements in transfer inks, printing and application methods have revolutionized the screen printed transfer industry.  In part, the revolution was driven by new, mostly synthetic performance fabrics with characteristics such as stretch, wicking, and quick-dry properties. Many of these fabrics also tend to bleed (dye migration) when exposed to high heat. Thus the new inks need to be able to address these various performance fabric characteristics in order to yield a performance transfer.

Huge strides have also been made in digital printing; for example, the sublimation transfer marketplace has now taken us to a new millennium with customization on wood, aluminum panels, mugs, socks and many other substrates.  Each season, additional capabilities and new medium become available with seemingly no end in sight.

Another new opportunity is the ever expanding direct-to-garment printing industry. Using a heat press as your pre and/or post curing agent for direct to garment application provides customization on apparel as well as hats and shoes – a one off in a second!

Given all the expanding creative innovations in the heat transferrable market, what is most essential is a Reliable Heat Press.   Without the right tool to apply your customized substrates you will experience an inferior product.

When choosing your customization tool there are many different models of heat presses. The most important factors in choosing the right press are even heat and pressure distribution across the platen, size of the platen, manual versus automatic machinery, or clam versus swing-away. Be careful, as not all heat presses are made the same.  Many heat press brands claim that they have even heat and pressure distribution, but when put to the test, the applied transfer clearly shows otherwise. If the transfer is peeling off in some areas or is even scorched in others, the heat press does not evenly distribute pressure or heat. Also, assess whether the heat press you are considering has a rapid heat recovery to minimize downtime between the application of transfers. Many heat presses lack the ability not just to distribute pressure evenly, but to even reach a certain pressure level, which often results in transfer adhesion issues. The adage, “Time is Money”, is true.  Downtime, whether it is waiting for heat recovery or an unreliable press, should factor into your investment decision.  Do your homework before making any kind of purchase.  Find a heat press that has the key elements for quality and reliability and be sure to evaluate what you will be customized to ensure you get the right model to suit your specific needs.

Here are a few tips for choosing the right heat press:

  • Entry-level – A smaller, manual machine that can be used with color-copy papers, stock transfers or CAD-cut vinyl offers the perfect option for customization for home, craft, schools and small retail environments.
  • Direct to Garment Printers (DTG) – For the pre and post-curing of substrates, the clam press option and the platen footprint to match the DTG machine provide immediate customization from T-shirts, shoes, and even caps! Clam press machines offer a smaller footprint and are the perfect complement to the DTG printer. Choose one with an auto-open feature as an added benefit, as well as one of lightweight and ergonomic design.
  • Retail/sport environment – Manual swing-away machines for retail offer the ease of dressing garments with interchangeable platens for lettering and numbering of jerseys, transfers, and vinyl cad cut printing with unobstructed access to the entire platen.  The manual heat press option offers many different platen sizes depending on your application requirement. Swing-away machines have been strategically designed for uncomplicated operation with consistent, reliable results.
  • Sublimation Printers – With digital printers and a heat press you can customize just about anything! Depending on your need, choose a heat press with the right platen or one with interchangeable platens. Using a large-format oversized machine is ideal for customizing oversized garments, all-over garment printing, towels, blankets, aluminum panels, wood, or even doormats. Having a machine that allows for a larger gap opening to print on both thick and thin substrates provides added versatility in the customization process.  
  • Production – For high-volume production, automatic machinery is a necessity. Not only will your output be higher and overall costs lower, but operator fatigue and the chance of injury will be minimized. In addition, interchangeable platen options, various standard platen sizes to choose from, and ease of repeated application allow your customization output to be consistent over the course of the day.

So whether you are an entry-level entrepreneur or a seasoned shop owner, expanding your custom product offering is easy to do.  With the variety of customizable printing options in the market today as well as the various substrates which can be used, customization is limitless with the right tools and imagination!

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