A heat press machine is the ideal tool for customizing a plethora of products and merchandise. With the right heat press for your needs, the proper accessories, and a bit of experience, there is no limit to the variety of unique products you can create. Read on to learn exactly what a heat press is and which supplies you will need to operate one successfully.
What is a Heat Press Machine?
A heat press enables you to transfer graphics, logos, artwork, and etc. onto an item of your choosing. The item you are printing on is called your substrate and is oftentimes apparel or other soft goods. However, heat presses can work with a wide array of other materials including wood, leather, coated metals, ceramics, and glass.
Heat presses use a heated plate which is normally called a platen. The platen clamps down over the transfer and the substrate in order to transfer ink to the substrate or adhere vinyl graphics. Many at-home or DIY artists are familiar with using iron-on logos or graphics to customize apparel and other products. Using a heat press is similar to this but offers more consistent heat and pressure in order to achieve higher-quality results. A heat press also allows you to use transfer products that require higher temperatures and pressures than what can be achieved with an iron.
Using a heat press with transfers or vinyl has become a popular and more versatile alternative to screen printing. Heat press machines are also much more accessible for the average small business. They have a smaller footprint and a lower cost associated than a screen printing setup has. Due to the low cost of heat presses and the ability to use them with relatively little space, they can be an extremely profitable addition to your customization business.
What Supplies Do I Need to Operate a Heat Press Machine?
Here is what you will need to begin working with a heat press:
- The Heat Press Machine
- A Plotter (for cutting vinyl if you plan to use vinyl)
- Substrates of Choice
- Artwork and Designs of Choice
- Transfers or Vinyl of Choice
- Heat Press Accessories
The Heat Press Machine
There is a wide array of heat presses available. They come in different sizes, different configurations, and with different functions and features built in. There are presses that work best for the fronts of t-shirts, presses for hats, presses for doing tagless labels, and even large format presses for doing signs or large art prints. We are happy to talk you through the various options, but ultimately, it comes down to the substrates you will be customizing. Many heat presses also feature a swappable lower platen. With these presses you can print the front of shirts, bags, mouse pads, shoes, sleeves, tagless labels, coasters, coated metal blanks, and so much more all by quickly swapping out the lower platen.
Another thing to consider when choosing a press is the quality of the machine. It’s possible to find heat presses online for as low as $300-400. These presses might be okay if you simply plan to decorate the occasional t-shirt with very simple iron-on graphics, but they are not much better than using an iron by hand. A professional-grade heat press will likely cost at least $2,000. At that price point you should get a press that will last decades, have extremely even heat and pressure across the platen, and be able to handle top-grade transfer types similar to what you’d find on high-end, branded apparel or other quality products.
Based on the size of your chosen heat press and the anticipated volume of your production, a durable vinyl cutter can help streamline your customization process. Whether they are employed for customizing apparel or other merchandise, plotters are easy to use and add precision to your designs.
Substrates of Choice
As previously discussed, heat presses can print on a wide variety of materials. That being said, some materials have a steeper learning curve and may be tough for beginners to master. Waterproof fabrics, moisture-wicking fabrics, neoprene, and certain other synthetics can be sensitive to heat. They might also not adhere with the transfer as readily. Materials that are easier to work with starting out include cotton, nylon, polyester, Lycra, leather, and wood.
Artwork and Designs of Choice
Designing your artwork is the most creative part of using a heat press. Depending on the type of transfer you’re working with, images with unlimited colors and designs can be pressed onto your substrates. Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw are two common types of software that are used to create and process graphics that will be made into heat transfers. If you are sending your designs out to a transfer manufacturer to have them made for you, your manufacturer of choice will likely provide you with the requirements in terms of file types, colors, and so on.
Transfers or Vinyl of Choice
There are a number of different ways to create the transfers you will use with your heat press. Heat transfer vinyl is popular and so is utilizing white toner or dye-sub printers to print your own transfers onto paper. You can also purchase screen-printed transfers from a manufacturer or direct to film transfers from a shop with a DTF setup. Once again, your choices will likely depend on your chosen substrate and your designs. Certain types of transfers are limited in terms of the number of colors or in terms of the materials they will adhere to. Different types of transfers also have different quality and durability levels.
Heat Press Accessories
Additional accessories for your heat press could include Teflon sheets, Teflon covers, high-temperature grease to maintain your machine, accessory platens, heat tape, and pellon paper. All of these items could become useful as you delve further into what is possible with your machine.
Overall, a heat press is a phenomenal choice for expanding the potential in your business or hobby. The vast array of customization options you have with a heat press makes it a sound investment, and if you purchase a professional-grade machine from a quality brand, this investment can pay you back for decades to come.