Getting started with heat presses

The heat press is a very important element in the transfer process. And nowadays there are so many different models and options to choose from. From expensive heat presses to very cheap all-in-one heat presses with different elements. Besides the commercial side, there are a few important elements which every heat press needs to have, and some quality aspects that are important to check. So which heat press do you have to choose when you are in the market for one? We give you the guidelines and point out what’s important to pay attention to if you’re interested in buying or reselling heat presses. This article gives you the building stones to the perfect result you want and deserve.

Introduction

Whether you’ll buy or resell a heat press it’s especially important to know that eventually a cheap heat press can be a very expensive obstacle in your room or office if it does not do it’s job. It might cost you even more because of many failed transfer prints or high maintenance costs. We have even come across downright dangerous heat presses because of the way they were constructed. Just read this article all the way to prevent yourself from investing in the wrong heat press and find out what to look for to find a good heat press for your specific needs.

What is a heat press

A heat press has a platen that can be set to a specific temperature and a mechanism to press this platen onto a transfer that sits on top of a substrate to transfer the image onto that particular substrate. It uses a combination of pressure from the heated upper platen onto the lower platen to achieve its results.

The five main elements of a heat press

These five elements are the most important for a good working heat press:

  1. Controller
  2. Heat Platen
  3. Lower Platen
  4. Frame or construction
  5. Safety Features

Although some of these may sound straightforward there are important aspects about these elements. Let us explain:

1. Controller

The controller is where you can set the required parameters like time, temperature and on some presses the pressure and a counter how many presses you did. The Controller makes that the temperature in the heat platen stays stable. That’s also important when you press a product the so-called recovery time. The quicker the heat press is back on temperature the shorter the pressing time. There are more comprehensive controllers in the market with Bluetooth connectivity and app support. Fancy, but not particularly necessary. What is necessary is a display to keep an eye on the temperature and ease of use interface. Simpler is usually better. Furthermore, it can be practical if the controller is easy to replace in case of a problem with the electronics.

2. Heat platen

A very essential part of the press. It seems simple, but there are many aspects of the heat platen that can differ a good heat press from a lousy one. We name them for you.

The platen smoothness is very important. If the heat platen is not completely flat in exactly the right way, you may not get an evenly spread pressure on the substrate, resulting in loss off image

If the finish of the platen is not coated well enough, it is more prone to contaminate which can lead to stains on garments.

The heat element that heats the platen can be easily attached on the platen. This results in a platen with a relatively unstable temperature control. The heat element can also be milled, or, even better, be cast in. This is more difficult for a manufacturer but results in a far better controllable and constant temperature. This also is better for heat loss during heating resulting in a lower energy consumption.

3. Lower platen

The area where you put the product on that you want to print on. Make sure it is big enough for your purposes. When you have an A3 printer for your transfers for instance, make sure the heat platen en lower platen are big enough to utilize this paper size. It is always good to have a surplus in size as the outer edges of the press often see a decrease in pressure. The better heat presses offer a removable lower platen that can be replaced with a smaller one for smaller jobs. This can be extremely useful and vastly improve production time.

4. Frame or Construction

This is an often overlooked part of the heat press. As pressure is very important for many applications, it is important the frame is up to the job. We see many heat presses where an increase in pressure simply disappears into the frame as it is not stiff enough and bends under the pressure that is applied. In other words: It may feel like a very high pressure as the effort to close the press is high, but the actual pressure on the product is not as all the surplus of pressure “leaks” away in the frame.

This means the maximum pressure is limited by the flexing of the frame. A good quality heat press has a sturdy frame that does not (or very little) flex when more pressure is applied.

An important aspect of the construction of the frame is how easy a garment can be put around the lower platen in such a way you don’t have to put both front and rear panel of the garment underneath the press. Also important that you can easily access the moving parts for cleaning and maintenance.

5. Safety features

Another aspect that is often under estimated. Is a heat press secure? Is the electrical circuit build to European CE standards? You’ll be surprised how many heat presses are not officially CE certified or carry the CE logo without being certified. We have even seen heat presses that where downright dangerous and fire hazards.

The difference is in the quality of the wiring, the presence of electrical fuses and thermal fuses in case something goes wrong and the controller keeps on heating? These are important aspects on a machine you want to be able to use for years to come without setting fire to your business or home.

Ease of use is also important. How easy is it to operate? If the operation requires a lot of strength and effort this can cause injuries for the operator in larger production facilities.

All the heat presses offered by TheMagicTouch are held against these important yard sticks and offer the quality needed for every kind of application and transfer system.

What types of applications can a heat press be used for

A heat press can be used for many types of transferring an image onto a product. Below the most important ones. In this article we will not exactly explain what these are as we assume you already know what you want to do with your press. We do tell you however what each transfer system requires from a heat press to get the optimal result. The most common transfer applications used with a heat press are:

Sublimation

(Printable) Heat transfer vinyl

TheMagicTouch transfer paper

DTF-transfers

What do these applications demand from a heat press?

Sublimation

Main purpose of the heat press with sublimation is heat. As the pressure can be low, this is not a major necessary asset when sublimating.

Make sure though, the heat press is safe to use with higher temperatures and the frame offers good access and possibilities to put garments on it as you don’t want to put both the front and rear panel simultaneously underneath the press with sublimation.

(Printable) Heat Transfer vinyl

We have seen cheap heat presses that do not have the capability to deliver enough pressure for transferring heat transfer vinyl applications but in general most presses should do fine. It does not have to be very high, but you do need some pressure for Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV).

With the latest heat transfer vinyl’s now offering processing times of less than 5 seconds you do want a heat press that is well capable of maintaining a specific temperature as the production process is fast. The same goes for printable Heat Transfer Vinyl, for the heat press it makes no difference if it is print & cut HTV or just cut HTV.

TheMagicTouch Transfer papers.

These transfer papers offer unique possibilities. In order to make maximum use of these application options, a versatile and good quality heat press is required. Especially the pressure has to be up with the best to be able to print on as many substrates as possible. Also, as these transfers enable to apply a print onto materials like wood, it is smart to check what the maximum height is you can put on the heat press. Many heat press models don’t allow to go any higher than less than 8mm which is not enough for many products.

DTF transfers

These are often processed in a relatively high production run environment so durability and a stabile temperature control are important.

A heat press that can deliver the required medium pressure with little effort works a lot more comfortable for the operator than a press that requires a lot of effort to close to get the same pressure. When applying a lot of DTF transfers this can make a huge difference on production speed and wellbeing of the operator.

Types of heat presses

There are different kind of heat presses, all with their own pros and cons. These are the most common different types:

  • Clamshell heat presses
  • Swing away heat presses
  • Pneumatic heat presses
  • Different heat presses

An explanation of the typical properties of these types:

Clamshell Heat press

These are named clamshell because they open upwards with a hinge mechanism at the back, just like a clamshell.

It is the easiest way to create a mechanism, hence the reason why most (if not all) of the cheaper heat presses are of this kind. Another pro of this system is that the press requires little workspace and the footprint is relatively small.

The cons are that you are always very close with your hands to the heat platen, making it relatively easy to mark your hands on the hot platen. This can be overcome however, with a sliding mechanism on the lower platen that moves your product out of harms way. Another con is that it is difficult (although not impossible) to make a heat press of this type with a high pressure delivery and higher clearance for thicker substrates. These type of presses are fine for sublimation, HTV and DTF transfers. Less so for TheMagicTouch transfer paper unless you go for the HTP123Basc or HTP123Pro that are specifically designed to deliver proper pressure for these transfers.

Swing away heat press

As suggested by the name with these heat presses the heat platen swings away from the lower platen instead of hinging upwards. This has more advantages, and as always also one disadvantage. The major benefits of a swing away heat press is the fact that when you put the product you want to personalize on the lower platen, the heat platen is well away. No risk of scorching your hand. Another benefit is that his construction allows the heat platen to come down on the product straight from above instead of at an angle. This makes it easier to get an evenly pressure, and it is easier to construct the frame for having a high pressure. And last but not least, with this construction you can create more room for thicker products and still have a high, evenly pressure. The disadvantage? The required space for placing the heat press is bigger as you need room for the heat platen to swing backwards. So if I want a good heat press I simply have to look for a swing away? No, it is not that easy. There are many swing away heat presses that still have a very light frame design resulting in a low pressure. So be sure to check out the frame design as well.

Special product heat presses

Now there are many products that are interesting to personalize but are not able to fit on a normal heat press. That’s where the special product heat presses come in. The whole principle of pressure, temperature and time is the same, but the shape of the heat press allows the product to fit.

Below some examples of these kind of heat presses:

  • Cap press
  • Mug press
  • Mini- or cap-/pocket press
  • Sports Ball press
  • Cap press

Apart from pressing caps, hats and beanies obviously, this type of press can also be a useful tool for small items like mini-T’s pockets and sleeves.

Mug press

This type of press always comes with a stand element for the well-known best seller, the 10-11 Oz mug. Make sure the heat press you choose can be expanded with extra heat elements for different sized mugs and cups, making it easier to return your investment. Also an especially useful feature is a so called “double temperature setting”. This clever way of temperature setting ensures automatically that a colder mug sits in the heat press longer than a warmer one, which ensures you always get the same result, regardless of the starting temperature of the mug you use as this can make a big difference with earthenware products.

Mini- or cap-/pocket press

This type of press is basically a mini version of your standard heat press. It is practical for small items obviously like pockets, sleeves and baby garments. This type of press is often combined with an optional curved element and lower platen, to create a cap press from the same machine. If you invest in a standard heat press where you can replace the lower platen with an optional small one, that often covers the need for a mini press with a smaller investment of just a small platen for your existing press.

Sports Ball press

You would expect that a curved element is ideal for this application. That’s not the case however as the curve of an element (like with a cap press) is never the exact same curve of the ball. Interestingly enough, in most cases the best way to transfer onto a ball is by reducing the air in the ball by about ¼, and then press it with a straight platen under pressure. This provides better contact and pressure that with a fully inflated ball and a curved platen. Some mini presses are quite suitable for this application.

There are more specialist heat presses for really specific products like plate presses, but these are not suitable for general products (plates in this example) but only for the products that are made to fit this type of press and usually also have a special coating for better transferring.

Summary and tips & tricks

To sum up; What should you look out for when you are in the market to buy or start reselling heat presses.

1. What do you need it for?

First off, you or your customer should know which types of transfers you want to use. Or in other words: Which transfer system is going to be used now and perhaps in the future?

A good heat press lasts for years so also consider what the future might bring you. Maybe investing in a white toner printer for TheMagicTouch transfer applications is still a bit steep for now, but that can be a different story in 1 or 2 years’ time. It would be a shame if the growth of your business is inhibited because you also need a new heat press when investing in a new printing system.

2. Usage

Is it used daily or just every now and then? And by who? When an operator must use it for several hours daily ease of use is important to prevent back or muscle problems forming over time. Is het easy or hard to scorch your hands during operation? This is also something to consider.

3. Heat platen

How is the heating element integrated in the heat platen. This can make a big difference in the consistency of the temperature. Is the heat platen well finished?

4. Frame

Check the sturdiness of the frame. With a swing away press, set the press to a high pressure setting and see if the frame flexes. Is the heat platen hanged from springs? That means relatively low maximum pressure.

5. Quality

How long do you want your press to last? It is often smart to pay a bit more, as in the long run a heat press that lasts a long time is cheaper than one that must be replaced after a short period.

6. Versatility

Sometimes it pays to spend a bit more on features like a replaceable lower platen. This option is in most cases cheaper than buying a separate mini press with a small surface when you cannot have interchangeable platens on your heat press. But be careful: there are many cheap “all in one” heat presses for sale that are off very low quality.

Now you know what to look for when buying or selling heat presses.

Working with the right tools saves you time, money, and a lot of grief.

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