What is a Heat Press Machine Used For?

A heat press is a handy machine designed to help you apply various designs onto different substrates. Between heat and pressure, these machines can help you successfully transfer your favorite designs onto everything from T-shirts to keychains. This guide explores the details surrounding these machines to help you decide if they suit your creation needs. 

What is a Heat Press Machine?

Heat presses are machines designed to transfer designs onto various materials using heat. They feature a few key components: the upper platen, lower platen, pressure adjustment knobs, and time and temperature controls. 

Generally, the upper platen, or the upper plate, is responsible for generating heat. The lower platen typically doesn’t heat up unless you purchase specific models or additional accessories, so it serves as the working platform where you place the material. 

You’ll find a pressure adjustment knob on top of the upper platen on manual presses. This knob controls the pressure and helps ensure a smooth, accurate transfer. Automatic presses are available, and instead of using an adjustment knob, they employ air compressors to create tension. 

Types of Heat Press Machines

Heat presses come in three primary types: clamshell, swing-away, and draw. Each option features a unique style while employing the same fundamental functions as the others. 

Clamshell Heat Press

As the name implies, clamshell heat press machines open like a clamshell, secured at the back to open the press at around a 70-degree angle. The lower platen remains fixed, while the upper platen opens at an angle. The straightforward design makes these presses easy to operate and quick to use. 

These models are perfect for crafting custom items out of fabrics, including T-shirts, blankets, and hoodies. They can also work well for low-profile items, like flat keychains. 

Swing-Away Heat Press

Swing-away heat press machines feature an upper platen that lifts and swings away from the lower platen. Unlike the clamshell machines, this type doesn’t open at an angle, lifting straight away from the lower platen. 

The upper platen easily pivots out of the way for reloading, and since it doesn’t hover above your hands while you set up your next transfer, it’s easier and safer to use. 

This type of press is ideal for thicker items, including sublimation photo tiles or award plaques, as the design works well for this purpose. 

Draw Heat Press

The draw heat press machine or slide-out drawer heat press features the best of both worlds. It offers the quick, easy functionality of the clamshell heat presses with the handy benefits of the swing-away model. 

However, this model boasts a mobile lower platen instead of featuring a swiveling or angled upper platen. Instead of remaining fixed, it slides in and out of the heat press like a drawer, allowing you to reload and set up your next transfer quickly. 

This machine works well for various materials, from thinner fabrics to thicker plaques. 

How Does a Heat Press Machine Work?

A heat press machine works by using heat and pressure to transfer designs from specialized paper or vinyl to the substrate. Once you align the substrate and lay the design over the top, you’ll engage the heat press to employ its toasty, pressurized upper platen. 

The heat from the upper platen activates the adhesive on the transfer paper, melding it onto the substrate beneath. If you use the sublimation method, the heat causes the ink to melt into the fabric. The pressure from the upper plate ensures the transfer is smooth and accurate to provide a quality result. 

Primary Uses of a Heat Press Machine

Heat press machines are incredibly versatile, making them an excellent investment for grade schools, colleges, universities, and businesses that want to create custom products instead of paying someone else. 

Custom T-Shirts

Heat press machines are often used to craft creative tees and hoodies. From funny sayings to business or school logos, there are no limits to your creativity. You can design custom transfers to make the shirts your own or purchase pre-designed transfers ready to use!

Sublimation Printing

Heat presses can do more than typical printing using heat transfer paper. They work well for sublimation printing, which involves a sheet of specialty paper called sublimation paper. This process infuses ink into the applied material to create the desired design. 

Since this process doesn’t meld an extra layer on top of the item, it’s perfect for wearable items, as it doesn’t affect the fabric’s feel. This printing method is ideal if you want to make T-shirts, hoodies, blankets, or similar items. 

Other Textile Products

Heat presses are commonly used to create various custom textile products, including fabrics, tote bags, cosmetic bags, pillowcases, blankets, sweaters, and baby onesies. While fabric is the go-to material for many heat-pressed creations, these machines also work for slightly thicker objects, including keychains, coasters, and plaques. 

Tips for Using a Heat Press Machine

Using a heat press machine is straightforward, but there are a few things you should know before starting your custom creation journey. 

  1. Flatten the surface: When pressing designs onto fabric, ensure the material is smooth and wrinkle-free before you start. Any wrinkles or bunched areas could skew your design. 
  2. Don’t rush: Take your time aligning the substrate on the lower platen and placing the design onto the substrate. If you rush, you might misalign the substrate or design, resulting in a tilted or uncentered product. 
  3. Preheat: Preheat your garments or accessories before you start the printing process. Adding a sprinkle of heat will help smoothen out any wrinkles or moisture, allowing the design to adhere better. 
  4. Follow instructions: Before using your heat press machine, take a few minutes to read through the application instructions. These instructions often contain vital information, including temperature and time settings. 
  5. Protect your equipment: Avoid spending extra time cleaning your lower platen between designs by using a heat press cover sheet. These help keep the lower platen clean and ready to go for different designs. 

FAQs About Heat Press Machines

  • Is a heat press the same as an iron?

While ironing heat transfer designs can be a low-cost alternative to heat pressing, it doesn’t work as well as the latter. Heat presses use a combination of carefully regulated heat and high pressure to ensure designs adhere to the substrate properly, so items created this way often last longer. 

  • How long does a heat press T-shirt last?

Heat-pressed T-shirts can last a long time, with paper-based designs lasting up to 50 washes or more. T-shirts you create with the sublimation method can last even longer as the ink is melted into the tee. 

  • Do heat-pressed items peel?

If you don’t follow the proper heat pressing instructions, designs may begin to peel off the item. For example, inadequate pressure is a common issue that causes peeling with heat-pressed items. However, if you follow the instructions, designs are usually fairly durable. 

  • Are heat press items washable?

After pressing a design onto a T-shirt, hoodie, blanket, or tote bag, you can wash the item. Generally, the items are fully machine washable after completing the transfer. If you’re unsure, check the label on your heat transfer paper. 

Start Creating Custom Designs With a Heat Press Today

Heat press machines can be the perfect solution for various needs, whether you want to create merch for your business or custom items for your students. Start creating products tailored to your needs today with a heat press from AGC Education. We offer various sizes and types of heat presses to accommodate varying needs, from compact models to multi-functional machines.