What Is a Heat Press?

The heat press is a machine used to add designs to fabric on a small and large scale basis. It is used by consumers, nonprofit organizations and businesses to make T-shirts. It is also used for other designs on clothing and other products. Information about how the heat presses work, the different types and how to operate them is covered in this article.


The heat press is a machine designed to imprint a design or graphic on fabric, such as T-shirts. It is done with the use of heat and pressure that is applied for a set period of time. The heat press has other uses. It can be used to put designs on coffee mugs, plates and other promotional products. There are both manual and automatic heat press machines. They are also called heat transfer machines. Digital models have opened up a new markets for putting designs on mouse pads, glass and ceramic tiles. Since 1960 they have been a big part of the fashion industry. Most heat presses have an aluminum upper heating element because this metal is great conductor of heat. With digital technology and advancements the heat press will continue to be an important tool to businesses in the future. It is easier to control and more precise opening up new way to use it effectively.


Most heat presses use a flat platen applied to the fabrics that the design will be placed on. This applies heat and pressure to the fabric when transferring the design or graphic. There is a clam shell design element that opens just like a clamshell. It is popular with vendors because it simple to use and saves counter space. There is another element with a swing away design where it opens and swings away from the lower heating platen. Swing away styles machines are popular with athletic groups that print numbers on fabric and business that make wooden plaques and ceramic tiles. There is a drawer style press that has a platen that is pulled out like a drawer in a dresser. When it is pulled out it opens away from the heat so you can prepare the graphic to be applied to the fabric. Many machines use an aluminum heating element with a heat rod or wire attached to this element. These machines are a big part of the garment industry.


There are as mentioned before manual and automatic presses. Many businesses start out with manual and eventually switch to air automatic models. The air machine is easier to use and provides the muscle to apply the pressure to the heat platen. It saves money on shift work as workers are less tired from doing these themselves and produces more merchandise for the business. Many large volume businesses use more than one machine. Automatic transfer shuttle presses are machines for high volume production. Garments can be continuously loaded onto the lower load platen to be pressed by the heat platen. While one garment is being pressed another can be loaded on this for an eight hour period.


The clamshell models are usually smaller than the swing away heat presses. The swing away models reduced the amount of steam that rises and hits the operator in the face. It also reduces the risks of his getting burned during operation another plus. Heat presses can have two types of controls analog or digital. The analog control is a knob that you turn to a certain position on the numbered grid. It has been popular for many years and continues to still be. Digital controls are considered more accurate and are expensive in price. The price will go down as time goes on. Most heat elements work well to provide enough heat to press on the design to the fabric. The pressure applied to the material is important so a good adjustable element that can increase of decrease pressure is important to working the heat press. With a manual guide your main guide is touch when setting this element. Some manual presses have a numbered guide to set this pressure. The air machines have a dial to set pressure on fabric.


The two sizes of heat elements for a heat press are 15 by 15 inches and 16 x 20 inches. This will depend on the specific manufacturer of the heating press. Knowing the size of your artwork or design helps in selecting the proper heating press for your work. What is your largest design size and does it fall over or less than the two sizes mentioned. Many stock transfers fit the 15 by 15 inch heat element. There are oversized heat platens in 30 inch by 40 inch available for large textile and stock transfer work. They are often used in sign and tile businesses.