With so many different types of heat transfer press machines on the market today, it may seem like a daunting task to choose one that is ideal for you. In the end, you want a machine that provides constant heat under pressure, for a specified amount of time. If you choose the wrong type of press, your manufacturing costs may have to factor in fatigue from working the machine all day. Choosing the wrong size may restrict the amount of work you can actually accomplish. Thus, it is important to consider the following things in order to find a heat press that is right for you.
There are basically two types of heat press machines –clamshell and swing away. Clamshell presses are very popular due to their simplistic design. The upper and lower platens (the solid metal plates that your t-shirts are pressed between) are attached via a hinge. Similar to how you operate a photocopier, you lift the upper platen, place your material with transfer on the lower platen, close and operate. Thicker materials tend to cause problems with some clamshell presses. As you close the upper platen, the back tends to come in contact with the bottom first, resulting in un-even pressure on the material. If this is going to be a problem for you, take a look at clamshell presses with tilting lower platens. As you close the upper platen, the lower platen tilts automatically to provide even pressure. The other type of heat press machines is swing away. The upper platen lifts straight up and swings away from you, usually at an 100 degree angle. You won’t have any un-even pressure problems with swing away presses. There is technically a third type of heat press machine, but it is fairly new to the market and not as popular. It’s a draw type of press. The upper platen lifts straight up, while the lower platen pulls out, much like a draw.
Heat press machines come in a variety of sizes. There are very small ones, less than 6x8. These are ideal for baby apparel. These small presses are also called “label presses.” The next level would be less than 11x15. These are very portable and are sold at relatively cheap prices. A step up would be 15x15. These are large enough for most people. Heat presses do get even larger though - a common size found in larger print transfer shops are 16x20s. At the industrial level, you can even get presses as big as a 40x64. Think about what size of transfers you will be pressing, and you should be able to gauge what size level is ideal for you.
Presses can be manually operated or automatically air operated via a compressor. The pressure being applied is always adjustable. Manual presses usually have a knob at the top of press to control pressure. The amount of pressure to apply depends on the thickness of the material you are pressing. After a number of presses, you will start to get a feel for what pressure settings to use on what type of materials. Manually adjusting the pressure may become a nuisance, especially if you’re going to be pressing a variety of thicknesses. Consider a heat press with built-in pressure sensors. They will automatically adjust the pressure for you, based on the thickness of the material.
Other factors to consider include ease of usability, weight and your budget. If you’re going to be pressing t-shirts all day, you may want to reconsider getting a clamshell press. The constant opening/closing action could become exhausting after several hours. Even with swing arm presses, take into consideration the actual swinging action. Will your setup allocate you enough room to swing the platen around and not hit something? The weight of a heat press varies widely. If you want size and portability, opt for a 16x20 clamshell that may weigh only 95lbs, as opposed to a 16x20 swing arm that may weigh up to 200lbs. Finally, heat press machines can cost anywhere between $300 and $12,000. Because of this wide range, carefully assess your needs based on the criteria mentioned in this article. Narrow your choices down to what type will work for you (clamshell or swing arm), what size transfer you will be performing, and any optional features that will make your pressing easier.