Are you in the market for a heat press? If so, how do you know which model is right for you? The effectiveness of any heat press is a function of heat + time + pressure, but not all presses will deliver the same results. It’s important to know what your specific needs are and choose the one that fits those needs but also allows for growth.
Here are some factors to consider:
Will the press be used primarily for personal or business use?
Think about your long-term vs. short-term needs. Often what starts out as a hobby grows into a business. If you have the space and your budget will allow, buy a press that will grow with you, not simply meet the needs you have today. You may also find over time (like I did!) that you need multiple presses for multiple purposes, but a quality heat press can last many years and your first purchase should be one that will serve you well in a variety of ways for as long as possible.
When I bought my first heat press, I really didn’t know much about them. All I knew was that I needed something to use in my classes and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money. I chose this model and it’s been fine for home use, but I quickly realized that it was too heavy to transport easily to classes.
About a year later, I purchased this one specifically for travel.
What type of materials will you be pressing? What size? How thick?
While many people use a heat press simply for applying heat transfer vinyl to t-shirts, there are many more materials that can be pressed, including phone cases, socks, hats, memo cubes, plaques, glass, acrylic, heat transfer paper, rhinestones, sublimation prints, and embroidered patches. Heat presses come in three basic designs – clamshell, swing-away, and draw style, each with its own unique advantages. Knowing what type of materials you plan to press will help you decide which design is right for you.
Clamshell – in this design, the top platen sits above the lower platen at an approximate 70-degree angle, and the platens open and close much like a clamshell. This design is the most space-saving of the three, but the “pinch-effect” of the clamshell action can be a problem when pressing thicker materials.
Swing-Away – as the name implies, the top platen of a swing-away press can be rotated completely out of the way, allowing for easy loading/unloading of the substrate onto the lower platen. Because the two platens always sit in parallel to one another, pressure is constant over the entire surface area, making this design the most reliable and well-suited for thicker material. On the down side, the swing-away platen means that this press takes up more counter space than the clamshell design.
Draw Press – when using a draw press, the lower platen slides out like a drawer. Once the substrate is loaded, the lower platen is pushed under the heating area (top platen) and the press is locked down. The draw press is the most versatile of the three basic designs but takes up a considerable amount of space.
In addition to the three basic styles, heat presses come in a variety of sizes, ranging from as small as 3 inches x 5 inches up to large format heat presses measuring 40 inches x 48 inches and larger. There are also other specialty design presses such as those used for caps, mugs, and plates.
How often will you use the press?
Do you plan on using your press daily, weekly, or only on occasion? If you plan to use the unit regularly, how many hours per day or week will it be powered on? All presses will cool down a bit during the actual pressing time and then require some time (anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes) to return to the desired temperature. In a commercial setting with extended use, it’s important to know how long it takes for the unit to cycle and reheat so you don’t lose valuable time between presses.
Another factor to consider if your press will be used often is operator fatigue. No matter what style of press you choose, it takes effort to load/unload the substrate and open/close the press. If your press will be in use more than 4 hours per day, consider an automatic unit that operates using pneumatic air pressure to reduce strain on the operator.
Does the seller provide warranty service and/or technical support?
Factors such as quality, reliability, and dependability are very important, especially if you plan to use your press in a commercial setting. If you have a problem, what does the warranty cover and how long is the warranty period? Perhaps you’re handy and plan to repair any problems yourself. If so, how long will parts be available for your chosen model?
How good is the seller’s customer service? Are they quick to respond when you contact them? What is the expected turnaround time if you need to send a unit in for repair?
Does your seller provide technical support? If so, is there a charge for the support? More importantly, what kind of track record does the seller have? Will they still be in business when you need help?
What is your budget?
While many people would ask this question first, I’ve put it at the bottom of the list. Why? Because oftentimes, buyers base their purchasing decisions solely on price. (I know I’ve been guilty of that a few times myself!) While money is an important factor in any buying decision, it’s not the only factor. The other considerations I’ve listed here (Personal or business? Type of materials? How often? Warranty/technical support policy?) must be taken into account as well. Quite often, spending a little more money up front will save you a lot of money in the long-run.
Need more info?
Choosing the right heat press can be a bit daunting. With the variety of presses on the market, answering these questions will give you a good head start on making the right decision. For even more info, check out these videos from my friends at Heat Press Nation. They’re a great company and they offer a wide variety of presses for both home and commercial use. I know they will be happy to help you in any way they can!
If you already own a heat press, I’d love for you to leave a comment below and tell us what model you have along with its pros and cons. Or come join me in the Silhouette Crafters by Design Facebook group and leave a comment there.
Until next time,
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Lycia is a lifelong crafter whose goal is to help others find value, confidence, and joy in whatever they create. She geeks out on using technology to supercharge craft projects with Silhouette Studio, Design Space, Glowforge, sublimation, etc.! Lycia teaches these skills and more through online tutorials and videos as well as in-person classes at both the local and national levels.