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How to Choose the Right Heat Press for Thermal Transfer

Posted by
Aug 07, 2020 11:05am
Posted in: Shop Talk, Small Business Advice, Tips & Trends

When trying to determine which heat press will suit your needs, it is important to think about the work you will want to do in the future, as well as the work you are currently doing.  Price point should not be the only factor influencing your decision, as you may lose work and impact your productivity by buying the incorrect press at the outset. Below are some questions to ask and information on available styles.

Do I want a clam-style or a swing-away style heat press?

There are many economical clamshell style presses available. They take up the least amount of space in a shop, have manual heat and pressure adjustments and are lighter in weight for ease of transport.  However, there are still a couple of other important factors to consider before you buy.

Clam style presses move like a clam would – opening and closing from a fixed point at the back. Due to this design, you need to drag the garment over the platen towards the back to centre your work. Unless you have a style that opens particularly wide, knuckles and arms come close to the heat platen. If you aren’t careful it is easy to get burned.

HIX EVO Touch Clamshell Heat Presses 15x15 HT-400 | Heat Transfer Warehouse

If you plan to press items thicker than just plain t-shirts, you may have more pressure at the back than the front due to the angle of the heating element as it comes down onto the platen.  A silicone pillow can help even out bumpy seams and buttons; however, the use of a (silicone) pillow will not allow this heat press style to work well for thicker items like mouse pads and coasters.

Heat rises to the top edge on a clam style press which can sometimes create uneven heat areas when you are working quickly.

Remember, manual force is required to open and close each press – arms can get tired when creating large orders with multiple presses!

Clam style presses are good for those working with heat transfer vinyl, but do not attain sufficient pressure needed to work with laser-toner transfer.

Swing-away styles can come with a higher price point but are usually better built and are meant for more production base shops where accuracy is key. Many models have integrated digital control panels with multiple, programmable heat and time settings which can increase your production speed. As the top platen physically swings away, it removes the heat from overtop of your working area so there is less of a chance of getting burnt. They tend to be heavier and take up more space, so they require a greater work area on a sturdy table.

Swing-away style heat press - side view Swingman25_twin_Web icon

Swing-away styles retain more of the heat in the platen over time, as it rests flat. You can better control the pressure over the working area as the entire platen comes down equally all at once, which can reduce errors, save time and money. What makes the swing-away style different is the ability to apply over 1200 lbs of downward force with very little effort.  The progressive linkage method provides a mechanical advantage with which a small amount of force on the handle produces a much larger force on the platen.

Due to the ability to create maximum force, this style of press is ideal for working with both HTV and laser-toner transfer materials.

What platen size do I need?

The chart below gives you an idea of average shirt sizes on the market. While each size of press can do larger shirts, you may have to press multiple times, incurring additional labour and material fees. This can also slow down your production times as you press fewer shirts in a given timeframe – an important factor when processing large orders!

Average T-Shirt Sizes — (+/- 5% in width and 7% in length due to changes in manufacturing)

T-shirt size reference Width (inches) Length (inches)
Youth X-Small 13.7 17.71
Youth Small 14.9 18.8
 Youth Medium 16.1 20.4
Youth Large 17.3 22
Youth X-Large 18.5 24
Adult Small 18 26
Adult Medium 20 28
Adult Large 22 30
Adult XL 24 32
Adult 2XL 26 33
Adult 3XL 27 34
Adult 4XL 28 36
Adult 5XL 30 37

(e.g. if you buy an 11”x15” heat press, to fully cover the front of a XL t-shirt with an HTV image can take 2-3 presses. For a 5XL shirt it is 4-5 presses.)

Benefits of a larger press platen size are:

  • Being able to press multiple items simultaneously
  • Pressing oversized t-shirt designs
  • Pressing names and numbers on a wider size-range of jersey all in one go
  • Easier visual alignment of images onto larger t-shirts

Other considerations when deciding on which press to invest in

When looking at each question below, ask yourself: Does this speed up my process? Does this matter to me or my process?

  1. How much the press weigh — can I travel with it? Does it need to travel?
  2. Electrical requirements — 110v? vs 220v? does it plug into a regular outlet?
  3. Does it have a timer – is it digital or is it manual?
  4. How is the pressure adjusted – is pressure applied evenly?
  5. Does it have an accurate temperature gauge — is it digital? manual?
  6. What kind of warranty is offered and what is covered?

Options for Clamshell Presses

HIX EVO HT-400 Clamshell Press — Economical to purchase, easy to operate and extremely mobile in design for those craftsman that travel with their press.

  • Available in 15” x 15”
  • Calibrated analog temperature dial
  • Front-mounted thermometer
  • Heat indicating light illuminates until the press reaches the set temperature
  • Handle locking pin for secure transport of the press
  • Simplified design for better mobility
  • Tilting (floating) lower platen – The bottom platen tilts up toward the upper platen as the heat press closes. This equalizes pressure even when pressing thick items, such as a quarter-inch thick 8×10” ceramic tile.
  • Top Pressure Plate – The handle attaches to a 4″x5″ pressure plate on the top platen instead of a single screw going into the top platen. This provides more even pressure on the outside edges of the press (think of it as pushing down with your entire hand, versus just your thumb)
  • Standard 110V electrical wall plug
  • 1-year general warranty and lifetime warranty on the heater element

Alternate Clam-Styles:

HT-600 – rugged, manual open heat press

S-450 & S-650 – automatic open heat press

N-680 and N-880 – pneumatic air-operated automatic, auto-open heat presses

Options for Pros or Professional Shops:

HIX Swingman Swing-Away Presses – A series of heat press is for professionals who need maximum production, high-quality impressions, safety, and minimal effort on the operator.

  • Available in: 16″ x 20″, 20” x 20” and 20” x 25”
  • Ideal for production shops using heat transfer vinyl and laser-toner transfer
  • Top swings away for total access to bottom platen
  • Programmable digital time and temperature read out with pre-sets and audible buzzer
  • At-the back, manual dial pressure adjustment with digital read-out
  • Upper heating element has non-stick coating
  • Heat resistant, sponge bottom platen
  • Achieves even pressure on large, thick items or multiple small, thick items
  • Accepts setups up to 1.75” thick
  • Standard 110V electrical wall plug (220V option available on some models)
  • UL/ULC/CE/RoHS Approved
  • CE/NRTLCO Approved
  • Lifetime warranty on the heater element and a one-year warranty on other parts

Swing-Away Styles

SwingMan 20 – Manual control 16” x 20”

SwingMan 20 Twin Platen – 2 Manual Control, 20” x 20” platens

SwingMan 25 – Manual control 20” x 25”

SwingMan 25 Twin Platen – 2 Manual Control, 20” x 25” platens

For more information visit this link to our individual heat press product pages.


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