How to Use a Heat Press: The Ultimate Transfer Guide

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    Ever wondered why there appears to be an endless quantity of designs on apparel and other items such as tumblers and mugs?

    It boils down to only needing to buy a heat press machine to create your own design in the comfort of your own home. Not only that, these machines are affordable for everyone to buy!

    Heat presses apply heat in combination with pressure to seal graphics onto clothing (and other items) once they’ve reached the desired settings. They are controlled by a thermostat and pressure knob, although modern versions have digital displays and control buttons.

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      However, their application is also for preheating garments to remove humidity & wrinkles. This allows for better adhesion of artwork on your substrate.

      Key Takeaways

      Preheating garment

      To ensure sufficient print transfer, it’s recommended to preheat the area of the garment where the design will be printed. This ensures moisture removal from the fabric and creates a smooth area to lay your transfer paper on.

      Importance of cooling

      Once you’ve pressed the artwork into the garment, avoid removing it from the heat press before letting it cool down. The flat surface helps set the design in place and prevents it from wrinkling.

      The most common way to print is by means of sublimation through transfer paper using a sublimation printer. Cut around the artwork to minimize the paper area size (this step helps avoid excessive film of the paper being transferred onto the material). Make sure the surface of the design is covered before pressing.

      Set the correct temperature and press over the transfer paper. Once the ink reaches the desired temperature, pressure will bond it to the substrate.

      Note: If you find the transfer paper stuck to the platen, it means you have placed it the wrong side up. It’s important to remove the it and clean your platen thoroughly after switching it off!

      Transfer printing is made possible with a press. It uses both heat and pressure to get the job done.

      Depending on the transfer paper, peel it off, or it may come off on its own… and your artwork has been applied!

      Choose Your Press

      Before making your heat press purchase, consider these factors first!

      They are available in a variety of sizes, from small handled tabletops to large floor-standing models.

      Some presses come with various features, while others are basic. Decide which features work best for you and your business needs.

      Think budget! These units range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. It’s essential to get a press machine for clothes that fits your budget and your requirements.

      Select Your Fabrics

      There are two main types of fabrics: natural and synthetic and these need careful consideration.

      Natural fabrics (cotton, linen, & wool) are made from plant or animal fibers. Synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon & acrylic), are man-made fibers.

      The second thing to consider is weight (or thickness). The heavier the fabric, the more heat it can withstand. The lighter, the less it can withstand heat pressing and may scorch or burn.

      The third thing is “heat sensitivity”. Some fabrics are more susceptible to high temperatures than others.

      Always wash the garment first (even if new) to remove debris or contaminants. This allows for better bonding of the ink. Also, consider pressing the washed item to remove wrinkles and potential moisture in the fabric.

      Select Your Design

      Any image can be printed, but for a good print transfer, it’s recommended the initial digital image is of high quality to start with! For this starting a business though, it’s essential to create your own unique and original work to pique potential client interest’s.

      Improving your skills using industry stand tools is required. Having a unique artwork doesn’t always mean created artwork from scratch, you can always adapt existing work and that’s where such software comes in handy!

      Printing Your Design

      Your design has to be placed somewhere before the pressing process takes place. That place is called transfer paper where it is printed on before placing it on the garment which is inside the press ready for pressure to be applied. There are different types of transfers which will depend on the type of printer and material color available.

      Inkjet Transfers

      Most use inkjet printers, so you can try this at home. However, inkjet transfer paper is required for this process. You’ll likely know that inkjets cannot print white ink, so the garment color will show up instead of the white. Using a white garment can resolve this problem or making the color off-white so the printer has an opportunity to mix colors to “resemble” white!

      Laser Printer Transfers

      Again the first step is to source the correct transfer paper (laser transfer paper). For transferring designs, laser printers aren’t the best at yielding colors (not very color-fast).

      Sublimation Transfers

      This process works the best for print transfers. Sublimation printers are used as the ink is of a special type. When heat is applied, the ink turns into a gas which enables it to penetrate the fabric and adhere well. The print is long lasting, but remember, it works best with polyester and not as well on natural materials such as cotton!

      Prepare Heat Press For Printing

      Make sure that the area around the unit is clear from flammable materials and solvents. Plug it in and switch it on, once warmed up, this is important! If you don’t preheat the machine, you will run into transfer issues.

      Select the desired temperature by turning the knob (or up button). Remember, there’s no one fixed temperature, this will depend on the material of your fabric.

      As a reference, the temperature will usually be somewhere between 340-380°F, but you can use this heat press temp & pressure guide as a reference. It’s time to place your garment on the lower platen and line up the upper platen over it. Once the temperature light goes off, place the printed transfer face down. Now lower the handle and wait for the timer. Once the timer goes off, raise the handle and remove your clothing.

      * Note: Before pressing, ensure the material is smooth and unwrinkled!

      Did you know?

      It’s a good idea to test the heat press on a scrap piece of fabric before applying it to the garment. This ensures the design is transferred correctly.

      Tips For Optimal Press Results

      There are some facts to remember when using a press. These will help you obtain the best results.

      First, make sure the surface you are pressing is clean and has no debris or lint. This ensures your design adheres properly. You can use a lint roller for this step.

      Secondly, use good quality transfer paper to ensure quality results.

      Third, set the temperature and pressure according to the type of fabric you’re pressing. Heat presses can get very hot, so be careful.

      Finally, let the pressed garment cool before removing it from the press. You do this to set the design and prevent it from getting wrinkly.

      Pressing T-shirts

      Pressing a T-shirt for your business is relatively simple with little required practice. Here are the steps:

      1. Choose your image and print it out on transfer paper. Make sure that the design is the right size for your T-shirt.
      2. Cut it out, leaving a small border.
      3. Place the design on the T-shirt, making sure that it’s centered and smoothed down.
      4. Place a piece of parchment paper over the design, and then press the upper platen down onto the parchment paper.
      5. Hold the heat press in place for the recommended time for your heat transfer paper.
      6. Peel back the parchment paper, and then let the garment cool before wearing.

      Why use a heat press for making t-shirts?

      There are a variety of reasons why someone might use a heat press for t-shirt printing. Perhaps they are looking for a more sophisticated finish, or they might need to produce a large number of shirts in a short amount of time.

      This unit offers a versatile solution for t-shirt makers. Additionally, they help to create a more durable product than screen-printed shirts.

      Pressing Hats

      Transfer paper can be used on caps and hats, but transfer vinyl is an easier option for this application. Due to the shape of hats and their smaller designs, it’s recommended using heat tape to attach the vinyl in place. Here are the instructions:

      1. Choose the right size and style of hat.
      2. Place the hat on the machine and tape the vinyl in place.
      3. Set the temperature and time according to the instructions that are given by the manufacturer.
      4. Press the hat for the recommended time.
      5. Removal of the hat and allow it to cool.
      6. Enjoy the hat!

      Pressing Mugs & Cups

      Customizing mugs with a heat press is an easy process that anyone can do! It can even make for a decent addition to your business.

      1. Start by choosing a design for your mug. You can either create your own or use a pre-made design. If you are creating your own, make sure it is a high-resolution file.
      2. Next, print your design onto the paper. Make sure to mirror it so that it will print correctly on the mug.
      3. Cut out your design, leaving a small border around the edge.
      4. Place the design where you want it on the mug.
      5. Cover the design with heat transfer vinyl.
      6. Set your press to the correct temperature and time for the vinyl you are using. Place the cup on it and close the press.

      Enjoy your heat-pressed cup!

      Pressing Polyester

      When using a heat press on polyester, it is essential to choose the temperature and pressure according to the polyester being used.

      Generally, this should be around 350 degrees Fahrenheit and a pressure of about 15 psi is sufficient. It is also important to use a protective sheet or cover over the polyester to prevent it from sticking to the press or being damaged.

      Get a Teflon sheet to protect your polyester from sticking to the heat press.

      Protecting Your Print

      Consider leaving your garment to rest for 24 hours before wearing or washing it. By doing this, the print has time to cure without any movements putting stress on it!

      When the time comes to wash it, turn it inside out to reduce friction on the print, use a delicate detergent and avoid using tumble drying if possible!


      In conclusion, a heat press machine is a must for anyone who wants to take their printing business to the next level. If you’re considering starting a business that uses a heat press, here is what you should keep in mind.

      First, you’ll need to purchase a quality machine. Second, you’ll need to learn how to use the equipment properly. And third, you’ll need to create a design that your customers will love.

      With a little bit of practice, you’ll create beautiful, long-lasting designs that will wow people. Hopefully, you can make money along the way.

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