The Best T-shirt Heat Press Machines

Heat press transfers are becoming more popular by the minute.

It’s easy to apply, quicker than screen printing, less messy, produces decent quality , and has a very low learning curve. In fact, you could be making money today by pressing designs using your home printer and a heat press machine. Just get some transfer sheets and you’re good to go!

Okay, so now you need to get a heat press machine. With so many options to choose from, which should you get? The presses available in the marketplace can press caps, bags, mugs, tiles, and even golf balls. Today I’ll be covering the most popular – t-shirts.

There are basically only 2 types heat press styles – The Clam Shell and Swingaway

1. The Clam shell

The Clamshell is a typical press you would see in most screen printing/heat press shops. One of the reasons why, is because the clam shell takes up less space than the standard swing arm heat press. This can make things a lot easier to manage in a production setting. Like most people in the industry, my first press was a used clamshell. It was made in China and I got it really cheap off eBay. It was a great machine that introduced me to heat pressing garments and a great machine that taught me what NOT to do.

2. The Swing away

The second type of press is the swing away. This sort of press comes with a swivel that moves away from the platen. The press which I’ve been using for the past 5 years is a swing away. Here’s my 3 cents on why I moved to the swing away:

1. When you’re starting out you’ll need to stretch your dollar/pound/euro/peso as much as you can. Most people would think cheap, cheap, cheap. I took the same path and ended up wasting countless hours and about a hundred dollars worth of transfer paper, ink, and un-salvageable t-shirts.

2. The heat press is only suppose to give you ONE thing. And that is an even temperature at a constant heat and pressure. Okay to some, that’s 3 things. But that means it needs to output the same amount of heat and pressure from every cubic mm of the platen. You can only get this from a machine that came from a reputable/ established manufacturer. The cheapo heat press I got often times gave me great heat, but irregular pressure and vice versa, rendering prints that would come off after one wash. As far as heat presses go, do yourself a favor and spend the money. I’d look on Amazon or even the t-shirt forums’ classifieds area to get some leads.

3. Most transfer papers requires a temperature of at least 350 degrees. The clamshell’s 50 degree opening in-my-face mechanism was pretty much the deal breaker for me. For a job of 50 t-shirts, I was sure my hands and face were half baked, and not in the good way. Sure, I propped a fan to blow and cool the area, but 2 things happened. First, it would always blow my teflon sheet when i popped the shell open, and I’d have to pick it up (causes bad back, need yoga after), and second, it was a hassle turning it on and off while I aligned my sheet before pressing.

4. The press I have is The Swingman made by the Hix Corporation. They’ve been building these little toys for decades. Other manufacturers like Stahls, Power Pro, and Geo Knight put out some great machines too, so you should check them out. My Swingman is the 15 incher but I’ll soon upgrade to the 16×20 because I’m doing more Jumbo prints now.

5. Automatic/Digital – these are great features to own if you have the extra buck to spend, however, they’re just extras and the manual presses will give you the same thing. If you have to nitpick about features, these aren’t the things you should be losing sleep over. It’s the same as saying the clamshell is a 2 step process – open and press, where as the swing away is 4 – open, swing away, swing back, press. Those who scrutinize to this point are usually over thinking things. Don’t over think it. Besides, just remember Murphy’s law – anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

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