UK Heat Press Machines Guide | How To Choose The Best Heat Press
We are often asked by people for advice on how to choose the best heat press machine for a business venture and there are many different factors to consider. Based on this, we’ve put together this guide to help anyone choose the right heat press for them, and to try to answer all the questions you may have on the different heat presses available.
For reference, based on over 30 years of experience in supplying heat transfers and related equipment, we only sell heat presses from Stahls and Stahls’ Hotronix due to their build quality. These includes the Stahls Clam Basic, Hotronix MAXX, Hotronix Auto Open and Hotronix Fusion IQ. However, this guide will also give you general advice as to the features and related accessories to consider when buying a heat press.
Table of Contents:
What Is A Heat Press Machine?
A heat press is an electrical machine which uses heat to apply designs onto substrates, using a combination of the heated upper platen and pressure onto the lower platen for a specific amount of time. Presses are mainly to apply heat transfers onto garments, such as t-shirts and hoodies, but there are also specialist presses which apply onto other products, such as caps, mugs and sports balls.
Using a heat press machine to apply heat transfers based on plastisol inks, Heat Transfer Vinyl or Printable HTV designs to fabric is now one of the most commonly used methods for printing garments. Other methods such as DTG, sublimation and silk-screen printing are also possible to apply designs onto fabric.
For tasks such as sublimation printing using sublimation paper and inks, a high pressure heat press machine isn’t usually required, so sublimation heat presses are often quite cheap. However, for transfer printing of Custom Transfers, Heat Transfer Vinyls and Heat Transfer Papers using sufficient pressure is recommended by using a high quality press.
This is an integral piece of equipment to any printing business and there are many different types of heat presses available. In addition, the budget you have available to spend on a press will also be a factor in which type you buy.
Do You Need A Heat Press For Heat Transfer Vinyl?
Although a domestic iron could be used, to ensure that the HTV is properly applied to the garment, a heat press is strongly recommended. The video below explains the advantages of using a heat press.
Why Use A Commercial Heat Press Instead Of A Hobby Press Or Iron?
The three main requirements to successfully apply a transfer are an accurate temperature, time and pressure. A commercial heat press can be calibrated to these requirements and maximise your efficiency, whereas you will not be able to perform anything accurately with a hobby press, such as a Cricut EasyPress, or a domestic iron.
Our Heat Transfer Vinyls and custom heat transfers are manufactured for use with commercial heat presses which are able to maintain a consistent temperature and even pressure which are both something that the Cricut EasyPress struggles to provide due to it being aimed at the hobby market and is rarely used for retail/commercial use. Based on this, if you’re looking to supply the finished goods for retail sale we’d strongly recommend looking at purchasing a commercial heat press to ensure that the heat transfer is properly bonded to the intended fabric.
Our Cricut EasyPress vs Stahls Heat Press UK guide is worth reading to gain a better understanding of the differences if you’re unsure.
What Type Of Heat Press Machine Is Best For Me? A Clam, Draw or Swing Away Heat Press?
The correct press for you would depend on several factors, including the types of items you wish to heat apply onto, the work environment you have and the budget that you’re working within. As a guide, the following types cover most standard flat-bed heat presses:
- Clam Heat Transfer Press: This style of heat press machine is a compact design which is by far the most common, and has a heated upper platen which opens directly over a lower platen. The “clam” comes from the opening and closing being similar in style to a clam shell.
- Draw Heat Transfer Press: This press has similar functions to the clam press but the lower platen is able to slide (or “draw” out) from the machine whilst the upper platen is fixed horizontally. This means that the lower platen can be moved away from the heat of the upper platen for easier threading of the garment over the lower platen.
- Swing-Away Heat Transfer Press: Again, this type of heat press machine has all the functions of the clam press with the added advantage of the upper platen swinging away from the lower platen. However due to the swing of the upper platen more work space is required for this style of heat press.
We offer an excellent range of presses that cater for all types of businesses and budget:
- Stahls Clam Basic Heat Presses: These are entry-level clam shell presses which are reasonably priced and built in China but to the high standard that customers demand from Stahls’ products.
- Hotronix MAXX Clam Heat Presses: These are mid-level clam shell presses which are proudly built in the USA by Hotronix and are of exceptional quality.
- Hotronix Auto Open Heat Presses: Similar to the MAXX heat press machine, but have the additional features of a pressure sensor, a dual timer and an auto release magnet which raises the upper platen once the time has elapsed.
- Hotronix Fusion Heat Presses: These are top-level heat presses which are built in the USA and are of the highest quality. They have several features to make high-demand printing quicker and easier, along with cloud-based press operator reports. The standard Fusion IQ has both draw and swing-away options, but there are also pneumatic versions available which are swing-away presses.
In addition, all of the Hotronix heat press machines that we supply also have quick release lower platens available to purchase separately to aide you to heat apply onto more difficult items or garment areas.
What Size Of Heat Transfer Press Is Best For Me?
Heat transfer presses are produced in several different sizes to ensure that there is a press to meet every business requirement. Based on the presses we supply, the difference between the sizes is as follows:
- A 15cm x 15cm model is specifically designed for applying small designs such as labels, breast pocket designs and shorts.
- 28x38cm, 38x38cm, 40x40cm and 40x50cm models are perfect for printing both large and small designs. Some presses also allow for printing smaller or more difficult areas (such as sleeves) much easier and quicker using different sized lower platens which greatly increases the application speed. These are available for all the heat press machines that we supply, except for the Clam Basic heat presses.
- A Cap Heat Press is great for applying onto curved surfaces, such as caps and hats. Additional lower cap platens for different styles of caps are also available to purchase separately.
- A Sports Ball press is ideal for applying onto a wide variety of balls.
If you were for example only looking to supply clothes for children and smaller garments then a smaller heat press such as a 28cm x 38cm should be the only heat press you’d need.
However, if you were looking to supply a range of printed garments of varying sizes then it would be more beneficial in the long term of your business to purchase a larger heat press. A larger press with quick release lower platens available is also suitable for printing smaller items without the need for buying a different press.
Other Features To Consider In A Heat Press Machine
In addition to a opting for a recognised brand of press to ensure that it offers consistent, reliable performance, the following features are also worth considering to ensure that the process is as easy as possible.
Interchangeable lower platens: Hotronix offer a wide selection of quick-release lower platens in different sizes which are designed to fit the Hotronix MAXX, Hotronix Auto Open and Hotronix Fusion IQ heat press machines. This enables the user to apply with far greater ease, and application onto fabrics which are usually difficult to print, such as those with profound seams, zippers and buttons, is made simple and easy.
The range of lower platens which are available includes the following:
- 18cm Round Hotronix Lower Platen
- 15cm x 25cm Hotronix Lower Platen
- 20cm x 25cm Hotronix Lower Platen
- 28cm x 38cm Hotronix Lower Platen
- 15cm x 50cm Hotronix Leg & Sleeve Lower Platen
- Hotronix Lower Shoe Platen
Hotronix also manufacture Heat Press Power Platens which are specifically designed to generate heat from the bottom heat press platen, allowing for a reduced temperature in the top platen which reduces the appearance of visible scorch marks on delicate and heat-sensitive polyester or synthetic fabrics, and reduce the risk of dye migration. They are available in 4 sizes, each controlled by one interchangeable Hotronix Heat Press Power Platen Controller (sold separately):
- 15cm x 15cm (6″ x 6″) Hotronix® Heat Press Power Platen™
- 15cm x 50cm (6″ x 20″) Hotronix® Heat Press Power Platen™
- 28cm x 38cm (11″ x 15″) Hotronix® Heat Press Power Platen™
- 40cm x 50cm (16″ x 20″) Hotronix® Heat Press Power Platen™
Alternatively, a family set of Hotronix® Power Platens™ includes all four sizes and one controller unit.
In addition to the flat-bed Hotronix lower platens, we also offer a wide selection of different sized platens designed for the Hotronix® MAXX and Hotronix Auto Open cap presses. This allows the person operating the cap press to apply onto a wider range of caps and headwear with far greater ease.
Threadable Lower Platen: A heat press is known as “threadable” when you can literally thread the fabric that you are going to print around theentire lower platen. You “thread” the garment by sliding it around the platen so that the area of the garment to be printed is laid flat and facing the upper platen, ready for heat pressing the design onto it.
Having a heat press with the ability to thread the entire garment around the lower platen is very useful, particularly on larger quantities. It quickly enables the user to have a flat surface to heat apply transfers to easily and speedily. We supply the following Hotronix accessories which are compatible with Hotronix MAXX heat presses and Hotronix Auto Open heat presses:
Both the Hotronix® Heat Press Caddie™ and the Hotronix® Heat Press CounterCaddie™ allow you to turn any Hotronix press into a fully threadable heat seal press, but are only compatible with these brands of heat press. Threadability, a modern innovation from Stahls’ Hotronix®, allows you to load your garment onto the heat press and decorate the front, back or side without having to struggle to remove it from the platen.
This patented time-saving feature is estimated to increase the application speed by up to 40%, according to studies carried out by Hotronix.
The threadable platen design also allows you to avoid seams, zippers and buttons when heat pressing, providing smooth, even pressure with less need for additional accessories, such as pillows or pads. The free-standing Heat Press Caddie™ stand version frees up counter space, leaving more room for layout and necessary heat printing accessories. As an alternative, you could also choose the Heat Press CounterCaddie™ stand for a more compact version which can be easily placed onto a counter space.
Auto Open Heat Press: Having a press with the “Auto Open” function is a great additional feature that can save heat press operator time and reduce printing errors. This feature means that after a pre-defined time the upper platen instantly opens up, hence why these are also known as semi-automatic heat press machines.
There are also presses that are fully automatic which means that they not only open after the pre-set time, but can also be closed automatically, usually by the use of button or foot controls. The release of the upper platen on the press would normally either be via an air compressor or a magnet assisted lockdown.
Whichever type of auto-open press you opt for, it will definitely save you time, operator fatigue, neck/back stresses and also greatly reduce printing mistakes. In short, if your business has a medium to high volume level of daily heat pressing demands, if you have multiple functions to perform (e.g. speaking to customers, answering telephone calls, etc.) or wish to reduce the likelihood of application errors, investing in an auto-open press will definitely be money well spent.
What Accessories Should I Use With A Heat Press?
There are many accessories that you can purchase to compliment your heat press which can help to reduce the overall application time and increase the precision, ease and consistency of your heat pressing. This includes the following:
Non-Stick Cover Sheet or Release Paper: At a size of 46cm by 49cm (18″ x 19″) our reusable, non-stick cover sheet is a perfect aide when heat applying heat transfers. It achieves a semi permanent gloss finish to heat transfers when using after applying a heat transfer. It also helps to protect the upper platen from ink migration, and to prevent heat transfers from sticking to the upper platen due to static.
In addition, our 38cm by 38cm (15″ x 15″) reusable, release paper is a perfect aide when heat applying heat transfers. It helps to protect your heat press by stopping inks and adhesive from bonding to the upper platen and leaves a matte finish on heat transfer materials. It also prevents heat transfers from sticking to the upper platen due to static build-up.
Non-Stick Pillows: Our non-stick pillows are all made with a durable covered coating. The 2cm (3/4″) thick, heat-resistant foam core enables heat press operators to have a flat surface to heat apply transfers near to buttons, seams and zippers on garments. They produce an even distribution of pressure by absorbing the protruding elements into the foam on application, and prevent marks on heat transfers and letters from the uneven garment surface. Simply place the pillow inside or underneath the garment priorto application.
They can also be used in open-weave garments to prevent the heat transfer from bonding to the other side of the garment (if not threaded around the lower platen).
They are available as a complete pack of four containing the following sizes and they are also available to purchase as separate items:
- 20cm x 16cm (8″ x 6″) non-stick pillow for shorts, short sleeves and smaller garments.
- 25cm x 25cm (10″ x 10″) non-stick pillow for adult garments, such as polo shirts and t-shirts.
- 46cm x 13cm (19″ x 5″) non-stick pillow for long sleeves and trouser legs.
- 51cm x 41cm (20″ x 16″) non-stick pillow for over-sized adult garments, such as hoodies and sweatshirts.
Stahls Hotronix Heat Press Portable Laser Alignment Tool: This fantastic tool allows the user to ensure precise placement every time when decorating garments. The system is designed to increase accuracy and speed by using up to four lasers to show exactly where the heat transfer should be applied or where the garment should be placed. In addition, the tool is portable which enables it to be positioned either behind or by the side of the press for optimum usage.
The number of spoilt garments due to poorly positioned heat transfers is greatly reduced by this cost effective solution – The system allows the user to decorate quickly but with accurate positioning every time! The four lasers are independent of each other and can be easily and separately aligned to the required settings. Being separate to the heat press, it also makes them compatible with any brand or style of press, and not just the Stahls and Hotronix heat presses.
The Stahls Hotronix Portable Laser Alignment Tool has the following features:
- Contains four independent lasers, each powered separately.
- The lasers can be used with any size heat platen, including specialised platens (e.g. sleeve platen)
- Sits easily on any flat, table-top surface.
- Compatible with any make and model of heat press.
Stahls Hotronix Heat Printing Equipment Cart: The heavy-duty, power coated steel frame is robust enough to hold up to 272kg (600 lbs) of equipment. This makes it ideal for operating a press or any other production equipment, especially if you need to adjust the height.
The equipment cart is a fantastic piece of equipment which is ideal for any size of business. It’s adjustable and portable, which allows you to adjust the height of the press quickly and easily for different operators. It also enables you to re-arrange your production area to add an additional heat press, plotter or any other equipment, wherever and whenever you need it. It can also be used as additional workspace for laying garments before, during and after heat pressing if required.
It comes fully assembled when shipped so is ready to go as soon as it arrives. The swivel caster wheels allow you to move the equipment around your premises or to events with ease, and lock in place to ensure stability once moved. In addition, the crank raises the cart from a minimum height of 43cm (17″) to a maximum height of 89cm (35″) making it more comfortable for any heat press user over a prolonged period of time.
Why Should I Avoid Cheap UK Heat Press Machines?
There are many low-cost presses available on the UK market which could be tempting to buy when you are initially setting up your business to save on costs. However, we strongly advise caution when buying a cheap, unbranded heat press machine as they tend to be less reliable and unsuitable as the crucial equipment at the centre of a garment printing business.
The ability to change different parts on a multi function heat press, such as though to convert into a mug press, are often an indication of a low quality unbranded heat press. Transfer pressing using these types of machines is often difficult due to the lack of pressure which can be used without damaging the press. To ensure a reliable press, and easy indication is that the press has a specific brand name and is designed for single type of application (e.g. flat bed press, mug heat press).
Most start-up businesses usually purchase a budget Chinese heat press via Amazon or eBay, with the main issue being the limited after-sales support once you’ve bought the press. We would strongly recommend contacting the company that you’re planning on purchasing the press from to find out what would happen if the heat press developed an issue. Sadly, many UK heat press suppliers have limited technical knowledge on how the presses operate, access to spare parts or the ability to repair heat presses over their lifetime.
Most cheap UK heat presses tend to be manufactured in China and imported in bulk at a low cost to the importer. Although similar in appearance to USA and European heat presses, the build quality is often lacking due to the poor quality of the materials and components used.
The heating element is often not fixed in place properly which results in an uneven temperature across the platen, which can greatly affect the quality of the bond between the heat transfer and the garment. In addition, the silicon rubber mat is often not bonded properly to the steel which results in a loss of pressure which also affects the bond to the fabric.
Quite often, the steel used to manufacture cheap presses is of a low quality which is a major concern due to the heat radiating from the upper platen. The reason for this is that it can result in warping of the platens and affect the required even pressure of the heat press.
To complicate matters, many European heat press manufacturers now have the majority of their components produced in China before being assembled in Europe. By using phrases such as “European designed” or “UK Built”, they avoid highlighting that country of manufacture is actually China. To ensure that you get a high-quality, reliable press which will stand the test of time, you should first contact the company before purchasing a press. Make sure that they offer a comprehensive warranty and can supply any replacement components that you may require in the future.
If you’re on a tight budget for purchasing a branded heat press machine then we would recommend purchasing from our range of Stahls Clam Basic Heat Presses. These are entry-level, clam presses which are reasonably priced and are built in China, but to the high standard that customers demand from Stahls’ products.
In comparison to the other Chinese imports available on the UK market, the Stahls Clam Basic is of a far superior build quality and is the only Chinese press that we would ever recommend to our customers. Based on our experience of others presses, including many branded and unbranded, generic Chinese presses, they’re usually not of a commercial quality with many only lasting weeks or months at best.
To give more information as to some of the differences between cheap imports and a Hotronix heat press, the video highlights several different features:
Purchasing A Heat Press From Outside of The UK
Most heat presses tend to have a “return to base” warranty as standard. This means that if you had an issue with the heat press which couldn’t be fixed by yourself, the company would usually require you to return to them for the repair to be carried out. The labour and parts would usually be free of charge, providing it was within the warranty period and not related to general wear and tear, but you would be required to bear the cost of shipping to and from the supplier.
By purchasing from a non-UK company, the shipping cost would be far greater and the overall timescales much longer than buying from a UK supplier. Choosing a recognised brand of heat press, such as a Stahls or Stahls Hotronix, would certainly reduce the risk of developing an issue. However, in the event of something going wrong, the additional cost of shipping and downtime is likely to outweigh any minor saving on the initial purchase.
In addition, if you were to buy from a non-UK location (including EU countries), you would still be liable to pay the VAT (20% of the total value). Although some websites state that they don’t charge VAT, you would still owe the tax to HMRC directly once you’ve imported the heat press. This isn’t an issue for VAT registered companies, but has often affected many start-ups and small companies which are required to make the payment to HMRC.
What Warranty & After-Sales Support Should A Heat Press Come With?
Regardless of the heat press you choose, you should always ensure that the company that supplies it offers a suitable warranty and can supply any parts and advice that you may require in the future.
We’re happy to confirm that if you chose to purchase a press from us, we’ve always repaired and maintained all of the heat presses we supply to give our customers the technical support and advice that they need, based on our comprehensive experience in the heat press industry. To clarify, all necessary heat press repairs are undertaken in the UK, unlike many other Stahls UK heat press resellers.
Additional Questions Which We’re Commonly Asked
How much power do I need for a heat press, and can I just plug it into a standard electrical socket?
The heat presses that we supply come with a standard domestic/commercial UK plug (Type G) and are suitable for use on a standard UK mains supply (i.e. 220 volts), but as they consume between 8.5 and 14.5 amps we would recommend ensuring that you have a 15-20 amp circuit to power the heat press, and ideally a dedicated circuit is advised to ensure that there aren’t issues with the power supply. You can also use heat presses with generators, but we recommend ensuring that you have protection about power surges which can affect the operation of the press, and that the generator has at least 1.8kw of power to make certain that it can operate properly.
When I’m not using my heat press should I leave it opened or closed?
We recommend leaving the heat press in the “open” position to ensure that the silicone rubber on the lower platen isn’t perished by the heat which remains in the upper platen when powered or immediately after being switched off. In addition, for heat presses which have springs, rather than dampers, leaving it open also ensures that they aren’t weakened by prolonged periods at full extension.
Do most people leave their heat presses on all day?
A lot of retail customers tend to turn their heat press on at the beginning of the day to ensure that it’s ready to use when required, as it would usually take 10-15 minutes to reach the normal operating temperature. The heat press will not use the full power to maintain temperature, but this should be factored in to your operating costs. As an additional point, a heat press would usually take 30-40 minutes to cool down.
Can I cover up the rubber mat on the lower platen to prevent it wearing?
Not only can you, but it is something that we would recommend! Stahls Platen Protectors come in a variety of different sizes to fit most heat presses, and offer protection from wear and tear, in addition to making it quicker to load and unload garments.
How do I make sure that my heat press is heating accurately?
An infrared thermometer (pyrometer) can be used to accurately gauge the temperature of the upper platen. You can also look at purchasing a non-contact temperature probe as an alternative, but unfortunately we don’t supply these.
How do I know what is the correct temperature, pressure and time for my heat press?
The temperature, pressure and time are all specific to the particular heat transfer that you are applying – All of the vinyls and custom transfers we supply are shipped with instructions to guide you on this.
How do I clean my heat press if I get something on the upper platen?
The best way to clean a press is with a dry cloth whilst the heat press is HOT but NOT plugged in – Use caution when cleaning the press as the upper platen will be extremely hot.
Heat Press Guide Summary
We hope that our heat press guide has been an informative source of help in you choosing the right heat press for your business needs.
To keep up to date with other guides and additional information, please feel free to check out the Heat Transfer Help Guides and Blog section on our website. Topics include heat press machines, custom heat transfers, heat transfer vinyls, heat transfer papers and heat press accessories.
Please visit our Purchasing Information page for more details of where to purchase.