If you’re in the process of buying a heat press for any garment or gift printing process including dye sublimation, vinyl, laser or inkjet transfer, pre-made transfers / decals, direct to garment printing, and if you’re new to the business, then this guide is for you.
However, we don’t only sell one brand of heat press, plus we’ve been in business since 1972 because we have great relationships with our customers, which comes from a focus on our clients needs rather than purely our own.
In other words, we won’t try to sell you a heat press, or any other products, based on our preferences – we will guide you based on what we feel is best for you, even if it means recommending that you buy a heat press from a competitor, which we will always do if we felt that the best press for you was one which we don’t supply.
So you can speak to us about your requirements without being concerned as to whether or not we will simply tell you what you need to hear in order to get your business, that is short term thinking, and a company doesn’t survive for going on for 5 decades by focusing purely on the next sale.
Anyway, enough waffling – on with the guide:
We sell three brands of press which we believe to be among the very best heat presses available in the UK. These are (in no particular order) American brand Stahls (Clam Basic, Hotronix Maxx, Hotronix Auto Open, and Fusion) Italian made Transmatic & USA manufactured Geo Knight heat presses.
That being said, we have attempted to make this guide as unbiased as possible, and we have included information on presses which we do not supply.
First things first…
The two main types or styles of heat presses, are swing away and clamshell.
These are most common available choices of flatbed machines. There are also rotary presses, but these are wide format heat presses, and they’re generally far more expensive and are usually used for pressing fabric in high volumes.
Clamshell heat presses open up like a clam, like an Oyster shell for example.
Swing away presses open up vertically and then swing away, hence the name.
That is, with swing away, the top platen is raised up vertically, with the platen remaining parallel with the bottom table, and then in order to get at the bottom table, the top platen is swung to the side and around the back.
Clam presses are often favoured amongst garment printers as they require less operator effort, and they make for slightly faster production speeds with slightly less physical user effort required as with swing away presses.
Historically, max item thickness was a restriction when it came to clamshells. This isn’t necessarily the case now, however, it just depends on the clamshell in question.
For example, the Stahls Hotronix presses can take items up to 3.2 cm thick, just over one and a quarter inches, which is much thicker than would generally be expected with a clamshell, and which is more than enough for the majority of blanks.
If you do have a particular requirement to be able to press onto particularly thick items, however, then some (not all) swing away presses may give you more in terms of maximum thickness. For example, the DK20S can take up to 2″.
So in a nutshell, just try to find out the thickness of the thickest item you’re going to be pressing, and ensure that whatever press you’re thinking of investing in is capable of that thickness.
Many of the earlier designs of clamshell presses, gave a very small space towards the back of the platen for the user’s hands – which could lead to people touching the heat platen with their knuckles or the back of their hands, not something you particularly want to do with a piece of steel at 180-200C.
Good clamshell heat presses these days though have a higher minimum clearance, again using the Stahls Hotronix presses as an example, the minimum clearance at the back of the press is around 6 inches.
If space is a premium, and you were hoping for to stick your heat press in the corner of the room, then a clamshell press is probably going to be a better option for you than a swing away press.
With swing presses, you need to have the depth of the platen free all the way around the side (usually the right-hand side) and the rear of the press. So if the platen is 50cm long, then imaging pivoting that all the way around the side and around the back of the press, and that’s how much space you need to reserve for the press.
Swing away presses are like Baby from Dirty Dancing. No one puts her in a corner either. 😉
With clamshells this isn’t an issue, they just open up like a clam, so you can plonk them in a small space, or in the corner of a room.
There is an alternative to swing or clam, with drawer operation. The Transmatic TS-2M, Transmatic TS-74M large-format press, are drawer operated. This means that they operate like a swing press in that the top platen lifts up vertically, but then instead of swinging the head in order to get at the bottom table, you simply pull out the bottom platen, get your next shirt/product ready & then slide the platen back under.
The Stahls Hotronix Fusion heat press is a dual operation draw and swing head press.
Not all presses have the same capabilities when it comes to heavier pressure, it depends on how well built the heat press is, and the quality of all of the components used.
If the process you’re going to be using does require particularly heavy pressure, then the main thing to keep in mind is that it takes a well-built heat press, using sturdy framework and high-quality components to make a heat press which is capable not only of delivering heavy pressure but also of being able to withstand that pressure over time.
Cheap heat presses are made cheap by using cheap components, so even if you’re buying a press which appears to be able to deliver enough pressure for your process, this doesn’t mean that one of the components isn’t going to give in under the strain.
Even budget presses that are sold as high-pressure presses due to using a dual gas springs system may not have the framework and the necessary overall build quality to be able to properly evenly distribute the pressure and to be able to cope with high pressure over sustained use without sustaining severe wear.
The Stahls Clam Basic heat presses, for example, are fine for sublimation with most substrates, but we wouldn’t recommend them for laser transfer for example or any other high-pressure processes.
The most common flatbed heat transfer presses sizes are around 15×15 inch (38x38cm) which is a common size for Tshirt presses, and 15″ x 20″ (38x50cm), give or take an Inch or so.
This size refers to the size of the heat platen, and also the size of the bottom table/platen which comes with the heat press. There are also different sized lower platens available for some heat presses, allowing you to thread different sized items onto the lower table.
There are smaller specialist presses for bags & labels, and small presses popular for portability, and then larger flatbed presses A2 & over. There are of course specially shaped machines for caps, plates and mugs, and vacuum presses for 3D dye sublimation.
The size of press you need depends on the size of the images you wish to press. The capability of your printer should play a part in the decision-making process to (if you’re creating your own transfers), there’s no point investing in a 16×20 inch heat press machine for instance if you only have an A4 printer.
If you’re decorating garments or bags, then threadability or “threadable heat presses” is probably something you’ve heard people talking about. This simply means the ability to thread, or “dress” the garment or bag / backpack over the bottom platen, so that instead of putting the whole shirt under the press, you’re only pressing the side of the garment that you’re applying the transfer to, and the other side of the garment (shirt / hoodie), or bah and handles, hangs down.
In order to be threadable, there needs to be “drape space” under the bottom table so you can thread the garment on.
Some threadable presses are dressed on from the front (which means you press the garment upside down, also known as “screen printing style”) while some are dressed from the back, which means you can thread the garment onto the bottom table and press the right way around.
The Geo Knight Swing away presses, (such as the DC16 combo, DK20S, & DK20SP) are threadable from the back, while their clamshell presses such as the DK16 & DK20 are also threadable but from the front.
Auto open presses open automatically at the end of the heating cycle, which is a very handy feature for several reasons.
Firstly, if you’re multitasking then an auto open press is a great idea, as you’re not going to ruin your product or garment if you don’t get back to it in time (unless it’s a hot peel process of course in which case the transfer will be ruined if you get back to it in time but at least you won’t have burned the place down).
Secondly, having an auto open press is beneficial in terms of production speed. If you press a couple of products or shirts per day then you’re probably not going to notice any difference, but if your press is constantly in use for several hours per day & you have a lot of volume to get through, the auto pop-up feature is likely to make a noticeable difference.
Again if you’re handling a lot of volume, this feature will help in terms of less operator fatigue – unclamping a clamshell press a few times per day is nothing, but a few hundred times per day and you’re likely to feel the difference between using an auto open press or a standard clamshell.
Another benefit of auto open is when it comes to transfer processes which demand almost instant hot peel. Being able to get in there just a split second faster and have both hands free to do the hot peel, can make a real difference.
And finally of course if your press is opening automatically at the end of the cycle, it helps with precision, for any process which requires a very precise dwell time.
The cheapest branded heat presses we sell are the Stahls Clam Basic presses. They’re at the entry-level price range, at just £349.99 for the 28×38, £449.99 for the 38×38, and £549.99 for the 40×50 . They come from one of the biggest names in heat press technology, so if you’re on a lower budget but want the peace of mind that you have a reliable press at the centre of your production, then the clam basic heat presses are a very good option for low to medium volume and for low to medium pressure processes.
As discussed earlier, “cheap” and “high-pressure” don’t go well together when it comes to heat presses. If you’re going to be regularly pressing at high pressures, you would be best advised to invest in a press which is build to withstand heavier pressure.
There are other cheap heat presses available in the UK, but most are either non-branded imported heat presses, or are newer un-tested brands, which are often simply imported Chinese heat presses with branding created by the re-seller.
We’re sometimes told that customers have found the same branded heat presses cheaper than the price we offer. In some circumstances, this could just be healthy competition, and phoning us may result in us matching a price. In most situations, it is the case of a heat press being sold into the UK, and the price the customer thinking they’re going to be paying isn’t necessarily the total price including delivery and VAT.
Also just be aware that some presses being sold into the UK from other countries are sold with return to base warranties whereby the customer is responsible for paying for delivery of their heat press back to the destination country in case of a warranty repair, and then also for delivery cost of the heat press back into the UK.
This isn’t just the case with buying cheaper presses directly from China either, there is a company offering Stahls heat presses for example which appears to be coming from the UK, but they come from Belgium, and presses need to be returned to Belgium should there be a warranty repair required.
When it comes to buying a heat press or other items from outside of the UK including China, just keep in mind that you will get a VAT and Customs invoice and potentially other costs such as customs fees, which could easily wipe out the perceived savings of importing directly.
As with most kinds of equipment, there are well known trusted brands, including the presses that we supply, and then there are non-branded options which are usually cheaper.
Also just keep in mind that there are also generic, low-cost Chinese presses being sold under brand names in the UK in order to increase the perceived value, so some diligence is recommended when deciding on which heat press to buy.
What you need to remember is that you are investing in business equipment. If all goes well with your plans, and we, of course, hope that it does (the better our customers do, the better we do!) this machinery will be the beating heart of your thriving business.
If you were starting a driving related business, you probably wouldn’t be looking to buy the very cheapest vehicle you could get your hands on. Instead, you would focus on reliability, as your vehicle as a driver is of prime importance. The same would be true if you were looking at buying a boat to run a business doing boat tours, or whatever the case may be.
The problem sometimes when people are looking at pressing & printing equipment is that some people just don’t fully understand the compromise they may be making when trusting a very cheap non-branded piece of industrial equipment, as a crucial part of their production process.
Many people start off with a small budget, and often when the budget is small, the compromise ends up being the heat press. This is understandable, if you have a smaller budget, then you have to make a decision about whether to wait & build up a larger budget or to get stuck in with what you have and compromise somewhere. What is important though is that when people do make this choice, they do realise the choice that they’re making.
We regularly get calls from customers who are buying machines to replace equipment which ended in disappointment, and we have encountered on many occasions individuals who did not realise at the time that they made the purchase, that they were buying a cheap non-branded press as opposed to investing in a trusted brand.
You’ve only got to have a look on eBay and other sources on the web at some of the claims made by those selling low-cost heat presses, about how unbelievably amazing they are, to understand how someone new to the business may just take out their wallet and click the buy now button without spending too much time looking elsewhere.
If you are limited by your budget and you have to go down the route of a budget press, ensure that you are buying from someone with a track record of offering good after-sales service. Check that the seller stocks parts, and offers service and repairs if needs be, and of course ensure that the machine you’re looking at purchasing is CE marked.
It is worth actually asking the supplier to prove that the product does actually have a certificate to back up the CE mark by the way, as there is equipment being sold into the UK with the mark but without the paperwork to back it up.
To be honest the answer to this question really depends on the process. For example with laser transfer printing processes, you need a very good heat press capable of heavy pressures, and very even pressure and heat distribution.
We have tested laser transfer medias with lower cost Chinese heat presses, and we just couldn’t get an image transferred at all. There are other processes which also require very accurate heat and/or pressure, and for this reason, well-known branded presses are usually recommended.
Dye sublimation is actually quite a forgiving process, and this is why the cheaper presses on eBay are so popular as sublimation presses. But if the press doesn’t work at all and you’re struggling to get support or parts, then it’s useless, so just keep that in mind if you’re thinking of going for a budget press.
That would be a valid question – we’re a good supplier (even if we do say so ourselves), we understand the importance of good after sales support, so why don’t we just import a cheaper range of presses and parts.
The answer is, we did, and it was a pain in the backside…
We imported a range of Chinese flatbed presses, but we stopped offering them simply because they are a lot more demanding when it comes to after-sales support, than the branded presses.
If we sell a Geo Knight, Stahls or Transmatic press, in the vast majority of cases we’ll never have any work to do in terms of support or servicing, and if there is – the manufacturer takes care of most of it for us if there are any issues, which is rare.
With the imported Chinese press machinery, however, we had to stock the parts, and offer the service & support ourselves, and the instances of issues are higher with these presses in our experience, especially delivery related issues.
They didn’t seem to stand up very well to the demands of UK courier delivery! Often these heat presses had no problem at all making the nearly 5,000 mile journey to the UK on a pallet, maybe due to safety by numbers… but then only to fall apart during a journey of only a couple of hundred miles within the UK. In fact, on one occasion we had to send three 38cm x 38cm Chinese clamshell presses out just to get one to the customer working!
The heat presses at the lowest end of the price range that we supply, are the Stahls Clam Basic heat presses. Starting at just £349 plus VAT, they’re a very reasonably priced heat press, they’re also reliable and come from a company with a very good reputation.
The idea of multi-function “combo” or combination heat presses such as a “5 in 1 heat press” is that instead of buying multiple machines, such as a cap press, mug press, plate press & flat press, you can just buy one press to do all these products.
The preleadshat lead the way for 4 in 1 & 5 in 1 multi function machines is the Geo Knight DC16 Digital Combo. It’s a very well made heat press constructed from solid steel (those Americans don’t like lightweight equipment 😉 ), threadable from the back so you can dress garments over the bottom table & press them the right way around. It has 2 inches of clearance, meaning you can press a wide range of products including thicker items like plaques boards & tiles. The swap out process is quick and simple, and all of the parts of the press are well built and reliable.
That being said, even with a dependable brand like Geo Knight, multi function combination presses are not for everyone, and there are drawbacks.
First of all, do you actually need a plate press (or in some cases two sized of plate press), a cap press, a mug press and a flat press?
One way to look at it, is that if what you need right now is a reliable and capable flatbed heat press, then you might be better focusing your current budget on this, especially if your budget is limited, and add other machines to add further strings to your bow in the future.
If further down the line you end up with various pieces of equipment such as a flat press, cap press, mug press & so on, then this brings with it some additional benefits over owning a combination press.
If you have stand alone machines rather than a multi purpose machine, and one of your presses develops a fault, your production is only effected for that particular product. If your cap press has an issue, it doesn’t affect your production of garments, mouse mats, plates, mugs, key rings, iPhone cases etc., However if you have a 5 in 1 press and it develops a fault ALL of your production is put on hold until the press is repaired.
For this reason, it would seem even more important to choose a well-known and trusted brand if you’re deciding on a combination press.
If you have stand alone dedicated machines for each product type, your potential volume is unhindered, but if you have one press your overall production volume or more popular items is potentially hindered by less popular products.
For example, lets say that you find that the bulk of your orders are for flat items such as mouse mats, tea towels, cushion covers and so on, and you have dozens of items to complete – and then you have one cap to press. By the time you’ve faffed about swapping the heads over (which is never quite as quick or simple as it may appear to be, and in some cases you need to wait for the platen to cool at least to a certain degree), how many of your more popular items could you have pressed?
Also if you have a couple of successful product lines which span a couple of machines, for instance lets say get decent orders for mugs and tshirts at the same time. If you have a flat press and a separate mug press, your production speed is likely to be far better than if you were using attachments on a multi function press meaning that you are limited to either mugs or flat items at any one time.
3D presses work by pumping out the air and creating a vacuum, so that the silicone membrane creates the pressure, and the air within the 3D press is heated. The desktop 3D presses are basically like small desktop ovens with a vacuum platen inside them.
If you have specific blanks that are not flat, and either you can source a jig for them or they’re solid so you can just plop them straight into the press, then a vacuum press may be the way forward for you. Most people find that for the majority of the blanks they wish to press, a flat press is all they need. If you were to have a flat press and not have a 3D press, you would certainly have available to you a much wider range of potential blanks that could be pressed than you would if you had a 3D press instead of a flat press.
As the heat press is going to be a very important piece of business equipment, without which you can’t produce your products, you need it up and running. If something happens to your press, then having a warranty gives you peace of mind, but how good the warranty is, should play a part in your decision about which press to buy.
What you want to know is how long is the warranty, what does it cover, what is excluded, are parts kept in stock, and how good is the manufacturer or supplier when it comes to warranty repairs?
Generally speaking the longest warranty is usually on the platen and element, the digital controls and the mechanics of the press will usually be a shorter warranty.
For instance, at the lower end of the presses we supply, Stahls Clam Basic have a simple one year return to base warranty. The Stahls Auto Open presses have 5 year framework warranty, lifetime element warranty, 2 year digital controller warranty and 12 months on everything else. Geo Knight Digital presses come with lifetime platen warranty, and 3 year digital controller warranty.
In terms of how good the warranty is, what’s important is how much experience the company has who is backing the warranty, and this is another reason we supply these particular brands of heat presses, as the people doing the warranty work in the rare cases that it may be required, have a long history of providing a great service, so we know our customers won’t be messed about and left without a press for any longer than is necessary.
That brings us to the end of the heat press guide. I know, just as you were getting into it! We’re planning releasing a sequel – but then again they said that about Avatar so don’t hold your breath!
If you want to speak to us to get some more advice on which heat press to go for, just give us a call on 01625 876 949, or email support at subli.co.uk, and we’ll have a chat.
Don’t worry, we don’t have any pushy sales people, in fact we don’t have any sales people… but we do have people who know about heat presses and will be happy to chat to you about them.