There is, if you will excuse the pun, a lot of “hot air” surrounding heat transfer presses. It is almost like a mystique has grown up around the machines, when in fact, all you need to know are the basics!
Having said that, it is important to remember the old cliché – “You get what you pay for”. It is perhaps tempting to a newcomer (in particular) to the trade to buy one of the cheaper presses on the market. But as in almost every other circumstance, it is a false economy. It’s like comparing a Trabant to a Mercedes. They both do the same thing. But I know which one I would rather drive. And in a few years time, I bet the Mercedes would still be a great drive, but I would also bet that the Trabant won’t. Neither will you have many breakdowns or problems, and getting spare parts is straightforward! It’s the same with a heat press. Before you buy, check (a) that it is really CE approved (b) Can the supplier provide spare parts? (c) Does the supplier have a repairs department? (d) What is the warranty? And (e) Are they a long established, reputable business?
After all, you are depending upon this piece of equipment to generate income, and the last thing you will want or need, is a heat press that is unreliable. Your customer will not be sympathetic to your problem – so, buy with care.
The heat transfer press first started to appear years ago in the days when there were still independent sports shops and dedicated t-shirt shops. They were used to apply letters and numbers to sports clothing (primarily football shirts), and to create “on-the-spot” personalised t-shirts for customers while they waited. They removed the need for the retailer to use the services of a screen print shop because now they could customize customer’s orders in-house and on-demand.
This also meant that the retailer could hold a much lower stock holding than before, as each item could be printed as it was ordered, and would not be committed to a design until sold. And as the market grew larger, heat press manufacturers naturally started a process of evolution – both improving performance and adding extra bells and whistles. In today’s market there is a press to suit every commercial requirement, and what’s more, some of them are now very sophisticated and are computer controlled. All presses achieve the same end – it’s just that the extra refinements and additions make the process easier and more efficient.
All heat presses utilise three basic requirements: (1) Temperature. Most machines are now thermostatically controlled so that the press can be set to a pre-determined temperature, and the thermostat will ensure that, once that temperature is reached, it will maintain the machine at that setting. Adjustable temperature is provided, as in today’s market there are many different materials and transfers which may be used, and are often applied at different temperatures. As a rule, the average application temperature will be around 160-180°C. Ensure that the press you are considering has a robust heating element that covers the entire upper platen. This ensures even temperature across the entire platen, and avoids any possibility of a “cold spot” which, because it is not at the same temperature, may cause problems with the application.
Look at the thickness of the platen. This will give a pretty good indication as to whether or not the platen is rugged enough (a) to keep the element securely in place and ensure better holding of temperature and (b) make sure that the platen is kept level when it meets the lower platen. Does the platen have a Teflon coating? Better presses will, and this means it’s easier to maintain and keep clean – it is very important that the platens are kept clean. It’s good practice to use a cover sheet or release paper over the top of all garments during application. This ensures that there is no risk of contamination of the upper platen – particularly important when working with sublimated garments.
(2) Pressure. This should really say “even pressure” because that is essential for perfect applications. You also need to be able to adjust pressure – most machines offer this facility. On the more basic presses, pressure is adjusted manually. On the more sophisticated machines, exact pressures can be set or pre-programmed for ease of use. Adjustable pressure is needed for two reasons. Firstly, different materials need different pressure. For example, pre-printed transfers, and media paper transfers usually require firm pressure, whereas Cad-Cut™ materials normally need lighter pressure to ensure best results. Secondly, you need adjustable pressure for different garments. The setting for say a t-shirt would normally be higher than for a sweatshirt as the material is much thinner. Make sure that you fully understand how the pressure can be adjusted on your new press, when considering a purchase, remember to compare the ease of use with different machines.
(3) Time. This is third essential part of the heat transfer press process. Different materials usually will require different times during application – so an adjustable timer is essential. There are many different ways used by manufacturers on the timers. These range from the very basic clockwork timers, right through to sophisticated electronic digital timers. All give an audible warning when the time set has elapsed. Some of the more advanced machines today now provide a magnetic release for the upper platen, which will, when the time has elapsed, automatically release and open the press. This is quite a helpful feature, partly because it enables the operator to do something else during the application, and partly because it guards against accidental over application and scorching.
Types of Press
There are basically two different types of heat transfer press. The first is called “The Clamshell”. This is the original, simplest, and most predictable type. It’s called a clam shell because the press opens and closes from front to back, so that when the press is open, the upper heated platen will be suspended directly above the fixed lower platen – basically mimicking how a clam shell opens and closes! The opening will vary from press to press, but will be something around a 30-60° angle. A big advantage this type of press has is that its “footprint” on a work surface is much smaller. Check to see if the upper platen is “floating” in the open position. This means that when the press is closed it will meet the lower platen at the same time and completely evenly. If the upper platen is stationary, it is likely that the back of the platen will meet first as the machine is closed, and this could cause some problems with application. Care must be taken when working with the clam shell press in that the upper platen will be extremely hot (around 180°C) and may cause a burn if proper attention is not paid to it. As mentioned above, some of the newer clam shell presses now have a magnetic hold down feature, which works far better for situations where the user needs to be doing several thing’s at the same time!
The second type is called “The Swingaway”. With this type of press, the upper platen is moved manually to the side of the press whilst the item is prepared for application, and again after the application is complete. This type of press requires a larger work area as its “footprint” is greater than the clam shell. It also tends to be more expensive. It does offer the advantage of easier access, and enabling more space to carry out laying out the garment and print on the lower platen. Again check that the upper platen is “floating” – the swingaway (sometimes called a “swinger” press) works particularly well on heat application to items such as mouse mats, or thicker garments. The upper platen will be very hot during use, so again care should be taken whilst in use.
Other things to consider
A question often asked is “How long does it take to learn how to use a heat press? The answer is “Not very long”. Somewhere between half and one hour is usually ample for those with normal aptitude. Many businesses actually use part-time temporary staff as required, which indicates the ease of use. It is also worth mentioning that, with the appropriate training, heat presses can be used by physically challenged employees.
There are also different heat presses for different purposes. For example, there are cap heat presses with specially designed platens shaped to work with caps and baseball hats. There are mug presses for applying heat transfers – and the better quality presses often feature interchangeable platens enabling the user to accommodate different applications. Flat Bed Platens can range for example from around 15cms square to 40 x 50cms which will deal with most applications.
Remember to take into account the weight of the press, particularly if you need it to be reasonably portable. The larger the press inevitably means the heavier it becomes. If you have very large volumes of garments to print, consider a pneumatic press. This workhorse will both speed up production and give years of solid service – but remember that you will need a compressed air supply to run it.
Pricing – Heat Transfer presses can vary enormously in price and range from a few hundred pounds for the most basic machine up to a couple of thousand pounds for the most sophisticated computer controlled pneumatic machines. But remember what I said at the beginning of this article – you do really get what you pay for. Buying a reputable brand from a reputable dealer should ensure that you get a better product, with a genuine warranty. Keep in mind that you are investing in your long term business future. Buy wisely, and your heat transfer press will be a valued, long serving member of your successful team!
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Source by Martin Borley