These days more and more people know about the humble heat press. It used to have a much more industrial function but these days of screen printing stores on the high street and countless t-shirt and accessory entrepreneurs selling their wares online the heat press is becoming a regular household item.
What a heat press essentially allows you to do is apply both heat and pressure to a material, such as a t-shirt, and in doing so transfer a design to that t-shirt.
A heat press is different from other popular forms of printing such as silk screen printing which use mesh to transfer ink to the material and direct to garment printing which uses ink jet technology to print onto products.
A heat press is a heavy item and although it is small enough to fit into a home office it will be difficult to move from room to room or transport if you move.
Once it has outlived its usefulness a heat press can be difficult to dispose of. Unless you know someone who wants to take it off your hands for parts or repair you may have to pay to dispose of it.
Once turned on and heated up your press is ready to use. Typically you will place a t-shirt on the bottom plate and a transfer or graphic on the top.
Depending on the graphics you wish to transfer you may have to use transfer paper to shield against burns and make the design go on more smoothly.
With the material and design in place you simply close the upper plate down, fix it in place and wait until the design has been printed. This is usually indicated by a beep from the machine.
The combination of heat and pressure, when the press is clamped shut, is what makes for a high quality and durable transfer.
Heat presses come in different designs and so need slightly different techniques.
Both manual and automatic heat presses are very common. Semi-automatic heat presses are available as well but much less common.
Digital technology is becoming more common in newer heat presses and this allows more precise control of heat, pressure and timing.
The most common type of heat presses currently on the market are ones with an aluminum element with a heat rod or heating wire attached to the element.
If the heat press is intended for mass production where items are being printed or created at a steady pace there are heat presses with additional features. One option is a lower plate which can be pulled away from the hot press.
A common use of a heat press is in tandem with a vinyl cutter. The vinyl cutter can be used to trace a design on a sheet of vinyl, the excess vinyl is then peeled off leaving the shape of the design.
Ink jet transfer paper can also be used in the heat press. These designs will fuse nicely to the shirt and in most cases be reliable through some medium level wear and careful washing.
Immediately after the printing the design is sometimes a little vulnerable and should be allowed to cool.
A heat press is affordable for most individuals and businesses. Of course the question of budget is specific to the situation and the quality of press south.
In these general terms however a silk screen is a cheaper but less desirable method. A screen has to be set up for each design and runs of shirts made for each set up can be as low as five.
This is why a silk screen is often found in smaller artistic stores where only a few shirts are on a rail at any one time.
A direct to garment printer is considered better in terms of flexibility in what you can print and what you can print on but the price is significantly higher than a heat press.
In short, most people do not find it too much of a stretch to purchase a heat press rather than a silk screen printer but may not be able to afford a direct to garment printer.
A heat press can be bought for a few hundred dollars more than a screen printer. They are easy to use and not very messy. There is a definite need to be careful if you are operating a heat press.
The plates become hot to the touch, papers can be blown onto the plates if a window is left open and if you are operating a press on a hot day it can be uncomfortable or even dangerous.
All these factors are manageable to anyone with common sense and a sense of responsibility. There is nothing about using a heat press that requires specialist qualifications, it can even be learned from watching an online video tutorial.
A major reason why people get themselves a heat press, possibly with a vinyl cutter, is to produce items at home and sell them as a business venture.
Being able to make and send out items rather than use third party websites increases the profit margin as long as sufficient marketing is in place.