Being able to design and print your own line of clothing and homeware is an absolute dream – and it’s way less complicated than you’d think. This is a guide, to help you find the best heat press machine out there.
You might have seen a lot of terms like clam, swing-away, platen, die-cut, sublimation, HTV, and screen-printed transfers without any explanation of what they are or what they do. It can all get a bit too much to get your brain around.
This guide will help you sail through what you need to know in order to get yourself up and running. So before you know it you’ll be ready for the fun bit – whether that’s the excitement of starting your very own clothing and homeware line or just the pure joy of seeing your own custom-made designs come to life for yourself, family, and friends.
If you want to just skip all the extra information and you just want to know which heat press machines are currently the best to go for, then they’re all right here in the table below for you.
|Best Heat Press Machine for Under $200||TUSY Heat Press Machine|
|Best Mid Range Heat Press Machine||Siser Digital Clam Heat Press|
|Best High-End Heat Press Machine||STAHLS HOTRONIX Auto-Open Clam|
|Best 5 in 1 Heat Press Machine||TUSY Heat Press Machine 15×15 inch Swing Away 5 in 1|
Click to jump straight to each topic.
- What to Look for in a Press Machine
- The Heat Press Machines Reviewed
What to Look for in a Press Machine
The main two styles of heat press machines you will notice are the clam style and the swing away style.
- The clam style has a top lid that closes over the top of the bottom plate with a handle.
- The swing-away style lifts horizontally and swings to the side and out of your way.
One isn’t better than another it’s purely a matter of personal preference but the clam style takes a few seconds less time to operate and saves more countertop space too – but well talk more about that in our reviews below.
We’ll now take a look at the reason they vary in price so much and what you get for your money.
The Best Heat Press Machines Reviewed
Best Heat Press Machine for Under $200: TUSY Heat Press Machine
For us, one thing that stands out about this one is that it has a handle on the bottom which you can see in the image to the left.
Now, this might seem like no big deal but actually considering all these press machines are heavy, weighing around 50lbs they can all be a little difficult to open and close for some people – and that’s nothing to do with them being Chinese imports, it’s just the nature of how they all are.
Having this bottom handle really helps because it gives you something to grab onto with your other hand while you’re opening or closing the lid – much like if you open a book, opening it with two hands is easier than one.
It’s also got something in common with the more expensive models including our high-end pick – and that’s a double-bar top handle. Other machines at this price point usually only have a single arm handle, just like the one you can see in the image to the right, but this sturdy wide handle is more rigid, making it more durable and easier to grip.
This will give you more stability when you’re actually using it and reduce the possibility of a wobble at that crucial moment when you’re clamping the lid shut because that’s the last thing you want when you’re trying to do precise work.
And that platen gets hot so having two handles helps keep your hands well away from the hot surface – after all, you really don’t want to burn your fingers by sticking them anywhere near while trying to prize the thing open.
So considering there isn’t much difference between the models this one is just easier to use and it doesn’t cost any more.
If you’d like to be able to print larger areas such as large adult tees rather than just smaller ones, you should go for a 15″x 15″ size which is the version we’ve chosen here. At this price point, they don’t come any larger than this but it would be unusual to need one any bigger, and don’t worry, it’s not too big, you’ll also be able to fit toddler tees on it too.
However, if you know you’ll only need to print smaller areas this won’t matter too much to you and you might prefer to go for a heat press machine with a smaller heat platen like the one above right and save a few bucks.
In case you are wondering what you’ll be able to print with this machine, you’ll be able to print more than just t-shirts here are a few examples of things you’ll be able to print:
- Sweatshirts, and other garments,
- Tote bags,
- Mouse mats,
- Throw pillows and much more.
The downside to this machine, though, is that it can’t print mugs or caps and that’s because you would need mug and cap press attachments for that. If that’s something you’d want to do, scroll down for our 5-in-1 review.
If you’d like to know what printing materials you can use with this machine, here’s a quick list, but if you don’t know what any of these terms mean yet don’t worry we explain all of that in our guide to using a heat press:
- Pre-cut heat transfer vinyl (HTV),
- Sublimation paper
- Heat transfer paper
- Embroidered patches
- Screen printed transfers, otherwise known as plastisol transfers.
The machine will even handle rhinestones well. You simply use light pressure and a piece of cardboard to prevent the glue from sticking anywhere other than to the back of the stones and the fabric you’re sticking them to.
This heat press is a clam style heat press which is one of the two main styles you’ll see out there, the other one being the swing-away style.
Now the difference between them is that with the clam style, the lid which is not actually attached to the bottom platen, lifts up, much like a clamshell, while the swing-away style lifts horizontally, and then you swing it to the left away from your workspace.
At this price point, the swing-away style is more often sold as a bundle with other attachments such as in the 5 in-1 in our review below.
There are advantages to each, but if your focus is just to pint t-shirts, etc. and you’re not going to need all the attachments to print mugs hats, and plates, you’ll find the clam style much better as it’s such a great little space saver taking up much less room on your work table than the swing-away.
Another advantage is that it’ll also take less time to operate since you don’t have to swing the heat platen away from your work each time you make a transfer, and then back again for your next one. Admittedly you’ll only save yourself a few seconds but these seconds start to add up when you have quite a few tees, to work your way through.
Now for the last bit, let me just run through some of the extra things that I’ll need to say about the other features this machine has. I won’t go into too much detail as this is pretty much standard for all of them.
First of all, it has an LCD control panel on which you can set the time and temperature that you need. The temperature ranges between 0 and 500 degrees and the time range are 0 to 999 seconds. The required pressure is set by turning the pressure adjustment knob.
Here is a short marketing video about it so you can see it in action.
What We Like:
- The Handles Provide Stability and Support | Unlike its competitors, the TUSY Heat Press Machine has a handle on the bottom which gives you added stability and support when lifting the lid. There is also a double-bar top handle which provides stability and support when closing the lid.
- Low Price | It’s very affordable in comparison with higher-end machines making it ideal for beginners, hobbyists, or new small business ventures.
- Easy to Operate | This machine works in just the same way as the much higher-end models without the high price tag. You still get an LCD panel with a timer that lets you set the time and temperature that you need, and the pressure is set by turning the pressure adjustment knob. The clock time is spot on for this machine and it only takes around 6 minutes to heat up to full temperature, that’s pretty quick. That’s basically it, and just so you know, your sublimation, or heat transfer paper, etc should come with instructions on the settings you will need.
Best Mid Range Heat Press Machine: Siser Digital Clam Heat Press
Siser is a highly respected Italian company that has a base in North America.
If the name may sound familiar to you, that’s because they are manufacturers of high-quality, cuttable heat transfer vinyl, and other printable heat transfer vinyl media.
The Siser Digital Clam Press is a step up from the TUSY Heat Press Machine we’ve just looked at, in terms of precision and quality and although it does cost more than our cheaper option, it’s a high-quality machine, it costs much less than Stahls Hotronix, and it will give you years of use.
It’s super easy to operate with its digital time and temperature readout that will let you know by bleeping when your transfer is done.
For even edge-to-edge pressure, it has an over-the-center pressure adjustment. The upper flotational platen isn’t rigid, but don’t worry it’s designed that way to for accurate placement and it will provide a flat, even press every time.
The upper heating element has a non-stick coating to prevent your transfers from getting stuck and cast tubular heating elements are placed every 2 inches apart to eliminate any cold spots. So your transfer will look perfect every time.
- It has cast-in tubular heating elements spaced every 2 inches to eliminate cold spots.
- It features a high-quality platinum RTD (Resistance Temperature Detectors) heat sensor.
- The upper heat platen has a non-stick coating.
- The upper flotational heat platen is designed for the ultimate even press.
Best High-End Heat Press Machine: STAHLS HOTRONIX Auto-Open Clam
The real difference between this one and all the cheap Chinese imports out there is that this machine has a much higher standard of quality control in the factory it’s made in because it’s made in the US.
It’s basically a huge step up, as you’d expect when comparing US-made stuff with Chinese manufacturers who provide the same cheaply made parts to multiple brands.
The only issue with that though, is there’s a big step up in price too. That’s why this one is more of a high-end pick. This one is better, but it sure reflects that in its price tag.
Now I’m not saying that the cheaper Chinese import machines are not well made, most are pretty durable and will get the job done for you, no problem. But if something were to go wrong, there’s only Amazon’s returns policy that you’ve got to depend on. With this one, however, you’ve got the backup of a lifetime warranty on the machine’s heating block, a 1-year warranty for parts and labor, and excellent technical support.
This heat press is also a clam-style machine, it works in the same way as the TUSY machine we have looked at. At the risk of repeating myself, this style is much better for saving you counter space, and it takes (admittedly just a few) seconds less time to operate since you don’t have to swing the heat platen away from your work each time you make a transfer, and then back again for your next one.
When it comes to the printing side of it, the thing that’s going to matter most to you after you’ve spent all that time carefully preparing your artwork is that it transfers evenly all over. I mean the last thing you want is it peeling up at the corners or looking faded out in places and ruining your t-shirt or whatever fabric you’re printing on in the process too.
This can happen in other machines if the platens don’t meet evenly so they end up pinching in places, giving you uneven pressure, or if the heat platen develops cooler spots so that there are areas where there isn’t enough heat for the transfer to take properly.
With this machine, they’ve thought of a couple of clever ways to get around this and prevent it from happening. Firstly, they’ve given their heat press a patented over-the-center pressure adjustment, and that together with a floatation top platen that adjusts itself as the lid closes, will give you, edge-to-edge heat and pressure no matter how thick the surface you are printing.
Secondly, they’ve eliminated the chance that any cold spots will develop and ruin your transfer, by adding cast-in tubular heating spaced at 2″ apart. This increases the thermal conductivity of the heat platen. And that means every part of it stays just at the temperature you need.
And what particularly impressed us is the accurate digital pressure readout on the console. This takes all the guesswork out of medium or light pressure etc.
So if you’re a beginner and have the budget, this machine will give you the absolute best results every time.
The defining factor about this machine for me though, is how effortless it is to open and close.
You see with other machines the action of repeatedly opening and closing the top platen after multiple prints can get pretty tiring on your shoulder and arm. After a while, they’re really going to start to ache.
This machine’s going to take all the hard work (and weight) out of heat printing for you. It has a smooth auto-opening action – and means it will do just that! It’ll open all by itself when the time’s up (and give you a satisfying pop in the process).
With a printing area of 16″ by 20″ it’s big enough to heat print much larger areas than most. Giving you a wide range of design size possibilities.
The bottom plate is straightforward to remove and replace with a different size when you need to – no tools are required, and it takes just seconds. This is something you’ll find extremely useful as your orders start to increase.
Lastly, I need to mention a little feature that’ll make a big difference in how much room you’ll have to work with when you’re preparing your transfer. Where other machines only open to around 45° to 50°, the top platen on this machine opens to 65°. Now that’s significantly wider than other machines and those extra degrees are important.
You see, the most time-consuming bit of the actual printing process is, more often than not, simply the time it takes you to lay your fabric out and accurately place your transfer into position. Rather than actually waiting for the timer to count down. So the last thing you need is to have to negotiate around a hot platen that’s a little too close to your hands for comfort. Those extra degrees will give you just that. A bit more space to work with which will help speed up your workflow – as well as make sure you don’t end up with any unwanted burns anywhere.
Now for the feature that I need to mention which pretty much comes as standard for all these machines – the digital time and temperature readout that lets you set the time and temperature that you need – and just so you know, it’s spot on with this machine. The pressure is set by turning the over-the-center pressure adjustment knob.
If you’re wondering what this machine will print, it’s pretty much standard to all of them. If you missed the list, scroll up to see it here. The only exception with this one (and our top pick) is that it doesn’t print caps, plates, or mugs, etc., Although there is a completely separate cap heat press machine designed by Hotronix specifically just for that purpose.
What We Like:
- Made in the US | Unlike the cheaper Chinese imports, with this machine, you are getting a quality heated press machine made in the US. You also get the backup of a lifetime warranty on the machine’s heating element and a 1-year warranty for parts and labor. You also get great technical support.
- Smooth Auto Opening | It has an easy open-close action, helped by a gas spring that gives the machine a smooth shock auto opening, so you’ll never have to struggle to open or close it for that matter.
- Patented Over-the-Center Pressure Adjustment | Together with the floating action of the top platen that adjusts itself as the lid closes, this machine will ensure that you get even, edge-to-edge heat and pressure.
- Built to Last | The Hotronix Maxx has a scratch-resistant, baked-on powder coat finish. It also has a non-stick coated heat platen and it complies with the strictest US safety standards.
- Cast-in Tubular Heating | Set at 2″ apart, this will ensure you never get any cool spots.
Check the latest price on Amazon.
Best 5 in 1 Heat Press Machine: TUSY Heat Press Machine 15×15 inch Swing Away 5 in 1
TUSY Heat Press Machine 15×15 inch Swing Away 5 in 1
If you like the idea of having the option of printing more than just the regular 2d stuff, and you’d like to print on caps, cups, and plates then this isn’t possible with our top pick because it doesn’t have any of the attachments that you’d need to do that.
These 5-in-1 heat press machines come with four different attachments. These attachments actually adapt the basic t-shirt press part of the machine into a completely different cap, cup, or plate heat press machine – depending on which one you want to use.
You can see in the image above, that the main top and bottom platens have been switched out for the hat press attachment.
Now, here’s the thing: it’d cost just the same as this five-in-one machine if you were to get the first pick in this guide and a separate mug machine for example. That, of course, would mean missing out on the other attachments as well. This makes this five-in-one machine far more cost-efficient if you’re a crafter that’s going to actually use them.
You can also say that it’s nice having an all-in-one machine rather than two machines. It’s a little more space-saving at the very least.
The difference between, the TUSY 5 in 1 heat press and others out there is that this one comes in a 15″ by 15″ platen size. Now what this means is you’re not just restricted to having to make do with the one size that all the other 5 in 1’s offer.
You see most of these 5-in-1 heat press machines only come with a 12″ by 15″ platen for the regular t-shirt printing side of things and not this larger size. This size is usually only an option with stand-alone machines. So basically, with most of the 5 in 1 machines out there, what you’re actually doing is sacrificing a few inches that you might need to get those extra attachments.
The one defining thing that you’ll notice about this and all the other 5 in 1 machines out there, is that it’s a swing-away style – rather than the clam style that was our top pick.
The reason for this is a purely practical one, and that’s because the design of the swing-away machine is what actually makes it possible to partially dismantle and reassemble the machine with whichever extra attachment you want to use.
But don’t worry, there’s no compromise on quality here, one style isn’t better than another. It’s just that with a stand-alone machine where you’re using just the basic platen over and over again, it’s a little quicker to use a clam. And since you’re not swinging the platen out and away from the machine and you don’t have any attachments, you’re going to save yourself some counter space too.
With this one, you are going to need a bit of worktop space to use it. And, of course, you’ll need room for the additional attachments too. But if your workspace is a bit limited, remember you will only be using one attachment at a time. So it’s going to be much more economical with your space than having lots of different machines.
The only downside to adapting the machine rather than having several separate ones is that with the exception of the cup press, which pretty much just pugs in as-is, you’ll need a cross-head screwdriver, to adapt the machine and fix the other attachments to it.
But don’t worry if you don’t know what a cross-head screwdriver even looks like, they’re the ones that look like an ” x” on the end – you know, the really common standard type you see around. Anyway, it’s really very easy and straightforward to assemble the different attachments.
Also, it’s worth me mentioning again, that these machines that come with the extra attachments are all pretty similar, and that’s because, like our top pick, they are imports from China. Don’t let that put you off, because that doesn’t mean they’re not durable. If you’re a hobbyist or are even starting a small business, they work pretty darn well, and they’re affordable simply because you do get a lot for your money.
One thing that impresses me about TUSY’s new 15″ 5 in-1 heat press machine is that they’ve given it a thicker double-layer mat. The single black dense foam one that comes with their other models is a little too thin in my opinion so it could curl or may not stay put as easily while you are placing your fabric over it. That said, it’s no big deal to replace it s, they don’t cost much and if it does start to degrade over time you can easily get a replacement mat here if you need it.
But it’s just good to know that with the new version, TUSY has thought about it and given the mat a bit of an upgrade.
What We Like:
- Good Build Quality | The TUSY has a lot more metal parts than plastic ones. That’s something that is not common to all of them. That vertical bar that supports the top platen is quite often just plastic covering an inner metal tube. Which means it can be prone to splitting. The TUSY has a much stronger all-metal bar making it way more durable.
- Low Price | It’s very affordable in comparison with higher-end machines making it ideal for beginners, hobbyists, or new small business ventures.
- Easy to Operate | This machine will give you the same results as a high-end one without the high price tag. The attachments are all straightforward and easy to attach and, of course, you still get an LCD panel with a timer that lets you set the time and temperature that you need, and the pressure is set by turning the pressure adjustment knob. It only takes around 6 minutes to heat up to full temperature, that’s pretty quick.
We hope this review of the best heat press machines has been helpful.
If there’s anything that you think we’ve missed, or if you have any questions about anything, then let us know down in the comments below.