To give you the best idea of how to use your heat press machine, I’ve written this easy how to use a heat press machine guide. I’ll take you through a typical process for printing a cotton t-shirt.
You can scroll straight down to any of the sections in this how-to by using the list of contents below.
Just so you know, I have put links to Amazon for any supplies you might need throughout. And if you haven’t already, check out our guide to buying a good heat press machine.
Table of Contents
- How Do Heat Press Machines Work?
- What Types of Transfer Can Use With a Heat Press Machine?
- How to Use a Heat Press Machine – Instructions
How Do Heat Press Machines Work?
Heat press machines basically apply heat and pressure to an image to permanently transfer it onto whatever item you are printing.
The reason it’s so popular is simply that it’s such an easy process. It’s something that can easily be done at home without stress or mess. And you’ll get a beautifully heat printed item, that’s professional enough to sell if you want to.
Though there are differences in the types of heat press machines, they all work in basically the same way. But essentially they are using the same principles you would use to iron a heat press a transfer onto fabric with a regular iron.
But really don’t try that! You’ll waste a good transfer and ruin your t-shirt.
Because an iron creates hot and then cooler spots as you move it back and forth over your fabric. You’ll also be stretching the fabric a little here and there in the process as it’s just not possible to press it flat all in one go. That means your transfer won’t stick to the fabric properly. It’ll end up peeling and looking a bit smudged.
So you can see that’s less than ideal.
A heat press machine, on the other hand, applies completely even pressure at the precise temperature you set it to so that your transfer will stick and become an integral part of your fabric.
What Types of Transfer Can Use With a Heat Press Machine?
I’ll now run through the different types of transfers that you can use. Any of the links will take you to where you can get them on Amazon.
Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)
This is basically just a fine layer of vinyl, backed onto a carrier sheet. It’ll look something like the image to the left once the design has been cut out and the excess weeded out.
HTV is great for lettering branding and simple block color designs. You wouldn’t try to recreate a painting with it but there’s beauty in simplicity and there are no limits on your imagination.
If this is the look you are going for, you should definitely invest in a good die cutting machine.
If you don’t know what one is, it’s a special type of printer. It cuts out designs that you create for you, using the free software included, either on your computer or through an app on your phone. You can easily upload and use your own images and fonts too.
HTV works best on cotton, polyester or cotton/polyester blends. But you can also apply it to mugs, hats, footballs, and wood.
It’ll work well on both light and darker colored fabrics.
As you can see in the image to the left, you should get instructions with each type of transfer you choose. So don’t be scared to go for that glittery one if you want to.
For this method, you’re going to need an inkjet printer that can take sublimation ink. If you already have one that’s great, you’ll save yourself some money because you can easily convert it to take these inks.
Sublimation paper is designed to absorb the sublimation ink and then release and transfer it when you apply heat with your heat press.
Sublimation transfers work only on 100% polyester fabrics or very high polyester content blends. But if you want to go for the vintage look, you can use a 60% poly blend.
If you’re feeling experimental, it is possible to apply a polyester coating to pre-treat any cotton or other less than ideal material.
You can also print mugs, plates and other ceramics. Aluminum also works well.
But remember there’s no white ink. That means the natural color of your fabric will show through in those areas. So this method is only suitable for white or very light-colored fabrics.
Here are a few tips:
- Use heat resistant tape to hold your paper in place so you don’t get any ghosting effects.
- Remember to reverse your image when you print it out.
- You should place your image face down.
- Sublimination requires a higher temperature to print than vinyl or heat transfer paper – around 400°F.
- You will need a Teflon Sheet to put between whatever you are pressing and the platen.
- And do make sure you place copy paper inside your shirt before pressing to prevent any ink from bleeding through and spoiling your shirt.
What I love about this method is that you can create beautiful full-color highly detailed designs with this method using programs like Adobe illustrator.
I’m an illustrator myself so I love the versatility of this method. You can see the kind of detail you can go into in my illustration to the right which was created in Adobe Illustrator.
If you follow your instructions, you’ll get a vibrant and highly professional result, not least because when sublimation inks are printed, the image doesn’t just sit on top, it becomes integral to the fabric itself.
If you wash your sublimation printed garment inside out on a very cool wash using a mild detergent and no fabric conditioner. Your fabric will last indefinitely.
Heat Transfer Paper
This is a little different from using sublimation paper. You can use either an inkjet or laser printer.
With an inkjet printer:
- You can print a transfer that’s suitable for cotton, polyester, and blends.
- You can get transfer paper for dark fabrics as well as light fabrics.
- If you print using dark transfer paper you’ll need to trim close to the edges or your image will be on a white square.
- If you print using light transfer paper there is a clear film that will transfer as well so you should again trim close to the edges for a better finish.
- You must use pigment-based rather than dye-based inks. Dye-based inks will wash out after a couple of washes.
- Your print will feel slightly rougher than the other methods.
Laser printers do have an advantage in that:
- You can print light fabrics and dark fabrics and can also get hard surface paper, which is designed especially for printing on hard surfaces so you don’t need to pre-treat them first.
- You can buy either non-self weeding or a self weeding paper. Self weeding paper will eliminate the background for you so that you don’t need to trim around the edges of your design.
- Your print will feel smooth.
Heat transfer paper printed shirts using either inkjet or laser printers will only give you 25 to 30 washes before the image fades and starts to crack. And that’s even if you do wash it inside out on a very cool wash using a mild detergent and no fabric conditioner.
How to Use a Heat Press Machine – Instructions
Here’s your guide to printing a t-shirt using a heat press. In this case, we’ll be using a pre-cut vinyl design on a cotton t-shirt. If you are using sublimation or heat transfer paper the temperature and times will be a little different so this method is just for vinyl.
And just so you know it doesn’t matter whether you have a swing-away or clam style heat-press, the basic principle of how they all work is much the same.
Ok, let’s begin:
- With your heat press machine closed, turn the pressure adjustment knob to set the pressure to firm. There’s really no exact formula for this, it basically comes down to how much pressure you’d use if you were ironing it by hand.
- Lift the lid and switch the heat press machine on.
- Set the temperature on the digital timer to 320°F/160°C or follow the temperature instructions that come with your transfer paper.
- Set the time – in this case, to 16 seconds.
- Lay out your t-shirt over the thick pad on the bottom plate (platen) evenly and make sure it’s completely straight. Try to keep the shirt collar off the edge of the pad so that you don’t have an uneven surface to press. And do keep your hands away from the top plate (platen), it’ll get hot.
- Wait for the machine to heat up to temperature. This usually takes around 6 minutes.
- Close the lid to but don’t clamp it shut, for around 6 seconds to pre-press your shirt. This will iron out any creases and remove the moisture so that your transfer will stick to it more easily.
- Now place your transfer onto your t-shirt lining it up evenly. You can use a T-square to help you.
- Place a Teflon sheet over your shirt and clamp the lid shut and press for around 4 seconds this is enough to make the vinyl transfer stick to your shirt.
- Peel the clear plastic sheet away from the back of the transfer, which should now be stuck to your shirt, and place the Teflon sheet back over the t-shirt.
- Clamp the lid shut and press for the remaining 12 seconds.
Lift the lid and that’s it, grab yourself a coffee put your feet up, and admire your work of art while you let it cool!