Choosing the right heat press for your business


There are a number of factors to take into consideration when you are looking to purchase a heat press for your business. Heat presses are ideal when for applying heat transfers, sublimation prints, hot foiling, curing of screens and Direct To Garment (DTG) printing. There are 3 key questions to take into consideration when deciding which heat press is best for you. 1) What type of heat press best suits your purpose? 2) Manual or auto release; clam or swing away; and 3) what size is appropriate?


1. Which heat press is best for you?


Most garment related heat presses fit into 3 basic categories:

a)    Manual Action – either Clam shell or Swing away style

b)    Auto Release – Clam shell style

c)    Air/Hydraulic Operated -Vertical lift with or without sliding base or Swing Away.


The following information will help you to understand the benefits and limitations of each heat press machine type, providing you with greater knowledge of which is best for your needs.


2. Manual vs. Auto Release; Clam vs. Swing-away


Understanding the difference between clam presses and swing-away presses.


Clam vs. Swing Away

Swing Away Heat Press

A Swing Away Heat Press

The Swing Away features the heat plate when in the rest position being able to be swung to one side of the base so that the pressed product can be fully viewed by the operator. Similar to the clam shell, the pressing action of the swing away involves manual pull down and release. While preference between the machines is personal, the swing away heat press is less symmetrical and ergonomic, so constant use may cause greater impact or strain on the operator. However depending on how you work the ability to quickly and easily see the print may save you valuable time in your printing process.


Manual vs. Auto

The manual clam shell heat press is the most common heat press and a good entry level machine with the operator

Clam Heat Press

A clam heat press

raising and lowering the heat plate down onto the garment via the handle, positioned directly in front of them when standing at the press. This position is ergonomic in that the action is symmetrical for the body, however in the long run the release action  – where you lift the handle to release the press does involve a slight jolt depending upon the press design and the amount of pressure necessary to apply the product. As a result of this, the Auto Release/Auto Clam heat presses have become very popular since their introduction over the past decade.


When pressing with an Auto Clam the operator depresses the handle bringing the heat plate into contact with the product just the same as with the manual clam shell machines. When the timer sounds at the conclusion of the pressing an electro magnet holding the handle down is released and gas struts lift the heat plate into its elevated rest position.


This frees the operator from the constant jolting that occurs in the release action of the manual heat presses. The Auto Clam is particularly useful/beneficial in a shop situation where the operator is required to multi task between serving clients or answering the phone while at the same time pressing garments. Many shirts have been saved from a fiery end as a result of the self release feature of an Auto Clam.


Air Operated Heat presses (and hydraulic presses)

Air-Hydraulic Heat Press

Air-Hydraulic Heat Press

The air operated heat presses offers the next step up in terms of heat press ease of use and automation. Hydraulic presses are less common but have a similar action. Air operated heat presses are popular as they reduce operator fatigue massively as the air cylinder does all the work. Occupational Health & Safety compliant air presses function with a two handed operational feature. Here the operator presses two buttons simultaneously to activate the downward pressing action. Upon completion of the press, the air press will automatically release and return to its resting position.


In addition, air presses are capable of successfully pressing product that require a higher pressure. Heat transfers needing to be applied to a treated nylon jacket for example can often only be successfully applied at pressure beyond what a manual heat press is capable of. As  the nylon clothing can be treated with a water resistant chemical, they tend to also resist the glue of the heat transfer which can only be overcome with pressure as high as 120psi.


Air presses are available as clam shell types where the base rises to meet the heat plate, swing away types and vertical drop heat plate machinery. They are more expensive than the manual or auto clam heat presses and will require a compressor.


Choosing the right size machine:

  • 38x 38cm is the most common size of garment flat press on the market
  • A slightly larger press with a 40 x 50cm heat plate is ideal for DTG owners who pre-treat a large area. Iit is also ideal when pressing A3 sublimation prints.
  • Pocket and cap presses are handy for small areas and specific targeted printing


Tip: Buying a heat press with bases that are interchangeable is a big advantage as is the purchasing of a silicon base rubber pack. The silicon base rubber pack contains various sizes of rubber that can be placed on the heat press base to elevate areas smaller than the base that you want to press. For example: Pressing a children’s skirt or a pocket logo on a polo shirt can be difficult with a 38 x38cm base, however by placing a piece of rubber under the breast of the shirt it will raise that area above the buttons, allowing for a perfect press.


Ultimately when choosing your idea heat press, you should base your decision on the volume of products to be pressed, the operator’s personal preference and your available budget.  Leapfrog Machinery specialise in helping business owners understand which heat press will best suit their business needs now and in the future. Contact us today for an obligation free chat on what machine we would recommend based on your business needs.

About the Author:

Leapfrog Machinery’s Mission is to provide You the Printer or Start-up Printer with the Best Value equipment. That often means the least expensive price in the market place, but more importantly it always means reliability, serviceability and the overall profitability that a particular machine can add to your bottom line.