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Heat Presses: An Introduction
Learn what a heat press is and how they can be used to create unique personalized items. From garment decoration to creating custom gifts and advertising items, there is no limit to what can be created with the use of heat presses. Heat press equipment is often used in conjunction with a vinyl cutter,or a sublimation printer. But with so many choices available, it can be a bit overwhelming to choose one when just starting out. Hopefully this guide and the accompanying video will help educate you.
What is a heat press and how do they work?
A heat press is basically a machine containing an electronically heated metal surface, called a platen. A heat press functions similarly to an iron you would use to press clothing. The difference is the combination of pressure, a large heating surface and precise temperature control. This ensures even heating of the materials being pressed, and yields consistent results. The platen is lowered down onto the surface to be imprinted, and locked down for a predetermined length of time, according to the materials being used . Heat presses also feature a timer that will allow the user to control exactly how long and at what temperature the item will be pressed at.
Heat presses come in a variety of styles; the ‘clamshell heat press’, which opens vertically, allowing access to the item under the platen. The other main type of heat press is called a ‘swing-away’ press. These machines allow the platen to swing to the side and out of the way, allowing for greater access to the material to be imprinted and more precise placement of graphics. This type of heat press requires more room around the sides of the press to allow for the swinging of the platen.
There are also several specialty versions of heat presses available.
Mug presses feature a platen that wraps AROUND the surface of a coffee mug, creating wrap around graphics.
Cap presses have a small contoured platen designed to line up perfectly with the front area of a baseball or trucker cap.
Some heat presses, such as the Geo Knight DC-16 ‘Digital Knight’, have quickly interchangeable platens that will allow the user to imprint a wide variety of different sized items.
Why are there such a range of heat press prices?
Heat presses, like most other equipment USCutter offers, are sold in a wide range of prices. Our heat press offerings are similarl to our vinyl cutters, in that, we offer VALUE heat presses and PROFESSIONAL heat presses.
Value heat presses are ideal for hobbyists and other entry level users. A fledgling sign business looking to add imprinted garments, etc to their lineup might start out with one of our value units. Heat presses in this price range are typically Chinese made, and have manual open/close functions.
A more sophisticated user with higher demands, (for example, a t shirt customization company printing all day every day) would be better suited for one of our higher end professional models, such as one made by Hotronix or Geo Knight. The price is typically higher on these, but these heat presses are engineered to stand up to production level operation and yield consistent results for a long period of time. Some of these models also feature time and effort saving features, such as auto-opening when the item has finished pressing. Some heat presses also have a table surface that allows you to set up the item to be imprinted while another one is being pressed at the same time. The warranty differs on the various press models as well: Value Chinese-made heat presses carry a 90 day warranty, while professional models typically carry at least a 2 year warranty.
Now let’s take a closer look at some of the things that can be made with a heat press
Personalize Garment, Mugs, & More
Sublimation involves the use of a printer that has been specially equipped to print with sublimation ink. The image is printed IN REVERSE on to heat transfer paper. It is then placed onto the item that is to be sublimated, often with the use of heat-resistant tape. Then the item is placed into the heat press for a predetermined length of time. The ink will rapidly heat up and turn DIRECTLY into a gas from a solid ink form. This gas impregnates the fabric of the garment, adhering the color to the fabric. After the time is reached, the press is opened and the paper removed from the garment. Sublimation printing on tshirts has a vibrant printed look that can rival a much more expensive direct-to-garment printing system! USCutter offers not only sublimation-ready printers and heat presses, but also sublimation inks and heatpress blanks ready to be imprinted!
Imprinting of non-apparel items
Heat presses are also very commonly used to create personalized promotional items, such as coffee mugs and mousepads. Personalized corporate items are also great for small business and event promotion.
Apparel Heat Transfer Vinyl
Heat transfer vinyl is a material designed to be used in a vinyl cutter. It contains a heat activated adhesive that will bond to fabric after being heated in a heat press. First the design is cut IN REVERSE on the vinyl cutter. The graphic then needs to be weeded. The vinyl that is not part of the finished design is pulled away from the backing material, leaving only the areas that are to be part of the graphic.
It is often a good idea to pre-heat the garment that will be imprinted. Usually 30 seconds or so in the heat press will be enough. The material is then placed face down, with the clear backing material over the top, onto the garment to be decorated. A Heat Press Teflon sheet is then placed over the material. This will allow heat to pass through the sheet and into the graphic, without damage to the garment.After the correct amount of time has passed, remove the garment from the press. The clear backing material can be removed, and the heat transfer material stays behind.
Heat transfer material is fantastic for short run customization applications, such as adding numbers to team jerseys, where it would not be cost effective to screen print. Heat transfer products are available in many different colors and styles, including metallics, glitter flake colors, and in an array of traditional colors and finishes.
Rhinestone personalization is a rapidly growing segment of the customization industry. Rhinestones are commonly seen on dance costumes and on custom apparel. The process is simple. Using a vinyl cutter, a pattern is cut into a thicker cuttable material, such as flocked vinyl. USCutter’s signature sign cutting software, Sure Cuts A Lot, has a feature that will allow vector images to be quickly converted into rhinestone templates. Heat-activated rhinestones are then poured over the surface of the template, and brushed into the holes. When the rhinestones have been placed and oriented correctly, a transfer tape is applied over the top surface. Using a bit of pressure, the rhinestones will adhere to the sticky side of the tape. The transfer tape is then lifted off of the template. The design is placed in the appropriate position on the garment, and pressed in the heat press. When the time has been reached, the press is opened and the transfer tape removed.
Adding a heat press to an existing sign shop business can increase your profits and expand your shop’s capabilities.
I bought the Silhouette Cameo Deluxe Bundle so I would have plenty of vinyl to get started with. I wanted to start with something small thinking this would be a good idea but actually I chose some pretty small text so my first 5 tries cutting out the text was a bit harder than expected. I didn’t read the instructions as clearly as I should have because I was too excited and just wanted to get started so it took me learning the different setting by trial and error. Since the lettering I choose was a more delicate font and the project was only about 2 ½ inches total I got somewhat frustrated. There was a couple times after the first 3 tries when I thought maybe my brand new Silhouette Cameo was actually broke because I thought it was not cutting correctly.
I don’t think I would have done anything differently that weekend, as the car ran awesome, handled even better, and my focus was on point this weekend. If you are not making mistakes you are not pushing yourself hard enough. This weekend I can honestly say I pushed hard and made a few mistakes. Always learning, always wanting to do better I have an awesome feeling about Las Vegas! I can’t stop and I won’t stop!
I wrote this right after Formula Drift Seattle, with July and August being some of the busiest months in the RGR office and garage, it had slipped my mind. When I wrote this I could not have imagined just how correct I was going to be about my “awesome feeling” for Las Vegas! Let me tell you about it!
We cruised right down with no problems and got into Las Vegas around 3pm. Just enough time to eat at Sonic Drive In. I studied the new Las Vegas course from the stands as Thursday practice began. With a perfect run replaying in my mind, I found it hard to get sleep that Thursday night. However, when I woke up on Friday morning I knew exactly what I needed to do in qualifying. With a few runs on the new course in Fridays practice under my belt it was time for qualifying!
After my first run, I got a score of 51 points. As I lined back up in grid, FD Seattle started to replay in mind. Then the trip to FD Long Beach, both of them ended with heartache. With all these setbacks filling my mind I neared my second run. Instead of letting these get me down I flipped it and used it as fuel for the fire. Bound and determined to not have another disappointment, I went back to replaying my perfect run in my mind while listening to music.
Having my mind clear I was ready for my second run.
I heard my sister come across my radio shouting ecstatically “79.5!!” I left nothing on the table with my second run. I lit up all of the proximity sensors along the two outer clipping zones on the wall. I actually removed my rear bumper and wing by scraping them along the wall. The judges ended up giving me the 33 out of a possible 33 style points for that run. I waited anxiously for the rest of qualifying to be over so I could go to the drivers meeting to see where the cards had landed. I had qualified 18th! In qualifying I was .5 points less than the 2011 Formula Drift Champion Dai Yoshihara, and 10 points less than the number one qualifier Fredric Aasbo. I could not have been happier at this point. As the Top 32 grids were passed out, I found out that I would be facing Chris Ward; a fellow privateer, and BC Racing Team member. We headed for the hotel we stuffed ourselves with some more Sonic and went to bed. Similar to the previous nights I found myself tossing and turning, not being able to turn my excited mind off. I could not wait for Saturday!
We got to the track on Saturday and got our pit set back up again. As we got there Jason and Brian from Portland Speed Industries came over and inspected the car, put a brand new set of spark plugs in and remounted the wing on the car. Before I headed for Top 32 practice I had the chance to chat with Chris. He is running a Chevy LS series V-8 in his car. Which has twice the number of cylinders than me. I knew this was going to be a good fight.
Chris qualified 15th so he was set to lead first. We both threw our cars at the same time coming into corner one. Chris transferred into corner two a little early and came up shallow on his line, away from the wall. I was able to keep my front bumper to his rear bumper for most of his lead run. Now it was my turn to lead. I came in fast to turn one, and did not look back. I lit up the first proximity sensor along the wall and barley missed the second. By the time I had crossed the finish line I looked back and had seen that Chris was about two car lengths behind me. The judges announced that I had advanced into the Top16! I was going crazy inside the car!
As Top 32 played out, it looked like I would be facing Rhys Millen in top 16. Rhys is a very seasoned and impressive driver. He has been in Formula Drift since its start, set multiple Pikes Peak Hill Climb records, and even back flipped a truck! I knew I had to drive like I never have before. Rhys having qualifying 2nd meant that he would be the lead car on the first run. His car having almost double my 440hp stood a strong chance of taking off on me down the stretch into corner one. However being the stand up guy that he is, he paced me into the first corner giving me a fighting chance. I was running flat out behind him, as he came from turn one into turn two he had made a small correction, he had to grab his e-brake to adjust his line deeper. I was surging up on him at this point because I was already wide along the wall behind him with my throttle to the floor. I had maintained proximity to his car until the very last corner where he let loose of his 700+ hp. My strategy for my lead run was simple, run 120%. I ran almost the exact same run as my qualifying run but much faster and I did not remove any car parts. As I was coming off the wall and into turn three I had ran wide and got into the layer of tire dust on the outside edge of the track. I laid into it hard and came into turn four with too much speed and over rotated the car sealing my fate for the weekend. Rhys Millen went on to take 1st place at Formula Drift Las Vegas this year.
All in all Las Vegas weekend is one I will always remember for the rest of my life. I cannot thank you enough for helping me get there. It would not be at all possible without your help and involvement in the RGR program. Thank you so much!
Be sure to catch the coverage of this event on the NBC Sports channel on 11/4 at 5pm, and again on 11/6 at 5:30pm!