Get the most from your heat press

Hot Values

Josh Ellsworth

Josh is the VP of sales, dealer channel for Stahls'. He deals in the sales and implementation of heat-applied, apparel-decorating systems with a focus on customization. He holds skills in the production, sale, and marketing of customized apparel. He presents seminars at trade shows and contributes articles to trade publications, like Printwear magazine.

I’ve written and read a lot of articles in the past about what to look for in a heat press. These articles have covered the various sizes, brands and options you’ll have when shopping and how to decide which features are important to your business. A natural follow up to these articles is something that I always get questioned about—specifically, what start-up supplies or accessories to buy with a heat press. Let’s take a look and explore some of the tools you’ll want to consider.

Rise up

When deciding on accessories there are some obvious choices that stand out but there are also many that depend upon the types of apparel and other substrate that will be decorated. Most decorators like to be equipped to accommodate almost anything that can make money. One such tool that will set a path to this goal is a set of Teflon pillows, print pads or interchangeable bottom platens. The goal is to achieve an even pressing area and pressure on the heat transfer of choice.

Teflon pillows consist of two pieces of Teflon sewn together around heat-resistant foam-like material. These pillows can be ordered or made in various sizes to accommodate different challenges. The pillow is designed to be inserted into a garment in order to raise the print area. Raising the print area ensures that zippers, seams, buttons and other raised areas of the garment do not effect the amount of pressure the transfer requires. Pillows are very easy to work with and inexpensive. The potential downside of a pillow is that it does not allow for a heavy pressure, so if the transfer of choice calls for heavy pressure, print pads might be a better option.

A print pad is a mouse-pad like material; a medium- to low-density silicone pad just like that which is mounted to the bottom of the heat press. Print pads serve the same purpose as a pillow—they can be inserted into a garment or laid flat on the bottom of the press to raise the desired print area. The advantage of print pads over pillows is that heavier pressure can be achieved, a versatility that allows them to be used for any heat application. Another added bonus of the pads is that a large pad can be cut down to necessary sizes as needed.

An optional bottom platen is a piece that can be exchanged for the standard-sized bottom platen on a heat press. For a 16" X 20" press, an 8" X 10" or 6" X 10" optional platen may prove beneficial for easily accommodating smaller-sized garments, bags and so on. The purpose of the optional platens is exactly the same as the Teflon pillows and print pads: To provide a flat, even pressing area by allowing seams, buttons, collars and zippers to be draped off of the edge.

Quality of life

A Teflon pad protector—an accessory that allows users to slide garments on and off the press easily—can be compared to an ironing board cover. Imagine if an ironing board didn’t have a cover. As you split shirts onto an ironing board, there is a risk of the garments being ripped or snagged. A heat press is much like this; there is metal on the bottom of the lower platen. Heat presses are all rectangular in shape so there are four corners. Teflon pad protectors cover these four corners, making it much easier and safer to slide garments on and off of the press. It also makes it easy to move garments after they have been positioned. A secondary benefit of this accessory is that it protects the bottom print pad that is affixed to the metal base of the press, preventing wear-and-tear on the pad throughout pressing cycles and potentially, a more expensive replacement in the future.

Another accessory that makes the heat press operator’s life easier is an alignment tool. Almost all decorators keep a ruler, T-square or measuring tape next to their heat press to help them with lining up transfers and making sure the garment is on straight. In addition to these solutions, there are industry-specific tools created to help. This is often a necessary tool for beginners to help with alignment.

So half the battle—getting the transfer on straight—is taken care of, but how to get it to stay there? When positioning transfers on a garment and pressing, the design usually stays in place. But select cases call for the use of heat/thermal tape. This is usually only necessary when working with a product that has a tendency to want to curl beneath the heat. It’s not a bad idea to have a roll of tape on hand to hold the transfer in position.

Protective services

Teflon sheets, Kraft paper and silicone sheets are a few options to help protect the heater of the press. Each cover sheet leaves a slightly different finish on the graphic but all are equally important for a beginner. When placing a transfer on the T-shirt, most decorators cover the entire pressing area with a cover sheet before locking down the heat press. This sheet ensures that no ink, adhesive or residue sticks to the top of the press. Stock up on the cover sheet of choice and make this a habit. Most cover sheets are re-useable so the added cost to each application should be very low.

And yet, there’s still a chance that something does accidentally get on the heater, so it always helps to have something on hand to keep the heater portion of the press in tip-top shape. Garments can be ruined if the heater is not clean, transferring unwanted ink onto unwanted areas of the shirt. A good accessory is a non-abrasive hand cleaner. Use this periodically to keep the heat press clean.

On a similar note, another good accessory is a lint roller. Having one near the heat press will allow users to easily remove unwanted fuzz and lint from the garment before positioning and pressing the transfer.

An infrared heat gun or temperature strips are also good to have on hand to quickly check the heat of the press. While not an every-day accessory, employing these can help troubleshoot when issues with transfers arise. Inaccurate temperatures don’t lead to the best results.

Finally, in the case of pressing transfers that call for a cold or cool release of the backing sheet, having a chalkboard eraser or a T-shirt rolled up in a ball on hand will allow you to rub the back of the transfer after pressing, cooling it down faster so the backing can be peeled away.

Best for last

Once you take the plunge into heat-applied graphics with the purchase of a heat press and any of the above accessories, the most important accessory or rather, necessity, is one that should be an ongoing initiative. This essential is a good relationship with a transfer supplier. After all, the aforementioned tools are no use unless you have something to press onto your garments.

Just as you carefully consider your heat press purchase, also consider various suppliers of heat-applied graphics. Decide whether you will print/cut transfers in-house or if you’ll order premade transfers. Then be sure to line up sources accordingly… and keep lining them up to stay on the cutting edge. Best of luck with accessorizing your heat press!