heat printing _ cheap heat press

Word to the Wise: Don’t Buy a Cheap Heat Press

Chris Pluck has been involved with the imprinting of textiles for more than 30 years. He is a passionate and positive advocate for all aspects of apparel printing.  He is widely recognized for establishing inventive heat fusible printing products for the imaging of textile and won the 2015 SGIA Golden Image Award for Best Heat Transfer.

Pluck is also Business Development Director at Insta Graphic Systems, Cerritos, California. For more information, visit and read their blog at

Every week we hear horror stories from companies who purchased a low-cost heat press machine from an online retailer or marketplace. Within a few days or weeks of setting up their new, “out of the box” heat press machine, it is not usable. Either the electronics stop functioning, or there is wide temperature/pressure variation across the platen, causing transfers to apply to the garment incorrectly. The bad press creates frustration, lost production time, and, on occasion, damaged pieces.   

Why would anyone purchase a cheap heat press machine versus a professional-grade heat press machine? The answer is the low purchase price. They may think, “Why would I spend the money on a more expensive machine when a cheap one may do the job?” But the perceived savings from buying a cheap heat press machine are usually lost when other factors come to the forefront. Let's take a look at some of those below.

Lost Production: When a heat press machine stops working, then the work scheduled at that work station stops as well. How is time recouped? Is the customer advised their delivery commitment will not be met? Is overtime required at another work station to make up for the lost production? A non-working heat press machine causes inefficiencies and can create far-reaching issues on the production floor.

Quality: If pressure or temperature is not consistent across the upper platen, then graphics may not apply correctly to the garment. Improper application may be evident when the carrier is removed from the transfer, and part of the artwork does not apply to the T-shirt, or it may not be evident until the customer washes the garment a few times and the artwork lifts off. In the first example, there will be transfer and garment waste, adding to the costs of the job. In the second example, your reputation with the customer will suffer.

Durability: Low-cost heat press machines are inexpensive for a reason. They tend to have inferior parts, and manufacturers take shortcuts on the manufacturing floor to minimize production costs. The old saying "you get what you pay for" certainly applies. These machines end up being disposable. Professional-grade presses can have an average useful life of 25+ years, which makes them the most reliable and durable option.

Service/Parts: The majority of cheap heat press machines are produced and sold by offshore companies without domestic roots or facilities in the U.S. If a replacement or accessory part is needed, or if you require assistance from a service technician, there is nowhere to turn. Domestic manufacturers have an inventory of parts and customer service technicians available to assist via telephone or email. 

Also, consider the three crucial functions of the heat press.

Time: All transfers need time under the heat press to allow the properties of the ink to adhere to the garment’s fabric. Depending on transfer ink type and ink re-melt characteristics, the time needed to apply for the transfer under the heat press will vary. 

Temperature: Please remember, "the ink can’t think." If the heat press machine’s temperature setting is not accurate to the temperature across the entire platen, then transfers will not correctly apply.

Pressure: The amount of pressure applied to the garment by the upper platen plays a crucial role in the performance of the transfer. Too little, too much, or not consistent pressure, and the transfer will not apply correctly to the garment. 

Purchasing a cheap heat press machine to save on the initial investment will not prove to be a sound strategy in the long run. When you repeatedly experience garment and transfer waste, lost production time, and missed delivery commitments, you will find it makes more sense to invest in a heat press machine that delivers positive results time and time again. Don't earn a bad reputation for providing poor quality.