Heat Press Machines – What You Need to Know

A heat press machine is basically a kind of commercial-grade iron that applies heat and pressure to a garment.  And it’s a mandatory tool in almost every kind of custom t-shirt printing, as well as a very useful tool for other types of decoration.

And those are just the standard uses of a typical “heat press” for flat items.

There’s just as long a list for non-apparel items, some that require a specialty heat press machine like:

What’s the Best Heat Press Machine?

Much of choosing the best heat press machine will depend on what you are going to produce and sell. Because the first thing you’ll do is decide what you’re going to heat-press, then which is the best press for that application. Then if you have the budget for it.

But there are some characteristics of a heat press that are universally good for business uses. They are the same whether you’re working with direct to garment printing, rhinestone transfers, spangle.

Temperature Accuracy

There are some customization methods that are more forgiving, but when most require a temperature of 320F, that’s what they need to adhere to the item, survive the wash and repeated use.

So, the temperature not only has to be accurate, it must be accurate across the entire surface. For consistent results you cannot have the center of your press be at 320F and the edges at 300F or below.

That situation may result in the center of the design adhering fine, and the edges peeling or washing off!

Pressure Accuracy

Pressure can be key depending on your product, especially for rhinestones, spangles and white toner transfers like from the DigitalHeat FX line.

Many heat press machines have a knob on the top to apply more or less pressure. While this is great for mechanical efficiency, it’s hard to get an accurate pressure – that’s why some presses have a digital readout for pressure.


The heat press gets used in a very physical way throughout the day so the construction MUST stand up.

That is to say their CAN be a big difference between different heat presses based on the quality of construction.

Like the difference between a uniform you might wear every day – heavy, durable fabric, high washability, strong seams for work related stresses – vs. a top you might wear for going out once a month. The latter might be lighter fabric, delicate, not really made for every day.

It’s the difference between an oven you would use at home and one for a commercial kitchen.

Or a truck you buy to tow a boat and carry lumber vs one you will use to occasionally help a neighbor move.

Warranty and Support

The best heat press machine for a BUSINESS is one that is going to come with technical support and a good warranty.

This is in contrast to the large variety of heat presses you can get from eBay and Amazon that are not new and do not come with US based support options.

The difference is that if you are buying the best heat press machine for a BUSINESS, you can afford to wait weeks for a part. Or a call back when you have a question. A heat press machine is an integral part of what makes you money, and you will want to spend some up front to avoid downtime later on.

Heat Press Options — Styles

Platen Size

A “platen” is basically the surface area of the heat press. The most popular sizes are:

9” x 12” Heat Press

Hotronix Craft Heat Press– at this size you’re really looking at a “craft press”. Because most people looking for this sized press are using it with a Cricut or Silhouette sized vinyl cutter. Or doing transfers on a home inkjet printer. The smaller and less expensive a heat press is, the more in generally lacks in commercial quality. But this Hotronix craft press is a good example of one: CRAFT Heat Press - 9X12 | Colman and Company

15” x 15” Heat Press

Real commercial quality candidates for the best heat press machine start at 15” square. 2 great examples of this are the Galaxy Heat Press from Colman and Company and the more expensive Hotronix Digital Clam.

The Galaxy - Galaxy Heat Press 15X15 | Colman and Company is more of a budget model but it does still have an onboard temperature readout and timer.

The Hotronix Maxx - Maxx Press Hotronix DIGITAL CLAM Heat Press - 15X15 | Colman and Company at this size is a solidly built, high quality commercial press that’s just made available in this smaller footprint. As you’ll see from the links if you follow them, there’s a significant difference in the price.

16” x 20” Heat Press

Believe it or not, this is 10x the more popular size for a commercial press.

The 2 most recommended heat presses when you purchase equipment from ColDesi, Inc. are the GeoKnight DK20A and the Hotronix Fusion IQ. Each for different reasons.

George Knight DK20A Heat Press
The DK20A is the preferred heat press for Direct to Garment printing for both the Epson DTG Printer line and the DTG G4.

A 16” x 20” press is recommended for direct to garment printing because the typical platen size on the printer is the same size and it’s valuable to be able to press the largest design possible to print.

And the “A” in DK20A stands for automatic, meaning that the printer automatically opens when the timer goes off. That prevents ruining or scorching a shirt because you miss the timer going off.

Hotronix Fusion IQ - The Fusion is a staple that’s sold with the DigitalHeat FX line of white toner transfer printers. This is the preferred printer for white toner transfers because of the digital pressure reading and the drawer pull or swing away nature of the press.

Accurate and consistent pressure are vital to a good press with white toner transfers.

And when the automatic open or “pop” of the DK20A takes place it can separate the transfer, so the drawer or swing options on a Fusion are preferred.

Manual vs. automatic heat Presses

The examples above should give you a good idea of the differences.

Clamshell and Swing Away

Clamshell presses are the most common. They open just like a clamshell, the mouth opening on a hinge in the back. The heating element is normally in the top.

A swing away lifts directly up. Then pivots to the right or the left, never rising more than a few inches above the bottom platen.

Clamshell presses take up less space and are usually much less expensive because the mechanism for opening is simpler.

Swing away heat presses generally apply more even pressure across the platen and provide a less violent open.

This video shows you the benefits of using a swing-away heat press using the DK20SP as an example:

Specialty Heat Press Machine Examples

There is probably a heat press for every different eventuality you can think of! Here are just a few options to help you determine the best one for your business.

Hat Press

The most popular of the specialty heat presses, a hat press can be used to apply a heat transfer to a hat or cap. But it ALSO can be used for applying tags to shirts and other applications. These have many of the feature options as the standard heat press, so prices vary, but here’s a link to the most popular one that is sold at Colman and Company: Hotronix Auto Cap - Hat Heat Press | Colman and Company

Mug Press

It does just what it sounds like. If customize mugs using a sublimation printer like the Sawgrass SG1000, or a white toner printer like the DigitalHeat FX i560, you’ll need one like this: DK3 Digital Knight Mug Press | Colman and Company

Here’s a great video showing how these work:

Sports Ball Press

Customize and personalize a variety of sports balls. Use for team logos, school names, sponsor logos, corporate logos, player names/numbers, and event names. Choose a heat press like this one from Hotronix: Hotronix SPORTS BALL Press | Colman and Company

Heat Presses and YOUR Business

You have lots of options when it comes to a heat press.

The important thing is to match your applications – the products you want to make and sell – with the RIGHT press.

Choosing the wrong one can damaged blank products, lose you customers, and waste your time. And since it’s a real monetary investment it might be best to talk through your options with a pro that knows the differences.

Contact us, we’re happy to help guide you to the right heat press machine!

Chat below, call 800-891-1094 or click the button below.