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At-Home Heat Press Guide

At-Home Heat Press Guide main article image
Posted on September 9, 2022 by Naomi Garcia
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One of my most favorite things about crafting is that I can make anything I can imagine.  If I want a new dress, I can sew it.  If it’s time to refresh my front porch decor, that’s no problem.  And when I want a new graphic tee with a sassy quote on it, it’s only a press away.  In fact, pressing designs is at the very heart of what I do and what I create.

When we first venture into adding iron-on transfers to shirts and other garments, most of us probably just use a household iron.  According to the directions on most packages of t-shirt transfers, we use the iron on the cotton setting with no steam.  We try to apply firm and even pressure across the design for the amount of time it takes.

Using the iron is inexpensive, because it’s something you likely already have at home.  But when it comes to getting a professional (and sometimes even just a decent) press, more than just a regular iron is very useful.  That’s where a heat press can come in very handy.

What is a Heat Press and Do You Need One?

Heat presses are life (according to me).  A heat press is a larger and more consistent heat source.  It uses a large, flat pressing plate that allows it to distribute heat evenly onto your blank.  Also, you can adjust the temperature on the heat press to work with the vinyl or other material you are adding to the garment.  Temperatures typically reach over 400℉.  This is much hotter than any household irons!  Finally, most heat presses also have a built-in timer.  You can set the timer to match the time recommended for pressing your design.

A really cool thing about heat presses is that you are not limited to only “shirt” presses.  You can purchase heat presses to make anything from shirts to tumblers now.  Let’s take a look at some of the most popular home heat presses on the market.

Clamshell and Swing Away Presses

The very first heat press I knew about and purchased was a clamshell press.  As the name implies, the heat press has a hinge arm that you use to open, like a clam.  The top will open about 70 degrees and you place your shirt or other item on the bottom plate.  Using the same handle, you close the heat press and wait for the heating cycle to complete before opening it and removing the project.

Clamshell Press

A swing away press is very similar.  The difference is that instead of opening up like a clam, you literally swing, or swivel, the top plate onto and off of the bottom plate.  The advantage is that you have more wiggle space for lining up your shirt on the bottom plate.  On both of these machines, you usually have to adjust the pressure using a knob located on the press.

The size of these particular heat presses varies.  I have seen some as small as 9” x 12” and as large as 20” x 25”.  Depending on what you will be pressing, you’ll want to take this into consideration.  I use a 16” x 16” press.  This has been adequate for the projects I make.

Pressing a shirt on the heat press

Usually, the first thing we think about when it comes to using a heat press is making shirts.  So many people have started a t-shirt business from home using a clamshell or swing-away heat press.  But you can press much more than just shirts.  I’ve used my heat press to press wood, towels, coasters, garden flags, and a variety of other materials.  Basically, if it’s compatible with your iron-on material and if it fits on your press, you can press it!

Cup and Mug Presses

Maybe you’re not interested in making shirts but would like to make a bunch of coffee mugs. Then a mug press may be your new best friend.  Instead of a flat plate, it has a curved, hollow area where you insert the mug for pressing.  The first mug press I ever had operated similarly to a clamshell press.  I would adjust the pressure using a small knob on the handle.  It had a handle that I would pull down to tighten the press around the mug.  

Using a cup press

More recent mug presses have either a handle that you simply push down or have an automatic feature.  With the auto feature, you place the mug in the well, press the start button, and the press will automatically adjust the pressure.

Adjusting pressure on mug press

Mug presses are great for making custom coffee mugs.  The temperature reaches the perfect point for sublimation projects.  With a mug press, it’s easy to create unique gifts for everyone you know… and for yourself, of course.

WalaPress Automatic Mug Press

Tumbler Presses

If you were to ask me what my favorite heat press in my craft room is, my tumbler press would easily be second place.  (My clamshell is my number one).  I thought I really loved my regular mug presses until I got a tumbler press.  What’s so great about it?  

PYD Tumbler Press

A tumbler press has a longer print area.  Whereas cup presses typically can hold a mug or cup a little over 4.5” tall, a tumbler press is made to work with items about 10.5” tall.  Additionally, you can often purchase interchangeable heaters so that you can work with thinner or thicker tumblers and bottles.

pressing with PYD Life Tumbler press

PYD Life tumbler press heaters

Hat Presses

Many people will add hats to their t-shirt businesses once they get up and running.  It’s difficult to put a hat on a regular heat press so a hat press is a great piece of equipment!  Hat presses have a curved platen, which makes a lot of sense for pressing caps.  They look similar to clamshells and cup presses and have temperature and pressure controls as well. 

Multi-Press Machines

What if you want to press and sublimate ALL THE THINGS?  Then a multi-press might be what you’re looking for.  Multi presses come with interchangeable plates for use with mugs, plates, hats, latte cups, and shirts.  These can be a really good value if you think that you will be using most of the attachments.

Cricut Heat Presses

Of course, we cannot forget about Cricut Heat Presses.  Cricut has a complete line of heat presses that are portable and easy to use at home.  We have a complete article here on The Artistry outlining all of Cricut’s current heat presses.  You can check it out here.

Cricut Easy Press Mini

Cricut Hat Press

Cricut Easy Press 3 display

If you have more questions about heat presses, I’m always happy to try to answer them.  So feel free to add a comment below.  If this article is helpful, let us know!  Tag me on social media.  I am EJsFunCrafting everywhere.

Now, go make something fun!!


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