How does a heat press work?

Many people have heard of a heat press machine in the context of printing t-shirts and yet for many people it is still a total mystery as to how it actually works. The simplest, most direct answer is that a heat press utilizes the heat and pressure produced by the piece of equipment to imprint a graphic or design on to a qualifying item such as a t-shirt, plate, mug, jigsaw puzzle. There are several different types of heat press machines and the press can have either automatic or manual features.

To clarify, You Design It does not use a heat press machine for the printing of t-shirts. Instead we use either screen printing for our orders of six or more pieces or digital printing for our smaller orders of five or fewer pieces. Screen printing is the highest quality, most professional printing method, but the other techniques certainly have their uses as well.

Heat press machines first became popular for printing t-shirts in the 1960s and since these early days the technology has undergone a number of changes and improvements. Currently there are three major different types of heat press machine. The first type we'll discuss is called the "clamshell" style heat press. It is so called because the upper plate of the heating element opens up like a clamshell for loading and setup. By the same token the next type of heat press machine is called the "swing-away" design because the top heating plate swings away from the lower base when it comes time for set up. The third type of heating press is called the "draw style press" and in this type of machine the bottom plate is pulled out very much like a drawer for preparation.

As mentioned before the heating press machine can be manual requiring a significant amount of human involvement in the process or it can be automatic requiring much less labor on the part of the machine operator. Many advancements in the precision of pressure and heat applied have also made the process more efficient and accurate.

Transfer paper and sublimation ink is also needed to complete the heat press procedure. The design or graphic is printed on to the transfer paper, which has a smooth, non-absorbent surface. Then once the paper is heated by the press, the ink is released on to the fabric where it is permanently affixed.

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