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By Annabelle Short on 05/13/2016

What is the Best Heat Press Machine?

What is the Best Heat Press Machine?

If you’re ready to break into the t shirt biz by selling your own shirts, it’s more doable today than ever.

Once you’ve got the design, you have a few options for transferring to your tees. You can outsource the job to a variety of online sites, you can screen print, or you can heat press, a method that is gaining popularity for its ease and convenience.

Heat press machines are an accessible way to create designs and custom t shirts. Whether you’re setting up shop in your home or have a modest work space, these compact machines will get the job done.

But with so many options out there, how do you know which one is right for you? There are a variety of types with different functions and features, and they can range in price from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. There are some elements to consider:

  • What is your budget?
  • What kind of printing will you be doing, and how much of it?
  • How much work space do you have to accommodate a machine?

Fear not, friends. Today, Wunderlabel is going to break down heat press machines so you can get on your way to becoming a t shirt mogul.

First off, what is a heat press machine?

What is the Best Heat Press Machine?

A heat press uses heat (obviously) to transfer designs onto fabric or garments. The design is printed with a heat-reactive ink onto a specialty paper with an adhesive backing. The shirt is then placed onto the heat press platen with the design on top, and the combination of heat and pressure from the machine causes the design to adhere and transfer the to surface of the garment.


  • Advanced inks and design software allow for a wider and clearer variety of images that can be transferred, including photographic images.
  • Ease of use.
  • Can use several colors as long as they don’t overlap.
  • Can be more cost effective if you’re making small batches of shirts.
  • Machines and transfer materials are easily accessible.
  • Heat press machine doesn’t take up a ton of space.


  • Designs may not look as professional, don’t last through many washes, lower quality designs.
  • Cannot layer images as it will make t shirt bulky.
  • Possibly expensive start-up cost.
  • Time consuming and difficult to do a large run of shirts at once.
  • Can only print on light-colored shirts.

Types of Heat Press Machines

Now that we know the ins and outs of heat presses, let’s look at the different types that are available and the characteristics of each.

1. Clamshell Heat Press

This press has a top platen that hinges open like a clamshell, hence the name. It’s great for beginners as it allows for ease of garment placement when printing. There are manual versions that require you to lift and close the top each time you start printing on a new garment, and there are auto presses that automatically open when the printing is done.

Best for:

  • Printing in large numbers due to its easy garment layout.
  • Direct to Garment (DTG) printing, a process in which the design is printed directly onto the garment and absorbed into the fibers.
  • Printing on a budget or just starting out.


  • Easy to use and time efficient.
  • Takes up least amount of space and easily portable (good for events and demos).
  • Can print large numbers.


  • Not good for printing on thicker or bulkier items.
  • Less precision, can’t see layout area as well as on other machine types.
  • Have to apply more pressure and uneven pressure could result in lesser design transfer quality.

2. Swinger Heat Press

This machine features a top platen that swings awat from the lower one horizontally in either direction.

Best for:

  • Printing involving rhinestones, individual letters or numbers, anything that requires precision.


  • Easy to use.
  • Better visibility of layout area, allows for more precision printing.
  • Even pressure for printing.


  • Learning curve for beginners.
  • Requires more time for printing.
  • Takes up more space since top swings out to the side.

3. Draw Heat Press

With this type of press, the top platen stays stationary while the bottom one - your layout surface - is pulled out from underneath.

Best for:

  • Printing that requires precision, similar to the swinger heat press
  • Sublimation printing
  • Printing in high volumes.


  • Easy to use, time efficient.
  • Portable.
  • Precision printing, good visibility on layout area.


  • Takes up space to open lower platen.
  • Not great for printing on bulky fabrics or garments.

Machine Levels

When shopping for a heat press machine, there are a range of models available depending on your needs, budget, and experience. Here’s what you’ll get with each machine category.


These presses are a great, affordable option if you’re just starting out and don’t want to sink a ton of money into the prospect of t shirt printing costing around $200.00. They’re typically smaller, and are ideal for hobbyists and printing in small quantities. Some of the drawbacks are the slow heat up time that can make mass printing time-consuming and more rudimentary controls. But, these models still offer a great printing experience for the beginning or small-scale printer.


These machines are a step up from the starter level, providing an experience closer to a professional machine that is less expensive without being a step down in quality. In this range, the cost for machines is in the $300-$400 range. Their design might be a little more simple that the professional level, but the features, such as temperature control, are a step up from the starter model.


At this level, heat press machines will give you super precise printing and range in price from $500 into the thousands. They typically feature digital setting controls for heat, temperature and pressure as well as presets so that if you’re printing in large quantities, the result is consistent. These machines can also be larger and heavier since they’re made from higher quality materials. However, they’re also the best option if you’re printing on a massive scale as they provide a quick and seamless printing process.

When choosing a heat press machine, most importantly, you have to consider your end result and which machine will most easily help you accomplish that goal. With so many model and price options available, you’re sure to find one that works for you. Happy printing!

Check out our options for DTF Transfers.

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