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The Ultimate Heat Press Buyer's Guide

If you’ve browsed our website, you know that there is a wide array of heat press brands and styles. If you feel a little intimidated by shopping for a heat press, or you don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place. I’m going to help demystify the heat press purchasing process and break it all down for you.

First, let's go over what a heat press actually is. A heat press is a machine engineered to imprint a design or graphic on a variety of items such as T-shirts, apparel, mugs, hats, ornaments, and much more. This is done by applying consistent heat and pressure for a set period of time. On most heat presses, such as this HPN Signature Series, the time and temperature can be set on a digital computer gauge. The pressure is adjusted with a pressure adjustment knob on the top of the machine. Select heat presses also include an analog or digital gauge to indicate the relative amount of pressure set. 

The heat press machine is the foundation to any customization or decorating business. It’s used in conjunction with the transfer material of your choosing or your job’s specific needs. Some examples of transfer types used with a heat press machine include: digitally printed heat transfer paper, heat transfer vinyl cut with a vinyl cutter, rhinestone transfers, sublimation prints, embroidered patches, and screen printed transfers. 

Now that you know what a heat press is and what it can do, we’re going to talk about what you need to consider before purchasing your next heat machine. The first thing to consider is the size of the transfers you want to press. In most cases you can transfer images up to the size of your heating element, and can go as small as you are able to print or cut. Here’s a quick breakdown of heat press sizes... There are Label Presses, which are available in five by five inches or six by eight inches; small format heat presses, also known as Craft Heat Presses, in nine inches by twelve inches, eleven by fifteen inches, or twelve by fifteen inches. Standard sized heat presses come in 15" x 15", 16" x 16", and 16" x 24". Lastly, Large Format Presses are available in sizes such as 26" x 32", 32" x 42", and 44" x 64", and more. 

In addition to size, another characteristic of heat presses you should be aware of is design. There are 4 heat press designs: Clamshell, Swing-away, Slide-Out Drawer, and Multifunction.


A clamshell heat press opens at approximately a 70 degree angle directly above the lower platen like a clamshell or alligator's mouth. This format is ideal for apparel like T-shirts and sweaters, as well as thin flat items, like keychains and photo panels. Their simple operation is perfect for quick production.

Swing Away

If the products you intend to customize are thicker - such as sublimation photo tiles and award plaques - this is the style of heat press you should consider. The heating element on a swing-away press does not open at an angle like a clamshell press. Instead, it opens straight up and swings away from the lower platen. Because of this, you can ensure that consistent pressure is being applied evenly to your thicker substrates. With a swing-away press, you're also getting the added benefit of having an open workspace, away from the heat of the upper platen. This makes placing and setting up your transfers both easier and safer.

Slide-Out Drawer

This design combines the benefits of the fast action of the clamshell style heat press, with the open work surface benefits of the swing-away heat press. This is achieved with a specialized lower platen that slides in and out of the heat press like a drawer when the machine is open.


This design combines the functionality of a swing-away heat press with the ability to interchange different platens and attachments to increase the heat press’s capabilities. For example, this HPN Signature Series Multifunction heat press comes standard with either a 12"x15" or 15" x 15" standard platen and also includes attachments to convert the heat press into a cap heat press, a mug heat press, and plate heat press. There are additional heating elements included to accommodate different sized mugs and plates.

To make things a little easier when shopping for a heat press, we’ve created 5 categories that each one of our heat presses falls within. There are a few factors that determine how we categorize the recommended use for each press. The greatest determining factor is going to be your estimated production output - or roughly how many pieces on average you’ll be heat pressing daily or monthly. As you go up in price and quality, you’ll find features and construction design meant to accommodate increasing production output. When selecting a heat press, you may consider “future-proofing” your business by selecting a model above your current needs in anticipation of future business. However, we don’t recommend purchasing a heat press that is recommended for less than your anticipated output. You may find that doing so can cause additional wear and tear, require more frequent maintenance and servicing, and could possibly cause your production to operate with less efficiency.

Home Use

Home Use Heat Presses are the small format, budget-friendly machines that are perfect for hobbyists, crafters, and small home businesses. These heat presses are recommended for minimal production output - which we consider to be less than 20 pieces per day.  

Small Business

Small Business Heat Presses are larger, more robust machines built for businesses operating in relatively low production - which we classify as between 20 to 50 pieces per day. In the small business category, we’ll start to see advanced features like secondary leverage handles, auto-open, and oversized heating elements. 

Advanced Small Business

Advanced Small Business Heat Presses, including the HPN Signature Series, are engineered for moderate production levels - which we consider to be around 50 to 100 pieces per day. In this category you’ll continue to find key features such as auto-open and slide-out drawers, complemented by upgraded components and build quality. You’ll also find unique features like the SurePressure pressure-marking system, which makes switching between different pressure setting a breeze.

Production Use

Production Use Heat Presses are designed for full-time businesses in high production environments - which we consider to be around 100 to 250 pieces per day. This includes US-Made brands like Stahls Hotronix and Geo Knight, among others. These heat presses are made with heavy-duty components that are built to take anything your shirt shop can throw their way. You’ll find the most consistent and even heat distribution possible on our Production Use machines, which often come with a lifetime warranty on the heating element.  

Industrial Use

Industrial Use Heat Presses. These are heavy-duty machines that are designed and built with features and sizes specifically for maximizing daily production output - which can be around 250 pieces per day and above! This category includes pneumatic and dual-station heat presses, with every aspect designed to maximize output efficiency and longevity of the machine itself. Our Industrial Use machines also include large-format heat presses, used for specialized professional applications.

Lastly, we want to cover the available features that you’ll find on many of the mid-range to premium heat presses, which would be our Small Business category and above. These are features that set some presses apart from the others. All of these features have been designed to support ease of operation, improve efficiency, or both. 

The Temperature Scale Toggle feature allows the heat press to display temperature in either Fahrenheit or Celsius. This is particularly useful when you're using imported transfers that provide instructions and settings in Celsius. The auto-open feature helps to automate the heat transfer process, by opening the machine automatically after the set time has elapsed. This helps to reduce operator fatigue and increase production efficiency. The thread-able lower platen feature provides additional room underneath the heat press which allows the lower platen to go inside the t-shirt when it’s placed on the press. This allows you to heat press only one side of the garment at a time. 

The gas shock feature provides significantly smoother and more predictable opening and closing actions compared to spring-loaded machines. The multiple preset feature is found in some production and industrial level machines to memorize and recall saved time, temperature, and pressure settings for faster production efficiency. The pressure readout feature provides an analog or digital indication of the relative pressure being applied to the item. The interchangeable platen feature found on some models increases the versatility of your heat press when working with different-sized or oddly-shaped transfers, garments, and blank items. The pneumatic air operated feature found in some industrial machines provides full automation of the pressure application. This allows for automatic opening and closing of the heat press in addition to the most accurate and consistent pressure application possible. The item description for each heat press on our website will have the full list of features included with that specific machine.  

Let’s recap what we’ve covered: Heat presses are used to permanently transfer designs onto apparel and other items. They’re built in different styles, in different sizes, and with different features. And while there are a variety of machines available, having this knowledge will ultimately allow you to narrow down which heat press is best for you. If you’d like to talk about heat presses or the heat transfer process, please feel free to reach out to us at support.heatpressnation.com.

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