How to Use a Heat Press Machine – The Basic Guide

Superhero Design printed on T-Shirt

Setting the Scene

People keep asking how to use a Heat Press Machine. Some even ask what it is. A Heat Press Machine or Heat Transfer Printing is the modern, no-fuss way of printing artwork onto t-shirts. It is a great alternative to the classic screen printing. Of course, when it comes to quality and longevity, screen printing still wins the game. But for the regular customers’ point of view, they can’t tell the difference between a screen printed tee and a heat pressed tee.

This is a good thing for t-shirt entrepreneurs because not only is heat press printing easy and affordable to do, it also makes custom t-shirt printing possible. With screen printing, the customers have to order in large quantities or else it would be too expensive per piece, but with heat press machine, it’s still affordable even if they order one or one thousand. No wonder heat press is a favorite of many t-shirt entrepreneurs. If you just bought your heat press machine, here is a basic guide on how to use the machine.

Using the Machine

As we all know, not all heat press machines are created equal. There are those machines that are just functional (very basic) which is good for small jobs and home use. They’re much more affordable and could be perfect if you’re just starting out and you prefer to save a few hundred bucks. The professional heat press machines are geared for making bulk orders.

They have a much bigger platen (metal board) for a bigger working area to cater large garments. The professional heat press is also complete with more sophisticated time, temperature, and pressure settings. This is perfect for t-shirt entrepreneurs who are planning to offer orders by the hundreds in the future.

But whether you’re using the basic or the pro, heat press machines are basically operated the same way. For starters, here’s a brief step-by-step guide on how to operate heat press machines:

  • Turn on the power by flipping the on/off switch
  • Turn the thermostat knob to the right until you see the red heating light
  • When the thermometer indicates the desired temperature for your transfer, turn the knob back to the left until the heating light turns off. The heating light will go on and off to regulate your desired temperature
  • If your machine has a digital timer, press it to start the timer and when you hear the alarm, press stop to reset
  • Lift up the handle to open the press
  • Lay out t-shirt and lay Transfer Paper onto shirt facing down
  • Bring the handle down. The handle should lock firmly in place
  • Set the timer based on the instructions on your Transfer Paper
  • Lift the handle to open the press
  • Peel the Transfer Paper from the shirt
  • Allow at least 24 hours for the print to “lock” before washing the t-shirts

Tips When Using a Heat Press

Don’t be scared of applying too much heat because it takes a lot of heat to transfer the artwork properly and evenly. If you don’t apply a lot of heat, the artwork might not stick to the shirt properly and would cause issues during washing. If you’re scared of burning the tee, sample print on an old shirt you don’t mind burning. It’s always scary on the first few tries but your confidence will eventually develop as you get the hang of printing shirts using your heat press machine. The rule is simple actually, just follow the recommended temperature for each fabric on the transfer paper.

Load the shirt onto the heat press straight. The last thing you want is a crooked print. You most certainly can’t sell (or wear!) crooked shirts. How do you prevent that from happening? There are many ways to do this without using grids, lasers, and rules. One way is by making sure that the tag is aligned to the backbone of the heat press. But for a faster and more efficient way of ensuring the right t-shirt positioning, consider a system that projects a laser onto the garment.

Stretch your shirts. Before putting them on your heat press machine, make sure you stretch your shirts. This should be done to avoid the print from cracking.

Test Print. Before printing your design to a transfer paper, make sure you test it by printing it on a regular paper. Transfer papers are expensive and you do not want to waste money. Printing a preview is essential to check if the design is within the margins, if colors print correctly and just to see how an artwork looks like when printed. And of course, before you print on a tee, make sure you test print the transfer paper with a fabric you’re willing to throw away.

Choosing the Fabrics

Not all kinds of fabrics can be printed on using heat press. Anything that melts with very hot surface (synthetic material, thin fabrics) should not be considered. Make sure that if you’re printing shirts, or any item that will need washing after it’s being printed on, that you will pre-wash them. If you don’t pre-wash them, there’s a chance they’d appear wrinkly after your first wash. The most popular types of fabric for t-shirt printing include cotton, polyester, nylon, spandex and Lycra. If you have fabrics that are not included in this list, make sure you consult a clothing expert.

Preparing for Artwork

The standard way of preparing artwork for heat pressing is by printing a design using an inkjet printer unto a transfer paper. First, you have to design your artwork using a design software like Corel or Adobe Illustrator. One challenge of printing using heat press machines is that inkjet printers are not capable of printing white.

That means that if you try to print something with white, the result is that instead of white, it will show the color of your fabric. Consider this when creating your t-shirt artwork. One solution is by making your whites off-white. Consider this when creating your t-shirt artwork. Also make sure that you flip your artwork horizontally using your design software. Not doing so would result in a t-shirt with a flipped artwork.

Choosing the Right Transfer Paper

Before going too excited with printing your tees, make sure that your transfer paper is the right match for your printer and design. There are so many kinds and brands of transfer papers and it would require you to get a good amount of research. But let’s just get to the basic. Most transfer papers you see in the market are for inkjet printers so if you’re using a laser printer, make sure you’re not using a transfer paper for inkjet.

The search for the right transfer paper is more complicated than just matching the printer to the transfer paper, there are also other things to consider. For example, transfer papers for white tees are different from transfer papers for black tees.

Caring for Heat-Pressed Tees

Heat-pressed t-shirts require more care from the printers as well as the consumers than screen-printed shirts. Heat-pressed tees last longer when: you turn them inside out before washing (to prevent fiction and rubbing), hang them to dry instead of using the dryer, avoid harsh detergents, making sure that the shirts are not damp when placed in the closet (to avoid molds). Doing all these things can help prevent premature damage to your heat-pressed tees. If you own a t-shirt business, make sure you don’t only put these instructions in the tag, you should also print these instructions in a cardboard so the customers will surely be able to read them.

Hopefully by now you learned the basics of heat press printing. It’s a long read, isn’t it? But I we just touched the surface. In order for you to really become an expert at heat press printing, you have to read more about heat press printing – from matching the fabrics to the Transfer Papers, to adding accents to your tees. You have to read a whole book! But, of course, experience is the best teacher. Just get the most important points and start experimenting.

If you’re a t-shirt entrepreneur, include the expenses for tinkering your new machine as part of your expenses. Once you learn how to do the basics, you can start printing t-shirts for your family and friends. Find out what they think about their shirts after a few washes. Is the print still intact and beautiful? Are there cracks? Did they peel off? It is normal not to make perfect shirts the first few rounds but if you keep learning and experimenting, you’ll get there.

Get your artwork ready, buy a few good-looking tees, and start getting your hands dirty. It’s super fun learning how to crack the code of heat press t-shirt printing. Just make sure you don’t burn yourself in the process.

Good luck!

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24 comments
  1. Hi, Are you saying that I need a computer and a printer alongside the heat press machine?
    What of Adobe Photoshop? Can I also use this aside of Corel and Adobe illustrator for my designs?
    Thank you!

    1. Depends on what you mean by “alongside”. It doesn’t need to sit right next to the heat press 😉 But you will need a computer to create your designs, that’s for sure. And yes, Corel or any other Vector application will do just fine.

  2. Hi IAM planning with my friends to do this business. But I don’t know much about printing machine,way of using, what are the strategies I have take to my side.

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  4. Hello, thanks for all the advice/help… I have my heat press and printer however the paper I’ve been using is just some cheap paper from Walmart that I can only use on whites unless I can’t completely cut out the background? Can u please tell me if its vinyl paper you use and if so do I need to buy the cutting machine because it looks like u left excess vinyl/plastic and it came off easily…please write me asap I’m so anxious to get better! Thanks!!

  5. I am frustrated. I bought a heat press machine from China and it came without a manual! The sublimation paper is in unlabelled plastics and there is nowhere to find instructions. I have an Epson L850 printer and I want to design my own designs. I am brand new to heatpressing and I have zero clue on the process of setting the timer and the temperature. Please help

  6. Nice guide. I also published a guide about this topic a few days ago and I miss the step’s that you mention, Thanks for sharing this guide.

  7. Can we also print photographs on heat press machine ?
    Like if I have to print a photograph of myself on tee. Is it possible to take an actual picture and print it ?

  8. I just got the new Cricut Explore Air 2. Will I still need Adobe to design since Cricut has their own Software ?I’m so confused now !!!

  9. I need a step by step how to use this machine what temperature do I use. I have an ePhotoInc Away 9 x 12 T shirt Heat
    press Machine Transfer Sublimation Press 9 x 12 Blk. I need step by step how do I get started.

  10. When i print on transfer paper with words and when pressing for pressing heat , words are reversed , what mistake am doing , or what good way to make to ensure words are correctly reading on tshirt af heat pressing and tranfer.

    Photo are ok

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  12. Nice post. I was checking constantly this weblog and
    I am impressed! Extremely helpful info particularly the
    last section 🙂 I take care of such info much. I used to be seeking this certain information for a long time.

    Thanks and best of luck.

  13. hi there
    im operating heat press monti antonia,i would like to ask about matt material,which one is the best for tranfering cos the one we have it melt everytime when we transfer it using 195 degres and 1.2 for speed and time 35,we tried reducing temperature but the quality becomes bad

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