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Alpha Supply Co.
Alpha Supply Co.

T Shirt Imprinting Business Explained

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Heat Press Choices

What you need to know about presses, before spending your money such as Size, Type, Bargain, Weight, and More

Already know all about heat presses? Check out Stahls’, HIX, ShirtMate, Knight or ALL heat presses

What Size Do I Need?

Think about the size of the work that you want to do and make sure that the press is large enough for want you want to do. There are 5 general groups of sizes and each group has its advantages, depending upon your needs. They are:

Very Small: 4x6, 6x6 and 6x8 presses are perfect for small items like baby clothes, awkward items like tote bags with seams (they can be opened and pulled onto the press) and even very large items where heat is only needed in a small area. This class is usually referred to as "Label Presses".

Small: 9x12, 11x15 and 12x14 presses are excellent for maximum portability (and very low price), 8.5" x 11" heat transfers that you print, patches and other small items. Be aware that most preprinted heat transfers are larger than the heater block on small presses.

Medium: 16x16, 15x15 and 14x16 presses are large enough to do the work for most decorators. They offer the advantage of much more power (wattage - important if you are doing a lot of repetitive pressings) than the small presses, a much cheaper price than a comparable 16x20 heat press and the ability to press the typical preprinted heat transfer.

Large: Any type of 16x20 press is considered to be a "large" heat press and very few have a need for anything larger. This size of t shirt heat press easily does 11x17 transfers that you print on an inkjet printer, the largest preprinted transfers offered on the market, large names and numbers on garments and multiple small items. Salespeople in most companies automatically offer this size because it is a bigger commission for them but you need to carefully consider if you need something this large.

Very Large: These monsters range in size from 18x20, 14x36 and 20x25, up to a gigantic 40x64. If you need a very large press, call us and we will help you choose which one you need to be more efficient.

What Type Do I Need?

Heat transfer presses come in several designs that make each type really good at doing its job.

Swing-away, Draw and Clamshell heat presses are the three major types of presses. Each type will have certain advantages (remember, thinking about what you need and want), depending upon how the manufacturer constructs the press.

Swing-away Presses: These presses lift straight up and then the top platen is swung to the right. When doing shirts, most will swing the top platen to a point slightly past the perpendicular (about 100°). For this reason, you will need more room to accommodate your heat press.

Draw Press: The draw press is unique in its class. This innovative design combines the features that most like in a swinger, with the space saving advantage of a clamshell. The press lifts straight up like a swing-away. However, instead of swinging to the right, the lower table is pulled out like a drawer. For some, this ability makes it more desirable than a swing-away.

Clamshell Presses: The top platens open just like a clam would, hence the name "Clamshell". They are offered in several sizes but are limited by the design itself (16"x 20" is a US standard max). For many, the simple efficiency of this type of press is very desirable. However, upper and lower platen construction can affect your pressure if you are doing multiple items like coasters, tiles, etc.

Bargain Presses

A cheap, poorly made (or worn out in the case of used) press may be no bargain. Be very cautious about used heat transfer presses (they never have a warranty) or presses bought overseas (at least make sure that you buy them from a reputable dealer). While UL or ETL electrical certification is a comfort to many, no press should be left on and unattended.

Cheap Heat Presses: An inexpensive press can cost you more in the long run. We have heard hundreds of complaints about presses purchased at a reduced price compared to a good US press. Customers stated things like "I cannot talk to anyone for help!" or "My press lasted a week!" among a few statements. Fact is, you usually get what you pay for. Even a press that seems to work fine when you get it has a very limited life span because of cheap parts (usually just over a year, or two).

Used Heat Presses: A used press that has not been inspected by a qualified technician may present a problem later (if it works when you get it). "Buyer beware!"

Note - If your looking for a used press we purchase, repair and sell used heat presses.

How Heavy Are They?

The larger the t shirt heat press is the heavier it becomes and because of manufacturing differences, the same size heat press can also vary drastically in weight.

Some heat presses are made from cad-cut steel plates and welded together which makes them sturdy and light enough to do the job a heat press needs to do.

Others are made of forged steel and machined down to create the parts for the press. This type of press is the most sturdy however they are VERY heavy machines and not easy to move around. The shipping cost to get it is also more expensive since most have to come by truck.

Will you be working in a fixed location like your home or shop; or will you be doing mobile retail. If you want mobility, you might be limited in the size and type of heat press you can take with you.

Other Factors to Consider

Multi-function presses: Some presses, like the DC16 combo heat press, can have optional attachments installed to add an ability to do Caps, Hats, Plates, Memo cubes etc.. Although this is a less expensive option, it also takes longer to switch out an attachment and wait for it to heat up.

Easy opening and closing: This is important to those who don´t have 100% use of their hands and shoulders and is also often desirable for those who will do a lot of pressings in one day. Presses range from Air Automatics that run on compressors to Auto-Opening manuals.

Elevated lower platen: Many heat transfer presses have an elevated lower platen. This comes in very handy when you want to pull a shirt over the lower platen, press an image, reverse the shirt and then put an image on the other side.

Digital time and temperature: Analog [using a dial] timers are often not quite as accurate as digital timers (and some only go up to sixty seconds) and analog temperatures are often read from a tiny gage that is often hard to judge correctly. In the real world, a totally digital press is not essential (i.e., it does not affect the ability of the press) it just makes you more efficient, with less to deal with.

Budget, of course, is always a consideration. While it is not necessary to get the "biggest and baddest" (if you don´t need it) we do suggest that you get the best that you can afford that will do the job you want to do. While you don´t need an 18-wheeler to go to the grocery store you might want something bigger than a SmartCar. Give yourself some room to grow, if you buy one that is too small, you may have to buy another heat press to do anything bigger. We recommend getting a 16" x 20" if you can afford it to save your self some money in the long run.

Our Conclusion

It may well be that no one heat press (that fits into your budget) has every feature that you would like to have. In that case, pick what are the most important features that you need. You can, at a later date, purchase more equipment to add to your business.