How to Heat Press a T-Shirt (Step-by-Step Guide)

Heat printing t-shirts is one way to print your own shirts. You can start your own t-shirt business with just a heat press, even out of your home.

A t-shirt heat press is different than screen printing, although you can use screen printed transfers with a heat press and get a similar end result.

By printing t-shirts with a heat press, you don’t need to use the messy inks or the long and tedious screen printing process.

There are many questions that revolve around printing shirts with a heat press such as:

  • What is the cost of heat printing
  • what do you need to heat press a t-shirt
  • how long does it take to heat press a t-shirt
  • how to heat press both sides of a shirt
  • how to heat press button up shirts and other apparel with zippers, seams, and other obstructions

In this step-by-step guide, we will answer these questions, and more, to show you how to heat press your own shirts and how easy and fast the process is.

 

What is a heat press and how does it work?

A heat press machine is a piece of equipment used to apply vinyl, screen printed transfers, and other types of transfers to t-shirts, hoodies, bags, caps and other apparel. Basically, it is a way to decorate apparel with your desired design.

They come in various shapes and sizes, but here is an example of a t-shirt heat press.

what is a heat press

A heat press works by using a set time, temperature, and pressure to apply the transfers. A specific combination of these three is key to a successful application.

A heat press works just like it sounds. You take a blank shirt and place a transfer down onto the shirt. Close the heat press and it is “pressed” onto the shirt with heat and pressure, so that the ink, adhesive, or vinyl actually melts a little into the fabric of the shirt.

We see a lot of people asking how to heat press a t-shirt with an iron.

Using an iron to apply transfers to a shirt is not recommended, especially when it comes to screen printed transfers. It is difficult, if not impossible, to get the time, temperature, and pressure correct.

iron-transfers

A heat press gives much better quality in the long run, especially if you are going to be doing this as a business. Not only is the end result a better quality, but it will be much easier and faster with a heat press, too.

There are lots of heat presses out on the market to buy. The cost of a heat press will vary, as there are different levels of quality and features that affect the prices.

There are different sizes as well, which also affect the price. A few size examples are 11” x 15”, 16” x 16”, 16” x 20”, etc.

If you are going to use your heat press to start a t-shirt business, you will want to make sure you get a quality heat press from the start.

Do your research and read heat press reviews to know what you are getting beforehand. Learn from other people’s mistakes and horror stories so that you don’t make the same mistake, too.

[Related Content: Why You Need to Spend More Than $300 on a Heat Press]

Once you have your heat press, you are ready to start printing your own shirts.

All you need to print a t-shirt with a heat press is a blank shirt and a transfer.

 

How to Use a Heat Press Machine Step by Step to Print Your Own Shirts

1. Set Your Heat Press Settings

It is very easy to get started using your heat press, as there is very little to set up out of the box.

[Related Content: How to Set Up a Heat Press for T-Shirt Printing]

Once your press is plugged in, turned on, and ready to go, the first step is to set your heat press to the correct settings.

The most important thing to know here is the type of transfer you will be applying. Every heat press transfer has its own application instructions. It is crucial to follow these directions so that the transfer applies correctly.

If you don’t use the correct time, temperature, and pressure, it may appear that the transfer applied correctly, but it will not survive very many washings, if any.

Therefore, make sure you follow the instructions that came with the specific transfer or vinyl material.

Once you establish what the correct settings are for your specific transfer choice, you need to input these on your heat press.

Depending on the heat press that you purchased, it may vary on the level of control over these settings.

Every press should have at least a temperature setting and a knob for pressure, but hopefully more. Again, if you are using this piece of equipment to run a business, you will want to spend a little more and have complete control and confidence over your heat printing process.

[Related Content: Starting a T-Shirt Business: How to Choose a Heat Press]

Set your temperature for the transfer you are going to be heat applying. For example, it may be 365°F.

Next, set your pressure. Most transfers are “medium” to “firm” pressure. This is where it can get tricky, and a good heat press will help you out here.

heat press pressure setting

Hotronix heat presses will give you a digital readout for what your pressure is set to after you have turned the pressure knob. Then you know exactly what the pressure is set to.

Otherwise, on other presses that don’t give you a pressure readout, you kind of have to guess. Again, if you are doing this as a business, I wouldn’t recommend leaving your printing process up to guessing.

Getting the pressure setting correct is important.

The pressure knob works just like a screw – “righty tighty, lefty loosey”. Turn the pressure knob clockwise for more firm pressure, while turning it counter-clockwise will give you a lighter pressure.

[*Tip – depending on the apparel you are pressing, your pressure can change because of the various thicknesses of the apparel. It is a good idea to set your pressure with the apparel you will be printing on. If you are printing t-shirts, and then switch to sweatshirts, you will want to adjust your pressure setting to accommodate the thicker material of the sweatshirts.*]

After you set your pressure, set the time. This is another feature that your heat press may or may not have, depending on the quality of the heat press.

If you have a timer, go ahead and set it for the transfer type you are applying. The time will vary for each transfer type, but it could be as quick as just 4 seconds, or for longer times, such as 30 seconds.

If you don’t have a timer, you will need to have a separate timer or clock next to you, such as a cooking timer, so that you can see the seconds.

When your heat press heats up to the correct temperature, close and lock down your heat press for a good 30 seconds to heat up your lower platen. This will help with the adhesion of the heat transfers onto the apparel.

You only need to heat up your lower platen at the beginning of your printing run. If you step away for a period of time that allows the platen to cool, you will want to heat up the lower platen again.

 

2. Arrange Your Shirt

After you have heated up your lower platen by locking down the heat press, lay your t-shirt onto the press. You want it to be as flat as possible, so get out any wrinkles.

You can either lay your shirt on top of the bottom platen, or if your heat press allows you to, you can “thread” or “dress” the shirt onto the platen instead. Sometimes this can make it easier to get a smoother surface.

place your shirt on the heat press

Even pressure across the entire surface that you are printing is important for a good application.

If there are zippers, buttons, seams, or other obstructions, you will want to avoid these as much as possible. If you are able to, move the shirt in a way that the obstruction hangs off the edge of the heat press so that it is out of the way.

If you are not able to do this, then you will want to use a firm pad, such as a computer mouse pad, to place under the print area to raise it up without raising the zipper, button, or seam.

heat printing pad

Another option is to switch out the lower platen with a different size platen. A good heat press will allow you to change the platen to a different size. This is very useful if you are heat printing onto shirt sleeves, bags, etc.

lower heat press platen

[Related Content: Heat Printing Tips to Avoid Seams]

 

3. Pre-Press Your Shirt

After you have your print area ready, close your heat press for 3-5 seconds to remove any moisture or slight wrinkles in the shirt.

Fabrics, such as 100% cotton, can naturally hold quite a bit of moisture within the fabric. Pre-pressing the shirt will help to remove this moisture before applying your transfer.

You don’t want moisture trapped underneath the transfer. Removing the moisture will help with a better application, especially to help endure the washing/drying over the life of the apparel.

Sometimes, skipping the pre-press can also have cause application issues, and the transfer will not adhere to the shirt properly.

During this pre-press process, you will sometimes see the moisture leaving the apparel in a “cloud” of steam. If there seems to be a lot of moisture, then you may need to leave the press closed a few extra seconds to ensure that all of the moisture was removed.

After the moisture is removed, you may see a “rectangle” from the top platen pressed onto your apparel that looks darker. Your shirt is not ruined. It is just the apparel with no moisture. Once the moisture returns to the shirt, the rectangle will disappear.

pre-press t-shirt

[Related Content: Is the Apparel You’re Heat Printing Ruined?]

 

4. Position Your Transfer on the Shirt

Once your blank shirt has been pre-pressed, open your heat press and position the transfer where you want it to be applied.

The type of transfer will determine if you place the transfer facing up or down. Follow any particular instructions that came with the transfers.

As a general tip, you can also look at the image of the transfer. Is the image mirrored or is it normal facing?

This will help determine which way to place the transfer.

place your transfer

 

5. Close the Heat Press to Apply

When you have your transfer positioned where you want it, close your heat press so that it locks down in place.

After the established time passes, open the heat press.

 

6. Peel the Transfer Paper or Carrier

Once your transfer has been applied, peel the transfer paper away from the image. Be careful not to burn your fingers, as the apparel and transfer paper will be hot.

It is important to follow the exact instructions that came with your transfer.

Each transfer type is different on when to peel the paper after application.

Some transfers have a hot peel, which generally means to peel the paper immediately after application.

Other transfers instruct a cold peel. For these types, allow the transfer to cool down completely to the touch before peeling the paper away.

As another option, other transfers require a warm peel. In this case, waiting about 5 seconds to peel should be sufficient.

peel your transfer sheet

 

Here’s a video that puts it all together.

 

If you want to print the front and back, it is simple. After you apply one side, such as the front, just flip the shirt over and repeat the process above for the back of the shirt.

If you are able to thread or dress the shirt onto the lower platen, you can just turn the shirt around from side to side without taking it off the heat press. This will help save you time if you are heat printing several shirts.

 

T-shirt heat pressing is easy

There you have it! That is how to heat press a t-shirt. It is very easy and fast to decorate and customize apparel using a heat press and transfers.

As long as you follow the specific instructions for each transfer or vinyl you are using, you should have no problems.

The quality of heat applied transfers is just as durable as other methods of apparel printing and is a professional way to decorate apparel.

 

Where to buy a t-shirt heat press

If you want to get started using a heat press for t-shirt printing, there are lots of places to buy a heat press online.

There are so many different types and brands of presses. There are even t-shirt heat press kits and packages available, that will help you to get started and save money at the same time.

Like we mentioned above, make sure you do your research before buying a heat press. T-shirt heat presses are not all made the same, and the quality will vary. If you want to start a t-shirt business, you will want to get a quality heat press that is reliable. We can’t stress that enough!

As a bonus, when you buy a heat press with Transfer Express, you will also get access to t-shirt design software that is super easy to use to design your screen printed transfers. The design tool, called Easy View, is full of t-shirt design ideas that you can customize to make your own. Or you can start from scratch and create your own t-shirt design.

 

Easy View is full of layouts, clip art and fonts so that you can make awesome t-shirt designs, even if you aren’t an artist. You can also choose to upload your own art if you already have a design made.

 

Browse our heat press selection so that you can start your t-shirt business today.

 

 

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