Heat transfer is an incredibly versatile craft form that imparts unique designs onto fabrics, ceramics, and other materials. All that’s required to get started is a temperature source and some transfer vinyl. But if you’re just getting started, then you may be wondering: what is a heat press machine? Do I need one, or can I just use a household iron?
Heat presses are specialty machines designed specifically for heat transfer crafts. They operate at temperatures up to 500F and are more efficient than conventional irons. However, these machines can be quite expensive and are difficult to manipulate around small surface areas.
In this article, we’ll compare the heat press vs. iron to determine the differences between the two and help you decide which one is better for you.
Heat Press and Conventional Iron Comparisons
Almost every crafter already owns a conventional iron and is familiar with how to use it. Irons can be used for so much more than simply ironing clothes, and are great tools for all kinds of craft purposes.
Most irons are handheld and come with very basic controls that regulate temperature and steam output. The temperature control dial is almost always marked according to types of cloth rather than specific temperatures, offering options for various fabrics such as silk, wool, or cotton.
Irons are also equipped with additional safety features such as the ability to stand vertically without the hot plate touching anything and anti-burn control that automatically shuts off the machine if left flat for too long.
- They are cheap. Irons cost a mere fraction of the price of even the most basic specialty presses. They are readily available at department and craft stores, and many of you likely already own one.
- They are portable. The biggest advantage of iron is that its reduced size makes it portable and easy to store when not in use. In contrast, professional machines often require their own designated space and take up a great deal of room in storage.
- They are easy to maneuver. Irons are best for small and intricate projects that require pressure to be applied in small corners or across uneven surfaces. With an iron, you have better control over the application.
- They are impractical. Because irons are so small, they are often impractical for medium to large projects such as t-shirts and pillowcases. The temperature can also vary wildly across the surface of the hot plate, which can cause the design to peel or adhere unevenly.
- They lack precise temperature controls. Irons are rarely specifically designed for heat transfer. It is often impossible to determine the exact temperature of the iron, as the temperature settings are marked with vague fabric descriptors. This can pose a very big challenge as different types of vinyl often require different temperatures to adhere properly.
- They deliver uneven pressure. Irons only apply as much pressure as you are able to impart manually. This is typically not enough for most heat transfer projects. Additionally, irons have steam holes in the hot plate that create uneven pressure.
Heat presses are professional machines specifically designed for applying for heat transfers. They come in a variety of sizes, but are typically square-shaped and made from heavy metal materials with large aluminum hot-plates. Unlike an iron, they apply heat to both sides of the fabric and operate via an automated clamping mechanism.
Unlike conventional irons, these machines come with a range of different features and settings. They typically include a temperature gauge, pressure controls, a built-in timer, a locking mechanism, and more advanced features.
- They are the gold standard. Heat presses are best for serious users who plan on making transfer projects regularly. They have specific temperature and time settings that can be effectively manipulated to achieve perfect designs. The temperature is distributed evenly across the plates and on both sides of the fabric, producing longer-lasting and more professional looking designs.
- They can apply heavy pressure. The pressure is one of the most important factors influencing the longevity of your design. You can achieve heavier and more consistent pressure with a professional machine. This is especially important when working with products like glitter vinyl that require heavy pressure to adhere.
- They are more efficient. If you’re planning on starting a heat transfer business or selling any of your projects, then you will really need to invest in a heat press. Irons are far more time consuming and typically require several passes in order to adhere fully. Specialized presses are best for larger projects and mass production.
- They are expensive. Heat presses are typically far more expensive than conventional irons. They are difficult to find and can usually only be purchased at specialty stores and online.
- They have a steep learning curve. Almost everyone can pick up an iron and immediately begin making heat transfers. In contrast, professional machines require a great deal of trial and error to get used to. Despite their complex controls, heat presses also regularly come without instructions, meaning new users will have to find outside resources to learn how to operate their machines.
- They occupy lots of space. The average press is around 15 square inches in size and very heavy. Their large size and higher temperatures can pose a safety concern, and users must be far more careful than they would with a household iron. They are also difficult to maneuver around smaller projects and require add-ons for non-flat surfaces such as mugs or hats.
If you are only planning on making the occasional heat transfer project, then you likely don’t need to spend money on a heat press. Irons are so readily available and affordable, and while their controls are far more imprecise, it is usually still possible to produce professional-looking products with nothing more than a conventional iron.
However, heat presses are a great investment for anyone looking to start a heat transfer business, make vinyl transfer projects regularly, or mass-produce quality apparel. They apply the temperature more evenly and come with advanced controls for pressure and time.
Whether you find a heat press or a conventional iron superior really depends on your project goals. Beginners will appreciate the versatility of irons, while professionals will find that heat pressed truly are the gold standard in heat transfer.
We hope you enjoyed this article! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a note in the comments.