What is a Heat Press Machine? How To Use It For Sublimation?

If you have ever worn a t-shirt or jersey with a printed artwork or design on top of it, you have experienced the functionality of a heat press machine. Heat pressing is the leading way of transferring designs from paper to garments. The printing machine is also useful for a number of other purposes. 

As the name suggests, a heat press machine uses a mixture of heat and pressure to transfer the artwork onto the object. If you are new to the heat printing scene, keep reading to know what a heat press machine is, how it works, its benefits, and some common issues associated with it. 

What Is a Heat Press Machine?

What is a Heat Press Machine

A heat press machine is a device that is used to transfer a design from sublimation paper to the substrate. You can set the temperature, time & pressure yourself. This substrate can be anything like t-shirts, jerseys, cooking utensils, wood, copper, ceramic plates, tote bags, cups, and more. 

Traditionally, screen printing machines or sublimation techniques were used to perform this function. But with the introduction of heat press machines, the modern design and printing industry has changed drastically. 

The heat press machine uses an iron plate that needs to be heated to a certain temperature and an exact pressure applied to get the design on the substrate. If you fail to apply this specific temperature or pressure, the printing process might not work and can even end up ruining the garment. 

Role Of Heat Press Machine In Sublimation Printing

Using a heat press machine incorporating sublimation printing churns out extraordinary results when it comes to designs on garments. Sublimation printing using a heat press machine is done on polyester material. 

In this process, the heat turns the dyes into a gaseous state. The vaporized colors then get ingrained into the polyester fabric and, once cooled, turn from gas to solid. This way, the colors are strongly merged with the garment. Sublimation transfers using a heat press work best for garments with light colors, as the dyes get fully mixed with the clothing or base. 

One of the benefits of using this process for designing garments is that the printing process does not need a separate base and is applied to the garment directly. This ensures that the printing of the design does not make the garment heavy. 

How Does a Heat Press Work?

The working mechanism of the heat press machine is very simple. There are two plates or platens attached to the machine. The platen attached to the top is called the heat plate, as it heats up with an increase in temperature. 

This plate will heat up to the temperature you will set on the machine. There is a digital display available where you can set the temperature and time. In some contemporary machines, there is even an option available to set the pressure as required.

There are different ranges for time, temperature, and pressure which you must stick to for optimal end results. 

Time Range 

The time range for which you can press the heat machine on the garment is between 0 and 999 seconds or 16 minutes. However, 16 minutes is a very long time and in most cases, there will be no requirement to press the machine for so long. For most printing works, you only need to press the machine for 30 to 60 seconds to transfer the design to the garment. 

Range Of Temperature

Most heat press machines feature a temperature range between 0 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Sticking to this range of temperature is the most crucial step, as going above the heating point of 500 can burn the garment as well as ruin the dyeing color. 

Pressure Range

To change the pressure range, there is usually a control knob located somewhere at the back of the machine, unless the machine allows you to change the pressure digitally. You don’t set the pressure by a number but rather through the weight of the plates such as light pressure, medium, medium-light, heavy, etc. 

Uses Of Heat Press Machine

Some of the top uses for a heat press machine are:

  • Sublimation printing 
  • Printing on decorative patches
  • Vinyl printing on garments
  • Transfers on rhinestones
  • Screen printing transfers

What To Know When Using a Heat Press Machine For The First Time? 

The heat press machine also comes with some challenges. If you are using a heat press machine for the first time, know that mistakes are likely to occur and are not something to worry about. You will have to go through some trials and practice designs before you get the settings of the machine right. 

  • The most common issue you will face will be with the heat and time settings. If the time and temperature are not right, you won’t be able to print the design correctly. It can take a few attempts to get this right, as the required temperature differs from material to material.
  • Another issue can be the fabric you choose. Heat press machines do not work well on thin or waterproof fabrics. The best fabric to use with these machines when sublimation printing is polyester. Other substrates also work, but that is the best option. 

Cost Of Heat Press Machine

There are several versions of the heat press machine available in the market. Some cheaper and smaller versions cost up to a few hundred dollars, with prices going up to $1500 and even more. It all depends on the size, scale, and advanced functionality of the machine. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long do you heat press a sublimated shirt?

The exact settings vary for different materials but generally giving medium pressure for 60 seconds at 400 degrees Fahrenheit is enough. 

2. Can you overheat sublimation?

Yes, you may unintentionally overheat the sublimation substrate. Usually, this happens between 300 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Follow the instructions on the machine’s manual to reduce the chances of overheating.


The heat transfer printing process allows you to produce better results at a faster rate, which is why it is gaining popularity. The machine is efficient, cost-effective, and has better performance than some alternatives. And its uses are not limited to garments only.

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