How to Use a Heat Press with Vinyl

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Can’t I just use my iron? Well yes, you can, but to build your T-shirt business or your side hustle, you will eventually need to get your hands on a heat press. The heat press may be the most important piece of equipment, but it is also something not everyone is familiar with using and that could lead to tragedy. 

In this article, we are going to talk about the heat press as well as give you a step-by-step basic guide on how to use a heat press with vinyl so that you can get to making your designs quickly and correctly. Before we get to that we should talk about the different types of heat presses available.

Types of Heat Presses

There are many brands and models but there are only 4 main types of heat presses. Each has unique qualities and advantages. Here are the four broken down with a brief description to help you choose the right heat press for your T-shirt making needs.

Clam shell

This style heats from two sides and is clamped at one end leaving the other open to be lifted like a lid. This is great for large projects.


The swinger heat press is built with the upper plate which can swivel away from the lower plate. This allows for easier removal of materials and a decreased risk of burning yourself.


This model has a lower plate that pulls out which allows you to lay out your projects without having to reach under the heated element of the top plate.


This heat press is specifically designed to be used with the sublimation method of graphic transferal.

Now that you have an idea of what types of heat press you have at your disposal let’s look at just how to use a heat press with a vinyl transfer.

How to Use a Heat Press with Vinyl

Setup and use of a heat press play just as important a role as the actual artwork and fabrics used. The below steps are basic and able to be used with any style of press you choose.


You need a good work area to set up your work space. Find a place where you can set up your heat press on a stable surface that is able to hold a decent amount of weight. You also need to think about the location of the press when choosing the surface. You need a place free of any thing at can melt or catch fire. You should also have easy access to a wall socket and a good airflow.


Now that you have the place ready and the heat press in place you need to plug it in. Then before you switch it on you will want to adjust the pressure until you get the optimal amount. Do this by starting at the lowest point and closing the lid. Repeat the process until you get it just right.


Now it is time to turn the machine on. Once you have it on you should let heat to the proper level of heat required by your vinyl. Ideally, this is somewhere between 300- and 320-degrees Fahrenheit. Each heat press model has different levers and buttons. At this point, you can also do a pre-press of the shirt you are going to print to ensure there are no wrinkles.


Now, you will take your vinyl and place it in the location you want on your shirt. You can do this on the press or on a flat surface and then transfer it to the heat press.


The next thing you want to do is lay a level of protection like a Teflon sheet over the vinyl. This will protect the heat press from ending up with the vinyl sticking to the top plate. This step is very important when it comes to protecting the vinyl.


Now you will lower the lid and lock the plate in place. Set the timer and wait for it to go off. While you are waiting, you will want to apply pressure by holding the lid down with the handle. Once it goes off, you will lift the lid and let the material completely cool. Once it is cool then you can remove the vinyl paper and you are done.

Final Thoughts

Using a heat press with vinyl is quite easy but does take a little patience and time to get used to. Each model will have its own unique user manual, but the basics of the above walkthrough are always going to be the same. With this routine, you will ensure that you get the perfect vinyl transfer every time. Now all that’s left to do is figure out what you want to design for your next T-shirt and get to the actual pressing.

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