Transferring corporate graphics or cool artwork onto garments is a must for any company. No matter how big or small your business might be, there are many heat presses to suit your needs and output volumes. This guide will take you through all of the important features of a heat press transfer machine. We will focus on reliability within a narrow budget. So, you will be able to start your heat press business tomorrow.
What to Look for in Cheap Heat Presses
The two most important characteristics of any commercial heat press are reliability and versatility.
Reliability will ensure your designs do not come off after the client washes the garment. It will also protect your print from the usual wear and tear.
Versatility, on the other hand, will allow you to land more jobs and offer a greater variety of services. It enables you to transfer designs onto caps, mugs, hoodies, jackets, and sensitive materials such as polyester.
Heat, pressure, and size are the three main features that guarantee the stable workflow of a commercial heat press. The following tips will help you nail down these features at any budget. They are designed to cut down on production time and minimize faults.
To Be Hot or Not to Be Hot
The heating element is crucial to creating high-quality, durable prints. The coil located inside the heat press should provide you with even temperature across the heating surface. If the heat is different on the sides or at the center of the surface, it will produce unsatisfactory results.
Heat timers and temperature adjustments are another thing to consider. Almost all of the commercial heat presses come with precise heat timers and suggestions on how to use them for each printing medium. But, you need to make sure that the temperature of the heating element is the same as the one indicated on the gauge of the press.
Squeezing Coolness onto Promotional Materials
Besides the temperature, the pressure is another important element to think of when choosing a cheap heat press machine for your business. The even distribution of the pressure, when the machine is locked down, gets you the best results.
Make sure to choose a press with adjustable pressure controls and a timer. This will establish even pressure over the entire platen. It will deliver just the right amount of it onto the material/medium you are using. Some of the budget heat presses even come with an auto-release option that releases the press once the transfer is complete.
With Heat Presses Size Matters
Heat presses usually come in four different sizes: 15 x 15in, 16 x 20in, 16 x 24in, and 20 x 25 in. The right size depends on the volume of your business, the amount of space you dedicated for the press, and of course the budget.
Even though it may sound small, a 15 x 15in heat press is considered mid-sized. It is ideal for small shops or home-based businesses operating in a confined area. Investing just a little more will get you a 20% bigger press (16 x 24), allowing for greater versatility and heavy-duty production.
Purchasing a 16 x 24in press may be the best option for a small operation, if space is not a concern. These heat press machines offer the greatest amount of versatility. They also tick all the right boxes for functionality, since their robustness allows even pressure and heating.
Additionally, 16 x 24s come at a fraction of the price of their 20 x 25 big “brothers”. A good 16 x 24 press can be found for a less than $500. But 20 x 25 heat presses are priced in the range of thousands so we will not consider them in this guide.
Determining the Right Style of Your Heat Press
Commercial heat transfer presses come in two distinct pressing styles: “clam shell” and “swing away”. The names of these devices are indicative of the way you use them. Selecting the right one for your operation depends on the amount of space you have and the type of pressing you are doing. Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of these presses:
1. Clam-shell heat presses are designed for medium to higher output volumes. You can place them in almost any area of your shop. The simple up and down pressing procedure is the ultimate space saver. Also, you should choose one that has an auto release option. This will allow you to multitask while pressing, without worrying about scorches. The main disadvantage of this style of press is that you will be working under constant heat. So the press operator must be extra careful not to burn his or her fingers.
2. Swing-away heat presses do not require you to work under constant heat. This allows for a greater range of designs. The operator can do a lot of pre-cuts and place different elements onto the material without compromising safety. But these presses usually have a 3-step unlocking process, slightly increasing the production time. Also, they are not space savers since the heating element swings open to the side.
The Best Heat Press Machines on a Limited Budget
Whether you are a small design office, a marketing start-up, or just a hobbyist, there is a cheap heat press perfectly suitable to your needs and budget. The options listed below feature the most affordable ones, while taking into account durability and ease of use.
The Best Affordable Heat Press for Garments
The most affordable heat press for garments can be found for a little more than $300, as of this writing. The HIX 9 x 12in Swingman HL912 Hobby Lite Heat Press Transfer Machine is perfect for hobbyists and small businesses.
The swing-away design protects your hands from the heat. Heat press operators can do precuts and place different elements onto the material without compromising safety. A stop prevents the heating element from swinging too far away from the platter. So you won’t have to worry about the extra space swing-away presses take up.
This heat press comes with a full-range temperature control utilizing an oven-like dial. The HIX 9 x 12 Swingman doesn’t need a temperature gauge. You dial in the temperature, wait for the heat indicator light to go off, and the press is set for a transfer. The HIX’s 9 x 12in heating platen delivers up to 400°F. This kind of temperature allows you to heat transfer any available design.
The coolest features of this heat press are its size and weight. The HIX’s compact 9 x 12in surface makes it ideal for a home-based business. The weight of 19 lbs would allow you to move the press if needed. You can place it on top of a desk, do the heat press, and put the machine away when you finish.
The Best Affordable Heat Press for Caps
The Rincons AP-C1 Deluxe Cap Hat Heat Press Machine with Mounting Clamp is by far the cheapest option if you are looking for a compact yet rugged device to decorate caps or hats. Rincons is one of the top manufacturers in this field, so you know you’re getting longevity and ease of use.
This press features welded framework of solid steel. The heat platen is balanced by springs to secure even pressure over the material. It also comes with a cap-mount clamp that ensures secure placement. A digital gauge displays the time and temperature. There is an option for either Fahrenheit or Celsius. Once the pressing is done, the timer gives out a signal so you can remove the heat platen.
In the end, it is worth noting that this press operates as a swing-away, allowing for greater leeway when putting your designs onto the material. The entire setup is quite lightweight and portable so it is ideal for small businesses. The curve of the heat platen is also coated with a non-stick material. As of this writing, the press can be purchased for a little over $200.
The Best Affordable Press for Mugs
The Ricoma IKONIX 3 Mug Heat Press HP-04M Heat Press Transfer Machine is a portable stand-alone device by another trusted manufacturer. The features of this device can help you take your creative business to another level.
This press delivers precise heating top-to-bottom, so your designs will adhere to the mug no matter what material you are using. The continuous heat works on the entire mug evenly to ensure the quality of the transfer. It also gives you the same results no matter what type of transfer you are using. The pressing mechanism is designed to accommodate 11, 15 and 16oz mugs. These sizes are standard so you will not have any issues unless you’re dealing with custom mug sizes.
The small size of the Ricoma heat press makes it ideal for marketing start-ups, small design studios or home use. It is quite lightweight at just 20 lbs., which makes it very portable. It is a shade under $200 as of this writing.
Not sure? Here is a list of all our coffee mug heat presses.
The Cheapest Multifunctional Heat Presses
Having a multifunctional heat press allows the greatest versatility and the possibility to offer multiple pressing applications to your clients. The included attachments allow you to transfer designs onto surfaces that are not flat. Most clients like to see their designs on plates, mugs, and baseball caps, as well as t-shirts.
The most affordable option is the Ricoma IKONIX HP-0401MF Multifunction Heat Press Machine. For less than $500 you will be getting a 4-in-1 heat press machine. The setup includes a t-shirt press, mug press, plate press, and baseball cap press.
The Ricoma IKONIX features a steel frame and the handle utilizes a shovel design. It comes with an adjustable timer and an alarm that signals the end of a pressing cycle. The heat plate on the machine is extra thick to promote even temperature and pressure distribution.
This heat press machine weighs 40kg and the working area is 11.5 x 15in, landing it in the medium size category. So you will be able to have a relatively portable device that rivals the capabilities of more expensive models.
The Cheapest Heat Presses by Size
These are the standard sizes for affordable heat press machines: 15x15in, 16x20in, and 16x24in.
Cheapest 15 x 15 Heat Press
The cheapest 15 x 15in press is the Rincons 15”x15” Clamshell AP-15LCD Heat Press Transfer Machine. This is a commercial-grade device which can transfer designs onto multiple materials. The platens are Teflon-coated to prevent scorching. It is equipped with pressure and temperature adjustment knobs along with a timer to ensure quality transfers. The spring-assisted clamp allows for safety and smoothness. At the time of writing, the machine can be purchased at $350.
Cheapest 16 x 20 Heat Press
In the 16 x 20in category, the Rincons 16" X 20" Clamshell is the most affordable press that we sell coming in under $500. This rugged heat press allows you to print onto flat surfaces at high volume. It can be used with objects that are up to 1in thick. It features accurate electronic temperature control and there is a dedicated knob for adjusting the pressure of the machine. The result is high quality and reproducible transfers.
16 x 24 Heat Press Under $500
Lastly, the Ricoma IKONIX Flat 16” x 24” Clamshell HP-604H Heat Press Transfer Machine is the biggest heat press that you can get without breaking the bank. It shares all of the same features as the previously mentioned Ricoma 16 x 20in, but with a 20% bigger heating surface. This device is designed for years of trouble-free operation. This rugged and durable machine is more affordable than you think. Check out all 16 x 24 machines here!
Hopefully, this guide helps you narrow down the best options for your heat pressing needs. There is a cheap heat press machine for every business. Lastly, do not be afraid to put in some extra cash if you are using the press for commercial purposes. Having a lot of happy recurring customers means that your heat press machine will pay for itself in no time. If you are looking to spend a bit more, check out our guide to the best heat presses.