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Choosing a Heat Press Machine for T Shirts [Ultimate Guide]

Heat press machines are the best way to print designs on coffee mugs, caps, t-shirts, and all sorts of garments. However, if you need a heat press only to print on t-shirts, you will likely look for very specific features that make these machines perfect for this purpose.

But, finding the perfect heat press machine for t shirts can be hard with so many things to consider, such as temperature range, size, and heat distribution. To help you navigate through different models and types of heat presses, we created this buying guide.

buying guide heat press machine for t shirts

Keep reading to learn more about the different types of heat presses and find out what features make a heat press perfect for t shirt printing.

Different Types of Heat Presses

There are three main types of heat presses, all of which have their own advantages and shortcomings.

Clam shell

Like their name suggests, these heat presses use a mechanism with top and bottom plates that resemble a clam shell or jaws. They are usually cheaper, sturdier, and require less space.

Swing away

These presses work in the same way as the clam shell type (the top plate that provides heat is movable), but they have one key difference. The top plate can rotate 360 degrees and be moved completely out of the way. The swing away presses are safer but sacrifice some sturdiness and require more clearance room.


Unlike the previous two types which have a movable top plate, draw style heat presses have a movable bottom plate. This plate can be pulled out in a similar way to a cupboard drawer. People who use this type of heat presses have to be particularly careful when making the transfer to avoid the bottom plate moving.

In our opinion, clam shell models are the best choice for printing t-shirts, as they are time efficient and usually sturdier than the other types. The garment layout also usually doesn’t need as much attention to detail.

Size and Shape

The size of the heat press you need depends on two key factors – the garments you will be printing on and the space you have at your disposal. If you don’t have a lot of clearance space, you’ll be better off with a clam shell model. That would also allow you to get a model with larger plates, as swing away presses with large plates require a lot of space.

You should also consider the shape of your heat press. For t shirt printing you will need a press with a flat surface. If you want to work with other objects in the future (caps or mugs), you might be better off with a 5-in-1 or an 8-in-1 press.

If you want to use your press solely for t shirt printing, our recommendation is to go for either a 15" x 15" or 16" x 20" model. Their plates are just the perfect size for most t-shirts.


Safety is something that often gets overlooked when talking about the best heat presses. People love to talk about pressure, temperature, and versatility, but safety is one of the most important things you should keep in mind when buying a heat press machine.

heat press machine for t shirts

This is especially a concern for clam shell models, as they require you to put your hands under the heating plate. This is another reason why you should go for larger models – the spacing between the top and bottom plates is usually bigger. If safety is a big concern, then you’re probably better off with a swing away heat press.


The amount of garments you will be printing on a daily basis should determine your choice of heat press. Are you looking for a press that can easily print 100 t-shirts in one hour? Or are you more interested in a product you will be using occasionally to print a couple of t-shirts for a children’s soccer team?

The more durable industry-level machines will be able to produce a much higher volume in a shorter time period. So, for example, the air-operated HIX N-880 will be much more efficient than the Rincons HP-5040H. However, the latter will be more kind to your pockets, so keep in mind that higher output comes at a price.


Will this heat press have a dedicated place in your business space or home? This is an important question you need to answer, as some presses can be very cumbersome. So, if you expect you’ll be moving your press around, you’re better off with something lighter.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to go for a smaller plate size. For example, the HIX Swingman 20E and the HIX Swingman SM20D both have 16" x 20" plate size, but the latter is almost three times heavier.

HIX SwingMan 20 Twin SM20D Heat Press Transfer Machine

Temperature Range and Heat Distribution

Apart from plate size, temperature range is one of the first things people look for in a heat press. And for a good reason – the temperature range of your heat press largely affects the types of materials you can work on. T-shirts usually require no more than 350 degrees Fahrenheit, but thicker garments like hoodies and sweatshirts may need more.

Another thing especially important for t shirt printing is heat distribution. When buying your heat press, make sure that the heat is evenly distributed across the upper plate. You can do this by turning it on and moving your hand across the heat plate. Proper heat distribution can make a world of difference if you’re printing on larger t-shirts or using larger designs.

Temperature Control and Timer

While we’re on the subject of temperature, here’s another important thing to consider – control. Most new models have a timer that allows you to set the exact time of heating that should depend on the material you’re using.

This can be particularly important if you’re running a business – you wouldn’t like to burn your customers’ t-shirts, would you? If you’re not confident you can gauge how much time you need for every t shirt, you can get an automatic heat press that can do that for you.

Ease of Use

Depending on who will be using the machine, you may need to consider its ease of use. This won’t be a problem if you have an experienced professional handling the machine, but it’s worth thinking about if an amateur will be doing it.

Automatic heat presses are usually easier to use, as they require less knowledge about different materials, printing times, and types of transfer. However, that isn’t to say you can do this with no previous training or research. In addition to reading the user manual thoroughly, you should also consider getting training and watching all available tutorials.

how to use heat press machine for t shirts


Pressure and Force Knobs

If you decide to go for a manual heat press, make sure the pressure and force knobs are easily adjustable. It may be a small thing to bring up, but a good pressure knob can make a big difference in your daily use of the heat press and make your job easier.

This is important because you need to make sure you’re applying the right amount of pressure on each t shirt when printing. Apply too much pressure every time and on a daily basis gets very hard and may even give you backaches. Apply too little and the image may not transfer to your garment the way you want it to.


Deciding on which heat press machine to buy for t-shirts will largely depend on your dedicated budget. If you’re looking to make a serious business investment, you might be interested in the Digital Knight DK20SP or a similar top-end press with advanced features. At the other end of the price spectrum, you will find the more affordable Ricoma Ikonix.

As you can see, heat press machines range from a couple hundreds of dollars to several thousand. If you need a workhorse that delivers hundreds of t-shirts every day, you should be looking at the higher end of the price range.

The Bottom Line

We hope our guide helped you better understand the world of heat presses for t-shirts. As with every important investment, try to educate yourself and learn as much as you can about the different options on the market. If you are looking to get a machine that does more than just t-shirts check out our guide for our top heat press machines this year.

Once you set your budget, look for the products that meet your printing requirements. Set your priorities and know exactly what you’re looking for in your perfect heat press machine.

Do all of these things, including what you learn in this article, and you’ll find your heat press machine for t shirts in no time.