What is a heat press machine?

Did you ever wonder how is the imprinting of t-shirts, caps, towels, mugs is done? One of the easiest and most practical way consists in using a machine called a « heat press machine ».  

These machines are everywhere nowadays, easy to use and relatively cheap. Of course, this depends on the options and technology offered.  We can describe these machines according to three different characteristics: the automation, the mechanical design, and the pressure. So what is a heat press machine? What are its characteristics?

The automation

Let’s jump into the automation part: To understand the concept easily, we can summarize this section also in two different units.

Manual heat press machine

The first one is the manual heat press machine; Pretty common and handy for little quantities of articles to imprint, it contains mainly two heated aluminum flat platens (most common and easiest to understand). The user needs to open them and close them physically after a fixed amount of time.

The platens apply an equally uniform heat and pressure on the surface of the article to imprint. The user chooses the temperature and the duration of the application. These two parameters depend mainly on the article.

For a flat article, for example, the opening can be in angles by elevating the superior platen to obtain a 40-degree opening, and thus, having a wallet like shape, where you can put your article inside the machine.

Another type of opening consists in having a platen that pivots around an axis. The axis is situated behind the machine, thus offering some gain in place and efforts.

Once the article placed between the plates, the desired pattern will be printed in sublimating ink on sublimating paper called transfer paper. This allows transferring the desired shape, once the machine is heated.

You can use this machine on different types and shapes of materials. In general, you need to install accessories to marry these shapes. For example, the silicone mug wrap allows you to imprint designs on mugs using a traditional machine that can support this accessory.

Semi-automatic and automatic heat press machine

The semi-automatic heat press has all the features of the manual one. There is one exception though. It has an automatic electromagnetic opening as well as a manual closing process.

Last but not least, the fully automatic machine offers a more suitable and easiest way for the industrial sector. It provides an automatic process from a to z whether for opening or closing the plates, setting up the timer or the temperature.

A digital monitor controls everything. Besides, it has a lower risk of errors. Thanks to these features, the automated machine is perfect for large amounts of articles. Unfortunately, as you can guess,  its cost is way higher, and the machine is more suitable for large amounts of articles to imprint.

Automatic heat press machine

Mechanical design

Time to talk about mechanical design now. We are going to take a small look into three most known ones:  the clamshell heat press machine design, the swing away heat press machine design, and finally the draw heat press machine design.

A clamshell heat press machine
clamshell heat press machine

The clamshell as described above is hooked on one end and opens and closes just like a clam, thus the nomination. Simple, easy and relatively cheap, this is the most common type of designs that exist. It is also the most suited for beginners and small quantity use.

An example of a swing away heat press machine
swing away heat press machine

As for the swing away heat press machine, it is built in order to allow the upper plate to rotate away from the lower plate. With this capability, fewer burn injuries are likely to happen compared to the clamshell design. How to explain this? Well, since you can move freely your materials, there is less risk to touch the hot upper plate.

An example of a draw heat press machine
draw heat press machine

Finally, the draw heat press machine: this device has a movable lower plate. It permits then to avoid contact with the heated upper plate so it is safer like the swing away heat press.


For a standard heat press machine, the pressure is applied using the weights of the plates. To apply more pressure, it is possible to use a heat press machine with additional pressure functionalities.

We can find systems with air compression and hydraulic compression. Heat press machines with air compression are called pneumatic. Meanwhile, the others are called hydraulic.

These features provides higher quality of application and imprints.

Pneumatic heat press machines are generally automatic. An air compressor is required to feed the machine with compressed air.

The hydraulic heat press is a large format of heat transfer machines that uses oil to mold big pieces like mats, carpets and even wood parts.

Be aware that the pressure you need to apply depends on the article your are going to imprint.

An example of a pneumatic heat press machine
Pneumatic heat press machine coupled with compressor


In conclusion, a heat press machine is a good and practical solution to imprint different designs on different materials, based on the shapes, sizes, types, and quantities of the objects you have.

As we saw, you can use it distinctively depending on the design of the machine in question. If somebody ever asked you: what is a heat press machine? You know what to answer now!

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