What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the words heat press? For most, the first thought is an iron and ironing board, or maybe a factory churning out thousands of t-shirts. And, I suspect if I said clamshell heat press, the first thing that would come to mind would be seafood.
However, in this case, I’m talking about heat presses — the ones used by small businesses, hobbyists, and crafters. Thanks to the crafting renaissance and the internet a need for smaller and affordable heat presses surfaced.
And in typical entrepreneurial fashion, when there’s a need, it must be met. So, today there’s a diversity of smaller and affordable heat presses available to everyone.
So What Is a Heat Press?
A heat press is a machine designed to use heat and pressure to transfer an image to a substrate. It is also called a heat transfer machine.
It typically has two independent surfaces or platens. The top platen is most often made of aluminum embedded with heating elements. The bottom platen, most often covered with a silicone gel mat, is where you place the substrate.
You place a substrate on the bottom platen, place the transfer on top of the substrate, and then press the top platen down. That sandwiches the substrate and transfer between the upper and lower platens.
Suggested Read: How to Use a Heat Press Machine Effortlessly
The pressure and heat from the upper platen moves the image from the transfer to the substrate. A heat press by design gets hotter than an iron, or laminator, and that higher temperature allows for a more professional result.
Heat presses allow you to transfer your individual and unique artwork, or designs, onto t-shirts, hats, wood, metals, paper memo cubes, jigsaw puzzles, tote bags, mousepads, ceramic tiles, mugs and plates, and many other materials.
There are three different types of heat presses available for small businesses and crafters alike. Presses that don’t require 220-volt outlets or any high amperage circuits.
Affordable and small enough to put on a table, plug it in, and start pressing. But first, you’ll have to decide which type of heat press will work best for you.
A clamshell heat press has a hinge between the top and bottom platens and is an upward-opening machine. With its clam-like open and close movement, it’s easy to understand how this heat press got its name.
Of the three different types of heat presses, the clamshell heat press takes the least amount of counter or desk space. And, thanks to its design is perfect when you need something portable, for conventions or on-the-go heat press work.
The clamshell heat press is a one or two-step operation (depending on the press). You close the press down, and when it’s finished, you open the press. It’s simple, effective, and efficient, making it the perfect starter heat press for a beginner or the occasional user.
While the clamshell heat press is good for imprinting t-shirts, canvas bags, caps, and other materials, it is limited when it comes to material thickness. Depending on the model, you will be limited to materials no thicker than one-half to three-fourths of an inch thick.
Suggested Read: Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Heat Press
Another concern with the clamshell heat press is their “pinch effect.” Because of its clam-style design, when the press is locked down, it pinches thicker substrates or locks down unevenly by hitting in the back first.
Some major manufacturers have corrected this issue by developing presses with an over the center pressure adjustment as well as a floating top platen that levels off before pressing the substrate.
But the biggest downside of a clamshell heat press is that your hands work directly under the heat source. The top platen of most clamshell heat presses does not open more than 70 degrees, making it easy to burn your hands.
The swing away heat press, when closed resembles the clamshell heat press. But rather than opening like the clamshell heat press, the top raises and then rotates to the side.
The swing away heat press requires more workspace than a clamshell heat press. It’s not a press you can place next to the wall as the top plate rotates up to 360 degrees. And because of the swing mechanism, they can feel less sturdy.
But the swing away heat press is good for thicker materials. The top platen moves up and down horizontally. So the heating element comes down evenly and flat against the substrate.
A big advantage to using the swing away heat press is the safety of loading and unloading materials. Your hands are not working under the heat source as they are with the clamshell heat press.
The downsides are space requirements, more moving parts that could wear out quicker, and it’s heavier, so it lacks portability.
The draw heat press has a lower platen that pulls out towards the operator. Similar to opening a drawer. The upper platen raises and lowers like the swing away heat press, but does not rotate.
Because, like the swing away heat press, the heated upper plate has a level horizontal movement, it is a good choice for thicker materials.
The upper platen on most draw heat presses does not rotate, and therefore it does not require the amount of space a swing away heat press does. But it does require more space than a clamshell heat press because you will need room for the lower platen to pull out.
Another, possibly the biggest advantage to the draw heat press is you are not working under the heat source.
The downsides of the draw heat presses are they are more expensive, more moving parts that could wear out quicker, and it’s heavier, so it’s not portable.
Worth a Look
If you are looking to purchase a clamshell heat press, here are five that deserve your consideration.
Each of the following has digital time and temperature controls, an important consideration. And they each have a 15-inch by 15-inch working platform.
Whether you’re a small business, a crafter, or a family with school-aged children, these clamshell heat presses could allow you to produce one of a kind creations.
ePhotoInc Heat Press Machine Sublimation T-shirt Transfer Machine 15B
The ePhotoInc Heat Press Machine Sublimation T-shirt Transfer Machine 15B is fully equipped with the latest digital LCD temperature and time display controller. Temperature ranges are from room temperature to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and time ranges from 0 to 999 seconds.
The 50-pound ePhotoInc T-Shirt Heat Press has a specially designed aluminum heat platen, coated with non-stick Teflon. A silicone pad covers the bottom platen, and it can withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The electrical specifications are 100 volts and 1500 watts, and it does not come with a converter.
When the transfer is complete, a time signal alarm will alert you, letting you know your transfer is done. The pressure adjusts easily from the top of the press. And it comes with a six-month warranty.
Amazon customers rated this clamshell heat press 4.2 out of 5 stars.
F2C Pro Home 15″ x 15″ Teflon Digital Clamshell T-Shirt Heat Press
F2C’s Pro Home 15″x15″ Teflon Digital Clamshell T-Shirt Heat Press has a fully digital LCD temperature and time control display. Temperature ranges are from zero to approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and time ranges from 0 to 999 seconds.
The 52 pound Pro Home T-Shirt Heat Press has a non-stick Teflon coated aluminum top platen. A silicone pad covers the bottom platen, and it can withstand temperatures up to approximately 485 degrees Fahrenheit without distortion.
The electrical specifications for this press are 100 volts and 1200 watts. It does not come with a converter.
The pressure adjusts easily with a knob at the top of the clamshell heat press. And it comes with a one year warranty.
Amazon customers rated this clamshell heat press a 4.2 out of 5 stars.
Fancierstudio Power Heat Industrial-Quality Digital 15-by-15 Inch Sublimation T-Shirt Heat Press
Fancierstudio’s Power Heat Press Industrial-Quality Digital 15-by-15 Inch Sublimation T-Shirt Heat Press has an electronic time and heat control for precise time set-up. Temperature ranges are from zero to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, with time ranges from 0 to 999 seconds.
The 50 pound Power Heat T-Shirt Heat Press has a non-stick Teflon coated aluminum top platen. In addition, a silicone gel pad covers the bottom platen. A free Teflon sheet is also included.
The electrical specifications are 110 volts and 1400 watts. It does not come with a converter.
Adjust the pressure with the knob at the top of the clamshell heat press.
Amazon customers rated this clamshell heat press at 4.5 out of 5 stars.
PlanetFlame Industrial-Quality CE Panel Clamshell Heat Press
The Industrial-Quality CE Panel Clamshell Heat Press by PlanetFlame has a digital time and temperature controller. Temperature ranges are from 0 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit, with time ranges from 0 to 999 seconds.
The 52 pound CE Panel Clamshell Heat Press has a non-stick Teflon coated top platen. And the bottom platen has a silicone gel pad.
The electrical specifications are 110 volts and 1300 watts. It does not come with a converter.
You can adjust the pressure with the knob on the top of the press. And there is a one year warranty on this clamshell heat press.
In addition, PlanetFlame offers free lifetime technical support and 18 hours online.
Amazon customers rated this clamshell heat press 4.1 out of 5 stars.
Transfer Crafts T-Shirt Heat Press & Digital Sublimation Machine
The T-Shirt Heat Press & Digital Sublimation Machine by Transfer Crafts has an LCD digital temperature and time display/controller. Temperature ranges are from room temperature to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, with time ranges from 0 to 999 seconds.
The 50-pound T-Shirt Heat Press & Digital Sublimation Machine has a non-stick Teflon coated top platen. And the bottom platen has a heat press silicon pad that can endure a maximum of 500 degrees Fahrenheit without any distortion.
The electrical specifications are 110 volts and 1800 watts. It does not come with a converter.
It has a time signal alarm that will sound when the transfer is done, and you can adjust the pressure with the knob on the top of the press.
Amazon customers rated this clamshell heat press a 4.2 out of 5 stars.
Wrapping It Up
We’ve talked about and defined clamshell, swing away, and draw heat presses. Hopefully, when someone now says clamshell heat press, your first thought won’t be seafood.
Creating beautiful imprints has never been so easy thanks to these modern heat press machines. Show off your creativity with one of a kind t-shirts, tote bags, or hats.
Give unique, one of a kind gifts to family and friends. Or design and make those reunion t-shirts for your family. Not to mention making special “take home” gifts for weddings or birthday parties.
But before you decide which style of heat press will be the best one for you, think about how much available space you have and if you need portability in a heat press.
No matter which style you choose, you will want time and temperature digitally controlled. Too much or too little heat or time will ruin your project. Temperature consistency and control is the most important thing to look for in a heat press.
It’s important to remember that using an extension cord for heat transfer machines is not a good idea. If you must use an extension cord, make sure it is a heavy duty cord and as short as possible.
So pick the best clamshell heat press and get your creativity on. Make something fun!
Do you have a clamshell heat press? If you do, let us know in the comments below what was your most creative heat press project.