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How to Use a Heat Press with HTV (And Is it Worth the Money?)

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl
So a few weeks ago, I basically screamed from the rooftops: "I got a heat press!" You heard me, right?  Thing is...like a little machine we all know and love it didn't come with many instructions (hmm...sound familiar?).  Thanks to some kind Silhouette School readers who were eager to help me get started, I was quickly onto making apparel and more with my heat press.

Today I thought I'd pass along what I've learned as a heat press newbie to help those of you who are in the same boat...and those of you who wondering heat iron vs iron: is it really necessary?

First let's start with the basics on how to use a heat press. After much searching, comparing, and price checking I got the Fancierstudio Industrial-Quality Digital 15-by-15-Inch Sublimation T-Shirt Heat Press in yellow (apparently color does matter) from Amazon and paid about $210 for it on sale. Yes, that's a good deal.  The model comes in several different colors and for some reason some colors cost more than others which is why color matters. I'm not picky about the shade my heat press decides to wear, so yellow it is for me!

Two days later...and my heat press was on my doorstep!  That's when I realized this thing comes with only a few lines of directions.  So here goes...
There are mixed thoughts on if a 'burn off' is necessary for the first time you use a heat press. A burn off is when you pump the heat up pretty high and for an extended period of time to let the stink burn off.  I skipped this step and have had no issues.

You want to find the perfect spot for your heat press.  A few things to keep in mind:
  • Put it on a solid surface
  • If possible, plug it into it's own outlet
  • Keep it out of reach of children
  • Don't put it too high that you have to reach to pull down the top plate
  • Have access to the press from three sides
  • A ceiling fan (and windows) in the room is recommended because this thing will really warm the room up
Most heat presses are pretty similar in their operation. There's a power button, a temperature gauge, a timer, and pressure adjuster.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl
Big red power button. Press it to start heating up the machine.
What you want to do is flip on the power button.  Adjust the temperature using the up and down arrows.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

You can find the desired temperature from the vinyl retailer.  For instance, in the description of Black Siser Easyweed HTV on Expressions Vinyl, it states:
  • Application: Preheat 3 seconds, Apply medium pressure at 305 °F for 10-15 seconds
  • Peel: Hot or Cold
If the default on your heat press is different than the recommended time, adjust it now too. This will just avoid you having to reach around a HOT heat press to adjust the temperature and timer after it's warmed up.   You'll also want to adjust the pressure knob, although this can be more of a 'get to know your machine' kind of adjustment. 

With the top plate up, let the heat press warm up to the necessary temperature while you cut out the HTV on your Silhouette.   The machine may or may not beep when it reaches the desired temperature.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

Now take your shirts or bag and CAREFULLY lay it flat on the bottom plate of the heat press. (No HTV...yet)  You are basically going to iron it flat and warm up the fabric to prep it.  This pulls out any moisture and gets rid of any wrinkles.  Pull down the handle (or swing it around if you have a swing plate) and let it sit on your fabric for about 5 seconds.  Lift the handle and remove the shirt.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

On a flat surface, lay out your shirt (or whatever you're working on) and position the HTV exactly where you want it on the item (backing facing up). Be sure you have weeded off the excess HTV, but leave the clear backing sheet in place.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

Once the heat press has reached the desired temperature, move your shirt onto the bottom plate. Again, be very careful NOT to touch the very hot top plate.  I find it easiest to keep the neck opening closest to me so the bottom of the shirt is towards the back of the heat press.  If possible, let the seam from the neckline hang over the front edge of the bottom plate.  Seams can cause the press to not get as tight of a seal as is possible on a totally flat surface.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

Before you pull down the handle and top plate, lay the teflon sheet provided with your heat over the htv and shirt.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

When you're ready, pull down the top plate locking it down with the handle.  On the model I have, the timer starts automatically, counts down and beeps when it's reached the end of the time.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

At this point, you can unlock the handle, lift up the top plate, remove the teflon sheet and pull out your shirt. You should be able to easily remove the clear HTV backing. (Again, check the manufacturer directions - some HTV requires you pull the sheeting off once it's cool.)

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

TIP: If you are layering vinyl with two different colors of vinyl, put the first color on and set the time for HALF the total time.  Once you've gone through the rest of the steps, and then add the second color, return the shirt to the heat press for the remainder of the time. 

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

This final step is optional but highly recommended. I like to flip my garment inside out and re-press it with the heat press to draw the HTV further into the fabric.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl

Now the question is - is the price of a Heat Press worth it for HTV?   I used an iron to adhere my heat transfer vinyl for months. It worked out fine and I never had a problem.  The biggest drawback to using an iron is the amount of time and pressure it takes to get a good stick.  Most recommend a full minute and a lot of pressure for each iron-size area. For a large design, this can take a lot of time where it only takes 20-30 seconds to use the heat press.   I ultimately decided to buy a heat press when I realized it would take my business to the next level.  If you are making a onesie here or a bag there for yourself or your family, you probably don't need a heat press - an iron will be fine so long as you get a good seal.   But if you start getting inquires about making a dozen shirts or decide you want to sell HTV items in your Etsy shop I would definitely recommend a heat press.  The stick is better, the time is less, and the effort is minimal. So is a heat press worth the money for you? I created this nifty little chart tool to help you decide if a heat press is worth the investment.

Heat press, htv, heat transfer vinyl


Have you considered buying a heat press for your HTV projects? If you have one, what do you LOVE about it?

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing products through my links, I received a small commission. That's what helps fund Silhouette School so I can keep buying new Silhouette-related products to show you how to get the most out of your machine! 

Thanks for coming to class today at Silhouette School.  If you like what you see, I'd love for you to pin it!


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