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Heat Press Comparison: Clam Shell vs Swing Away Heat Press

I think it's about time we do a heat press comparison around here!  I know lots of you want to know which heat press is best and so today I'm going to go through the pros and cons of a swing away vs a clam shell heat press and you can decide what's best for you.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

For this comparison we're going to look at two models from Heat Press Nation's Black Series. While Heat Press Nation provided the presses for comparison, all observations and opinions are my own.

Both of these models have a 9x12" pressing area.  For more than a year now, I've used a 15x15" press so I was curious if I'd feel limited by the smaller size, but I was pleasantly surprised.
 Before we get to the comparison between the clam shell and swing away, let me explain a little bit about the benefits of the 9x12" heat presses.  I would say 80% of the items I press are for children or babies.  If you place a child's size t-shirt on a larger press the entire shirt will fit on bottom plate. That's not the case with the smaller size presses - and that's actually a benefit.

The entire front (or back) of the shirt will fit on the bottom plate, but it's small enough that even on a child shirt, the arm hole seams and the neck hang over the top and sides.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

This means you are able to get nice even pressure without needing any type of insert to bump up the shirt. On a larger style press, seen below, most smaller shirts will require some kind of added bulk to make the torso of the shirt slightly higher so it's even with the arm seams and neck ensuring even pressure and a good press.
 Heat Press, clam shell, swing away
It's worth pointing out the 9x12" plate is still plenty big enough to press a medium-large size decal on most adjust size shirt in a single press.

Also, for someone who has limited space in their craft area or who perhaps doesn't have a designated craft area, the small format presses are small enough that they have a footprint of no more than 16 x 12"; compared to a larger press.  The larger model I have has a footprint of 25 x 15".  While the Black Series small format presses are heavy duty, high pressure and professional-quality presses, they're also light weight enough that they can be moved rather easily when not in use or if they need to be transported.

Now for what you've been waiting for...the pros and cons of a clam shell heat press and the benefits and draw back of a swing away.

Clam Shell Heat Press

A clam shall heat press is a press that has a top and bottom plate that open and close like a clam shell or a jaw. One of the biggest benefits of clam shell heat presses are they take up the smallest amount of space possible since they're basically built up instead of out.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

In addition, due to the clam shell style opening of the top plate, this type of press feels sturdier and more solid on the surface. This model also has an auto-start timer that starts when the top plate is locked into place during pressing.

One con with any clam shell style press is that the top plate - where the heat comes from - can sometimes get in the way limiting your space to work.  I found this especially true with the smaller format press. It was, at times, difficult to position the shirt onto the bottom plate and/or position the decal onto the shirt without the top plate getting in the way of both my sight line and my hands.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

There is less than a three inch clearance between the bottom of the top plate and the back of the bottom plate and a seven inch clearance from the front of the top plate to the front of the bottom plate.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

For me, however, the biggest drawback with the 9x12" Black Series clam shell is the location of the control panel.  It's located on the top of the top plate so it moves with the plate.  When the top plate is open, as it should be when not in use or when setting time and temperature, the control panel is difficult to access as it's basically on the back of the press.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing awayHeat Press, clam shell, swing away

Swing Away Heat Press

The swing away heat press' biggest advantage over the clam shell is that the top plate can be moved completely out of the way - rotating 360 degrees - providing plenty of space to work without risking a burn.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

The Black Series Swing Away from Heat Press Nation also has a control panel that's easier to view and reach.  While it swings with the top plate, the top plate can swing clockwise or counter clockwise making it easy to bring the control panel into view while the press is still open.

Heat Press, clam shell, swing away

Of course, that swinging top plate requires both more clearance room and has more moving and intricate parts - both of which could be considered drawbacks.  Due to the clearance for the swinging arm, more room is needed for a swing arm press. In addition, all the moving parts seem to slightly sacrifice some of the sturdiness of the swing away press.

Finally, this model swing away requires the user to press the start button to activate the timer.  Forget to press the timer button and you could forget to remove the item from the press. Ask me how I know.

So which one heat press would I pick if I had to decide between a swing away heat press and a clam shell style press?  For a smaller format heat press I would lean toward the swing away heat press.  The extra clearance needed for the swinging top plate is less of an issue for me than the limited opening between the clam shell heat press' plates.  That being said, on a larger model heat press, I would go with the clam shell as the opening between the plates is not as much of a factor and the control panel is typically on the base of the machine, rather than on the top plate.

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing products through my links, I receive 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!

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  1. I have 2 swing away presses I do sublimation printing besides doing htv pressing. The pressure is more consistent with the swing away press if I am doing tile etc. than the clam shell.

  2. I have the Promo heat swing away 12x10 and it works great, my only compliant is that the top screw that hold the top plate becomes loose and has to be tightened every once in a while

    1. Try some loctite or plumbers tape on it and that should fix the problem. Hope this helps.

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  4. I just ordered a swing away as I used to work in a shirt store that did transfers and sublimation. I really couldn't imagine having to work around the hot plate being right above. Don't know if the clamshells have a pressure adjustment but we used the pressure adjustment all the time at the shirt place and never had an insert to lift it up.

  5. There are different machines that have "auto release" so all you are doing is "pressing down" the machine and when the time is up, it auto releases.


  6. What thickness of material can you do with a swing away press?


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