Equipment needed to start a heat press business can be pieced together from different sources or purchased as a complete shop set-up from any number of suppliers. Heat presses use heat and pressure to transfer printed designs onto t-shirts, caps, mugs and other goods for souvenir, advertising and marketing use.
Heat presses come in a variety of sizes and feature-sets. Clam shell and swing-away head flat bed machines are used for clothing and other flat items, while cylinder-shaped presses are used for mugs and other printable cylinder-shaped items. The primary difference between machines includes sturdiness of build, the quality of the heating element, time and temperature controls. Inexpensive machines will do a fine job of printing, but may be slow to recover heat fast enough for higher quantity production work. Machines with robust frames, digital heat and time controls tend to be more accurate, as heat pressing relies on precisely controlled heat, pressure and time.
Printers used for a heat press operation are typically of a larger size format (11 by 17 inches or larger) to accommodate large shirt designs and use special dye sublimation ink. Their operation is exactly like a home printer but with different ink. The design is printed onto special transfer paper, placed over the item and inserted into the heat press to be clamped, heated and the image transferred to the item.
A computer is necessary for designing print images and modifying those supplied by your customer. Any computer will do but graphic design software is required and available from software companies, computer stores and heat press supply companies. The type of software needed will depend on your design ability, business needs and cost limitations. Programs will range from less than $100 to well into the $1,000+ range.
Specific supplies needed will vary in size and type according to the type of printing you'll do, but will include extra ink, transfer paper, heat pads, Teflon or other brand of heat resistant sheeting. Heat tape is used to hold transfer paper in position on the item, and a felt heat eraser is used to dissipate heat from the paper and product after printing. Of course, you'll need product and design samples and a stock of blank goods.