Using a Heat Press for the First Time {Tutorial}

For Christmas, my mom gave me a fancy schmancy HEAT PRESS! I actually picked it out and ordered it and it was from her… so I had to wait from the time I ordered it until Christmas and the whole time I was just EXPLODING with anticipation and excitement!

I opened it up at Christmas time…

…and then it sat in my craft room in its’ box for a few weeks.

I was SO intimidated with this machine that I couldn’t even think about getting it out of the box. Have you ever felt that way about something? Where you’re just SO overwhelmed and intimidated with it that you just pretend it’s not there for a little while?

It’s not that I wasn’t super excited about it… I just did not even know where to start! Finally, after talking to my friend (who is a heat press veteran), I took it out of the box and gave it a whirl!

Here are a few tips that I learned during this process:

  1. Plug it in to its’ own outlet. I read this tip on Dr. Google… and since it was on the internet, it has to be true, right? ūüėČ But in all reality, it made sense. This machine uses a lot of power. If you plug a zillion things into the same outlet, it’s possible it could blow a fuse. So, to stay on the safe side, plug it into its’ own outlet.
  2. Put it on a STEADY table. These heat presses are no joke and you use a lot of force opening and closing the machine. Make sure you put it on a table that won’t wobble, fall over, or break easily.
  3. Read the instruction manual for initially setting up the machine. I could tell you exactly what I did to set my machine up… but I have a feeling that not all machines are wired the same. I literally just followed the manual to know what to do. This includes making sure the pressure is right, the temperature is set, and the timer is set.
  4. Make sure you have it at the correct temperature for your project. Heat presses get HOT. Like, SUPER hot. You don’t necessarily need to set it as hot as it will get. I did a t-shirt for my first project and set it at 305 degrees. I haven’t changed that setting since my first project and it works like a charm each time!
  5. Be prepared to have a few items of clothing to practice on before getting serious. My friend suggested for me to practice on a pillow case to get used to it. I literally just grabbed an old workout shirt and went for it. But just know – I was prepared to mess up that workout shirt and be okay with it.
Here's my Silhouette crafting station! It has a pegboard from Uline behind it with all of my vinyls, transfer tapes, and mats.

Here’s my Silhouette crafting station! It has a pegboard from Uline behind it with all of my vinyls, transfer tapes, and mats.

Things you want to have to use with your heat press:

  • A ruler. I use the same ruler that I use for quilting, but any ruler will work.
  • Some type of craft cutter. I have a Silhouette Cameo.
  • Teflon Sheets
  • Heat transfer vinyl – I initially purchased Cricut vinyl from Michaels and HELLO that’s incredibly expensive. It’s like $14 for 12×12 or less of vinyl. That’s just crazy to me. I just did a big order from ExpressionsVinyl so we will see how I like that vinyl!
  • Shirts – I’ve been getting CHEAP ones from Walmart to practice on. If you look in the men’s section, you can find adult t-shirts in a variety of colors for less than $5.
This is my measuring station. I use it for measuring/cutting fabric and centering heat press logos!

This is my measuring station. I use it for measuring/cutting fabric and centering heat press logos!

Pressing on your heat press:

Here’s what I did my first few times. I’m sure I’ll post about this more than just once… so if my strategy changes, I’ll update you.

Heat up your heat press while you're cutting the vinyl design out for your shirt. I have my heat press set to 305. The top number is the current temp of the machine and the bottom number is the goal heat.

Heat up your heat press while you’re cutting the vinyl design out for your shirt. I have my heat press set to 305. The top number is the current temp of the machine and the bottom number is the goal heat.

  • Preheat the machine while cutting the vinyl.¬†
    • NOTE ON CUTTING HEAT TRANSFER VINYL: When I tried doing this with my iron pre-heatpress, I would get SO confused on which side to cut my vinyl on. I learned that you want to put the SHINY side DOWN on your Cricut/Silhouette mat. Shiny side DOWN.¬†
You put the SHINY side DOWN on the cutting mat when using Heat Transfer Vinyl!

You put the SHINY side DOWN on the cutting mat when using Heat Transfer Vinyl!

  • Also, you need to make sure that you put the vinyl on the OPPOSITE side of the cutting mat and make sure you set your machine to cut based on what type of vinyl you’re using. Also MAKE SURE you cut with the design MIRRORED. My Silhouette will ask me if I want it to mirror it for me when I tell it to cut.
Make sure you put your vinyl shiny side DOWN and place it on the opposite side of the cutting mat. Then, make sure you cut MIRRORED.

Make sure you put your vinyl shiny side DOWN and place it on the opposite side of the cutting mat. Then, make sure you cut MIRRORED.

  • Figure out the CENTER of the shirt.
    • This. Is. So. Annoying.
    • My friend told me that this would be the most irritating part. She and I are very similar in how things need. to. be. perfect.
    • I’m a type A perfectionist and so figuring out where the center of the shirt is really frustrates me. BUT – one thing I’ve learned about HTV is that it’s STICKY when you weed out the parts you don’t want on the t-shirt. So, I try to find the center of the shirt before I put the shirt down on the heat press. (The TOP of the heat press is VERY HOT. I’ve already touched my hand on the top multiple times… which is why I tried¬†centering my logo BEFORE putting it on the heat press) I stick my logo down on the center and very CAREFULLY move it to my heat press – making sure the collar and seams hang off the sides.
    • For this shirt, I measured the center of the shirt and used a pencil to lightly mark the middle at the top and center of the shirt. Then, after cutting my design, I measured the middle of the design at the top and bottom. I used a sharpie to mark the center on the plastic. Then, I stuck it to the shirt… careful to line it up with the pencil marks I already did.
    • ***PLEASE NOTE: This is probably not the BEST way of doing this. But… if you’re reading this post, it’s likely you’re a newbie just like me. So as I navigate my machine, I’ll update y’all on how I’m doing it! If you’re a seasoned pro, I’d LOVE to know your methods! Please comment and let me know!
Line up the center of the logo to the center marks you made with a pencil.

Line up the center of the logo to the center marks you made with a pencil.

  • Put your teflon sheet on top of your design.
    • This keeps the vinyl from sticking to the ultra hot top part of the heat press.
Before you clamp it down, make sure you put your teflon sheet on top of your design!

Before you clamp it down, make sure you put your teflon sheet on top of your design!

  • Clamp your heat press down and wait for the timer to go off!¬†
    • I set my timer for 15 seconds at 305 degrees. I just kind of get a feel for how it’s sticking at that temperature and press it for additional 15 seconds to get a tighter seal.
    • I read MULTIPLE places – and my friend also confirmed – that if you set your heat press hotter, it can scorch the shirt or the design. So, doing it at 305 for intervals of 15 seconds is best.

  • Read your manual about whether you should let the design cool off or not before taking off the plastic from the design.¬†
Click on this picture to download a free .studio cut file to make your little monkey his/her very own "wild thang" shirt! {Silhouette file}

Click on this picture to download a free .studio cut file to make your little monkey his/her very own “wild thang” shirt! {Silhouette file}

I really hope this helps any of you that are staring at your new heat press machine completely overwhelmed and intimidated. I don’t like to leave posts up without giving something away… so I’m attaching a free Silhouette cut file download for the t-shirt design I used in the photos in this post. I’ve NEVER shared a Silhouette cut file before… so please PLEASE leave me a comment and tell me if this works or not!