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Heat Press vs Iron: Which One is Best for You?

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A heat press costs a lot more than a simple iron does. So it is only fair that you question whether you do in actual fact need a heat press machine for your heat transfer projects.

In our post today we will have a heat press vs iron battle-off.

A successful heat transfer is all about having the right time, temperature and pressure. If you can get those three elements right, you will have a heat transfer that is perfectly adhered to your fabric product.

Get those three wrong and your transfer won't stick to your surface very well and will most likely come off in the near future.

Let's look at the pros and cons of each which will help you to understand the difference between a heat press machine vs an iron.

Heat Press vs Irons

Let's start with the cheaper option. Let's have a look at the difference between a heat press and iron, and discuss some of the pros and cons of using an iron for your heat press projects.

1. Using an Iron for Iron-On Vinyl

Irons are a great tool to have around a home. You can do so much more with an iron than simply iron clothes … in fact, I think my iron almost never gets used to iron clothes, it mostly gets a workout for craft purposes.

Irons are great because they are cheap, they are easy to store, and easy to port around. And most households already have one, so you don't even have to purchase one.

If you do wish to work with an iron, we do recommend that you purchase decent iron-on vinyl as not all HTV are as easy to apply with an iron. So best to find the ones that specify that they are perfect for iron application.

Here are some pros and cons of using an iron for iron-on transfers.

PROS:

  • It is portable and easy to store when not in use
  • You most likely already have one
  • They are affordable to purchase
  • They are fabulous for smaller designs
  • They heat up very quickly

CONS:

  • They have a small surface area for pressing, so impractical for larger designs.
  • You can't control the temperature of the iron, whilst it might have different heat settings, you really have no idea how hot each setting really is. (Different types of vinyl require different types of heat)
  • It doesn't have a digital timer built-in, so you will need to watch the clock or count down in your head whilst transferring your design.
  • The temperature can vary wildly throughout the surface of the plate. Some areas might be super hot whilst others are only warm. This means that you might end up with an iron-on that doesn't stick as well as it could.
  • Steam irons have holes in the hot plate which will create an uneven pressure.

Verdict of Using an Iron vs Heat Press

Irons are an excellent choice for those who are beginners. They are also perfect if you know that you will only be doing heat transfers occasionally (so it won't make sense to invest in a heat press then).

We definitely don't recommend them for larger projects, but they can work great for smaller designs.

It also depends on what you are doing. For example, it is easier to work on T-shirts when you iron as the product is flat, but once you start working on items such as caps it can get trickier.

Typically the durability of an iron-on decal applied with an iron is shorter in lifespan in comparison to those adhered with a heat press.

Because you can't control the temperature and pressure with an iron, your iron-on transfers are more likely to peel.

For more professional results, we highly recommend that you invest in a heat press.

Tip: If you want to use an iron, it is important to check out our guide to the best HTV vinyl for info on which vinyl will work well with an iron.

2. Using a Heat Press for Iron-On Applications

Heat Press Machine

A heat press is, of course, a professional tool used to apply heat transfers. Unlike irons that have been designed too – well … iron wrinkles out of clothes, a heat press has specifically been designed to heat press designs.

They are fabulous for those of you who know that you will be working with iron-on vinyl (or HTV) on a regular basis. 

You can get them in a large range of sizes. If portability is of concern to you then you will be glad to know that you can get tiny heat presses that are lightweight and easy to port around. However, our favorite size press is the 15 x 15″ press.

Here are some pros and cons of using a heat press for iron-on transfers.

PROS

  • You have a large work surface
  • You can set and control the temperature of the machine
  • Temperature is distributed evenly along the plates
  • You can set a digital timer to get the timing spot-on
  • You can control the pressure applied to your iron-on
  • Results typically last longer in comparison to an iron

CONS

  • Heavy in design, so not really portable
  • Not as easy to store
  • More expensive than an iron

Verdict

A heat press is a machine that has been designed specifically to adhere transfers to garments and products. As such you can control the exact temperature, adjust the pressure as well as set a timer to help you get a perfectly adhered design.

The temperature of the plates is also evenly distributed and the larger work area (typically around 15″x15″) will allow you to work with larger designs.

Without a doubt, a heat press will help you to create more professional and longer-lasting heat transfers.

You can also buy attachments so that life is easier when you are working with curved surface products such as cups, caps, and mugs (and here is a great trick for how to heat press a hat with a normal press)

Fortunately, you can find some really affordable heat press machines these days. Why not check out our heat press machine reviews to help you find the best starter heat press for you and your needs, you can find out more about how much a heat press costs here.

You can also find some great buying tips on what to look for in your heat press here.

Remember, you will also need some other tools in order to get started with t-shirt HTV transfers, you can find a list of the tools and supplies you need here.

Answer: Can I use an Iron Instead of a Heat Press

Yes, an iron will work really well for the types of HTV that specifically mention that they work well with iron applications.

If you are a beginner, or if you will only be completing a few iron-on projects a month then an iron might be all that you will need.

We won't even bother with the frustration and hassle of using an iron. With an iron, it really comes down to good luck. With a heat press, it is all an exact measured science to get the best results.

If you are hoping to sell your products on Etsy or at markets, it is highly recommended to use a heat press machine. That way you have the assurance to know that you are selling quality products that will outlast 50+ washes.

To me personally, a heat press machine is worth the money. But we all had to start somewhere and I too used an iron for my first few iron-on decals.

Hope that helps you with your question about whether you should be using a heat press or iron.

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