Digital Decorating:

Boost Heat-Press Productivity

Make the most of your heat press with these unique accessories and attachments.

By Ken Chadwick, Contributing Writer

This attachment was designed to heat apply designs on cap bills, but it also is ideal for odd placements, such as sleeves and shorts’ legs.

January 23, 2020

If you’re a new heat press owner, then you’ve likely been busy mastering time, temperature and pressure, while also figuring out how to appropriately charge for your services to make a profit. But could you be doing better?

Maybe your back hurts from bending over, or you’ve noticed how your time is being consumed with figuring out proper alignment or difficulty pressing near seams and zippers. Whether you’re a savvy veteran or heat-printing newbie, there’s always something to learn. Suppliers continually introduce new solutions to heat-printing challenges, making the process easier.

From elevated carts to laser-alignment systems, there are high- and low-tech solutions to the challenges that come with the territory for this type of garment decorating. Take advantage of the accessories and attachments available in the marketplace to help make your shop more efficient and accurate.

Stands or Carts
If you need more flexibility and mobility in your production area, consider stands or carts. You easily can adapt your shop’s layout as needs change. Some units allow vertical adjustments to accommodate height differences between operators, thus reducing fatigue and stress on joints. When considering a certain stand or cart, ensure it’s designed for your press and can hold its size and weight. Any surface occupied by the heat press should be level for both safety and accuracy.

Platen Covers
A non-stick lower platen cover not only protects the platen and improves efficiency, but also may help reduce athletic-numbering problems. Have you ever accidentally put a No. 12 on the front of a jersey and No. 21 on the back? Such a mistake easily is avoidable with garment threading.

If your press is threadable, a non-stick, lower-platen cover allows the operator to rotate the garment. This allows both sides to be pressed without removing the shirt.

Even on a non-threadable press, a non-stick platen cover makes putting a garment on and taking it off the press easier. The seconds spent fighting an uncovered silicone pad can amount to major lost production time and — as a result — profits. Covers assist in garment movement while also improving the press’s versatility, making it easier to print on items such as bags.

The cover also protects the base pad from wearing at the corners. As the weather gets colder and shops lose heat overnight, it’s a good idea to preheat the lower platen for 30-60 seconds before pressing. The non-stick cover retains heat much better than the thicker silicone base. This heat retention will help the press stay warm and ready for operation.

Upper-platen covers protect the press from adhesives, inks and dye migration. Always keep a cover between the item you are pressing and the heating element to ensure protection and cleanliness. Follow the manufacturer’s directions, as this cover reduces heat and can affect pressure. It is thicker than the lower-platen cover and wraps around the press’s heating element.

In addition, upper-platen covers are helpful for the longer dwell times required by the direct-to-garment (DTG) printing process. The cover keeps the rising moisture from invading the upper platen’s openings. Without a cover, you risk rust developing on the heating element.

Application Pads & Pillows
A flexible application pad protects irregular-shaped surfaces like footwear or the area around zippers. You may consider increasing the time, temperature or both to allow the heat to penetrate the thicker material.

Heat-press pillows also have stood the test of time. They can be used with heat-transfer vinyl (HTV) to negate buttons and seams, resulting in a flat application surface. Remember to adjust pressure, as the pillows take up space and can affect pressure. Pillows are not recommended for screen-printed transfers.

Adjustable Platens
Many standard platens are multidirectional, offering both portrait and landscape orientation. Pressing irregular-sized items can be challenging. While there are DIY solutions, manufacturers have made strides in offering platens designed for specific applications and other variable-sized, multi-use platens.

Challenging items come in different sizes and quick-change platens allow you to decorate a wider variety of items. Children’s sizes, baby clothes, bags, coolers, labels and shoes all can be profitable. Instead of wasting time trying to rig your heat press to accommodate these items, platens are available for quick and easy applications.

In additon to printing items of different sizes, use interchangeable platens to achieve unusual placements. They enable printing on legs, sleeves and left-chest areas with ease. Interchangeable platens also make your decorating life simpler, encourage creativity and boost efficiency by eliminating the need for pillows and other solutions for irregular application surfaces.

Alignment Helpers
While many shops use T-Square tools, rulers and chalk effectively for design positioning, registration and alignment helpers readily are available. Taking notes from the construction and screen-printing industries, laser-alignment systems ensure accurate and consistent positioning. Once set up, a laser-alignment system is used throughout the run with no back and forth required by other tools, so it limits the amount of repetitive motion and increases efficiency.

Weeding Helpers
Heated weeding tables and panels have been proven to reduce weeding time. Whether you have the budget and space for a table vs. a lightweight, portable panel, they are worth consideration. Also, are you using tweezers or a knife to weed? A thicker, well-made weeder fits your hand better and results in less fatigue. This not only means less pain or discomfort, but also faster weeding.

Accessories and attachments for your existing equipment can increase productivity, creativity and efficiency, and will save you money in the long run. From laser-alignment systems to easy-to-use weeders, these tools run the gamut and will help improve your workflow. Use carts and stands specifically built for heat presses to easily access the press and organize your shop. Protect your investment and improve production with high-quality platen covers. Also, remember that items like interchangeable platens and heated lower platens give you more application flexibility.

Ken Chadwick has more than 35 years of decorated-apparel experience and now is a GroupeSTAHL strategic account manager. Using his background as a former teacher and school administrator, Chadwick has developed and presented a variety of seminars, webinars and heat-printing boot camps. For more information, visit

A Hot New Option

One of the latest heat-printing innovations is the heated lower platen. Specifically targeted for heat-sensitive materials, flexible emblems and embroidered appliqué, the adhesives are heated from the bottom up. This virtually eliminates scorch marks.

Heated lower platens also help you avoid garment destruction and dye migration on sublimated garments. With lower temperature, the upper platen applies pressure while the lower platen heats the garment from the other side. Sandwiching the transfer between the two heated platens creates the ideal situation to avoid scorching.