You probably bought a heat press to mass-produce a large number of quality designs. Whether you are printing bags to sell or designing t-shirts for your family reunion, you will have to select the best kind of fabric to print on. Polyester is affordable and comfortable, but can you heat press on polyester?
You can heat press on polyester using a temperature below 300℉. High temperatures will damage this synthetic fabric, causing glossing or scorching. With the right temperature setting, transfers that work at low temperatures, and a carefully timed pressing, you can heat press on any polyester fabric.
In this article, we’ll look at how a heat press works, the process of using printing on polyester, and tips for working with poly blends.
- Can You Heat Press Polyester?
- What is a Heat Press Machine?
- Recommended Heat Press Temperature for Polyester
- How to Heat Press Polyester
- Where to Find a Heat Press
- How To Avoid Heat Press Marks On Polyester
- Tips for Heat Printing on Polyester
- Can You Heat Press Vinyl on Polyester?
- Can You Heat Press Polyester and Spandex Blend?
- Does a Heat Transfer or Screen Printing Work Best with Polyester?
Can You Heat Press Polyester?
You can use a heat press to transfer designs onto polyester material if you pay attention to the temperature of the press and the pressure applied.
Heat transfer printing uses heat and pressure to transfer ink from a printed design onto your textile. You may see this process called “sublimation printing” as well.
So, what’s the big deal with printing on polyester? Sublimation printing thermally transfers the ink from the printed design to the fabric. This can cause problems because poly is sensitive to high temperatures.
You absolutely can use a heat press on polyester, but you need to be aware of the best temperatures and tools to use. Otherwise, you may end up damaging the fabric.
For example, some transfer papers are designed to adhere to the fabric at low temperatures. Using these low-temperature products will allow you to create your printed design without using a high temperature that could scorch the fabric.
Why Use Polyester?
Printing on polyester requires more finesse than printing on cotton. Despite that, many artists prefer polyester because it is more affordable and sometimes more comfortable than cotton.
Pretty much everyone agrees that printing on cotton is much easier than printing on any kind of polyester. Some artists also think that for the most opaque, dense print job, 100% cotton works best.
That said, polyester–and a variety of poly blends–offer a wider range of comfort than most cotton items. These days most t-shirt sellers offer a selection of polycotton or tri-blend shirts and 100% cotton options. The synthetic fibers give these fabrics a light, stretchy quality.
As a synthetic material, polyester is mass-produced and cheaper than natural products like cotton. Its low cost makes it an attractive option for anyone running a home business; you can cut down on your overhead by printing on cheaper material!
You can also find a variety of tools to ease the potential challenges of printing on polyester. These days you can buy transfer sheets designed for polyester. These transfer sheets work at low temperatures.
You can also look for dyes specially designed to work at low temperatures. All of these low-temperature options make printing on polyester easier than it used to be.
What is a Heat Press Machine?
A heat press compresses an ink transfer and the item is printed between an electrically heated surface and a stable surface.
Heat presses come in many shapes and sizes to accommodate the kind of item you want to print on. The basic model comes with a flat work bed and heated platen, ideal for printing on flat-surface items like shirts, scarves, or handbags.
Most heat presses include a work table, a printing plate (sometimes called a heating plate or heat plate), a pressurized handle to push the plate down onto the work table, and a control panel to set temperature and timing.
When you use a heat press, you select a transfer paper with your design printed onto it and place that design and textile inside the press. The press uses heat and pressure to turn the ink on the paper into gas and merge it with the fabric. As the ink cools, it solidifies inside the fibers of the fabric, creating a permanent design.
This process, also called sublimation printing, works on many surfaces and materials, not just textiles. You can use heat transfer to create high-quality designs on mugs, plates, plastic phone cases, scarves, t-shirts, and much more!
Of course, some materials require special care and attention because of the high heat the press uses to transfer the ink. You don’t want to damage the item you are printing on!
When printing on any kind of fabric, you will want to make sure you keep the ideal temperature setting on your press below 300℉.
Recommended Heat Press Temperature for Polyester
Most heat presses recommend a temperature of 270℉ when printing on polyester. Of course, as with any device, you should follow the instructions in the user manual!
The length of time you leave the item inside the press also impacts the quality of the print. For less sensitive textiles like cotton, you can leave the heated plate pressing on the fabric for a longer time. Most artists recommend leaving polyester in the press for only 10 seconds at a time (though again, this period varies depending on the kind of item you are printing on and the instructions in the user manual).
Heat Press Temperature Chart and Time
The kind of textile you want to use determines what temperature setting you should use and also how long you should leave the fabric pressed inside the press.
Do keep in mind that while this is a general guide, several factors can impact the temperature and especially the required pressing time for a particular item. For example, if your plan to print on a double-knit dress, the extra thickness of the fabric may require a longer printing time.
|Type of Fabric||Temperature||Time|
|100% Polyester||270℉||10 seconds|
|100% Cotton||380℉||Up to 15 minutes|
How to Heat Press Polyester
Let’s take a look at the essential steps involved in using a heatpress on polyester.
First, take a moment to read the label inside the item you plan to print on. Whether you are printing on a bag, scarf, or t-shirt, you should find a manufacturer’s label inside that will give you information about the composition of the material.
This is important because you need to know what kind of fabric you’re using to set the correct temperature on your press. As a helpful tip, cloth bags are usually 100% polyester because that is the cheapest fabric option, while t-shirts are more likely to come in a variety of poly blends like polycotton.Next, select the type of heat transfer paper that works best with your fabric. These days you can easily find transfer paper that will adhere to your fabric at low temperatures, which is essential for working with sensitive fabrics.
Set your press to the appropriate temperature. If you can find an unobtrusive area on your item, do a quick test to make sure the temperature does not damage the fabric (better yet, if you have multiple, cheap versions of whatever you are printing on, do a test run on one of these!).
Some artists recommend using a thin, protective cover sheet between the material and the heat pad. Others suggest using a heat press that has a Teflon pad. This is another area that you may want to test before settling on the best practice for your particular style of printing.
Before you set up for the actual print, you should preheat the fabric by giving it a quick 5-second press before placing the transfer paper on top of it. This helps prevent any fabric shrinkage or dye migration during printing (we’ll talk more about what can go wrong during printing later on).
At last, you’re ready to print! Use the pressurized handle to push the heat plate down onto your time, sealing the fabric and transfer sheet between the plate and the work table below. You will want to maintain light pressure on the handle when working with polyester because too much pressure can lead to scorching or melting.
Finally, be sure to peel away the transfer paper while the poly is still warm.
Where to Find a Heat Press
You can find a wide range of heat presses for sale today. These run the gamut of simple, at-home presses to large and expensive industrial presses. If you prefer a press with multiple functions, such as the ability to print on 3D objects like mugs, you want to be sure your press comes with the correct attachments.
Remember that using a heat press on polyester will require low-heat transfer sheets and low-heat ink as well.
F2C Pro Digital Transfer Sublimation PressThis professional-grade heat press comes with the attachments you need to print on hats, mugs, caps, and plates, as well as the typical flat t-shirt option. Its 360-degree rotation capability makes it easy to work with from any angle. The 12” X 15” heat press is large enough to comfortably fit high-quality t-shirt printing on any size shirt.
It is made of durable aluminum alloy, intended to hold up for long-term professional use. The coolest thing about this press is that you can print on so many different kinds of material, from textiles to ceramics and glass!
PowerPress Industrial-Quality Heat Transfer MachinePowerPress Industrial-Quality Press has a 15” X 15” heat plate perfect for even the largest printing projects. The digital temperature and timing panel will help you perfect your printing, especially on heat sensitive materials like polyester or poly blends. The Teflon-coated heating plate will also help you avoid any scorch marks as you print.
This super high-quality press is specifically designed for printing on flat objects like t-shirts and bags. It does not come with the attachments to print on 3D objects like mugs; it focuses instead on providing the best features for achieving perfect sublimation printing on flat objects.
How To Avoid Heat Press Marks On Polyester
If you have ever tried to use a heat press on polyester, you have probably struggled with the challenge of avoiding burn marks. These marks often appear as a shiny outline around the edge of the print design, caused by the heat plate melting the plastic fibers of this synthetic fabric.
Sometimes a high temperature also causes a skewing or misshaping of fabric. It can also create a plastic-bag-like crinkle in the partially melted textile. At its worst, high temperatures can melt a hole through the material.
So, how do you avoid these issues? The most important variable you can control is the temperature of the press. To determine the best temperature, read the owner’s manual, check the label inside your item to find out what kind of fabric it is composed of, and do a trial run (or two) on spare samples of your item to find out what temperature will transfer the design without damaging the fabric.
You will also want to keep the polyester inside the press for as little time as possible. Now, if you are printing on a polyester mouse pad, the process will take longer than printing on a polyester t-shirt. Again, the best length of time to use requires some testing.
While temperature and time can vary based on the characteristics of your press and the kind of item you’re printing on, most artists do agree that you should not use a thick cover sheet with polyester. The thicker sheets need a longer time or higher temperature, which you want to avoid with poly.
Another pro tip is to purchase a heat-resistant pillow to cover your work table instead of the typical hard surface. This extra barrier can protect sensitive materials like polyester.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, make sure to peel away the transfer paper while everything is still warm to avoid damaging the design.
Tips for Heat Printing on Polyester
Here’s a quick summary of the things you need to know about printing on polyester.
Check the Label
Pretty much any pre-made item you order will come with a manufacturer’s label inside. On t-shirts, this is often located either at the back of the collar or just above the hem inside a side seam.
If you plan to print on polyester fabric instead of a pre-made item, you can usually find information about the fabric’s composition in the product description. If you buy your fabric at a physical store, the fabric bolt will tell you all you need to know–it’s a good idea to snap a pic of this info while at the store, in case you forget later!
You’re probably tired of hearing this by now, but it’s essential to know exactly what fabric you are putting in your press so you can set the temperature correctly. One-hundred-percent polyester needs a different temperature than polycotton.
Whenever possible, do a test run on a spare scrap of fabric or extra t-shirt before setting up your production line to print dozens of items. This will allow you to zero in on the best temperature and timing combination to create a clear, opaque print without scorching the polyester.
If you have a limited amount of fabric or only have one t-shirt to print on, try testing the temperature on a small, hidden corner of the object first.
When it Goes Wrong
You’re probably thinking, “Okay, but what if it goes wrong?” Well, here’s the bad news: you can take effective precautions to prevent damaging polyester, but once it is damaged, there’s not much you can do to correct the mistake.
The biggest danger you face in using a heat transfer on polyester is melting or scorching. If you press the design on the fabric for too long or use too much heat, you will almost certainly see crinkly areas or shiny patches on the polyester.
You can try running the fabric through the wash, which may mitigate some of the crinkliness. You can also try using a stiff brush on shiny areas. However, most experts admit that neither of these techniques works reliably.
Besides the potential for scorching, dye migration can also mess up your polyester print. Dye migration happens when the ink in the fabric itself bleeds into the ink of your printed design. If you transfer a black-and-white photo design onto a hot pink t-shirt and discover that splotches of pink have leaked into the printed design, you see dye migration.
Using dye designed for printing on polyester should help prevent any issues with dye migration. Just make sure to do a little research and buy the appropriate tools for your project–as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Can You Heat Press Vinyl on Polyester?
You can safely heat press vinyl on polyester if you follow the proper steps. That said, some people do find this process challenging, and everyone admits that it is easier to heat transfer vinyl onto cotton.
If you want the cool look of a vinyl design, you’ll need to go through all the usual steps of heat-pressing described earlier, such as preheating the polyester and testing a sample to ensure you have the right temperature.
However, with the added challenge of adhering a vinyl transfer to the polyester, you’ll also want to pay special attention to the pressing time. You will probably need a longer pressing time than you would use when transferring ink to polyester.
How do you accomplish this without scorching the polyester? Some experts recommend using a series of short pressings. You can gently check to see if the vinyl has adhered between each brief pressing time.
Can You Heat Press Polyester and Spandex Blend?
You can safely heat press a polyester-spandex blend if you take some precautions. This popular fabric is used in a lot of athletic wear, like yoga pants or workout tank tops. You can see why you might want to print fun designs on such popular kinds of clothing!
Here’s the catch, though: applying heat to a poly-spandex blend can lead to scorching or awkward stretching and shrinking because of the elasticity of the fabric.
To avoid this, you should take the double precautions of pre-shrinking the fabric and using a slightly lower temperature than you would for 100% polyester.
To pre-shrink polyester, run it through a wash cycle and then through a dryer cycle. If you have already heated it in the dryer, the fabric should not shrink in the press.
Does a Heat Transfer or Screen Printing Work Best with Polyester?
You can safely use both a heat press and a screen print technique to transfer a design onto polyester. Neither option necessarily works better; you should choose which method to use based on how you want the result to look.
A heat press uses high temperature to essentially dissolve the ink on the printed design into gas, which is then sublimated into the fabric of your polyester. Silkscreen printing, on the other hand, uses a mesh stencil to apply an inked design to fabric. Both processes have some pros and cons when used on polyester.
Heat press/sublimation printing is super durable. It is the most popular modern method of applying a design to many items, including athletic uniforms. The heat transfer method works well for complex, photo-like designs that employ many shades of ink at once.
Of course, as you now know, using a heat transfer on polyester does have inherent risks, such as the potential for melting the fabric. Some artists also find this process more mechanical and computerized-looking than the handcrafted style of silkscreen printing.
Silkscreen printing involves stretching a mesh or polyester screen over a frame and then applying the negative of a design onto the screen. Pressing the inked screen onto the polyester of your fabric with a squeegee will create a cool, hand-made design.
The other major benefit of silk screening is that you don’t have to invest in a costly heat transfer machine. You can set up a silkscreen project with materials you may already have on hand in your craft supplies.
The downside, of course, is that this process involves a lot of mess and depends heavily on your artistic ability. You are unlikely to create uniform results every time. These designs also do not hold up as well as the permanent heat-set designs.
So, which technique will work best for you? It depends on the end result you want to see. Some people prefer the vintage, artistic flair of a silk-screened product. Others like the permanence and consistency of sublimated printing.
Now you know all the tips and tricks for safely using a heat press on polyester! The most important thing to remember is to watch the temperature so you can avoid shiny scorch marks on your fabric.
Did you find this article helpful? What do you plan to print using your heat press? Leave a comment below to let us know!