A heat press can help you create many patterns and designs on a large scale. These could be simple t-shirts or ornate scarves, but the most important factor is what fabric you press on.
Polyester is a popular choice, as it’s affordable and readily available, but can polyester be heat pressed?
In short, you can heat press polyester, but it needs to be done at a lower temperature below 300°F. Any higher, and polyester can break down and burn. The right temperature will let you transfer your design well without damaging the fabric.
You’ll learn how to heat press designs onto polyester in this article. We’ll also cover how heat presses work, as well as some tips that can help you work with poly-blend fabrics.
Can Polyester Be Heat Pressed Safely?
Heat presses can transfer patterns onto polyester, but you need to be wary of the temperature setting and how much pressure you apply.
Heat transfer presses use force and heat to move ink from a planned design onto fabric. This method is also referred to as sublimation printing.
You should always be careful when printing on polyester, as heat presses need heat to transfer a design onto a different textile. Polyester is made from synthetic fibers that can break down at high temperatures.
Heat presses can be used on polyester, but to avoid damaging the material, it needs particular tools and the right temperature.
Should You Heat Press Polyester?
Printing on cotton takes a lot less skill compared to using polyester. However, many artists like to use polyester as it’s less expensive and comfortable to wear.
Most people agree that it’s easier to print on cotton, concluding that its opaque surface lets designs stand out more. Even so, polyester, along with several poly-blend materials, is a lot more comfortable to wear compared to cotton clothing.
A lot of clothing brands produce a wide variety of garments. These can be made from tri-blend materials, poly-cotton, or 100% pure cotton. Materials with synthetic fibers, like polyester, give the clothes flexible, lightweight properties.
Polyester is an artificial fabric that’s made on a greater scale, so it’s less expensive compared to natural fabrics, like cotton. This makes it an ideal choice for those running small businesses, as printing on affordable fabrics lowers the cost of production.
As polyester can only be printed on at lower temperatures, you need to find fabric dyes made to work with lower heat. These choices are available online and in stores, so it’s a lot easier to print on polyester now compared to years previously.
Polyester is affordable, readily available, and resilient to damage. It also dries relatively quickly and resists wrinkles well. However, like any fabric, it does come with disadvantages.
Polyester isn’t completely colorfast. Its dye can rub off and can change under high temperatures. It’s not as breathable as natural fabrics and can be sticky in humid conditions.
Nevertheless, polyester is still a popular fabric. You can bypass some of its disadvantages by using a blend, like a cotton/poly fabric.
What Do Heat Press Devices Do?
Heat press machines are used to press an ink design, then print it within two surfaces, one electrically heated, the other, firm and steady.
Heat presses are available in several sizes and shapes that can work with several garments and designs. At its most basic form, a heat press will have a flat working surface and a heated plate. These are good for printing on even items, like scarves, shirts, and certain bags.
Along with the printing surface and a work board, heat presses also have a control panel that manages the timing and temperature, and a pressurized handle that presses the plate onto the work board.
To use a heat press, the user first prints their design onto a transfer paper. Then, the design and fabric are placed inside the machine.
The press then uses force and heat to transform the ink particles into gas, fixing them to the material. Once the ink cools again, the particles become solid within the material’s fibers, producing a lasting design.
This sublimation printing method doesn’t just work on fabric, it can work on many materials. Heat press machines can transfer designs to plates, mugs, and phone cases.
Naturally, some of these materials will need more care due to the high heat needed to transfer the design. Without special care, there is a risk of damaging the item or fabric you wish to print on.
With most fabrics, it’s best to ensure the heat press machine’s temperature setting never exceeds 300°F.
The Best Heat Setting For Polyester
In most cases, heat presses normally print polyester well at 270°F, but you should always check your device’s user manual to be sure.
The print’s quality can be affected by how long the fabric stays within the machine. Fabrics that aren’t as sensitive, like cotton, can stay under the heated plate for longer.
However, most people agree that cotton should only stay within the press for 10 seconds each turn. This time will vary depending on your particular device and the item you wish to print on.
Each particular fabric will have a different recommended temperature setting, as well as the amount of time it should be left inside the press.
Here’s a rough guide comparing four popular materials and their recommended heat press settings.
100% pure polyester is best pressed at 270°F and kept in the press for 10 seconds.
100% pure cotton is best pressed at 380°F, and kept in the press for much longer, up to 15 minutes.
Polycotton and tri-blend fabrics can be kept in the machine for 10 seconds. Polycotton shouldn’t exceed 340°F, while tri-blend fabrics shouldn’t go above 250°F.
These are just general recommendations, but keep in mind that these will vary depending on your machine, fabric choice, and design. For instance, printing on a double-knit shirt will take more time as the fabric is thicker.
The temperature can also vary depending on your desired outcome. For instance, you can achieve a faded, antique-looking design by using a 350°F setting for ten seconds. A bold, full-color design will need 300°F for ten seconds, but this will differ if the fabric is sensitive to heat, such as polyester.
Method To Heat Press Polyester
Here is a breakdown of how to heat press polyester safely.
Before you begin, read the label inside the garment or item you plan on printing. Scarves, t-shirts, and bags should all have a manufacturer’s label inside that tell you more about the material.
This is necessary as you need to understand what temperature you need to set your press to. If you can’t find this information, most cloth bags are made from pure polyester, as these are more affordable.
This changes with t-shirts and other clothes, like these, which can be made from several fabrics. You may be able to find this information online.
If you’ve determined that you will be printing on polyester, you’ll need to choose heat transfer paper that works with the material. For polyester, you’ll need to find transfer paper that fixes designs at a lower heat.
Next, set your machine to the right temperature. If you can, perform a test on a hidden area within the material. This will check to see if the temperature won’t damage the material.
It may be worthwhile placing a thin protective sheet between the heat plate and the material, but you may want to practice first to ensure the design will transfer effectively.
Before you start printing, you need to preheat the material to stop the fabric from shrinking. Simply heat the fabric for five seconds, but make sure you don’t place the transfer paper on it yet. Pre-heating the fabric will also stop the dye from moving as you print.
When you’re ready to print, place the transfer paper onto the fabric. Then, move the handle down to press the heat plate onto the fabric. This will seal the transfer sheet and fabric between the work surface and the plate.
Keep light pressure on the handle, but don’t use too much force, as this can make the polyester melt or start burning.
Once you’re done, peel the transfer paper off while the fabric is warm. Take care with this step to avoid burns.
Purchasing Heat Press Machines
Heat press machines are widely available to purchase, coming in many shapes and sizes to suit different needs. These range from smaller, at-home devices, to larger, mass-scale ones. You can also find presses that can print on other materials, like 3D objects.
Keep in mind that heat-pressing polyester means that you’ll have to invest in specific low-heat ink and transfer sheets.
You can find many heat presses available online, though some specialist craft stores may carry smaller options. If you want your press to have several features, like printing on ceramic, for instance, make sure that your choice includes the necessary attachments.
How To Avoid Polyester Burning
If you’ve ever heat-pressed polyester before, you may have encountered the fabric burning or melting. Burn marks on polyester often look like a glossy line around the edge of the pattern design. This happens when the heat plate melts the artificial plastic fibers within the synthetic material.
In some cases, high temperatures may move or warp the material. You may notice a plastic-looking wrinkle within the melted fabric. In worst cases, high temperatures can also melt holes within the textile.
You can avoid this by controlling the heat press machine’s temperature setting. Read the manufacturer’s manual and the label inside the garment to find out what fabric is made of. This will let you know what temperature setting your press should use.
Once you’ve determined the fabric and the right temperature setting, carry out a practice run on some fabric samples to see if this damages the fabric.
Polyester garments shouldn’t be kept inside the press for a long time, as this carries the risk of damaging the fibers. The material’s thickness is also a factor.
For example, it will take longer to print on a polyester mouse pad compared to a polyester t-shirt. You may need to perform a few practice runs to test beforehand.
The temperature setting and time will depend on your press and material, but most people agree that thick cover sheets aren’t necessary when printing on polyester.
Thicker sheets will increase the time and the temperature needed to print, which is exactly what you need to avoid when using polyester.
If you prefer, you can buy a heat-resistant pillow to protect your work table. This will act as a barrier to defend the polyester from harm.
Once you’re done, always make sure that you peel the transfer paper when the fabric is still warm. This will avoid cracks and wrinkles within the pattern.
Tips On Heat Pressing Polyester
Here are a few pointers that can help you when printing on polyester.
Always Read The Label
Clothes and items generally come with a manufacturer’s label that explains what fabric has been used. These are normally found on the back of a collar or attached to a side seam.
If you wish to print on sheets of polyester fabric, instead of a garment or item, you can find this information written in the description online.
If you purchase these sheets from a store, this information will be written on the fabric bolt. It’s best to note these details down or take a picture of the bolt for later.
We can’t stress this enough, you need to know what fabric you’re printing on to avoid damaging it with the heat press. Pure polyester will need a lower temperature compared to polycotton, and vice versa.
Always Practice First
If you can, try to carry out a practice run on a spare bit of fabric or a similar garment. This will let you figure out which temperature setting is best, as well as the amount of time necessary to transfer a solid, clear print onto the fabric.
If you don’t have any spare fabric, try practicing on a hidden area in the garment, like the armpit or inside collar.
Avoid Thick Cover Sheets
Cover sheets are placed over the heat transfer to prevent the fabric from burning. These can be dense silicone pads or thin, non-stick sheets. Both of these act as a barrier to prevent harming the textile.
These sheets may seem like an effective way of preventing burn marks, but they can prevent heat from transferring the design onto the fabric. This means that you’ll have to increase the temperature setting, apply more pressure, or increase the time the fabric stays in the press.
In the case of polyester, these are all things you want to avoid. It’s best to avoid using cover sheets at all, but if you must, thin, paper-like ones will work better than thicker ones.
If All Fails
Mistakes happen, but unfortunately, there’s little you can do to save the fabric if the process fails.
The worst-case scenario will involve polyester burning or melting. This will happen if too much pressure is applied or if the heat is too strong. You’ll notice wrinkled, plastic-looking marks on the fabric.
You may notice an improvement by laundering the fabric, as the wash may loosen some of the wrinkles. A firm brush may dull some of the glossy patches, but these methods aren’t guaranteed to save your item.
Other than burning, dye migration may ruin your design. This happens when the ink inside the fabric flows into the ink in the design. For instance, transferring a white design onto a bright red fabric may lead to red ink leaking into the white outline.
You can avoid dye migration happening by purchasing a dye specifically made for printing on polyester. Always make sure that your tools are appropriate for the fabric and design you plan on using, as this can prevent issues from occurring later.
Transferring Vinyl Onto Polyester
Vinyl can be heat-pressed onto polyester, as long as you take care and follow the necessary steps. However, this can be tricky, as it’s a lot easier to press vinyl onto cotton.
Those that want a bold vinyl pattern will need to follow the heat-pressing steps mentioned earlier. This includes testing a fabric sample and preheating the fabric, to make sure you’ve selected the best temperature setting.
Despite this, fixing vinyl onto polyester also needs you to carefully monitor the pressing time. In most cases, you’ll need to press longer pressing vinyl compared to when pressing ink.
To avoid melting or burning the polyester, you can press the fabric multiple times in short, quick stages. Between each pressing stage, check to see if the vinyl has transferred well enough.
Heat Pressing A Spandex and Polyester Blend
Polyester-spandex blend fabric can be heat-pressed, but you’ll need to take a few precautions. Spandex blend fabrics are often used in workout clothes, like tank tops and leggings. Many people desire fun patterned athletic wear, which is why you may want to print on spandex blend fabrics.
However, heat-treating poly-spandex blend fabrics have a greater chance of shrinkage, as the material is so elastic.
You can avoid this by pre-shrinking the material and using a lower temperature setting.
Pre-shrinking polyester isn’t that complicated. Simply run the garment through a regular wash cycle, then through the dryer. The dryer will prevent the material from shrinking inside the press.
What Works Best With Polyester, Screen Printing, Or Heat Transfer?
Both screen printing and heat press machines can safely transfer patterns onto polyester. Each method isn’t better than the other, so the one you use will depend on your desired result.
Heat presses work by using heat to turn down ink particles into gas. These solidify onto your polyester fabric, cooling into a permanent design.
Screen printing works differently. This method uses a mesh stencil to fix an inked design to textiles. When it comes to printing on polyester, each method has advantages and disadvantages.
Heat press machines are very strong. They are a popular way of fixing a design to many fabrics, like athletic wear. Heat presses also work well at transferring complicated designs that contain several ink colors.
However, heat transfer has its risks, as high temperatures can burn the fabric. Some people find heat presses complicated and prefer the hand-crafted approach of screen printing.
Silkscreen printing requires stretching a mesh screen onto a frame, then printing the design’s negative onto it. The inked screen is then pressed onto the fabric, producing a handmade, artistic pattern.
Silkscreen printing doesn’t cost as much as heat presses. Artists may already have many of the necessary tools in their supplies.
However, silk screen printing can be messy and does need a little artistic prowess. It’s also not as likely to produce even, bold results each time. The designs created aren’t as durable or permanent as heat-pressed ones.
The right method for you will vary depending on your desired design. Screen printing can create an artistic, hand-made pattern that has its charm. On the other hand, heat-pressing can produce a complex design with a longer lifespan.
The Bottom Line
You can heat press designs onto polyester, but you will need to take some precautions! The most important point to remember is to use a lower heat setting. Polyester has artificial fibers that can melt at high temperatures.
You’ll also need to make sure you don’t place too much pressure on the press, or leave the polyester in the machine for too long. All of these factors could potentially leave glossy burn marks in the fabric.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Pre-Wash Fabric Before Using A Heat Press?
It’s always best to wash your garment before heat pressing. Dust, dirt, and grime can all stick to the fabric, making it difficult to stick the design down.
Both ink and vinyl designs will adhere better to clean material. Run your fabric through a wash cycle using your usual detergent. Don’t use fabric softener, as this will stick to the fabric’s fibers, preventing the design from transferring onto its surface.
How Can You Prevent Heat Press Burns On Fabric?
Burns and scorch marks are always a risk when heat-pressing fabric. You can avoid this occurring by taking a few precautions. Always check the label to see what fabric you will be pressing. Some materials will need more heat than others and vice versa.
Always be gentle with the press, as too much force may melt your item. Don’t leave your fabric in the press for too long, especially if it has synthetic fibers, like polyester.
You can purchase protective pads that can protect the fabric from burning, but make sure that these aren’t thicker than a piece of paper. Denser pads will block heat and prevent the design from transferring.
Can You Use A Heat Press On Spandex And Polyester?
Polyester and spandex are both artificial materials made with synthetic fibers. Compared to natural fabrics, like cotton or linen, these contain plastic, so shouldn’t be placed under high heat temperatures.
You can heat press these fabrics, but some precautions are necessary. If spandex or polyester are treated with high heat, the fibers may melt, leading to burns and holes in the material.
Always use a lower heat setting, around 280°F, and avoid leaving the fabric in the press for too long.
What Is Heat Transfer Vinyl?
Also known as HTV, heat transfer vinyl is a particular kind of vinyl that can stick to textiles. Unlike sticky vinyl, which has an adhesive backing, HTV uses heat to transfer onto fabric. A sheet of HTV will have a shiny front that can be peeled off after it’s been transferred.
The rear side is matte, which needs to be cut as you produce the pattern. This matte side also has a heat-sensitive surface. It will turn sticky when heat is applied, allowing it to adhere to most fabrics.
Should I Use A Heat Press Or An Iron?
An iron can work well at transferring heat transfer vinyl onto fabrics, but it limits you to basic, smaller designs. A heat press gives you more range, letting you create complex, larger designs.
You can also manage the settings on a heat press easily.
It can be hard to know if you’re applying enough pressure on the fabric when using an iron. A press lets you exert the right amount of force so your design transfers well.