When printing images on fabric, one of the most important pieces of equipment is a heat press. But what if you don't have one? Can you use a clothes iron instead? Most households have an iron, making it seem like a good substitute. After some research, we answer your question in this post!
You can use an iron instead of a heat press for smaller projects, specifically heat-transfer prints. As long as your clothing iron can cover the entirety of your print, you should be able to use it instead of a heat press. However, it cannot fully substitute for a heat press.
With this in mind, you may be wondering how to effectively use iron in place of a heat press. And what is the difference between the two in the first place? To learn more, keep on reading!
Can I Use A Clothes Iron Instead Of A Heat Press?
While you could use a clothes iron instead of a heat press for your vinyl transfer projects, its capabilities are limited. The downside of using an iron is its small size and limited temperature controls. It cannot cover as much surface area at the same time as a heat press can.
When working with heat transfer, you always want an even amount of pressure and temperature over the print and fabric. If not, then you can risk having unprinted or badly printed pieces.
For this reason, we only recommend using a cloth iron for smaller projects. Usually, ones that can fit under the area of your iron plate. You will have to do some tests to get the temperature just right, however. If you are using an iron to print over a bigger area, get ready to spend a little more time working on it. Carefully run the iron over the print, so you do not leave any spot unpressed.
In general, be very careful with which projects you choose to use a clothes iron for instead of a heat press. Some printing methods will not work as well unless you use a heat press to get it done. We will go over this in more detail in the next sections.
What Is The Difference Between A Heat Press And An Iron?
A heat press has a large, flat surface area with two metal plates to sandwich material. Heat presses are mostly used for print transfer. Meanwhile, cloth irons are made to press creases and wrinkles out of clothes. Its shape is optimized to be versatile and workable for moving around.
You do not need a heat press unless it is specifically for print transfer. For example, if you own a custom t-shirt shop, using a heat press is the most efficient way to create your products. You can get a heat press in different sizes and with different features.
Another key difference between a heat press and a cloth iron is how the temperature settings work. In a heat press, you can set the temperature to a specific degree. It usually takes only about 270 degrees Fahrenheit to press on polyester. Generally, you can use your heat press to up to 380 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the cloth. Be careful not to leave the press sitting too long or too high, or you will risk burning the cloth and ruining the print.
Cloth irons can go up much higher in temperature, especially since they are designed to move across the surface of the cloth. For ironing linens, the heating temperature is at most 428 degrees Fahrenheit. Additionally, the heat settings on the iron are marked by fabric type rather than exact temperature.
Can I Use An Iron Instead Of a Heat Press For Sublimation?
Do not use a cloth iron instead of a heat press for sublimation. Irons only work with vinyl or iron-specific transfer prints. Sublimation is a special process that requires a sublimation printer or similar, if not a heat press. With vinyl and iron-on prints, you are simply adhering the print to the material. Regarding sublimation, the print is molecularly bonded to the material. It is difficult to achieve this bond with a regular cloth iron.
Sublimation turns a solid into a gas without passing through a liquid state. Thus, it has very specific temperature and pressure requirements as well as the use of a substrate. A cloth iron cannot meet these requirements. If you try to do sublimation with a cloth iron, the print is not going to come out right. This is because you cannot control pressure very well using an iron. Since you have to move the iron around, it will also move your sublimation paper leading to ghosting in the final print.
What Causes Ghosting In Sublimation
Ghosting is a common problem in sublimation printing which can happen with cloth irons and heat presses. If you are unsure what ghosting is, this is when the final print image is blurry or has an unwanted shadowy effect. This also shows up as blotches and ink bleeds. You subject the ink to very high heat to have it bond to a material's surface. The ink does not dry instantly, so if you move or pull off the sublimation paper too soon, it will warp the ink.
Another cause for ghosting is trapped air between the sublimation paper and the surface you are printing on. On shirts or other fabric types, you can avoid this problem by using a heat press and pre-pressing the fabric. Doing so smoothes out any wrinkles that cause air bubbles and warping.
Can I Use An Iron Instead Of A Heat Press For Infusible Ink?
One type of sublimation process is through the use of Infusible Ink. This is a simplified version of sublimation developed by the brand Cricut. Typically, the best tools to use for Infusible Ink would be Cricut products.
It is tempting to use a cloth iron for Infusible Ink. Unfortunately, this is a bad idea. Like with sublimation, a cloth iron cannot properly transfer prints through this type of print transfer. Cloth irons do not get hot enough for you to use with Infusible Ink. You are also not allowed to move the heat source around when printing, so using an iron is a no-go.
Irons also cannot stay hot for very long. Notice how after a few seconds, your iron switches off its heat when in use. While this is a great function that protects your clothes from getting too hot and burning while you press them, this is unideal in the printing process.
How To Make Transfers Using Cloth Iron
There are a lot of ways that you can use a cloth iron instead of a heat press for transfer. In this section, we will only discuss how to do an iron-on transfer. The process of this is fairly simple but does take a lot of care and some skill.
Prepare your materials. Aside from your cloth iron, you will also need parchment paper, the print or label you will be transferring, a towel, and your base cloth. Here are the steps to making the transfer:
- Lay down your base cloth on a flat towel
- Press your cloth flat to smooth out any wrinkles
- Position your print or label design side up on the cloth
- Flatten a piece of parchment paper on top of the print
- Iron on the print using firm pressure for 10-30 seconds
Note that some prints do not need parchment paper if it is already on transfer paper.
Set your iron to the silk or cotton setting. You can also match the settings for your base cloth. It is safer to start at a lower heat and gradually increase the temperature until the print sticks. Carefully check how well the print is sticking every ten seconds. This way, you can determine how much you have to change in the temperature and pressure. If the print is not sticking, no matter how hot your iron is, then you must be pressing harder.
Wrapping Things Up
You can use a cloth iron instead of a heat press only for certain applications. Never use a cloth iron for sublimation. Cloth irons are not designed for transfer, but they can be a good heat press substitute for vinyl or smaller projects.
Avoid using irons for transfers that are at risk of ghosting or have a large surface area. There are iron-on transfer kits that you can buy to safely make transfers using your cloth iron.
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