The Value of a Good Heat Press

The key to successful heat transferred images using transfer paper and vinyl is heat and pressure.  Follow the instructions exactly and ensure enough pressure is applied to your item.  A combination of not enough pressure and incorrect heat will result in incomplete transfers and/or washing problems.

Heat presses can affect heat and pressure when doing transfers.  As a result, one of the most important big ticket items you buy for your digital decoration business will be your heat press.   When you first start out or are looking to upgrade, make sure to ask the right question when purchasing a heat press.

It’s a heat press, how much can they differ?
One of the main differences is the size of the heat platen.  Most standard heat presses come in 16×16 or 16×20 platen sizes.  The platen size determines the maximum image size you can press onto your fabric.  The standard size heat presses are sufficient for the majority of businesses as your desktop printer or cutter probably cannot produce images bigger than that.  Ensure you have the right size for your type of images.

There are also two main types of heat presses.  One is the clamshell model and the other is the swing away model.  The Insta 138 is an example of your standard clamshell model and the Insta 228 is an example of your standard swing away model.   There really isn’t a right type here, it is just personal preference.

Another major difference in a heat press is how it is operated.  There are heat presses that are Air Automatic, Auto Release and Manual Heat Presses.  An air automatic press (Insta 728) is basically a heat press that is automatic in almost every way.  It automatically closes and opens the press using air pressure.  You simply dial the pressure in and press a button and it will close and open after the pressing is done.  An Auto Release Press (STX AutoClam) is one that requires the user to set the pressure and manually close the press, but when the pressing is done, the heat press will automatically open.  This is handy because there is no risk of it overcooking your items.  The last one is a manual heat press (Insta 138) which require the user to manually close and manually open the press when it is done.

Other Heat Press Functions
Modern day heat presses are normally digital ones which display temperature and time on a LED screen.  There are older models that will display temperature on a gauge and some require the user to use a separate stop watch for the press time.  We recommend using a digital press because it is much more accurate and consistent in measuring temperature and time.

Quality of Heat Press
Aside from the differences of a heat press, you should also consider the quality of the heat press.  Ensure the heat press is well built and that it gives you consistent pressure and temperature.  Your vendor should be able to give you a recommendation for a good heat press.  Also quality brands will have warranties which will ensure that if it breaks during the period of the warranty, that the manufacturer will fix the problem for you.
Not only should you ensure the heat press is in good working order at the time of purchase, you should consistently check that the heat press is in good order over time.  It is recommended that you buy a heat gun to check for cold spots that may occur over time.

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What is the Right Cutter For You?

Whether you are buying a cutter for the first time or buying additional cutters for your company, there are many factors to consider.   The cost, cutting width, maximum force, tracking length, cutting speed, software, additional functions are all factors that you will need to consider.

Some of the factors are obvious such as cutter size, while others such as tracking length and maximum force are not.  So here’s a brief explanation of each one.

Cost
The cost is one of the biggest factors when purchasing a cutter.  However if you purchase the wrong cutter, you may end up paying more than you wanted in order to get the right one.  A great cost effective starting cutter if you are just cutting vinyl is the GCC Expert.  It is basically a stripped down version of the GCC Puma III.  What’s more is that the GCC Expert comes with 3 pinch rollers for better tracking!

Cutting Width
This one may seem obvious because this is the maximum width your cutter can cut.  When buying a cutter, you should always take this into consideration the maximum size you need to cut.  Most T-shirt designs are 8” x 10” in size.  So most users would think an 8” or 10” cutter would suffice, but that may not be the right choice for you.  The reason is that most t-shirt vinyl will come in 15” or 20” wide rolls.  So you will need a cutter that can cut at least 15”.  It is possible to cut vinyl down to 10”, but this method is normally costly and time consuming.  Also you have to consider wastage.  If you cut a 10” wide design on a 15” wide vinyl roll, you will waste 5” of vinyl.   So it may be better to use a 20” vinyl roll so you can do a 2UP design to maximize your vinyl usage.  We recommend buying a vinyl cutter that can cut at least 20” wide rolls such as the Roland GX24, GCC Puma III, GCC Jaguar, or GCC Expert.

Maximum Force
Most cutters will have a maximum force of 250gf or greater.  250gf is normally enough force to cut through most material.  Most cutters are built to cut to their maximum force with no problems.  However it is recommended that you don’t use the cutter at maximum force.  This is because you are pushing the motor to cut at its limit which in some cases may cause it to wear out faster.  It’s like driving a car, if you keep driving the car at 200km/hr, the engine will more likely wear out faster than if you were driving at 100km/hr.  If you plan to cut material that requires 220-250gf, it is recommended you get a cutter with a higher maximum force than 250gf.  The GCC Puma III has a maximum force of 350gf.

Tracking Length
This is the guaranteed maximum length a cutter can cut while still maintaining accuracy of the cut lines.   This is important if you are cutting multiple designs on a roll of vinyl.  Say you have a customer who orders 50 of the same shirt; you would want to cut all 50 logos at once without interruptions.  This is where the tracking length is important.  If you are cutting one or two logos at a time, the tracking length would not be as important.

Cutting Speed
This is how fast the cutter can cut.  Of course the cutter will not be cutting at maximum speed all the time as complicated cut lines will slow the cutter down.  The faster the cutter, the more graphics you can cut.  If you have one person weeding, it won’t matter how fast the cutter is because chances are, the cutter will cut faster than the person weeding the vinyl.  If you have three people weeding, then it might be a good idea to get a fast cutter or to get an additional cutter, as this will increase productivity.

Software
This is what kind of software is included with the cutter.  This includes the driver and any other software that comes with it.   The Roland GX24 comes with Roland CutStudio, while the GCC Puma III, GCC Jaguar and GCC Expert come with GreatCuts software.  If the cutter you choose doesn’t come with software, then you would also have to buy the software which should also be factored into the cost of the cutter.  Some software is a lot more user friendly than other software.  If you are just starting out, you may want to get a cutter that has user-friendly software included.  Roland GX24 is a great cutter that comes with user friendly CutStudio software for the beginner.

Please note that even though some software is easier to use than others, there will be a small learning curve, and you will need to set aside some time to learn and test the cutter before doing any jobs.  We recommend giving yourself a full day to learn and test your cutter.

Additional Functions
These include whether the cutter has an optical eye.  The optical eye allows for precise and accurate print-n-cut functions for full color printable material where the cut lines will need to line up with the printed graphic.  The optical eye function is available in the Roland GX24, GCC Puma III, and GCC Jaguar.

How many pinch rollers does the cutter have.  The more the better, as this allows for better tracking meaning the vinyl will move less when it is being cut.  The GCC Expert & GCC Jaguar has 3 while most standard cutters have 2.

Does the cutter have an Overcut functions?  The Overcut function allows for easier weeding and makes up for incomplete cut lines.  It is necessary if you plan to cut lots of small lettering that are less than 1.5 inches.  But most shirt graphics will be more than 1.5 inches because shirts are meant to be seen from far away.  The GCC Puma and Jaguar cutters have an overcut function.

Other Factors
Other factors you should consider when buying a cutter is your long term and short term goals.  You may be cutting small t-shirt graphics with one color vinyl in the beginning, but you may end up cutting bigger T-shirt graphics with vinyl or printable vinyl(requires optical eye) later.  So it is best to plan ahead.  So when buying a cutter, ask yourself if this is for long term or short term.  Sometimes it is better to plan to upgrade your cutter as your business grows.  If that is the case, you can buy a cheaper cutter (GCC Expert) at first, and then as your business grows buy a new one (GCC Puma III) so that you minimize your start-up costs and risk.  Of course, if you buy an expensive cutter with an optical eye right at the start, you won’t have to upgrade and you will save some money but your start-up costs would be higher.