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Presses   WHAT
          Part Four: Mug Presses And More

60                           February 2000 • A&E MAGAZINE
              AVING READ THE FIRST THREE                                  they are electronic or mechanical, it is only logical they would fail
                                                                          before anything else. Most companies offer a guarantee on these
              PARTS of our four-part series,                              parts for a certain period, but what happens after that?
           I hope you feel you are well                                      Some people told of excessively high costs for replacement
equipped to make that major purchase                                      timers—so high they resorted to egg timers. Even before you
                                                                          make your purchase, ask about replacement parts. Is there a
of a heat press—but there is more. I                                      printed price sheet? Does the manufacturer guarantee to inventory
would be remiss if I didn’t share some                                    parts for a specified period? Are the prices reasonable? Some
                                                                          manufacturers try to use parts that are commonly available when
of the notes and suggestions made by         By J. Stephen
                                                                          possible. Does yours?
the many people who responded to                    Spence
my survey. Some of these comments may seem a bit                          THE BUZZER IS TOO LOUD/SOFT
                                                                              It may sound trivial but consider this: I used to have a press that
trivial while others are monumental, but remember, it                     had the loudest, most annoying buzzer ever built by man. It was
is often the little things that create the most frustration               so loud that it actually made my ears throb. Imagine that buzzer
and annoyance.                                                            on a flat press in a shirt operation where four or five presses were
                                                                          being used all day long. Every 23 seconds, the buzzer would go
   Have you ever had a fly buzzing around your bedroom while              off on each of the machines. It would be enough to send you to
you were trying to sleep? Or what about that constant drip in the         the funny farm.
kitchen sink? Sometimes, the little things count for a lot. To the            Take a second and listen to the buzzer. If it isn’t something you
people who mentioned each of these things, they meant a great             can live with, surely you can consider another machine in its
deal. They may not determine which machine you actually pur-              place. As for manufacturers, perhaps a buzzer with a volume con-
chase, but isn’t it better to know ahead of time what you are get-        trol might be incorporated in the presses of the future. Remember
ting than to discover it after the fact?                                  the fly in the bedroom? Little things can count for a lot.

THE KNOB GETS HOT                                                         BURNING BANANA PINS
    Most presses (not all) have thermostat controls mounted                   I was surprised that no one spoke of the banana pins burning
directly over the heating element. This is certainly logical and cost     up on their machine. The banana pins are those electrical con-
effective, yet a 400-degree heater block is clearly going to have an      nection devices often used to connect the control panel to the
effect on the controls. Mine is built that way and yes, it gets hot—      heater block. I remember the first press I owned liked to turn these
almost too hot to touch. By the same token, everything I do               little connectors into oxide. Although this trait was less than
requires the same temperature, so once I set my temperature con-          desirable, the manufacturer quickly supplied replacement parts,
trol, there is little need to touch it.                                   and in just a few minutes, the problem was repaired.
    Still, some machines are designed so timer and pressure control           When I talked to the dealer about this, he assured me he had
knobs are mounted in a way they also get very hot. Ask the salesperson    never run into that before. Since no one mentioned it in the
to heat up the press you are considering and after an hour or so, check   survey, maybe I really was the only person in North America with
out the knobs to see how hot they really are going to get.                this problem.

BUY A SWING-AWAY PRESS                                                    DO YOUR OWN MINOR REPAIRS
   This was by far the most common word of suggestion gained                  Since the most common repairs will be switches, timers and
from the survey. Very few clamshell presses can accommodate               thermostats and since these are fairly simple to replace on many
thicker objects such as plaques. Most (not all) wished they had pur-      machines, it is important to be sure the manufacturer of the press
chased a swing-away type press. The reasons given were the                you buy is willing to help you locate parts and make simple
inability to do thicker products and getting burned.                      repairs on your machine. This kind of customer support is crucial
                                                                          for any piece of equipment but especially for a heat press since most
PLAN AHEAD                                                                shops do not have a backup system for sublimation. If their press
   Because presses last so long, it is important that potential           goes down, they are out of business.
buyers look well into the future to try to be sure they buy a press           Being able to get telephone support, parts and information
capable of doing all the things they will need it to do over the next     quickly is vital to getting back on line. Some manufacturer’s rep-
ten to twenty years. Don’t just buy for today; buy for tomorrow.          resentatives even offer their customers’ phone numbers they can
                                                                          call at night, on weekends and holidays. After all, you can be sure
THE TIMER WENT OUT                                                        the only time your press will ever act up is on Saturday night while
   Timers and thermostats are the most likely items to fail in a heat     you are getting a rush order out for Monday morning.
press. They are subjected to a great deal of heat, and regardless if

A&E MAGAZINE • February 2000                                                                                                                  61
Heat Presses
HAVING TO CLEAN THE SPRINGS DAILY                                           actually going to pay at the end of the month. The same 1800-watt
   One user owned a clamshell press with big, black springs in the          heating element at 220 volts would consume about half as many
back. Reportedly, he had to clean these every day to remove black           kilowatt-hours of electricity. Therefore, it makes sense to buy a 220-
chips that were constantly falling onto the work area. His suggestion       volt unit, right?
was that the factory design a boot to fit over the springs to prevent           Actually, the answer is no. It isn’t correct because a 220-volt heat
this.                                                                       press does use the same size heating element as a 120-volt unit.
   The factory, when asked, agreed this was a legitimate problem            The 220-volt unit requires a much higher wattage heating element
on older machines and took the suggestion under consideration.              than a 120-volt unit. The bottom line is that the actual amount
In the meantime, if that were my machine, I would ask my wife               of energy consumed by a 16” x 20” 120 volt (1800 watts) and a
to sew up two cloth boots to slip over those springs to keep the            16” x 20” 220 volt (2700 watts) press is about the same.
scaling under control. If that didn’t work, I would replace the darn            220-volt presses are made primarily to accommodate the
things.                                                                     European markets (most of the rest of the world uses only 220-
                                                                            volt electrical systems). If you do select 220-volt presses, you will
BUY AIR-OPERATED                                                            have to run a separate 220-volt outlet directly from the fuse box
EQUIPMENT/I CAN’T GET IT OPEN                                               to the press—that can be expensive. It also means that the press
    Several people noted they had problems with consistency in              can only operate on 220 volts so you can’t move the press from
their products and had tried several presses without success until          one location to another without rewiring.
they went to an air-operated press. These presses are available from
a number of suppliers and the air equipment can be retrofitted to           DO YOUR HOMEWORK
some manual presses. It is, of course, more expensive but does solve           Over and over again, survey respondees, when asked what
the pressure problem since it takes us back to where we began—              they would recommend to someone buying their first press, said,
using an actual air pressure gauge to regulate the force of the             “Do your homework”. Although the exact words varied, the sug-
closing platen.                                                             gestion was almost unanimous. “Look around before you buy.”
    This approach, although it may be ideal, does require an air            “Talk to people who have the press before you buy.” “Don’t buy
compressor to work in conjunction with the press. Air compres-              the first press you see,” and so on.
sors are not really very expensive but they are very noisy—at least            The point is simple. Just because many heat presses look alike
the commonly found models are. Super quiet compressors are                  doesn’t mean they are alike. Shop around. Ask questions—hard
available (they make about as much noise as a large fan) but they           questions; $1,000 may not be a lot of money for a good heat press,
tend to be expensive and difficult to find. If budget isn’t your biggest    but it is a great deal of money if you buy the wrong heat press.
concern (remember what we talked about earlier), check into an                 Which one is right for you? I wish I could tell you.
air-operated press.                                                         Unfortunately, I can’t do that. Why not? Because what is right
    As for the lady who complained about how hard it was to open            for me may not be right for you. Everyone has different needs
and close her press (she used it for several hours each day), air is        and expectations of their presses.
a realistic solution. The air-operated press requires no manual effort         Each buyer must carefully consider what they propose to do
to open and close—that’s what the air is for. For anyone who is             with the press, how much it is going to be used, where it is going
going to be using a press for hours on end or doesn’t have enough           to be used, by whom it is going to be used and then add their own
upper body strength, air may be an excellent investment.                    personal preferences before deciding what type of press to con-
                                                                            sider—let alone which one to buy. I would hate to have to use a
OPEN AUTOMATICALLY                                                          clamshell press, but for another user, that is exactly what he or she
    Several people suggested future presses be designed so they             wants to use. Everyone must decide for themselves.
would open automatically when the timer went off and thus end
the transfer process. Although I can’t see this to be practical with        HAT AND MUG PRESSES
a manual press, it is possible on an air-operated press. How about              Although the survey did quiz about hat and mug presses, the
it manufacturers, will this be part of your future designs?                 response was a bit more difficult to discern than with the flat
                                                                            presses. Most people were satisfied with their cup and hat presses,
BUY 220 VOLT PRESSES                                                        but a few things did stand out, and I will try to pass those on.
    This showed up in two ways. A few people wished presses were                When selecting a hat press, pay close attention to the actual area
available in 220-volt formats. Well, they are. They cost a little extra,    that can be imprinted. A number of people complained their
and you might have to wait an extra week or so for delivery, but they       presses should have larger imprint areas.
are available from a number of manufacturers.                                   When considering a mug press, several things stand out. At the
    Should you buy one? That is an entirely new can of worms.               top of the list is the ability to do full wraps on mugs. Having to
Logic tells us that 220-volt appliances operate more efficiently than       heat cups twice (once for each side) is not only time consuming,
120-volt units, and, usually, this is true. It is certainly true with air   it also limits what can be done with the design.
conditioners and cook stoves, but unfortunately, this may not be                A couple of people who responded to the survey commented
true with a heat press.                                                     on the fact their mug press heater unit (called a blanket) burned
    Here is why: If a heat press is rated at 1800 watts at 120 volts,       out very quickly and cost a lot of money to replace. One even said
it will consume about 1800 watts or 1.8 kilowatt hours of elec-             it was so expensive that he bought a different press. That raised a
tricity. Kilowatt-hours is what determines how much you are                 lot of questions, and it took some research to understand why that

62                                                                                                                       February 2000 • A&E MAGAZINE
Heat Presses
was so. Here is what I found out. If you are considering the pur-     be fooled, and the sales representative may not know any more
chase of a new mug press, this information could save you a lot       about the product than you do. Be careful, the warranty should
of money.                                                             be a dead giveaway.
    When buying a mug press, don’t look at the                                               Although it did not show up in the survey, I
price before you understand what you are          When buying a mug                      have heard countless people complain about the
buying. The heart of any mug press is the heating                                        design of the mugs available for sublimation.
element which in this case is a flexible wrap that                                       Although it must be white, does it always have to
forms itself around the cup, heats up and applies press, don’t look at                   have the same boring handle? The least someone
pressure to the cup—all in one simple step.                                              could do is change the handle to something with
The problem is, this isn’t such a simple matter.                                         a little flair. I have also heard pleas for plastic cups,
    There are currently at least two types of mug the price before you                   better steins and regular glassware that can be
heaters being used in presses. In many cases, it                                         imprinted.
is very difficult to distinguish which type is                                               There are two basic designs of cup presses on
being used in a given machine since even the
manuals often don’t even give the needed infor-
                                                  understand what                        the market. One has a pass-through design,
                                                                                         allowing the cup to be placed at any position
mation. There is a way, however, to find out                                             within the heating blanket. The other is a closed-
which type of heater is being used, and here is
why it is important to know.
                                                  you are buying.                        end press where the cup or stein is inserted until
                                                                                         it reaches a stop, usually the bottom or back wall
    One of the types being used is a silicone                                            of the machine. Cup presses tend to cost about the
heater blanket. This is the type of blanket that
our survey respondee had purchased. The
                                                  The heart of any                       same as a flat press, and there are few alternatives.
                                                                                             One alternate way of making mugs that works
problem with this type is just what he discov-                                           very well is the use of a mug wrap. These little
ered. They won’t last. In fact, they often last
only a very short time before burning out, and
                                                  mug press is the                       devices are wrapped around a mug, clamping
                                                                                         the transfer in place. The entire item is then placed
they may be very expensive to replace. To make                                           in a hot oven for twenty minutes and baked at 350
matters even worse, they are usually not UL                                              degrees. At about $16 per wrap, the reusable
approved.                                         heating element.                       devices make a cost-effective alternative for those
    One give-away to this type of blanket being                                          shops who just want to test the market before
used is the requirement for a cool-down period between cups.          investing in a press. It is ideal for shops that make only a few mugs
Another clue to the presence of a silicon blanket can be found in     a month for friends or as gifts.
the warranty. Presses that use this type of heater may promise a          Having read these articles, I hope you feel better equipped to
lifetime or one-year warranty on the press, but in the tiny print,    go out and make that major purchase. It hasn’t just been me
the heating element is only warranted for a very short period of      writing this, but each and every one of those kind folks who
time. Some warranties are as little as 30 to 90 days while others     responded to my survey. Each one brings his own unique expe-
reach out to the six-month period. That isn’t very long since my      riences, mistakes, successes and failures to the scene. Each one took
new press sat on the workbench for about two months before I          the time and effort to reach out and help you make a better, more-
ever got around to plugging it in.                                    educated decision. Now it’s up to you. Which press is best for your
    To be sure, many of these units last long beyond the short war-   application? Which design do you like the best? Take them one
ranty. The question is, “Will yours?”                                 at a time and begin your search.
    Information about the heater blanket type is often not easy to        If possible, visit a tradeshow in your area. Not only will you be
find. Not only is it confined to the small print, it is sometimes     able to actually try out the press, but most vendors offer a discount
omitted completely. Many users learn about it when they call for      to anyone buying a press while at the show (don’t jump, take your
a free replacement that ends up costing $100 and comes with           time and be sure before you buy). Whatever you finally decide on,
another warranty the same length as the original.                     I hope it is the right one for you and that you experience many
    Why are they used? Because they lower the retail price of the     years of worry-free service from your investment.
unit. Remember the old adage, “You get what you pay for?” This
is a perfect example. If you decide to save a few hundred dollars
on a mug press, be sure you know what you are buying. Not all
mug presses are made alike.                                           J. Stephen Spence is the owner of Awards by Recognition Concepts in
    Another much better type of heater blanket is the steel-band      Ceredo, W.Va. In addition, Stephen offers a variety of services to assist
type. These blankets demonstrate very few problems and can            those interested in starting their own company, or to help established busi-
usually be identified by a warranty of several years. They often do   nesses to grow. He can be contacted by e-mail at, by
not require a cool-down period between mugs, which can mean           phone at (304) 453-1800, or by fax at (304) 453-1900.                    A&E
a huge increase in production over other types.
    One thing to watch out for is that some machines use a sili-
cone heater and wrap a steel band around it, making it appear to
be a steel-band heater. This may not be an attempt to mislead
anyone, but if you don’t know what you are looking at, you could

A&E MAGAZINE • February 2000                                                                                                                  63

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