The heat transfer printers these days have come a long way from the old dye sublimation models in the pre-2014 days, when thermal printing became one of the most popular hobbies.
Almost everybody was heat transferring T-Shirts in those days. But the technology was so primitive that prints barely lasted for a few days before they got cracked or the colors just faded away after sun exposure or after a wash.
Cut to today, we have modern, wireless inkjet printers that can tackle most heat transfer printing tasks that you throw at them. Prints can be made on a variety of media (vinyl, cardstock), the machines are designed for repetitive everyday use and come at very attractive price points.
But, therein lies the challenge. There are hundreds of printers to choose from. How do you ensure that you pick the right one that’s the perfect combination of features, quality and value?
That’s where I step in folks. I have done the ground work. I have put some of the best heat transfer printers through the motions. I have printed, beat, abused and tested every minute detail.
By the way, if you are pressed for time, then here are my recommendations for the best printer for heat transfers in 2018.
IMAGE TOP PICKS DIMENSIONS WEIGHT PRICE
Epson Artisan 1430 27.8 x 17.3 x 12.5 inches 35.3 pounds See It
Epson Stylus C88+ 18.1 x 9.5 x 7.6 inches 10.14 pounds See It
Silhouette Cameo Heat Transfer 11 x 11 x 24 inches 12.6 pounds See It
Epson WorkForce 1100 18.2 x 27.8 x 12.5 inches 26.3 pounds See It
3D Multifunction Heat Press Machine 27.5 x 25 x 16.5 inches 50.5 pounds See It
What to look for while buying the best printer for heat transfers?
As is the case with any other electronic gadget, there is a lot of hype and exaggerated marketing in the thermal printer industry. So, it is imperative that you take a few key variables into consideration to ensure that you do not end up with an overpriced unit that’s not suitable for your intended use.
The Type of printer
There are three main types of heat transfer printers that vary in the quality of the prints they produce and in the cost of the machines.
- Inkjet: Top quality, easy to use, can be used for a variety of applications. Reasonable pricing.
- Dye-sublimation: You can print directly on to the print medium. Decent quality prints. These are limited by the inability to print directly on cotton. So, if its cotton T-Shirts that you are aiming for, then Dye-Sublimation might not be the best of options for you.
- Laser: If I were you, we’d give this one a miss. Not the best choice for heat transfer printing.
Quality of prints
Like I said earlier, Inkjet printers are your best bet. The quality is excellent with perfectly rendered colors, tones and highlights. Dye-sublimation printers are not too far behind. But there have been numerous reports of dye-sub prints fading with UV exposure.
Type of Ink
A lot of people still use sublimation ink. But based on my personal experience, pigment based inks used in Inkjet printers offer the best results. By the way, you can always use a sublimation ink cartridge with an inkjet printer even if the manufacturer says otherwise.
You can choose from 6 or even 8 colors if you are looking for a professional-grade unit. However, for home use, even a 4-color printer works great. This can be vinyl, cotton, blended fabric, thicker paper stock or even 3 dimensional objects.
Depending on your printing needs, ensure that you pick a printer that’s compatible with your printing medium of choice.
Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at my picks.
1. Epson Artisan 1430
The Artisan 1430 has to be Epson’s most underrated warhorse that’s overshadowed by its more popular and meatier siblings.
However, this beast of a machine can print super-large prints that are fade, scratch and UV resistant, offers print quality that is second to none and is backed up by a gaggle of useful features at a very affordable price point.
Let’s take a closer look.
Wireless, seamless connectivity
The Epson 1430 is a compact-sized printer that’s an eye-pleasing addition to your workspace. At 26 lbs., it is not overly heavy and you can easily carry it from home to office if need be.
Connectivity is wireless and you can conveniently hook this up to your smartphone, laptop or PC from any corner of your workspace for an instant print. No messy wires to deal with.
For a print or photo studio with multiple devices to connect to the printer, this feature alone reduces so many hassles.
Borderless, full-sized prints
It is an inkjet printer that uses Epson’s 6-color high-definition Claria ink cartridge. These are 6 individual color canisters, mind you. If you run out of one color, you can swap it for a refill instead of replacing the whole cartridge.
At the highest resolution, it can print at 5760 x 1440 dpi that makes for butter-smooth, grain-free images. The prints are extremely high quality. No smudging, fading or bleeding after a wash.
The tones, shadows and color saturation is excellent. With resistance that lasts up to four times more than standard lab prints, your heat transferred media should be able to beg abuse and live with it.
Last but not the least, it can print 13″ x 19″ borderless pictures. If you are making do with the ridiculously small 8 ½ x11” prints for adult t-shirts, do yourself a favor and buy this now.
- Wireless Connectivity
- Inkjet print system with 6-color Claria ink
- Cheap refills
- Full-sized prints for adult t-shirts
- Top-notch print quality
- Smudge, fade, and water resistant prints that are perfect for heat transfers
- It does require the cleaning head function to be run a few times. If you are willing to look beyond this tiny niggle, the Artisan 1430 is a phenomenal printer.
Great pricing, fully loaded, heat transfer printer that rivals much higher priced units in the market. Cant ask for more. At this price point, it’d be difficult to find a better printer.
2. Epson Stylus C88+
When the Epson Stylus C88 was first launched in 2005, it was touted as a budget-priced, entry-level printer that offered reasonable quality photo prints. But its successor, the C88+ is a much more endowed unit that can print up to 5760 x 1440 optimized dpi with Epson’s DURABrite Ultra pigment ink.
This makes it a great choice for hobbyists and small businesses looking to dip their toes into heat transfer prints without breaking the bank.
Fast and Efficient
The C88+ is a CMYK-based inkjet printer that prints fast and efficiently. The maximum print speed is about 23 ppm for black and up to 14 ppm for colored prints. If you are looking to bang-out a lot of good quality prints in little time, this has you covered.
It uses DURABrite® Ultra pigment ink, that offers excellent resistance to fading, cracking and all the common problems associated with heat transfer printers
The only possible letdown is that connectivity is through USB and parallel ports. Not Wireless!
Perfect for Dye-Sublimation
A lot of customers that I spoke to, wanted to use the C88+ for dye-sublimation. And surprisingly, Epson doesn’t say much about it in the user manuals.
Be rest assured that this is a great printer for dye-sublimation. You’d have to use third-party inks but that’s about the only limitation (If you’d call it one). Rig it up with a CISS unit and an auto-resetting cartridge and you are ready to keep printing without any hassles.
Also, please remember that the maximum print-size with the C88+ is 8.5″ x 11”. If you are looking to print large pictures for adult crewneck tees, this might not be the best of options for you.
- Proven performance
- Prints fast and easy
- DURABrite® Ultra pigment ink
- Gallery-quality photos
- CMYK cartridges
- Can be used for dye-sublimation
- Budget-priced heat transfer printer
- Limited connectivity options
- Max print size of 8.5″ x 11”
At the price point, the C88+ offers unbeatable value. It is a proven performer and can be used for dye-sublimation prints.
Yes, it might be limited by the small print size or limited connectivity options. But those are not deal breakers. For casual and small, professional set ups, this is a great thermal printer.
3. Silhouette Cameo Heat Transfer Starter Kit Bundle
Often termed as the ultimate DIY machine, the Silhouette Cameo is a mix-bag of good stuff in a budget-priced package.
It is a combination bundle of a die cutting machine and a heat transfer starter kit.
Irrespective of whether its vinyl cutting or printing t-shirts, this unit allows you to do it all.
The Crafter’s dream come true
Since this is a review of the bundle, we’ll review each one individually.
Let’s start with the Dye Cutting machine, called the Cameo. The cameo is a compact (5-inches tall and 21-inches wide) machine that fits easily on to your work desk. Designed with the beginner DIY’er in mind, it is extremely easy to use.
There’s a full-color LCD display that shows you the various settings, icons and features. You can toggle through them with the touch of a few buttons on the control panel. Most are self-explanatory and you will not be reaching out for the manual too often.
It comes with three different tools, a fabric blade, a regular blade and a sketch pen. You can either use it for die-cutting vinyl, for cutting fabric or for sketching your design on to the work piece.
Toggling between the pens is as easy as twisting a knob and attaching the appropriate one. A sticky mat serves as the binding surface that keeps your work material from shifting positions.
The software that ships with the Cameo allows you to import your artwork and customize it before creating prints or die-cuts. Silhouette also offers readymade templates for download at an extra cost of course.
Overall, this is a beautifully designed vinyl cutting machine.
Good quality starter heat transfer kit
The Silhouette Heat Transfer kit contains a bunch of vinyl and transfer tapes for your heat transfer projects. You get 3x smooth heat transfer sheets, 2x flocked heat transfer sheets of 9×12″-sizes.
Both sheet varieties are available in a bunch of different colors to allow crafters to experiment with their projects.
The quality is reasonably good, although I have seen much better. But, this is never intended to be a professional-grade heat transfer machine. For beginners, this is as good as they come.
- Value for money DIY bundle
- Vinyl rolls and transfer tapes in different colors
- Compact Silhouette cameo machine for die cutting and art sketching
- Varied applications like printing t-shirts, art jobs, customizing dresses
- Great reviews all over
- Tons of YouTube tutorials and possible tweaks
- Not the best quality heat transfer prints that I’ve seen.
The Silhouette Heat Transfer Kit is a combo package for crafters and beginners in thermal printing. It is not a professional printer mind you. But if you are a DIYer looking to get small projects such as customization jobs and t-shirt prints done, it’s right up your alley.
4. Epson WorkForce 1100
The Epson Workforce 1100 brings large-sized prints to the table. That’s tabloid (11” x 17”), Super Tabloid (13” x 19”) and Banner paper (13” x 44”) sized prints. If you were looking for super-sized prints for your heat transfer projects but didn’t know what printer would work best, then this one is your best bet.
Apart from the print dimensions, the Workforce 1100 ticks all the boxes that one looks for from the heat transfer printers.
It offers superior quality prints at extreme resolutions, the prints are smudge, fade and water-resistant and offers two-sided prints for paper-intensive jobs.
Brute of a machine
At a time when one is used to svelte, pocket-sized printers, the dimensions of the Epson Workforce 1100 might seem a little overwhelming. But we’d take a little extra bulk any day in exchange for durability. And 1100 is as durable as they come.
There are customers who have used it for more than 8 years without any problems whatsoever. That speaks volumes about the quality.
Print speed is decent. It’s not as fast as a laserjet. But it’s not slow enough to warrant any complaints either.
Print quality is excellent at 5760 x 1440. Opaque blacks, fiery reds with excellent tonal contrast and saturation make your prints pop out irrespective of the workpiece.
Easy to rig a continuous ink flow system
Rigging a continuous ink flow system to the Workforce 1100 is effortless and if you have a business, it makes it a lot easier than having to replace cartridges frequently.
Also, you can easily use cheaper third-party cartridges with 1100. What more can one ask for?
- Perfect for large-sized print jobs
- Durable build
- Decent print speed
- Excellent resolution at 5760 x 1440
- Zero pixilation
- Quick-drying ink that’s perfect for heat transfers
- Can be hooked easily to a continuous ink system
- Bulky design that takes up a lot of space on your work desk
- Not wireless
Businesses looking to set up their heat transfer print shops look for a heavy duty machine that can tackle demanding jobs. The Epson 1100 certainly fits the bill. It is accurate, offers great quality prints and can be connected to an automatic ink flow system.
5. 3D Multifunction Heat Press Machine
I wouldn’t be able to pick the best heat transfer printers without adding one for 3-dimensional print jobs.
This is the Heat Press from Yescom, a 3d vacuum heat transfer machine. That’s quite unassuming a name for a machine that offers stellar prints on a variety of 3-dimensional objects including mugs, plates, cell phone cases and even t-shirts.
It is easy to use, highly efficient and features a unique furnace design that improves the heating area.
Voluminous heating chamber
The multifunctional heat press is built like a rock. This one can withstand everyday use without any glitches or problems.
Despite having a bunch of different automated and manual controls integrated into it, it is surprisingly easy to use and program. There’s an LCD display along with easy-to-use soft touch buttons for quick configurations.
The heating chamber can accommodate up to 12 standard-sized latte mugs. Not only does this reduce the need for multiple passes, it also saves you a lot of time. Just pop in your workpieces and be done with it.
Dual temperature control system
Vacuum heat presses can be prone to temperature fluctuations. To this end, Yescom throws in a dual-temperature control system. One is a software temperature control whereas the other one is a hardware control mechanism.
If either one fails, the other one automatically kicks in, preventing fluctuations and ensuring that even heat is retained.
An activated carbon filter ensures that no toxic fumes escape from the outlet during the print process. Also, there’s an automatic shut-off feature that switches the machine off if it’s not used for more than 15-minutes.
- Multifunctional vacuum heat press at a budget price
- Can be used for heat transfer on mugs, plates, cell phone cases and even t-shirts
- Accurate color and artwork rendition
- Dual temperature controls
- Automated Shut-off system after 15-minutes
- Voluminous heating chamber that can accommodate up to 12 mugs at a time
- LCD display with easy controls
- Transfer area only fits a 11 oz. mug. Anything bigger cannot be accommodated.
- The preset heat and time settings don’t work very well. You will have to play around with the settings to find the right time and heat for your print media.
The Yescom Multifunctional 3D press offers unbeatable value. It allows you to expand beyond the occasional t-shirt print and include 3-dimensional objects to your projects. It is easy to use and offers accurate image rendition. Perfect for crafters and small businesses alike.
To Sum it up
Choosing a heat transfer printer depends on your individuals printing needs. That’s why I have diversified this list with a printer for every occasion.
Crafters looking to dabble in vinyl with some heat transferring thrown in will love the Silhouette Starter kit. Businesses looking to set up a heat transfer shop will prefer the advanced options like the Epson Workforce 1100 or the Artisan 1430. Both offer large-sized prints in unmatched quality.
Go for the Yescom multifunctional 3D printer for 3-dimensional objects while the Stylus C88+ is the best budget priced heat transfer printer.
What’s your take on my list? Do you have any recommendations or additions to make? I would love to hear it. Do write to me.