Clamshell vs. Swing-Away Heat Press Differences 

Differences between clamshell and swing away heat presses

Whether buying a heat press for the first time or upgrading your old model, you will come across two common types of heat presses – a clamshell and a swing-away. Both machines get the job done and work well with various materials like garments, bags, pillowcases, totes, and much more. But which heat press machine is best for you?

Before you decide which style to choose, it is good to understand the pros, cons, and differences between these two machines. Luckily, I have given a detailed comparison to help you choose the best heat press for your needs.

Clamshell Heat Press Advantages and Disadvantages 

As the name suggests, a clamshell heat press opens the upper plate just like a clamshell. This simply means the top moves up and down. The bottom area has a pressing area that can open up to 70 degrees angle. 

Clamshell machines have a compact design, are efficient, and are best suited for a wide range of garments. The machines also handle thin and flat substrates perfectly. The top plate opening of clamshell machines makes them feel studier on the surface. In addition, the machines have auto-start timers. 


A clamshell heat press is great for you if you’re a beginner getting started into heat presses and you mainly plan to do T-shirts. 

  • The most common heat press style for businesses and homes. 
  • It doesn’t take as much space as its swing-away counterparts. 
  • Great heat press for beginners because of its sleek interface. 
  • The machine is portable and compact. 
  • Cheaper and designed with fewer moving parts. 
  • Less fatigue on your hands. 
  • The machines allow you to finish your work faster. 


  • The upper platen opens between 50-70 degrees, making it hard to see the lower platen. You also risk burning your hands on the super-hot upper platen. 
  • It has a limited layout area compared to swing-away presses. 
  • Not ideal for thick substrates or materials. 
  • Hinge design means unequal pressure distribution on all the parts of your material. 

Swing-away Heat Press Advantages and Disadvantages 

Swing-away heat presses are designed with an upper platen that swings away from the lower one to allow more control and precision. A swing heat press is best for thicker items like photo tiles or award plaques. Additionally, it is best for rhinestone transfers, heat transfer paper, multi-layer vinyl projects, and other media projects. 

The heating elements of swing heat presses have a vertical or floating design that makes them adjust well to uneven and thicker substrates and provides consistent application of pressure. 

One of the most outstanding features of this heat press is the ability to swing 360 degrees which provides a better space to work without risking burns. 

A swing-away heat press is good for you if you are dealing with thicker materials. You should also consider this style to achieve a high-quality sublimation job. Because of the even level of pressure, the machines also provide better prints on large surface areas. 


  • It has an amazing layout area. 
  • Little or no risk of accidental burns 
  • Provides even pressure and heat distribution 
  • You can easily view the T-shirt perfectly on the bottom platen 
  • Great for working with thicker and trickier materials 


  • Less portable because they are heavier 
  • The swinging action requires more space 
  • Involves more steps to finish an application 
  • Best suited for experts 
  • Expensive and hence not budget-friendly for small businesses 

Buying the Best Heat Press 

A few considerations can guide you in picking the right heat presses. You need to think about the size and determine how big you want your machine to be. Next, consider the style – do you want a clamshell or swing-away heat press? 

Another essential consideration is the type of material you intend to heat press. For instance, mugs, T-shirts, caps, pillows, fabric, and more. Other features you should consider are a timer, garment pass-through, and the number of things you intend to heat press. 

Verdict: Which one is better? 

No heat press is better than the other. Both styles have their pros and cons and produce excellent results. Choosing between a clamshell or a swing-away heat press depends on your circumstances, space available, the type of job you handle, your budget, and familiarity with the presses, among other factors. Consider all these factors and benefits to determine which heat press is right for you. 

Have questions, or would you like a demonstration? Contact us at any time by calling 1-800-944-4573 or contact us.

About Amanda Lambert