There are a ton of different ways to use iron-on materials these days, but where you use them matters a great deal. Unless you have special and usually quite expensive equipment, it can be difficult to work with anything curved. The front panel of a hat, the side of a backpack, even the shoulder of a shirt can be challenging to get right with a flat iron. Cricut's EasyPress line has been working for a couple of years now on multipurpose, practical presses in several sizes to suit as many different kinds of users as possible. This year that list includes its first curved press, dubbed the Cricut Hat Press.
I've been using this Hat Press for a few weeks now, and while it couldn't be more clear Cricut had a single purpose in mind, this new press has opened up a world of possibilities.
- Lightweight, simple design
- Nearly perfect heat application
- Easy-to-use software
- Reliance on the app with every use is unfortunate
- Software fails to deliver enough safety warnings to users
I have fond childhood memories of my mother buying sheets of special paper at Walmart to print personal designs on a couple of shirts for the family. I also remember those shirts not lasting particularly long, which is why all my family has left of those shirts are photographs. Over the last couple of years, maker companies have been competing on all the different ways iron-on materials have been improved. And it's fantastic -- we can now create our own designs with ease and apply them to dark fabrics or add custom vinyl to dozens of kinds of fabrics. Cricut's own Infusible Ink line allows creators to bypass the impermanent nature of iron-ons entirely and actually dye the fabric with comparably little investment. It has never been easier to make your own shirt with high enough quality that someone asks where you bought it.
And really, that's been Cricut's biggest success to date. The company has made its name creating tools which unleash the power of creative people at home. Cricut first became popular with cutting machines capable of turning sheets of vinyl into designs you could apply to anything, and now has
The one thing that hadn't really improved much until quite recently is the iron itself. Everything you can buy today claims to work with the iron you have at home, but the truth is, your iron isn't very good for this kind of thing. Many irons don't distribute heat evenly across the full platter, or maintain a specific temperature in order to finish anything larger than a logo on a shirt. And even if you have a consumer clothes iron you can thoroughly rely on, if you're trying to apply designs to something like a hat it becomes a great deal more challenging.
Cricut's Hat Press comes in three parts. The press itself is almost more handle than press, with a pair of dead-simple buttons on its face and a long power cord. You plug it in, press one button to turn it on, and one more button to engage a timer that we'll discuss later. When you aren't using the Hat Press, it rests in a thermally safe cradle. This cradle safely dissipates or absorbs heat even when the press is set to above 400 degrees, making it so you can rest it on a table without risk of damage. But to really ensure there's a perfect press, Cricut has made a special portable hat form to rest the hat on while you work. It's designed to take heat just like the flat versions Cricut includes with its other EasyPress products, but is perfectly designed for just about any hat.
All three of these parts come together with the new Cricut Heat app. Where previous EasyPress products had temperature controls on the side to manually set the press to whatever you need, this new generation gets its instructions via Bluetooth. A simple pairing between your phone and the Hat Press gets you what you need through a set of recommendations. You tell the app what material you are using and what kind of hat you are applying it to, and the app gives you the preferred temperature with how long to apply force to send to the press. Once you've done so, you can use the app to monitor the correct temperature and act as a timer to help you apply heat without damaging the fabric or the iron-on material.
As clever as this app is, truth be told, I find it unfinished. The Cricut Heat app must be connected in order for the Hat Press to truly function. If you power it on without the app it heats to a default setting, which is fine for vinyl on most fabrics, but anything else requires the app. If you've previously used the app for a project and wish to return to that project, the app has the ability to resend the previous instructions, but only after you've returned to the app with the Hat Press already turned on. It's also important to highlight that the app doesn't do a great job warning you about higher temperatures. Cricut sent two different kinds of the hats it makes for this press, and I accidentally melted the plastic insides on one of each of them. Cricut Infusible Ink requires the press to be at 400 degrees for the transfer of ink, and instructions for where to avoid touching the press is one of several warnings this app should provide its users.
Slightly melted though they are, my first two attempts at making hats were incredibly fun. And like other Cricut products I've shown off, my friends immediately had other ideas for designs I'd never considered. But what I really had fun with was using the Hat Press on things other than hats. Applying vinyl to the side of my backpack, which I never would have been able to manage without a curved press, is a welcome additional feature. And the same can be said of shirts -- being able to apply designs all the way around a sleeve without difficulty is something I'm honestly surprised Cricut itself doesn't make a bigger deal about. The marketing for this is decidedly about the hats, but makers of all kinds will find so many more uses for this.
If you've been getting by with just your at-home iron and your favorite iron-on materials, the $150 price tag of the Hat Press is undeniably a lot. But if you're trying to find the best tools for making a ton of different things that aren't just the front or back of a shirt or a tote, Cricut has just about nailed this unique expansion of its lineup. And if you look at what competing curved heat presses look like, you'll see this is an ideal design at a more than reasonable price for what you get.