Tons of print shops start off in basements, spare rooms, and garages. Think about it, they're already investing a good chunk of cash into purchasing the equipment and supplies, why not set up shop in a space they have already paid for?
Print expert Darryl Sapp shares his past experiences of working in a garage shop, offering best practices to make the most efficient workflow in the space you have.
Beyond equipment, there are lots of things you can build for yourself to help with shop organization. Construct your own press cart or stand with reclaimed wood and casters. Make a screen rack out of wood and casters. Put up a squeegee rack made of some 2x4 and deck screws. Create a drying cabinet by putting the screen rack in a closet with a fan and dehumidifier.
Just because you can build it yourself doesn't mean you should. Look into the costs of building the product and compare it to buying it completed. If it costs just as much or more to build it yourself, it may be worth your time and money to buy the completed product.
How you set up your equipment in your garage depends on your space and people working in your shop. If you're a one-man show, "the printer shouldn't need to move any further than turning to place the garment on the belt and reaching behind or beside them to grab a new shirt," Darryl says. Have a table with your shirts right by your press, place your conveyor dryer or flash within arms reach, and you'll be good to go.
If you have two people working in the shop, you can strategize a bit more. Best way to do it is to assign someone to have the "clean hands" and the other to have the "dirty hands," according to Darryl. The person with clean hands loads and unloads shirts, watching the conveyor dryer to ensure nothing gets backed up. The person with dirty hands does not touch the shirts. The printer is solely operating the squeegee and handling ink management.
Photo by Aerogant Printing Co.
When it comes to the darkroom, Darryl has two rules. One, make sure it's light-safe. Two, make sure it's light-safe. (So important, had to say it twice.) Make it light-safe by using a yellow lightbulb.
Where you construct your darkroom is up to you. With most houses, there's a bathroom right next to the garage. You can replace the light bulbs with light-safe bulbs and use the shower as a washout booth. Be careful what you're putting down your drains (especially if you are renting the house). Sgreen® Chemistry is safe for your drains. You could also use your backyard as a washout booth, but if you have kids or pets, you may want to avoid doing that to prevent them from accidentally consuming the waste products. Many printers use their laundry room as a darkroom, so that's a space to consider as well.
Back when Darryl had started printing, he made his own darkroom out of old screens, double-sided tape, and black plastic. He had a small setup – a 10 ft by 6 ft area that held a 48-inch washout booth in the front and an exposure area placed in the back.
Some create their own washout booth out of a laundry sink and storage bin. It may not be pretty, but it does the job. Improvise and adapt to what space you have and make it work for you.
From his experience, Darryl says having the exposure unit and washout booth in the same room will help you save a ton of screens. If that isn't possible, he suggests grabbing a black garbage bag and a spray bottle. After you expose a screen, spray both sides of the screen, place it in the plastic bag, and bring it outside to your hose or power washer (if you have a power washer, do not have it set higher than 1600 psi). As soon as you take it out of the bag, immediately spray the screen.
Photo by Symmetree Clothing.
TROUBLESHOOTING POTENTIAL ISSUES
Other factors may rise that can affect your printing like the temperature and humidity within the garage. Inks and chemicals are sensitive to these factors. You can do something to avoid running into any problems.
It's winter, and your garage is freezing. When your shop is too cold, you can shock-coated screens, meaning they may not be able to be exposed. Inks become stiff. Chemicals and inks can freeze, cloud, congeal, or separate, which means they're no good to use. To save your products, keep them in a temperature-controlled environment. You can also put a space heater in your garage, it will help out a lot.
It's summer, and your garage is hot. Inks become lumpy. Chemicals can denature, now useless. Water-based inks are now a nightmare to print with. With water-based inks, keep a spray bottle near your press. Every few shirts, mist the top of the flooded screen. For the other chemicals and inks, keep them in a temperature-controlled environment. Make sure you and your ink stay hydrated.
Not only is it hot, but it's also humid here. Well, at least your water-based inks love this situation. Coated screens, not so much. They might bubble and look off if they're trying to dry in a moist environment. Combat this issue by investing in a dehumidifier or an AC unit.
No matter how you start, make sure you're putting the best foot forward. Screen printing in a garage is a popular way to maximize space, start a printing side hustle and turn it into a thriving shop.