Skip to content
Buying New vs. Used Screen Printing Equipment

Buying New vs. Used Screen Printing Equipment

So you’re thinking about buying some screen printing equipment. Where should you buy it from? Should you buy brand-new products, or find used equipment from other printers? Printing experts Colin Huggins and Darryl Sapp discuss the benefits and drawbacks of buying new and used screen printing equipment for your shop.

A screen printing shop with Riley Hopkins equipment

Photo by SelfMade Designs

BUYING NEW

Buying new screen printing equipment can be intimidating, but will benefit you in the long run. For starters, the equipment should work perfectly from the beginning. You won’t have to worry about replacing parts or having the product break down shortly after you buy it. New equipment comes with warranties as well. If something breaks, you can have it replaced, no sweat. And if you buy a new piece of equipment, you’ll get a great customer experience from the company you bought it from. 

The downside to buying brand new equipment is the price tag. Like starting any new business, buying equipment requires an investment. If the prices are making you sweat, finding a few used products can reduce some stress. Usually printers take out a business loan to pay for their equipment. 

PRO TIP: Have you heard of Section 179? It's a tax code that allows businesses to deduct the full price of qualifying equipment and/or software purchased or financed during the tax year. Essentially, Section 179 lets you deduct the full price of the purchased equipment from your gross income. Learn more about the tax code so you can make an informed decision.

You also can’t blame new equipment for mistakes. Buying a brand new product erases any mechanical error. You can’t blame a mis-registered job on the press, or an underexposed screen on your exposure unit. It’s all on you. You can rely on your equipment while you hone in your processes. 

RELATED: A CHECKLIST FOR EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES NEEDED TO START UP A SCREEN PRINT SHOP

Used equipment sitting in wrapping tape

BUYING USED

Buying used screen printing equipment is like buying a used car. If you know what you’re getting, it’s a great investment. Used equipment is usually less expensive, and you can typically pay cash for it. You can get used screen printing equipment in a variety of places: on forums, Ebay, Craigslist, and even at auctions (more on this later). No matter where you get your used equipment from, make sure to test it before you buy it. 

Darryl says buying used equipment is something of a crap shoot. 

“You don’t know what you’re going to get. You’re gonna get photos, but once you have it on hand, it’s sight unseen,” he says. You won’t know if something is broken until you use it in your shop. 

If you’re buying used or refurbished equipment, you won’t get a warranty on it. If the product has missing or faulty parts, you’ll have to eat the cost of repairing it. Get lots of photos and videos from the seller to make sure the equipment you’re buying is in good condition and works well. If you can, use or inspect the equipment yourself before buying it. 

WHAT SHOULD I BUY USED?

You can find almost any type of used screen printing equipment for sale. From presses to squeegees, all you have to do is scroll through Craigslist or Facebook forums and find someone selling it. 

With so many used products available, it might be hard to determine what you should buy used. Darryl’s advice to printers looking to buy used screen printing equipment is to test drive it first. 

“I would recommend buying it if you can get your hands onto it and see it work in production,” he said.

USED EQUIPMENT

Darryl and Colin agree that the best screen printing equipment to buy used are products that don’t have a lot of moving parts. A washout booth is a great example.

“It’s such a passive piece of equipment,” Darryl says. “As long as it’s not leaking it’s gonna be fine.” 

Another good piece of equipment to buy used is an exposure unit (not a DIY unit). Before you buy it, make sure the bulbs are up to date and that they’re the bulb type you need for your screens. The exposure unit should have a vacuum, plugs into your outlet, and should be 20x24 inches or higher.

“All you really have to do is make sure your bulbs are up to date,” Colin says. “The rest of it pretty much just runs.”

RELATED: COMPRESSION VS. VACUUM EXPOSURE UNITS

If you can get your hands on an entire used shop space, take advantage of it. By purchasing the whole shop, you’ll be guaranteed that most (if not all) of the pieces of equipment are working. All you’ll need to do is clean up the shop and fix what’s broken. 

“You at least know everything has been in production,” Darryl says. 

squeegees with ink on the blades

Photo by Aerogant Print Company

QUESTIONABLE TO BUY USED

Buying used screen printing equipment means you’re buying at your own risk. Many used products could either be very good quality, but they could also be a step up from garbage. The older the equipment, the more questionable it is. 

Ink and chemicals are best to buy new. If you buy them used, make sure the package is unopened. Otherwise, you don’t know what the previous owner did with it. Use re-sold ink and chemicals at your own risk. 

“Unless that bucket is not open, you don’t know what that shop did with it,” Colin says. 

If you’re looking to buy a piece of used screen printing equipment, chances are you’ll find tons of heat presses for sale. Used heat presses are easy to find. If you’re buying one, do your due diligence to make sure it works. Get video of it in action, photos of the heat press plugged in, and any information specific to that heat press. Otherwise, what you buy is a total guessing game. 

Do the same for wood or aluminum platens.They could be warped (wood platens have a higher chance of warping than aluminum). Unless you get proof they’re not, you might not be getting a good deal at all. 

A washout booth with a screen sitting in it

Photo by Avila Design Co. 

WHAT NOT TO BUY USED

A general rule of thumb when looking at used screen printing equipment is to stay away from a product that was made by the screen printer selling it. The equipment might have worked for that person’s shop or printing method, but there’s no guarantee that it will work for yours. Darryl says the worst product to buy used is a DIY exposure unit. His former print company bought out an entire shop. The DIY exposure unit didn’t meet their expectations. 

“It was a monstrosity. It took four of us to get it down the stairs,” he says. “Trying to find exposure times or anything for it was just bad. It wasn’t consistent at all.” His team ended up tossing the homemade unit in the dumpster.

You’ll also want to buy brand new squeegees

“The squeegee material can go bad over time,” he says. “It’ll get rounded, and you don’t want a rounded edge on your squeegee.” 

The squeegee could also have other issues. The wood handle could be in bad condition, or have so much ink caked on the bladen you can’t clean it off. Do yourself a favor and buy new squeegees.

If you’re buying used aluminum screens, be aware that you’re really only buying them for the frame. Screens lose tension over time. You’ll want to have the screens restretched if you’re buying them used. 

This may sound biased, but the best piece of new screen printing equipment to buy is a Riley Hopkins press. No matter which press you buy, Riley Hopkins presses are designed to stand the test of time. Buying a new screen printing press is the best investment you can make for your shop. It’s the backbone of your screen printing shop. Without a good quality press, making good quality prints is more of a challenge.

Darryl’s old business partner still has an old Riley Hopkins press. 

“I could go up there and put that press together right now, and start printing no problem,” he says. 

a screen printing forum

A printer posted the equipment they’re selling on Halftoned.com, a screen printing forum.

WHERE CAN I BUY USED EQUIPMENT?

Craigslist and Ebay are the easiest places to find used screen printing equipment. But there are a few other ways to get your hands on a deal. You could search through screen printing Facebook groups. Manufacturers and distributors may sell refurbished equipment. Other printers may post the equipment they’re selling on their Instagram. No matter where you buy it from, make sure it’s good quality. Sometimes, a good deal really is too good to be true.

Forums are a great place to buy used equipment, as long as you trust the seller. Because it’s not an official platform like Craigslist or Ebay, the seller isn’t required to provide product images. Make sure you see what you’re buying (preferably in action) before you spend money on something. 

Individuals usually sell smaller pieces of equipment, like flash dryers and small presses. If you’re looking to buy a big piece of screen printing equipment, you’ll likely be going through a broker. You can contact your distributor for a list of equipment brokers. Most manual print shops won’t need to use a broker to buy used screen printing equipment. 

If a screen printing company closes, all their equipment will go up for auction. This is widely announced through popular screen printing forums and groups to get the most interest, so you’ll know about it if you’re keeping your ear to the ground about used screen printing equipment. Auctions are a good way to vet and buy equipment at the same time. Be wary, though. Companies that shut down/go bankrupt might not have the best reputation for taking care of their products. Make sure the deal you’re getting on used equipment is going to pan out in the long run.

A printing press in a shop

Photo by Backyard Printing Hawai'i

Used screen printing equipment is readily available. No matter where you buy it from, make sure you trust the seller and the product is good quality. Sometimes, a good deal really is too good to be true. Do your research and make sure you’re really getting a screaming good deal. Otherwise, you’ll just be screaming. 

Previous article A Guide to Getting the Most Out of Baselayr Long Lasting Emulsion
Next article The Emulsion for Plastisol-Only Printers