Finding the perfect screen printing press can be overwhelming. With all of the information out there, you can easily get turned around and confused just by the sheer number of options. Luckily, many printers have gone through this exact process before. Here are the top three factors to keep in mind when choosing a screen printing machine of your own.
Photo by Symmetree Clothing
SPACE AND BUDGET
Space and budget are the most important factors when choosing a press. Are you printing out of a kitchen or spare room? If so, you might want to invest in a table top screen printing machine. Limited space doesn't have to stop your ambition. There are tons of great table top screen printing machines on the market that are reliable and perfect for a small space. The Riley Hopkins 150 is a great press for printers starting their shops or looking to get their feet wet in the industry. Light and sturdy, it's perfect for a small shop space.
If you have a bigger budget and know you’re going to be printing lots of multi-color prints, one step up is the Riley Hopkins 250. With its XY and tilt micros, registering becomes a breeze. The base can screw into pretty much any table or press cart for an easy mobile option. You can print multiple color prints in your garage, in your kitchen, spare bedroom, attic: you name it. You can even take it on the road with you. There are benefits to being small!
Photo by Press or Dye
If you've got some room to stretch out, go for the full sized screen printing machine. These presses are made to last. The advantage of going big is durability in the long haul. If you're planning to run this press eight hours a day or print in more of a production environment, you'll want something that can last for decades. Choose a press brand that has a good history. Make sure that whatever press you get, it is a joy for you to print on, because you're going to be spending a lot of time doing exactly that.
SMALL PRESS, BIG IMAGINATION
Amanda Dunigan, owner of Salt & Pine Co., started screen printing with a DIY press she built from 2X4s. Amanda initially was decorating shirts with vinyl, but soon switched to screen printing because the vinyl was peeling off her shirts after a while.
“It was gut-wrenching every time I got another message [from a client] saying that the shirt peeled,” Amanda said.
When it became clear that screen printing was Amanda’s passion, she invested in a more durable, precise press like the Riley Hopkins 150. It’s an investment, but worth it if you plan on screen printing for another source of income or for a long time.
No matter which press you purchase, remember it’s not the size of your press that matters, but the size of your creativity.
Photo by Salt & Pine Co.
This may be the most challenging to decide because the more colors and stations you have, the more you can do, and the more it costs. How many colors do you want to be able to print per design? The number of colors you use in your design should equal the number of print heads you have on your press, including an extra head for a white under-base when printing on black or dark garments. This is because every head can hold only one screen, and each screen represents the stencil for only one color at a time.
The biggest thing to remember is to plan ahead. If you plan to print CMYK, you'll need at least four colors. If you're planning to only print one color spot color designs such as block text, you might not need as many color heads. The more colors you print though, the more print heads you’ll want on your press. Most production printers choose between a 4 and 8 color screen printing machine. This allows you to print versatile designs and even have more than one job up at the same time on the press. It's also very helpful for those rush jobs, or if you have multiple deadlines.
If you choose a screen printing machine with a lot of colors, you will want to add multiple stations too. Choosing how many stations you’ll want depends on how big the job is. Every additional station you have allows you to work that much faster. You will also want to consider having at least one additional station for flashing. Anything needing a white under-base will need to be flashed before printing additional colors onto. The more stations you have in-between, the less time you will have idly waiting for your shirt to flash and come back to you for the next layer.
Photo by Golden Press Studio
If you want to print four-color designs, get at least a 4 color 2 station screen printing machine. If you want faster printing and less waiting, add more stations to your press and get a 6 color 4 station screen printing machine, or bump it up to an 8 color 6 station screen printing machine for a versatile and powerful screen printing machine.
Be prepared to invest in what you want the first time, or accept that you may need to expand into a bigger press later. Remember, it's totally okay to start small and expand later. Many screen printers start with a simple one color screen printing machine and get a bigger press when they’re ready. If you invest in a high quality press to begin with, you'll never get rid of it.
BUYING QUALITY AND BUYING USED
Joey Avila, owner of Avila Design Company, started his screen printing journey with a Riley Hopkins 150 and a few used screens from Facebook in a spare bedroom. He cured garments in his kitchen oven and washed out screens at his local car wash. When Jonathan Overmeyer, owner of Golden Press Studio, saw Joey’s drive, he knew he had to help.
“I’m just going to help a brother out,” Jonathan said. “I just wanted to see what he needs and I was like, ‘Man let’s make this a big deal and really hook him up.’ That was the start.”
The crew loaded up their truck with an exposure unit, washout booth, power washer, two flash dryers, squeegees, platens, whole line of FN-INK™, spatulas, water-based pallet adhesive, EZ Grip Squeegees, scale, screen tape, and a conveyor dryer.
Since then, Joey has upgraded his press, thanks to the screen printing community. He turned to the Rogue Printers Facebook Group in search of a press. He found a used Riley Hopkins WIN Series 6X4. The shop selling it was local: United State Print Co., located in central Indiana. The company had just upgraded to an auto, and was selling their manual press. The 6X4 was a perfect upgrade for Joey. With more stations, he could get jobs out the door quicker.
Upgrading your equipment will help you reach those high-profile jobs. Upgrading with quality equipment will ensure that your equipment hustles as hard as you do.
Pro Tip: Most large shops still have the manual press they started with, because you will always get small jobs. If you don’t want to keep your old, smaller press, you can sell it through a number of methods. Check out this blog to learn more.
Photo by Joey Avila
MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC
Intention is key. If you're planning to just print by yourself, start a small brand or clothing line, or you simply love the act of pushing/pulling a squeegee, a manual screen printing machine should cover your needs. A manual press is the universal starting point for most small screen printing businesses and new printers.
Your space, budget, and production volume will also dictate whether you should go manual or automatic. Automatic presses cost more, take up more space, and output high volumes. As it has already been said, the vast majority of screen printers start off with a manual press. As their business grows, they work their way up into bigger and bigger manual presses until the day comes where their body simply cannot keep up with the demand of orders. Take a look at where you’re at now, set some goals, and get what you need to help you reach your goals.
Do your research so you know what you’re getting. Brands like Riley Hopkins® that have been around for decades and are routinely updated to stay ahead of the newest technology in screen printing are going to provide you with the best starting point. Good quality manual presses are an investment that grows with you. If you choose a high quality, manual screen printing press to begin with, your press will last you long through any expansion your business may undergo. You can always upgrade to an automatic later.
Photo by Stark Screen Printing
The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing the right screen printing machine is to identify your expectations. Once you do that, you're already halfway towards making your first print.