Should you screen print on a manual or automatic press? That’s the million-dollar question. Some printers swear by a manual press, while others have goals to jump to automation as soon as possible. So when do you know it’s time to upgrade to an automatic screen printing press? Here are three questions to ask yourself before you make the jump to a new press.
QUESTION 1: CAN YOU KEEP UP?
Every screen printer loves when orders come piling in. But what happens if it becomes too much? If you can’t keep up with the daily workload, it might be time to upgrade. Many printers that end up choosing to upgrade to an automatic press find that there just isn’t enough time in the day to keep up with the orders coming in the doors.
Another question to ask yourself is this: are you considering buying another manual press to keep up with production? Many printers keep their small press for simple jobs or live screen printing events. But if you’re considering investing in another high-production manual press like a Riley Hopkins 300, it might be worth your time and money to choose an automatic press instead.
Many times, manual shops that struggle to keep up end up turning down orders because of the color count, job size, and more. While this is a great problem to have, it also means you’ve outgrown your current shop and press. It’s time to consider something that can take on more of the workload so you can turn a bigger profit.
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One factor many printers face is a lack of shop space. When a printer opens a screen print shop, they’re likely printing out of a spare room, garage, or other space that’s serving double duty. When it’s time to upgrade, there’s no space for a large manual press, not to mention an automatic press.
Moving to a larger shop space is the easiest fix to make sure you’ll have enough space to upgrade as much as you need. Take Anthony Abi-Saad of Abi-Saad Print & Design. His latest shop move ensured that he has plenty of space to go auto when it was time.
Upgrading to a large shop space doesn’t make sense for everyone. Take Trey Woodward of Heritage Press, for example. His garage shop in Lubbock, Texas, has been serving him well. Rather than upgrade his press, he hired an employee to help with production so he can focus on running the business. Both options are viable, and depend on what you’re looking for. We’ll talk about this subject more in a bit.
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Once you’ve established how many hours per day you print versus how many hours a day you’d like to print, it’s time to ask question number two: what’s your order volume?
QUESTION 2: WHAT’S YOUR ORDER VOLUME?
The average order volume looks different for every shop. Some printers constantly take large jobs, while other shops stay small in order volume. So how do you know it’s time to invest in an automatic press to help with those orders?
If your shop is printing lots of orders of 50 garments and under, automation won’t necessarily increase your production capability. However, if you’re starting to exceed orders over 50 pieces regularly, getting an automatic press can be helpful.
Here’s a quick list of factors to take into consideration:
- Order volume or size
- Number of orders per day
- The number of production employees to take care of the current workflow.
Set up and tear down of jobs are similar whether you’re a manual or automatic printer. You still need to burn the design, register the screens, take it all down, and reclaim it once the job is done. The advantage of having an automatic press comes in the production “run rate.” A one-color job will run a little faster on an automatic than a manual press. The more colors a print has, the better the run time on an auto will be compared to a manual press.
Let’s say you’ve accepted a 200-piece order with an eight-color design. If you’re working at max capacity on a manual press, you could finish the job in six hours (but it’ll likely take longer). On an automatic machine that runs 800 pieces an hour, that same job will take about 15 minutes.
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So we’ve established that large orders are more efficient on an automatic press. But what if you hired another printer instead?
QUESTION 3: SHOULD YOU HIRE AN EMPLOYEE OR GO AUTO?
There are two main methods to increase your production. Either invest in an automatic press or hire more people to help you run the current press you have. Some print shops benefit from hiring help, while others find that going automatic helps them more than another employee.
Two ways to increase production: through automation or other means (hiring more people, another manual, etc.) based on the volume of individual orders.
This decision depends on a couple of factors. First up, order volume and type of garment. Let’s say you print a lot of jobs that have 24-50 pieces but are made of different garments. The customer wants 24 t-shirts, 16 hoodies, and 15 poly-blend garments. Each type of garment will need different colors and a change in off-contact. For a job like this is best to print on a manual press, since the automatic press has more to change between garment and color types.
Printing itself is quicker on an automatic press. If you’re printing jobs with 72 or more of a single type of garment, an automatic press will be more beneficial for your production process. Take that same order: instead of 3 different types of garments, the customer wants 72 black t-shirts. Easy enough on an auto. And it’ll save you time.
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WHAT WILL THIS COST?
Investing in an automatic press takes a big upfront investment. Hiring a printer or production assistant might be the better option for your shop. Let’s do some math.
Hiring an employee means you’ll need to pay them an hourly rate. For easy math, let’s say you’re going to pay this printer $20/hour. With payroll taxes and other factors included, that’s about $52,000 per year. You’ll also want to invest in that employee if you’re hiring a full-time assistant.
With an automatic printing machine, you’ll just have to pay the upfront cost and financing. Let’s say you spend $100,000 on an automatic press and the setup involved. Assuming all your other equipment is ready to go, you’ll be paying approximately $20,000 per year before interest sets in. This is less than what you’d pay an employee yearly.
Ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for in a shop. Both options work for different types of printers and shops.
Whether you’re still in the scoping process or have your sights set on an auto, there’s a lot to consider before you pull the trigger. By doing the prep work beforehand, you’ll be able to transition as smoothly as possible.