Every screen printer’s journey is different. Whether you bought a shop set or created your own DIY equipment, getting off the ground is the hardest part of starting a screen printing business. Having a community of screen printers supporting you is essential; knowing someone is in your corner makes all the difference. The crew at Golden Press Studio believe in the power of community. They wanted to make a difference in the screen printing community by giving five shops a serious upgrade.
One of the Golden Boys’ favorite parts of the industry is getting to know other printers, whether they’ve been in business for years or are just starting out. Jonathan Overmyer, owner of Golden Press Studio, reached out to small print shops that have been in business for less than a year. His goal? To get to know them a little better, and to surprise each with a 16X16 aluminum platen.
“We always wanted to be that shop that provides resources for the screen printing community,” Jonathan said.
WHY ALUMINUM PLATENS?
Many presses come with wood platens. While wood platens are the most economical choice, they do have a few long term drawbacks. Over time and with repeated use, wood platens will warp, making the surface area bumpy, rippled, or sloped. The wood platen will contract and expand due to moisture and heat. If you’re using the same set of platens over and over, they’ll end up slowing you down and potentially messing up prints.
Aluminum platens have a thinner profile and are far more durable than their wooden counterparts. Because of the machined aluminum, the surface and edges of the platen are incredibly smooth and are “snagless” compared to wood platens. Aluminum platens also do not bend, bow, or crack, as long as you treat them with care.
Jonathan wanted to give five small shops an upgraded platen to improve their process and help them take their shops to greater heights.
RELATED: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WOOD AND ALUMINUM PLATENS
MEET THE PRINTERS
Jonathan FaceTimed each print shop to get to know them and hear their stories. He chose five small shops that haven’t been in business long, but whose hustle is making a difference.
HEATHER MUELLER: BEYOND CAPABILITY EMPIRE
Heather’s business just got started. She’s been printing for about two months. When Heather lost her job due to COVID-19, she found herself with a lot of free time. She began watching Lee Stuart’s YouTube videos. After watching every single video, she decided that screen printing was something she could handle.
“Why not just try it?” Heather said.
She bought the essentials needed for a shop, including a Riley Hopkins 150 press, and got to printing. She prints in a spare bedroom, printing for her and her husband’s activewear brand They Call Us Outliers.
The aluminum platen helped Heather’s process by speeding up production time. Her prints are smoother and cool down faster. She’s much happier with the quality of her products. Her favorite part, though? The aluminum platen is square.
“The shirts fit so much better than the original platen I was using,” Heather said.
Aluminum platens are designed to last a lifetime. They’re sturdy and won’t bend or bow if you treat them right. Heather is excited about the life expectancy of her new platen.
“I have no doubts that this platen will last a very long time,” she said.
Heather just sent out her first customer order, a 30 shirt, one-color job. She has more jobs with more colors in progress.
Jonathan’s advice for Heather’s business? Don’t be afraid of starting small.
“Do not forsake small beginnings. I started off in a 2-car garage. You have to start somewhere,” Jonathan said.
Photo by Heather Mueller
TREY WOODWARD: HERITAGE PRESS PRINT SHOP
Trey’s one-man shop, Heritage Press, isn’t a year old yet. Trey lost his job as a custom web developer in August of 2020. He and his wife were in debt-payoff mode, and found themselves without a safety net.
“I was like ‘everybody always needs shirts, so let’s start screen printing,’” Trey said.
He learned to screen print through YouTube, bought some equipment, and started putting in the work. He currently prints on a Riley Hopkins 150 press, and his typical print order is 3-4 dozen shirts with 1-2 colors. Trey originally coated screens in his bathroom, running a hose through the window because his shower didn’t have enough pressure. He’s since upgraded to a garage setup.
Adding an aluminum platen to his 150 press has helped Trey’s prints turn out crisp and clean every time.
“With the old platen, I struggled to keep registration and off-contact consistent since the platen was warping and wasn’t perfectly straight,” Trey said. With the aluminum platen, he can trust his measurements.
The platen also allows him to print detail better, because it’s smoother than a wood platen.
“Basically, it’s taken my craft up several notches,” Trey said.
Photo by Trey Woodward
LAURA QUISQUIS: VALLEY CENTER PRINT SHOP
Laura’s shop hasn’t been around for long, but it’s gaining steam. She started a clothing company called “Savage Threads,” which took off in the Native American community where her shop is located.
“Once I start something, I get kind of obsessed with it,” Laura said.
She learned how to screen print on YouTube, and began printing at night. As a mom of five kids, Laura works extra hours to practice her craft. Jonathan couldn’t believe it.
“So the fact that I know you are holding down the fort in your house, supporting your husband in what he loves to do and taking care of five kids, I need you to rub some of your juju off on Golden Press so that we can get our act together,” Jonathan said.
Laura’s husband runs economic development on the Native American reservation.
“He’s like ‘when’s this gonna turn a profit?’ and I’m like ‘woah woah, back up,’” Laura laughed. “He just couldn’t let me have a hobby!”
Laura prints on a Riley Hopkins Jr. press (now the 250). She’s excited about the addition of an aluminum platen to her press.
“I didn’t even know about aluminum platens ‘till Jonathan said he was giving me some during our interview. Now after doing some research I couldn’t be more excited to get these babies on my press,” she said.
Laura’s job is constant: mom by day, screen printer by night. Jonathan had some words of encouragement for her.
“Keep on doing what you’re doing, because you’re going to inspire mothers who don’t think they can do it. They’re gonna see you and believe that it’s absolutely 100% possible,” Jonathan said.
Photo by Laura Quisquis
WILL RUGGLES: FIFTEENTH STATE
Will started printing five years ago, when his buddy who owned a shop asked him to clean some screens.
“I was miserable,” Will said. “I thought ‘I’m never coming back to this.”
The more immersed he became in screen printing, the more he liked it. After five years of printing for other shops, Will decided to start his own. He bought a beginner’s setup including a Riley Hopkins 250 press and started a Kentucky-centric brand. He named the company Fifteenth State for two reasons: Kentucky was the 15th territory to achieve statehood, and the word “fifteenth” has the word “tee” in it. See what he did there?
Will’s print jobs are usually around 20 pieces in length. He offers a 15-shirt minimum because of the name of his business. He had worked for shops before that offered a 25-shirt minimum.
“I quickly realized that small business clients often need fewer shirts than  to get started,” Will said.
Will uses mostly plastisol ink, and loves to print vintage style jobs. He finds that he prints with white ink the most. He loves a one-color job, but has printed three- and four-color jobs as well.
Before working for himself, Will had only used aluminum platens. When he started his own shop, he had to learn how to compensate for the wood platen’s warping. His shiny new aluminum platen will take him back to the good days. It will improve his loading speed and accuracy, as well as the overall quality of his prints.
“Now I no longer have to worry about warping issues that could result from excessive flashing on the wooden platens,” Will said.
Photo by Will Ruggles
ASHLEY STONE AND CHAINSAW BETTY: PRESS OR DYE
Ashley Stone and Ashley Corr (AKA Chainsaw Betty) started their shop in Nashville, Tennessee, in June 2020. They started Press or Dye when they both lost their jobs because of the pandemic. When selling shirts by the handful on Instagram took off, they decided to get serious about screen printing.
“We jumped right in and bought everything we needed to get started,” Chainsaw Betty said.
They bought an inexpensive kit from Ebay, and were later given a Riley Hopkins silver press and an exposure unit. Their average jobs soon rocketed from orders of 25 to 100-150. Their unique dyed-and-printed garments sell out quickly. The shop has taken over their house.
“Not only do we have our own clients, but we are currently doing all the merch for a store opening this month in Lynchburg, Tennessee, called Barber Authority. We are definitely going to stay busy, and continue to get busier as time goes on,” Chainsaw Betty said.
RELATED: HOW PRESS OR DYE MERGES STYLES TO MAKE MAGIC
The pair use a flash dryer to cure garments. Wood platens made this challenging. They get too hot during larger runs to keep registration and off-contact. Having an aluminum platen eliminates these problems. Ashley and Chainsaw Betty have also noticed that the aluminum platen produces smoother prints and is easier to keep clean.
Jonathan is a big fan of Press or Dye. He admires their work ethic and their creativity.
“You’re affecting this industry,” Jonathan said. “And it’s cool.”
Photo by Press or Dye
THE SCREEN PRINTING COMMUNITY
The screen printing community is filled with support and encouragement. One of the best ways to connect with other shops is through social media. The Rogue Printers Facebook group, for example, has more than 72,000 members who support each other and offer advice. Checking out a shop on Instagram can connect you with printers all over the world.
“Up until Golden Press Studio reached out to me, I was unaware of how big the screen printing community actually was,” Heather said. “After they reached out, I connected with multiple shops and individuals that are in the printing business or just starting like me. The support has been overwhelming!”
Golden Press Studio sent a card of encouragement with the aluminum platen. Heather hung it up on her wall, so she could see it every day and be reminded that she has forever friends in the industry.
Having a community of printers to rally around you does more than just encourage you. It pushes you to keep pressing on. For Will and Trey, that’s the best part of the screen printing community.
“The creativity that I see daily is endless and fuels me to keep pushing forward,” Will said.
Will loves seeing people in the screen printing industry come together. He’s met so many incredible printers through his journey, and can’t wait to meet more.
“Print has definitely become the focal point of my life and it is here to stay,” Will said.
RELATED: HOW GOLDEN PRESS STUDIO POWERED THE PRINT WITHIN THE SCREEN PRINTING COMMUNITY
The screen printing community can help printers elevate their shops. It can also help printers get off the ground. Valley Center Print Shop was built with the help of the screen printing community. With the help of others in the printing industry, Laura has been able to hone her craft and take it to the next level.
“Everyone has each other’s back, I’ve never felt competition, just pure encouragement. Best industry to be part of. I love it!!” Laura said.
Ashley Stone and Chainsaw Betty started Press or Dye because they wanted to create a space for creative people to be themselves.
“It’s very rare that you meet people that are just truly humble and genuine. And that’s what we look for [...] because we want that kind of energy in our lives,” Chainsaw Betty said.
Photo by Press or Dye
In the end, it’s not the platens that matter. It’s the community that makes the screen printing industry so vibrant. Whether you’re printing in a warehouse of autos or just starting out on a one-color press, finding screen printers to lift you up and push you to be better is important.
“Hustle, grind, repeat,” Jonathan said. “Bless others, help each other out and your business and the businesses around you are going to be successful and they’re going to thrive.”