Interested in an Automatic Press? Here Are 3 Factors to Consider  |

So you’re ready for an automatic press. You’ve outgrown your current manual press and are ready to upgrade. Congratulations! Now comes the exciting part: choosing an automatic press to upgrade your shop. How do you know which type of automatic press is best for you? What do you look for when shopping for an auto? Here’s a crash course in choosing the best automatic screen printing machine for your shop.

a man punches buttons on the control panel of a ROQ automatic screen printing machine


Automatic presses come in three general formats; pneumatic, electric, or a hybrid of the two (the most popular format). Pneumatic presses rely on air pressure for all press movements: raising and lowering the squeegees & flood bars, clamping the screen in place, lifting the carousel, and moving the print carriage back and forth. Getting a pneumatic press means adding an air compressor to your shop (we’ll talk about this more later). 

Electric presses can maintain print consistency over time without the use of an air compressor. These types of presses rely on precise electric motors instead of air pressure. Printers who don’t want the noise of an air compressor, or whose zoning laws won’t allow for a compressor, should go with an electric press.

There’s a hybrid option that’s been a go-to press for decades. With this model, known as a press with a Servo Print Head, the air is used to control the carousel and clamp the screens in place. Everything else is controlled electronically. Electricity is used to power the printheads, and electric motors — known also as servo motors — push the print heads back and forth, as well as power the squeegee & floodbar. These types of presses are popular because they utilize the best of both worlds. 


Electric presses are driven by an electric motor instead of compressed air, it moves with the same force every time. Air-driven presses can compress differently, causing choppiness in movement. 

However, pneumatic presses definitely have their place. Electric presses can come with a pretty high price tag, while pneumatic presses tend to be more economical options for automatic presses. An all-electric press requires a ton of electricity, and printers may have to make significant upgrades to their shop. While adding an air compressor to your shop still requires some upgrading, it can be accomplished with a lower price tag. 

You might have an idea of the type of press you want for your space. Now there’s another question: can your space fit the press?


people work in a screen print shop with a manual and automatic press


When choosing an automatic screen printing press for your growing business, there’s always the consideration of space and zoning. Can your shop handle the size and power requirements of the press? Is your shop in the right zoning to operate an auto?

What is zoning? The definition is “to divide a town or piece of land into areas subject to particular restrictions on development and use.” Many areas in the city you live in have been zoned for specific projects, like housing, commercial use, and more. Depending on the zoning laws where your shop sits, you may not be able to run an automatic screen printing shop. 

The best way to find this out is to check with your city’s zoning office. Make sure you can operate the press you’d like to buy in the location your shop sits. Another method is to contact a realtor. He or she can provide guidance on the zoning laws in your area. If you’re in the market for a new shop, the realtor can help you choose a property that will allow your automatic press to operate without problems. 

Once the zoning has been confirmed and you know you can run your auto in your shop, it’s time to think about electricity requirements. A regular home may not provide the press with the power it needs to operate. This can be true about commercial spaces as well. If your heart is set on a specific press, pay attention to the electrical requirements before making that all-important downpayment. You may need to hire an electrician to make modifications to your shop or purchase a press with lower power requirements. 

Note: Printing in an industrial space? Most of these types of spaces already will be wired to meet your automatic screen printing equipment’s needs. Commercial spaces may meet the requirements. It’s more than likely that a residential space will not. 

You might have the power, but do you have the space? Let’s talk about space requirements for an automatic screen print shop. 

a ROQ Dry flash dryer hovers over a black shirt on a platen


No matter the size of the automatic press you choose, it’ll have a large footprint. Even small autos take up more space than a large manual like the Riley Hopkins 300. So if you’re printing on a large manual press and feeling a little claustrophobic, you’ll need to look for a bigger space before you go auto. 

Every printer dreams of having a warehouse full of automatic screen printing machines. The constant productivity, the influx of cash, the sight of your hard-earned money working hard for you. But if you have a smaller space, you might not be able to utilize that 10-color press you’ve been eyeing. And that’s okay. Increasing your shop’s shirts per minute is a process. 

The minimum size of automatic press printers should invest in is a 6-color press. Depending on the size of your shop, this number of print heads may decrease your screen size to accommodate all those print heads in a small footprint. 

Let’s say you have an 8-foot diameter space for the press to sit in. That’s perfect for a small automatic press. If you want to print on large, auto-size screens of 23”x31”, you may not be able to fit 6 print heads in that small space. However, if you were to use smaller screens, the print heads would have more room, and you could get a press with 6-8 print heads in that same footprint. 

If space, electrical considerations, and budget constraints aren’t an issue, go for that press you’ve always wanted! A 10-color, 12-station press with 2 to 3 flash units will offer printers the most flexibility on press. You’ll be able to produce at a higher rate per hour, maximizing the benefits of an automatic press. 

Don’t have the capacity for a 10-color press? Buy what your shop can handle, invest back into your shop, and upgrade to your dream automatic press when you’re ready. 


a man leans over a 12 color automatic press


No matter the size of the press you invest in, there are a few things you’ll need in order to upgrade your shop to accommodate the output of an automatic press. Here’s a checklist:

A compressor and chiller. If your press is a pneumatic press, you’ll need an air compressor and chiller to keep your press running smoothly. It’s recommended to match the CFM (Cubic Foot per Minute) for airflow in a press, and ideally to double that output. For a single automatic press, matching the CFM with an air compressor should be easily doable, and will provide flexibility in your shop, especially if you want to add another auto soon.

Easy off-contact adjustments. All automatic screen printing presses come standard with micro-registration and off-contact. Being able to easily adjust off-contact on a press means you can switch between garment types easily, decreasing downtime. Go from printing hoodies to printing t-shirts in minutes.

User-friendly interface with lots of settings. Ease of use is always important, and having a press with easily-programmable settings will make your print life much easier. One setting that’s especially important for smaller automatic presses is the multi-print function. This allows the auto to work more like a manual when flashing colors. The press can be programmed to print-flash-print the white base, then print the colors. If you want the output of an automatic press but don’t have the number of flash units to accommodate the extra capacity, this setting is vital. 

Auto-ready art. As mentioned above, printers need a couple of flash units stationed around their auto to run their shop at max capacity. Because of this, strategic flashing is important. On a manual press, you can physically swing the platen under the flash unit every time if needed. That can be done on an auto — using the multi-print setting that was just mentioned — but if you want to run your shop at maximum speed, you’ll need to adjust the artwork to maximize the use of your flash unit without compromising the speed of printing.

a man wearing plaid loads white FN-INK onto a platen on an automatic press


Selecting an automatic press is half the battle. Now it’s time to think about the other equipment in your shop. Can it handle the increased output of an automatic press?

When you purchase an automatic screen printing machine, you’ll likely buy flash units at the same time. Flash units for an automatic press have quartz bulbs and can connect to the auto press. This means the flash dryers and press communicate with each other, working together to flash your prints for the perfect amount of time. Another option for a flash dryer is one with an on/off sensor. While these don’t interface with the press, they’re far better than a flash dryer that’s always on. 

Next up is the conveyor dryer. If your dryer can’t keep up with the number of shirts needing to be cured, there’s no point in upgrading to an automatic press. The dryer should cure presses consistently and smoothly while keeping up with the shirts coming off the press. Invest in a large dryer like the Aeolus for best results. 

There’s one more main equipment change: screens. Depending on the press size, you’ll be able to print on larger screens. Standard auto-size screens are 23”x31”, allowing printers to increase the size of their prints. However, if your print heads are too close together you’ll need smaller screens. 20”x24” screens may be too small. Upgrade to 20”x28” (these can be special-ordered in Eco-Frames) for the perfect screen size.


white ink sits on a screen, ready to be printed

No matter the size & budget of your shop, there’s an automatic press for you. Remember, you’ll get trained on whatever auto press you choose to buy, but it’ll be a learning curve from manual to automatic screen printing. Don’t know which press would benefit your shop the most? Go check out other shops that run automatic presses to see which you like & as questions. Good printers are happy to show you the ropes. 

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