Every printer wants to save time and cash, right? Most screen printers know the most common time-saving hacks: optimizing print setup, keeping a stock of burned screens handy, and getting some scheduling help if you’re getting buried, to name a few. But there are tons of little ways to increase your productivity, one hack at a time.
It’s no secret that the darkroom can make or break your screen printing job. If a screen isn’t burned properly, or has issues like pinholes or fisheyes, it’ll eat away at your productivity. There are a few major upgrades to make, like upgrading your exposure unit to a vacuum unit, investing in a drying cabinet (or building your own), and reclaiming with a dunk tank. But here are a couple more darkroom time-saving tips:
Clean your darkroom. Common sense, right? Sweep and mop your darkroom regularly, clean all surfaces, and clean out your filtration system on a regular basis to keep the darkroom humming along. Wipe down the exposure unit glass to get the best burn possible, and limit the amount of dust that enters your darkroom. Your screens will thank you for it.
Use 2-in-1 Degreaser & Dehazer: Reclaiming screens can take a long time, especially if you’ve let them sit for a few days or even weeks. To limit the time you spend at the washout booth, use a 2-in-1 dehazer and degreaser like Sgreen® Stuff. You’ll be able to finish the reclaim process a bit faster, which can lead to tons of time saved, especially if you’re reclaiming dozens of screens.
Find quality used equipment: Is your lack of equipment slowing you down? Drying screens in a drying rack with a fan blowing across the screens work but can take all day. You might not have the budget to buy a screen drying cabinet, but you could probably find a quality used drying cabinet. Certain pieces of equipment, like washout booths and other pieces of equipment with minimal moving parts, are your best bet when buying used equipment and getting a quality product.
SAVE TIME DURING PRODUCTION
Your darkroom is dialed and spotless, but you’re noticing a slow-down while on press. Why is that? You’ve moved your printing equipment to create the best flow and dialed in your dryer times, but it’s still taking longer than you’d like to finish a job. Well, here’s a couple of factors to consider:
DRAWING CENTER LINES
How often do you replace your platen tape? After every job? Every week? If you’re drawing center and shirt-loading lines on the platen tape, you’re probably spending a lot of time re-drawing those lines every time you replace the tape. Instead, draw those lines directly on the platens themselves. When you need to replace the tape, you won’t need to spend extra time measuring and drawing lines.
How many custom-mixed colors do you print in one job? Offering PMS colors to customers is a great feature — and it’s satisfying to see the mix come together — but mixing colors takes a long time. Those minutes it takes to gather supplies, zero out the scale, add everything into the mixing container, and stir it all together could be spent pulling a squeegee. And if you’re custom-mixing every color in a job? That had better be a lucrative job for the time and effort you’re putting in.
Limiting the number of custom mixes you undertake per job can save you tons of time. If you’re set on custom-mixing every color in a job, consider mixing the most common colors in larger batches. That way, when Cool Gray 6 comes around again, you can just pull the bucket of the ink off the shelf instead of mixing up 1,000 grams more.
SIMPLIFY YOUR INKS
How many brands of inks do you have on your shelves? Slimming down your inks to just a couple of different brands of inks. Find one brand that works for you and learn the ins and outs of it. Love water-based or plastisol ink? Try out a few brands to find which one that works best in your shop. When you get a job, you’ll know exactly how the ink you’re printing will behave.
Another benefit of simplifying your inks comes when trying new inks out. If your favorite ink line adds a few specialty inks, you’ll be able to test them and compare them with more knowledge of how the standard ink works. Testing and choosing five gold inks becomes easier when you already know which line of ink you love to use on a daily basis.
CATALOG YOUR PRINTS
Creating a catalog of prints is a great way to save all of your data and information from a job so you or someone else can repeat it later effectively, efficiently, and painlessly. All the hard work is already done. You’ll want to include the final print that you created. You’ll also want to take note of everything that went into making the job possible as well as keep other assets like film.
RUN A TIGHT SHIP
Now let’s talk business for a minute. You want to keep costs down and maximize efficiency as any successful business does. One way many screen printers find inefficiencies in their work is by running out of supplies. The worst feeling is when you grab a bucket of ink for a job and realize it’s not going to be enough, and you don’t have more. You have to stop everything, order more ink, and hope the ink comes in time for you to get the job out at the deadline.
Instead of wasting time, ease stress by signing up for a subscription to the supplies you use most often. Save on products like ink and emulsion, and save yourself the headache of running out of supplies at the same time. Your products will come to your door on a schedule, so you don’t have to keep track (or forget and panic-order more ink).
Another place printers can get hung up is when talking to clients. Some customers know what they want, and others want you to dream up and execute a vision. Create an online order form so clients can contact you & order online, without the back and forth of a phone call or in-person meeting. While this won’t ease all your customer-facing trouble, it can cut out several steps in the order creation process.
Every screen printer, no matter how experienced, gets stuck now and then. Whether you’re struggling with the SIM process or exposing a screen properly, asking for help from fellow printers is more helpful than struggling through the problem yourself. Facebook groups are a great help with these day-to-day questions. Adding your shop to a screen printer directory can also be a great resource. You’ll be a part of a community that can support each other, and you’ll get support from your supplier, too.
There are plenty more ways to increase your shop’s efficiency, even in little amounts. By noticing these pain points and making small changes, you can make a big impact on your shop’s productivity, whether you’re a one-man show or have a dozen employees.