Once you decide you want to go auto, you’re just reaching the tip of the iceberg. Now you need to decide how large a press you want, which brand to go with, and whether to buy new or used. A new machine will come to you under warranty, but a used machine will allow you to make your budget go further. So which should you choose? Here’s everything you’ll need to know to make that decision.
BUYING USED AUTOMATIC MACHINES
A used automatic press has its benefits. Mainly, buying used means your budget will buy more equipment. You could get a much bigger used press with the same budget as you could when buying a new press. The same budget could buy you a 6-color, 8-station new automatic, or a 10-color, 12-station used automatic. It seems like a no-brainer.
Think of buying a used automatic screen printing press like buying a used car. You want to make sure that the used machine is well-maintained, has low mileage, and has a support system. Ask yourself (and the dealer you’re buying from) a couple of questions.
QUESTION 1: IS THERE A MAINTENANCE RECORD?
Are there records of maintenance on this press? If repairs were made, the owner of the press should have kept records of any maintenance done on the equipment. Routine maintenance also should have been done on the press, just like a vehicle.
If the press was maintained, you’ll likely just need to keep up that maintenance. Keep detailed records for yourself so you know what’s been done and what hasn’t.
QUESTION 2: WHO CAN YOU TURN TO FOR REPAIRS?
Used equipment with more wear and tear is likely to need maintenance sooner than a new press. Make sure that you can get a support technician to your shop easily, without jumping through hoops or waiting days, wasting valuable time. If the press is out of warranty, you’ll need to pay someone to come to your shop and fix the press. You don’t want to be paying thousands to fix the press when you could’ve paid hundreds.
In addition, the company you’re buying from should provide tons of support: pamphlets, contact information, and helpful guides to get you going on the right foot.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A USED AUTOMATIC PRESS
Even presses in great condition have seen some miles. You’ll need to do a full inspection of the used automatic press before you buy.
First of all, buying a machine sight unseen is a bit scary. Again, think of it like buying a used car: you want to take it for a test drive before you buy. Even if you know which press & configuration you’re in the market for, buying a used press means there may be some defects, bruises, or parts not working properly.
As a rule of thumb, make sure every moving part is working. That means checking the print carriage, platens, chopper cylinders, print heads, print arms, airlines, and more. If something isn’t up to snuff, say something. If you’re buying from a supportive company, they’ll want to fix the press up to standard so you get the best bang for your buck.
BUYING A NEW AUTOMATIC PRESS
If you have the budget for a new automatic, go for it! A new automatic machine comes under warranty, so you can get all the help and repairs for free while that warranty is active. New automatic screen printing machines can be pretty expensive. If you’re searching for a new automatic, start with space considerations. What can your shop accommodate?
Next, make sure you have the work lined up that will allow you to make a profit with your automatic press. If you’re already turning down jobs or working at maximum capacity, it’s probably time to upgrade to an automatic press.
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.
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.
OTHER EQUIPMENT: BUY NEW OR USED?
So you’ve invested your budget in an automatic press. There’s still equipment to shop for to upgrade your shop to the next level. The best screen printing equipment to buy used are products that don’t have a lot of moving parts. A washout booth is a great example.
Another good piece of equipment to buy used is an exposure unit. Before you buy it, make sure the bulbs are up to date and that they’re the bulb type you need for your screens. The exposure unit should have a vacuum, plug into your outlets, and should be able to expose auto-size screens.
If you’re looking to buy a piece of used screen printing equipment, chances are you’ll find tons of heat presses for sale. Used heat presses are easy to find. If you’re buying one, do your due diligence to make sure it works. Get a video of it in action, photos of the heat press plugged in, and any information specific to that heat press. Otherwise, what you buy is a total guessing game. Do the same for wood or aluminum platens. They could be warped (wood platens have a higher chance of warping than aluminum). Unless you get proof they’re not, you might not be getting a good deal at all.
Ink and chemicals are best to buy new. If you buy them used, make sure the package is unopened. Otherwise, you don’t know what the previous owner did with it. Use re-sold ink and chemicals at your own risk.
WHERE TO BUY USED EQUIPMENT
When buying used equipment, make sure you have a support agreement in place from the seller. Usually, used equipment is bought through a middleman, not directly from the seller. Discover what kind of support that middleman offers, and get it in writing.
So let’s say you’re buying a used automatic press. It was in use at a shop, but the owner selling the equipment isn’t the one you’ll be buying from. Chances are, you’ll be buying from a broker or middleman. In many cases, this is the original manufacturer who offers the used press.
As far as purchasing other screen printing equipment goes, Craigslist and eBay are the easiest places to find used screen printing equipment. But there are a few other ways to get your hands on a deal. You could search through screen printing Facebook groups. Manufacturers and distributors may sell refurbished equipment. Other printers may post the equipment they’re selling on their Instagram. No matter where you buy it from, make sure it’s good quality. Sometimes, a good deal really is too good to be true.
If you’re looking at automatic press options, contact the manufacturer you like and see what they have to offer. You can get a sweet deal on a used automatic press, but make sure it’s a deal you want to make. Always try to get eyes on the equipment before you buy, and be smart about purchasing: after all, it’s a big investment.