Getting new equipment is the best feeling in the world. Being able to level up your printing game is not only exciting, it’s beneficial for your customers. Ready to upgrade something in your shop, but not sure what to focus on? Let’s look at the different areas you can improve in your shop and discover the benefits of making the upgrade to help you decide what would be best for you.
FILM OUTPUT PRINTER
When starting a screen printing business, some printers outsource printing films. It’s a great way to save money in the beginning. As you obtain more clients, you may find outsourcing films to not be feasible anymore. Start printing films in-house! Epson is a great brand to check out for film output printers.
Every detail matters in screen printing. Yes, that even includes the quality of the film you’re using. Ideally, you’d have film that doesn’t curl or yellow, quick dry times, great film opacity, accurate dot placements, and high ink load capacity. A great can’t happen without a great screen. A great screen is made with the best emulsion, exposure unit, and film.
Brand new to creating t-shirt designs? Not only is learning different software difficult, discovering how to create a design is a whole new ballgame. While you practice and learn, download some art vector packs. From fonts and brushes to textures and neck labels, the opportunities are endless. The downloads will not only make your life easier by offering creative elements for you to personalize, they provide a unique, artistic take that your customers will not see elsewhere. For real, you should check out the art packs yourself.
If your current exposure unit does not have LED bulbs, you’re going to want to change that. LED exposure units are becoming the standard, and for good reason. The spectrum of light output, energy usage, and speed and consistency draws in many printers. With an LED unit, printers save energy and money while seeing better results on their stencils. To learn more about LED exposure units, check out this article.
Photo by Golden Press Studio.
Maybe you already have an LED unit. Does your exposure unit have a compression or vacuum lid? Compression units work great, but if you’re doing halftones, CMYK, sim process, or highly detailed prints, you’ll need a vacuum unit. Vacuum exposure units create the best, tightest positive contact between the light source, glass, film, and emulsion. Having tight, strong contact to the point where the black ink in the film is almost embedded into the emulsion means that light cannot wrap around the film positive very well. The end result — a straight, clean burn with sharp edges. Vacuum units provide the best detail resolution.
LEARN MORE ABOUT COMPRESSION VS. VACUUM EXPOSURE UNITS
If you’ve been cleaning screens in a tub, it’s time for a washout booth. With a washout booth, prepping screens becomes a breeze, reclaiming screens becomes slightly less strenuous, properly disposing chemicals becomes second-nature.
Photo by Symmetree.
If you’ve been using one washout booth, it might be time to get a second one. High production shops have two washout booths — one for clean screens, one for dirty screens. Printers who are spending a ton of time reclaiming, cleaning, and rinsing out screens may want to get a second washout booth to ensure clean screens do not pick up any debris from the dirty screens.
CHECK OUT THE SGREEN® WASHOUT BOOTH
Have you thought about the stuff that goes down the drain when you are washing and reclaiming screens? It’s nasty stuff. The byproducts don't only harm the environment, it harms the plumbing. When you have the funds, consider investing in the Sgreen® Filtration System. The filtration system has six stages that filter out waste, catching large chunks of emulsion to tiny ink particles. The system does wonders for shops and the environment. If you do not have the funds for a filtration system, try placing a screen mesh over the drain, it’ll catch the larger particles and you’ll be able to dispose of them properly.
Once you get a dip tank, you never go back! A dip tank (also known as a dunk tank) is a large plastic box that holds water and emulsion remover. You’d place screens in the tank and let them soak for a few minutes. Remove the screens from the tank and use a power washer to remove the emulsion. That's it. With little effort, you have a stack of clean screens.
A dunk tank is a fantastic investment because it speeds up the reclaiming process. If reclaiming screens is bogging you down, it may be time to get a dunk tank. Check out this article to learn more about dunk tanks.
Photo by Stark Screen Printing.
A simple upgrade you can make in your darkroom are the chemicals. Switch to Sgreen®, an eco-friendly chemistry line that has the power of industrial chemicals but won’t harm your pipes or the environment. The line has everything you’d need — emulsion remover, degreaser, haze remover, ink degrader, ink remover, and more. The best part of the chemicals is that they smell like citrus. That alone may be reason enough to make the switch!
Photo by Symmetree.
Investing in a new press can take your screen printing business to a whole new level. How do you know which press is right for you? Read on to learn what kind of press you should get.
Ditch the cheap press you can purchase off Amazon. Hobbyists. Artists. Etsy shop owners. Students. Side hustlers. The Riley Hopkins 150 Press is for the beginners. It's for people looking to dive into the screen printing industry without paying an arm and a leg to get in. The compact, durable press is a worthy investment for people learning the craft and will last you a lifetime.
Printers who are serious about making screen printing their full time gig, but don’t have the budget or space for a large press will turn to the Riley Hopkins 250 Press. Coming in different sizes like the 4 Color 1 Station, 4 Color 2 Station, 4 Color 4 Station, 6 Color 2 Station, and 6 Color 4 Station, the 250 has a ton of great features every printer will want to have. Locking levers, standard XY micro registration, all-black powder-coat finish, off-contact control, tilted micros — the list never ends. The 250 will help you complete orders to save up for a bigger press down the line.
Are you having trouble keeping up with the volume of orders coming in? Keep receiving many multi-color designs? Have the space and the budget? It’s time for the Riley Hopkins 300 Press. The 300 comes with two-point roller gates, which strengthen the holding power on the printhead when it's down. Latching screens down with the roller gates reduces the amount of adjustments needed. Features like an anti-flip registration plate, an XY-micro, and a Z-micro have created faster setup times for printers. Plus, the 300 is heavy duty. The press is meant to live in your shop forever.
Photo by Lee Stuart.
Side clamps improve registration and screen stability. Without the side clamps, it's solely the back clamp holding the screen in place. That leaves more room for the possibility of the screen to shift when you spin the press to change screens, throwing off the registration. Plus, the clamps ensure registration stays in place. It’s an essential upgrade for any serious printer. Side clamps are only available for 300 and 350 presses.
Another way to dial in registration is with the Riley Hopkins Laser Guiding System. What does a laser system do? It simplifies setups, reduces the amount of misprints, quickens prep time, and improves registration. The laser provides that extra level of insurance to help you provide a high quality product to your customer. The laser system works for 250, 300, and 350 presses.
Photo by Stark Screen Printing.
Have you been working with wooden platens? Try upgrading the aluminum platens. Aluminum platens absorb and dissipate heat at a much quicker rate compared to wooden platens. Since the platen can reach temperature quicker, flash times speed up. In the same regard, the platen dissolves the heat after being flashed faster as well. Prints can cool down swiftly, providing the ability to be printed again without worrying about curing ink in the next screen. Aluminum platens speed up production.
Ready to take it one step further? Invest in honeycomb platens. Light yet durable, honeycomb platens heat up and cool down even faster than aluminum platens. Major auto shops will have these platens on their presses because they’re so efficient.
Many printers start off with a 16x16 flash dryer. It’s a great flash; it gets the job done without breaking the wallet. As your shop grows and you receive new requests, you may realize that the flash isn’t cutting it anymore.
For example, say you have been getting many orders for oversized prints. Some get by with using their one flash to flash one side of the design, and then the other. The problem with that method is the fact that it isn’t consistent. Invest in one large flash dryer and you’ll be able to provide a consistent heat source over each print. Learn more about the tools needed to print oversized prints.
Thinking about printing water-based inks but don’t have the funds for a forced air conveyor dryer? Invest in a forced air flash dryer. The flash pushes hot air over the whole print, distributing the heat more evenly without burning the shirt or wooden platen. Not only does it evaporate the water from the ink, but it also removes moisture from cotton garments. Jonathan Overmyer of Golden Press Studio has noticed that he's able to shorten the dwell time in his conveyor dryer due to the air forced flash. Small ways to help speed up production will make a large impact in the long run.
Photo by Rogue Lab.
The top-of-the-line curing device is a conveyor dryer. If you're busting out high-volume orders each day, then a conveyor dryer is the way to go. Conveyor dryers run multiple shirts through at a time which helps speed up production. When looking at conveyor dryers, you have a ton of options. Which one you go with depends on how much you’re printing and what inks you are using.
In general, water-based inks take longer to cure. You'll want a forced air conveyor dryer like the Aeolus. Water-based inks need air movement to effectively drive the water out of the ink and move the steam outside the dryer so that the heat can cure the ink. Without proper air movement, most printers either have to slow their belts way down or run the shirts through the dryer multiple times. If you cannot afford a forced air conveyor dryer, you'll want to use Warp Drive for curing water-based inks. Warp Drive will ensure the garment hits cure temp since it's hard to achieve without the forced air.
It’s safe to print with discharge ink with a forced air conveyor dryer (and proper ventilation). During the curing process, formaldehyde and sulphur bonds to create an inert molecule. That molecule is released in the air, so having an enclosed space (a conveyor dryer) is important because it'll let the molecule do its job while not harming you. Since discharge is water-based, the forced air is necessary to correctly evaporate the water and cure the pigment.
The length of the tunnel on a conveyor dryer also plays a huge role. Think of the tunnel as a bullseye on a dartboard. The shorter the dryer, the tinier the bullseye. The longer the dryer, the bigger the bullseye (the bullseye is achieving optimal cure). Shorter tunnel dryers are more difficult to control. It's like placing a flash unit on top of a conveyor belt. Longer tunnels like the Riley Cure offer more flexibility. It allows you to have more time to mess around with belt speed and temperature, so can fine tune your curing process. Conveyor dryers like the Riley Cure are mainly used for plastisol, but it can work for water-based ink if using Warp Drive.
Photo by Golden Press Studio.
Every print shop needs a heat press. The benefits of a heat press outweigh the costs. A heat press is great for consistent, low quantity orders: all you’d have to do is make heat transfers to complete these orders.
Screen printing on a fibrous shirt? You can use a heat press to push the fibers in, charging the shirt. Or, if you notice the print is fuzzy, you can use the heat press to smooth it down.
Are your shirts wrinkly? The heat press works just like an iron: it'll smooth those wrinkles out in a jiffy.
You can use a heat press to cure (for printers who want to print with water-based inks but can’t afford a conveyor, a heat press is the next best thing). If you noticed that a shirt you printed was under-cured, you can turn on the heat press and it'll cure it.
Photo by Rogue Lab.
Snagging a few different squeegees is a small yet helpful way to improve your shop. First, you should have squeegees of different durometers — 60 Durometer, 70 Durometer, 80 Durometer, and 70/90/70 Triple Durometer. The durometer is a measure of the actual hardness of each squeegee, which in turn determines how much pressure is necessary to push ink through a screen mesh. The higher the durometer, the less the blade flexes, so a softer, lower durometer blade flexes more in printing than a harder, higher durometer squeegee.
If you haven’t already, you should have squeegees of various sizes like small ones for pocket prints and large ones for oversized prints. To provide different services for clients, you need the tools to make it happen.
Lastly, you can take a step away from wooden squeegees and try the EZ Grip, BadAss, or Ergo Force squeegees. The EZ Grip is a two-handle squeegee that provides ease and comfort for the wrists. The BadAss Squeegee has two variations — one similar to the EZ Grip with the two-handle grip and the other is a roller meant to flatten shirt fibers in a print. Lastly, the Ergo Force squeegees are aluminum and have a comfortable grip.
Leveling up your screen game will make a difference. If you’re currently using wooden screens, try aluminum screens. The advantage of an aluminum screen printing frame is the durability and longevity it retains. Unlike wood frames, aluminum frames will not warp when exposed to water in a dip tank or washout sink. This will insure a flat frame through thousands of prints to come. Aluminum frames are also lightweight, which makes shipping less expensive and saves you money in the long run.
Another way to expand your screen selection is to obtain Eco Frames. ECO Frames are frames where you can attach the mesh yourself. Having the ability to stretch the mesh yourself means you can get back into production quicker, can swiftly change mesh counts between orders, and will have more space in your shop. These frames are fit for printers who have been in the game for awhile, got a handle on screen printing and are looking for a new challenge, and need to clear some space in their shop.
Photo by Salt & Pine Co.
One way to improve your ink selection is to purchase more colors. Adding more colors to your arsenal means you have more options to offer to clients. If you want to provide Pantone colors, get a mixing system. You could acquire the Fusion Mixing System for water-based inks or FN-INK™ Mixing System for plastisol inks. To mix inks, you’ll also need a scale and containers to mix the ink in.
Ready for a new challenge? Take on a new kind of ink. If you’ve been printing with plastisol, try water-based (if you have the right equipment and supplies). Give discharge a whirl if your shop is set up for it. Each type of ink has its own purpose. Learning how to properly set up, print, and cure different kinds of inks will make you more valuable as a printer.
Now you know that you have a “few” areas where you can make an upgrade if you’re ready. Any investment in your business will improve the quality of the product for the customer. If you are unsure what to do or which piece of equipment is right for you, please reach out to us. We’re here to help. You can chat with us at ScreenPrinting.com, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 1-800-314-6390.