There are so many options available to screen print a shirt. The different machinery levels can be confusing and the options available are essential to some but unnecessary to others. Let's break down the machinery levels and what all of those features can do for the press operator.
Whoa... some technical terms were tossed about there. Slow down, what do those mean?
- Micro-registration is an adjustment feature on each color head that keeps the screen secure in the clamps but the operator has dial adjustment to move the screen small amounts. This comes in handy when registering multi-color jobs. Though, this is not a require item on a press, it makes the press faster to operate so jobs are produced quicker. Time is money.
- Rotary load platens is also referred to as speed tables. The print boards rotate as well as the print heads. This allows for flash curing between colors while you are still printing. It also gives the opportunity for additional people to load and unload shirts while the press operator is printing.
Moving up the ladder of printing machines, we add some basic items. First, these typically are mounted on a stand. A stand designed for the press tends to make the whole operation more stable. Unlike bench models, the entire design of this level press is heavier and designed for a longer life span. These units may start to have some extra features like more colors,micro-registration and rotary platens but they are typically rear clamping. The micros are usually not as tight as higher end machines and the platens are made of wood. Again, the initial investment is lower so the ROI is quick. They tend to be more durable than table top types so they will provide that return for years.
Stop! Another new term!
- Rear clamping refers to how the screen is secured into the printing head. Rear clamp machines typically have 2 knobs that hold the short side of the frame. This positioning is quick for screen load but can offer issues during a print run. Off-contact and screen warp are two of the most common.
- Off- contact (yeah, we snuck that one in) is the distance between the substrate and the print side of the screen. The screen should not sit directly on the shirt and the distance should stay stable across the print area. In rear clamp situations, there is nothing to support the nose of the frame so off-contact shifts from back to front as you pull the squeegee.
Mid-line presses are the next level. This is where you will see refinement in the design and durability of the machine. Stands become bases, support shafts get stronger, micro registration adjustments get finer, and pivot mechanisms are more durable. These machines are designed for community printers and for full shifts of printing. They will be offered with 4, 6 or 8 color options and 4, 6 or 8 platens. Some of the presses are still rear clamp, while some have moved to side clamp for more stability. The price starts to shift upward but their set-up and features make the ROI still within a year.
See what we did there?
- Stand versus base. A stand is a table designed to hold something. In this case it is a durable steel structure designed to hold a 4 or 6 color printer. A base is integral to the printer itself. Often the design of the platen support hub is part of the base.
- Finer micro-adjustment. You just learned what micros are and now they change too? Sure, like all tools they can get better. The amount of movement with each turn is smaller and tighter on mid line machines.
- Pivot mechanisms are what the print heads go up and down on and the print/platen hubs spin around. In starter machines, these are usually wear parts made of bronze or plastic. As the durability of the machine goes up, these parts become more solid. At this level the presses start to have sealed bearings and hardened parts.
- Support shaft is what all the hubs spin around. The starter machines usually have some bot together parts with lazy susan bearings or a hardware spindle for the print and platen hubs to rotate around. Again, these are wear parts. In mid line machines, you will see a solid shaft that moves through the full mechanism of the press and some sealed bearings for everything to rotate on.
Premium machines is where all these features come together. This level of machine offers sealed bearings on all applicable locations, solid shafts, side clamps, tight micro registration, aluminum platens, heavy construction and extra options such as preregistration systems and interchangeable platen. The price on these can get as high as $8,000 but they are designed for full shift production and long life spans. One of these should last 20 years with the same quality print as when it was first produced. ROI takes longer but the press will still be a profit center long after the depreciation is over.
- Aluminum platens are covered in a screen print resistant rubber. These platens do not warp or burn and are a life time investment.
- Interchangeable platens for what? For the automatic printer that you know you want.
- Pre-registration systems speed up set up starting in the art room all the way through screen processing and press set up. These systems cut set up time down to seconds for multi color jobs. As we remind you, Time is Money.
So the final question is, "what do you do"? That is all dependent upon money, space and function. We have often suggested starter presses to big shops because of the function it will be used for. And, if there is a premium press available on the used market, anyone should buy it if they have the space. Most machines on the market will produce quality printed shirts. Stick with your budget and your space, because when you grow you will add new presses. If you go in debt on a press then the ROI will take too long.