Choosing a press is a big decision, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed in the process. When evaluating presses, here are three questions you should ask yourself:
1. Manual press or automatic press?
In other words, how many shirts are you planning to print?
If you’re planning to just print by yourself, start a small brand or clothing line, or you simply love the act of pushing/pulling a squeegee – a manual screen printing machine should cover your needs.
A manual screen printing machine is the universal starting point for most small screen printing businesses and beginning printers. Brands like Riley Hopkins that have been around for decades and are routinely updated to stay ahead of the newest technology in screen printing are going to provide you with the best starting point. Good quality manual presses are an investment that grows with you. If you choose a high-quality manual screen printing press to begin with, like a Riley Hopkins, it will last you long through any expansion your business may undergo. You can always upgrade to an automatic later.
If you’re serious about starting a screen printing business, you might want to go straight to an automatic screen printing machine. We get the question all the time: “What’s the magic number for an automatic screen printing machine?” Most people think it refers to a number of shirts printed per hour, or money made in a month. The truth is, the magic number is 1. If you’re already at the point where you’re considering adding an employee to print for you, then it’s time to invest in an automatic screen printing machine. Well-trained and experienced printers are an invaluable resource if you’re lacking in printing experience yourself, but if you’re just looking for a pair of hands to do your pulling for you, then consider an automatic screen printing machine instead.
- Reason one: An automatic screen printing machine pays for itself. You can do all the work an employee does in about 2 hours a day with an automatic press. It will be less expensive than paying someone 40 hours a week, even minimum wage, and it will be more consistent and reliable.
- Reason two: If you really want to be in the business of screen printing (with the only caveat of doing a hand-printed line or personal branding), you should have an automatic press. If you start a trucking company, you buy a truck. If you start a screen printing company, invest in the tools to run the company.
Look for a brand that is constantly innovating. When it comes to high-tech machinery that’s going to take a beating, it’s worth it to buy for quality. The ROQ automatic screen printing machine holds the title of the world’s second largest manufacturer of automated screen printing systems, as well as over 25 years of quality equipment manufacturing. It’s recent move to the USA only proves that they are all about forward momentum. Nearly silent, and almost as beautiful as it is consistent, it’s the top of the line when it comes to automatic screen printing presses.
Think about your needs realistically when choosing your screen printing machine. You can always invest in a bigger press as your business grows!
2. Tabletop press or free-standing press?
This question is all about space.
Are you printing out of a kitchen or spare room? Is limited space a consideration?
If so, you might want to invest in a tabletop screen printing machine. Honestly, limited space doesn’t have to limit your ambition. There are tons of great tabletop screen printing machines on the market that can pack a punch just as big as any free-standing screen printing machine.
Printers looking to just make t-shirts or posters for fun can get a long life out of a DIY Print Shop tabletop press. Light and sturdy, they are made for printing at home. One step up, and possibly the coolest press to print on is the Riley Hopkins JR. tabletop press. The base can screw into nearly any table or press cart for an easy mobile option that prints just as hard as the grownup Riley Hopkins presses. That means you can print multiple color prints in your garage, in your kitchen, spare bedroom, attic….you name it. You can even take it on the road with you.
If you’ve got some room to stretch out, go for a full-sized screen printing machine. These presses are made to last and generally grace the floor of any manual screen printing shop you’ll find. The advantage of going big is durability in the long haul. If you’re planning to run your press 8 hours a day, or print in more of a production environment, then you’ll want something that can last for decades.
Choose a brand that has a reputation for quality. We sell Riley Hopkins full-sized presses because they have a habit of outlasting their original print shop! Our own Ryan Moor started printing in high school on a Riley Hopkins that was already decades old, and he was hooked. With over 30 years of innovation and legacy, Riley designed the press to be a pleasure for printing on during long days (and nights!) in the print shop.
Make sure that whatever press you get, it is a joy for you to print on because you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing exactly that.
3. How many colors and stations?
This may be the most challenging to decide, because the more colors and stations you have, the more you can do, and the more it costs.
How many colors do you want to be able to print per design – including a white under-base?
The number of colors you use in your design should equal the number of print heads you have on your press, including an extra head for a white under-base for use when printing on black or dark garments. This is because every head can hold only one screen, and each screen represents the stencil for only one color at a time. There are ways around this, often used in poster printing or other media, but they are time-consuming and much less accurate. Not something you should be worrying about when printing T-shirts.
So, plan ahead! If you’re printing CMYK – you’ll need at least 4 colors. If you’re planning to only print one color spot color designs such as block text, then you should be fine with a one or two color press. Most production printers choose between a 4 and 8 color screen printing machine. This allows you to print versatile designs and even have more than one job up at the same time on the press! Very helpful for those rush jobs, or if you have multiple deadlines. If you choose a screen printing machine with that many colors, you will want to add multiple stations too.
How many stations to choose when picking what screen printing machine to buy all depends on the garments you print on. Every additional station you have allows you to complete a full print on that many garments at one time. You will also want to consider having at least one additional station to set your flash above. Anything needing a white under-base will need to be flashed before printing additional colors, and the more stations you have in-between, the less time you will have idly waiting for your shirt to flash and come back for the next layer.
So, it’s really all up to preference. If you want to print 4 color designs, get at least a 4 color 2 station screen printing machine – and be prepared to only print 3 colors on dark garments. If you want faster printing and less waiting, add more stations to your press and get a 6 color 4 station screen printing machine, or bump it up to an 8 color 6 station screen printing machine for a really versatile and powerful screen printing machine.
When you’re looking at what configuration you want your screen printing machine to have, really consider your needs and desires. Go into it being prepared to invest in what you want the first time, or accept that you may need to expand into a bigger press later.
Remember, it’s totally okay to start small and expand later. Many screen printers start with a simple one color screen printing machine and grow later. If you invest in a high-quality press to begin with, you’ll never get rid of it. Most large shops still have the early smaller press they started with because there’s always a demand for small jobs.
Know what you want.