When we opened our printing factory, we started out with an odd collection of cheap used machinery picked from auctions and hauled from dusty storage areas. We went to the big trade shows and window shopped, dreaming of the day when our screen printing shop could be upgraded; when our manual screen printing presses and dryers would be matched sets, with shiny paint jobs and micro-adjustments that weren’t immobilized by years of spray glue and cotton fuzz.
Our first year, we ran screen printing production on an ancient four station press. It was a horror. The carousel tilted, requiring a hip check between every other print; one arm was only connected by rust and duct tape. A good manual screen printing press can be limped along almost forever, if you have the patience and time to devote an hour each day to hammering pieces back into place. Finally, the day came when my partner lowered a print head onto the platen, and the entire assembly snapped off in his hands.
Finally, It was time for a replacement.
We already had the most important part of buying a press done – the research. Doing it all before the press died on the floor gave us the opportunity to make solid decisions. This saved us a lot of money and aggravation in the long run – while manual presses are the most basic components of any screen print shop, there are still important items to consider that can affect how well they will perform for you.
We’d spent considerable time at trade shows, which are great places to see different types of equipment up close and personal all in one spot. It was also an opportunity to meet the manufacturers and get a feel for their business practices and policies. I can hold my nose and buy from someone I don’t personally like, but when it comes to matters of service and warranty I need someone I can connect with. Having a good relationship with a company you can trust is an important asset.
We also printed on the weekends, or at night and it made a big difference to know there were screen printing manufacturers out there that offered 24/7 supports. Even though we were somewhat mechanical, it was nice to know there was a live person we could always talk to if something went really wrong.
My partner was most interested in the machines themselves. He collected brochures on every press we saw, and used a spreadsheet to compare them side by side. He listed out stock features, available upgrades, and prices. I added information on service and warranties, and notes on company practices.
A list of our priorities for a Manual Screen Printing Press to narrow down our choices on the spreadsheet.
- Footprint: How much room did we have? Can we fit a six station into our space, or are we limited to a four station?
- Production Planning: What were we printing most? Were one color jobs in the majority, or were we running multi-color all the time? Long or short runs? Do we need a machine that allows us to set up multiple jobs at the same time?
- Ease of use: was there a good registration system built in? Were micro adjustments easy to make? Was set up time fast? Side clamps or back clamps? Do I need special tools to fix minor problems?
- Flexibility: Could we get various styles of platens for different types of garments? Could the machine accommodate different screen sizes?
- Price: we wanted the most machine we could get for our money. Were we better off with a high priced stock machine that had it all? Or if we stretch our budget out and add features later without breaking the bank?
- Quality: is the machine well-constructed? Will it stand up over time? Was there a life-time warranty option?
- Service: does the company stand behind their product? Did they offer 24/7 support?
Ultimately, we found that while every major manufacturer makes a basic type of manual press, there were big differences in service and extra features. That’s where our attention, and decision was made. Our salesperson was our most valuable tool in finalizing our decision. With their input and evaluation of our shop, we settled on a press that would get the job done without breaking the bank.