There are a lot of different ways to dry screen printed t-shirts. While some screen printers start out just using a flash dryer or heat gun, this is a very slow way to cure garments. As soon as any screen print shops wants to increase production, a conveyor dryer is necessary. The right screen printing conveyor dryer is a must for the best printed shirts, hoodies and other garments. Naturally, this prompts the question of how to choose the best screen print conveyor dryer.
As is often the case, there is not a good one size fits all approach. What is one screen print shop’s ideal conveyor dryer oven may not be right for another, which is why it is important to carefully consider the following how to tips for choosing the best screen printing conveyor dryer for your print shop.
1. Electric vs Gas Powered Conveyor Dryer
An essential element of any conveyor dryer is whether to get a natural gas or electric powered one. Gas conveyor dryers are one of the best options for curing all types of ink (plastisol, water-based and DTG) and for handling large production volume. Gas dryers heat the oven chamber by the convection process. This is similar to a convection home-oven where the air is heated and then blown through the oven. A gas screen printing dryer is considered a “gentler” heat compared to electric I.R. panels because the heat chamber is brought up to the proper temperature as hot air is cycled through.
A major advantage of a gas dryer is a highly controllable and consistent temperature inside the chamber. Another benefit is the energy costs to run it. Lawson’s gas dryers require very little electrical usage. The main cost is in your natural gas utility rate. Costs varies depending on what part of the United States you are in, but generally speaking, natural gas rates are much cheaper than electricity rates.
The downside of a gas dryer, is that it requires a much larger space. Most gas dryers require a minimum of 19 feet, although Lawson does make the Omega Gas Express as a more compact 16 foot model. Due to the large size and the engineering necessities, gas screen printing dryers tend to be more expensive upfront when compared to similar electric dryers.
The other dryer option is an electric conveyor dryer. Electric screen printing dryers use infra-red panels, known as I.R. panels for heat. Instead of heating a space (like gas), electric I.R. heats the object directly. These I.R. panels focus their heat towards the t-shirt, hoodie or other garment passing beneath them. This helps quickly bring plastisol ink up to the proper temperature.
It is important to check the air circulation of electric dryers. Unlike gas conveyor dryers, electric screen printing t-shirt dryers do not need to have airflow for operation. However, it is vital that there is air flow if you are going to print on dri-fit, polyester or other heat sensitive material. Additionally, the only way to quickly and properly cure water-based ink is with a dryer that has a significant amount of C.F.M (the measurement of air flow in cubic feet per minute). The topic of air-flow is discussed more below in Tip #3.
2. Size and Output
Unlike with automatic printing presses, bigger is better with screen printing t-shirt dryers. The size of your conveyor dryer, both in terms of width and length, directly relate to output and production rates. If your conveyor dryer is too small, your production will slow as you wait for shirts to dry. For screen printers looking to expand their business, a bigger dryer is almost more important than a bigger automatic.
Another way to think about the size of the dryer you need is to think about your workflow in terms of averages and production peaks. At minimum, your screen printing dryer should be able to handle an average day. However, those printers seeking growth and more business should think beyond their daily screen print averages. Could this potential new dryer handle production peaks? If not, it means your press operator(s) might be standing at their press waiting to put a shirt on the belt.
One way to increase an oven’s production rate is by getting a split belt dryer. This is when two belts run independently through the same heat chamber. It is like getting 2 dryers in 1.
Often, screen printers are worried about outgrowing their dryer. With Lawson’s unique Trade-In/Trade-Up program outgrowing your dryer is not a concern. You can always trade in your smaller dryer for a newer, bigger model.
3. Air Flow
Circulating air within a screen printing dryer is the key to success. The more air flow the better, no matter what material your t-shirt is made out of, and no matter your ink type is. Good air movement helps prevent and minimize t-shirt scorching or burning. A strong air flow also helps dry printed shirts. This is especially true when curing water-based and DTG inks. Unlike plastisol inks, which cures at 320 degrees, water based and DTG ink cure by removing moisture. The better a dryer’s air flow, the more efficiently this can occur.
As discussed earlier, gas dryers incorporate air flow by design. Not all electric dryers have moving air, and those that do are superior screen printing ovens. Electric screen print dryers either bring in outside air, heating it before it is circulated throughout the chamber; or, hot air is recirculated after a certain amount of moisture filled air is released. Lawson recirculates hot air because it is more energy efficient.
Lawson goes one step further by specifically engineering I.R. electric heat panels to create a vortex of active air that ensures rapid dry times for production printing. Having geometrically dispersed air plumes allow the entire conveyor dryer belt to be used with no heat “fall off” at the edges of the belt.
When it comes to choosing the right dryer, it is important to make sure you are getting the right one. These 3 factors are some of the most critical aspects of choose the best screen printing conveyor dryer for your print shop. While searching for the right screen print drying oven near you, make sure to check out the Lawson Blazer. This is the perfect conveyor dryer since it can be completely customized to your shop needs.