MIDDLETOWN, DELAWARE — Established in December 2008, with one 4-color manual screen printing press, MiddletownInk (www.middletownink.com) has grown in less than four years to become one of the largest screen printers in Delaware. Offering everything from tees and luxury dress shirts, to baseball caps and briefcases, the company's client roster includes not only sports teams, youth clubs and community groups, but also schools, bands, restaurants and special events. The company even offers an online design studio where customers can custom design their own shirts, hats, bags and more, choosing their own colors and adding their own artwork and text and then placing their order online.
In April 2012, the company moved to new and larger quarters to accommodate the demands of its rapidly growing business. With a greatly expanded inventory of equipment, some of it acquired from other printers going out of business, the company developed a reputation for being able to turn around jobs too difficult or complex for other screen printers to handle. "Today, about 90 percent of our work is done under contract to the industry. With about 20 percent of that work being for other printers who are in need of an overflow printer or are unable to handle the complexity of the job in a timely manner," says Megan Haines, co-owner with her husband Brian of MiddletownInk. "Our motto is 'You Think It — We Print It!' and we really try to live up to that by offering a wide range of R&D for more complex items."
In addition to solving difficult problems, part of the reason for the company's success in the face of an economy that has devastated other screen printers is its ability to maximize productivity from every piece of equipment in its shop. "Our 8-station, 10-color automatic press is our main machine for routine jobs like printing T-shirts that are not too difficult, but the unique, time-saving features of our manual equipment allow us to further minimize the turnaround time for specialty jobs, such as the difficult jobs from other screen printers," says Megan. "Because we can print more pieces of apparel in less time, we can increase our revenues by taking more orders."
All-purpose press is now a specialty press
"Our Vastex V-2000 4-station, 4-color manual press is now our specialty press," says Megan. "We use it exclusively to print more complex, higher-margin items like hats, earmuffs, and plumbing valve sleeves. It's equipped with a Vastex 18" x 18" infrared flash cure unit that allows us to dry items between stations. We estimate that the ability to dry 4-color items between stations saves us about 20 seconds per item, and because we're able to charge a premium for specialty items, the faster speed translates directly into higher profits."
"To dry items coming off the press, we use an EconoRed I infrared dryer with a 36 in. (91.4 cm) belt," says Megan. "Its digital temperature controller is accurate to within +/-1°F (0.56°C) and its infrared focusing system minimizes electrical power costs.
As stated, the automatic press turns out the high volume production runs at MiddletownInk. "To handle the high rates at which the automatic press operates, we use an EconoRed II infrared dryer with a 54 in. (137 cm) belt, which can dry up to 730 garments per hour," says Megan. "In addition to its accurate temperature control and infrared focusing capabilities, it has an exhaust air system that evacuates fumes and moisture quickly."
Athletic numbering system boosts profits
"We get a lot of requests for numbered athletic uniforms, but until we began using the DiGiT numbering system, which clamps onto the manual press, it really wasn't all that profitable," says Megan. "We were using vinyl heat transfer and the cost of storing a huge inventory of numbers was eating us alive. Now athletic numbering makes a significant contribution to our bottom line with the ability to offer a diversity of colors and styles, as well as to our overall volume."
The system speeds numbering by splitting the numbers between two screens — one for the digits 1 through 5, the other for 6 through 0. Each screen has settings to accurately position a single or a two-digit number and to accurately register two-color numbers. The digits are applied to the garment by hand-operated squeegee.
Two additional settings allow use when either the first or second digit is the narrow number 1. Without these additional settings, too much space would remain between the two digits or the entire two-digit number would be off center. The additional settings assure the space between numbers is correct, and two-digit numbers print at the center of the garment.
"Another advantage of the DiGiT system is that if a screen should be accidentally damaged, I can quickly and easily burn a new one without having to wait a couple of days to get it done on the outside," says Megan. "We are also getting a lot of requests for PMS color matching, which is quite easy with the system."
The system accommodates both long and short print runs. "We once filled an order for 4,212 numbered garments for a sports summer camp," Megan recalls. We numbered all different kinds of sports apparel — softball, basketball, soccer, etc."
Printing not limited to apparel
"A rapidly growing part of our business is specialty items other than apparel," says Megan. "One of our customers makes all sorts of promotional items and turns to us for printing because they know we can figure out a way to handle it. For example, we print on giant natural rubber erasers. We also do valve handle covers. Our customer did Chinese takeout food containers as a promotion for a major motion picture and we printed them. Many of the jobs we handle for them are things that have never before been screen printed. We're sort of their R&D facility."
The rugged construction of the Vastex manual press contributes to this flexibility. "The press has proven itself time and time again in allowing us to print heavy items," says Megan. Because of their previous experience with screen printing, neither Brian nor Megan Haines attended entry level classes offered by Vastex but plan to take advantage of advanced courses such as Advanced Art Screen Printing. Says Megan, "We have recently added oversized and all-over printing using our manual press, which are becoming increasingly popular. We will also be purchasing larger dryers in order to be able to handle water-based inks."
126 Patriot Drive
Middletown, DE 19709
+ (302) 725-0705