PHILADELPHIA, PA — Dylan Houser and Woody Kumetat of Pink's Inks love the color pink. "We have a pink logo, pink packing tape, pink mailers, pink gloves for screen cleanups — and most of our shop is painted pink," explains Houser.
Best friends since high school, the duo started screen printing in 2017 after being laid off from their ecommerce jobs at a publication for the tattoo industry. On the recommendation of a friend, they attended a three-day screen printing course at Vastex International geared for newcomers.
"We'd never held a screen or pulled a squeegee before, but we had both worked for clothing companies in the past and had some experience dealing with screen printers," says Houser.
By the end of the week, they were hooked. Houser purchased the equipment needed to set up shop in an old limousine garage devoid of windows, ventilation and air conditioning. "Our first year was a sweaty one," he recalls.
Pallets, exposure unit accommodate oversize prints
"We chose the V-2000 for its 25-year warranty and because you can make fine adjustments to the equipment via micro-registration knobs rather than with a wrench," explains Kumetat. "This was important early on because it helped us easily register color screens."
Few shops in the area printed images as large as 15 x 21 in. (38 x 53 cm) on garments, so Houser and Kumetat purchased oversize pallets and invested in an exposure unit for oversize screens to give themselves a competitive edge.
"We worked in the tattoo industry for a long time, so a lot of our customers were tattoo artists," says Houser. "The trend was oversize prints on T-shirts, hoodies, and jackets-from collar to hip, if possible-so it was advantageous to have the right equipment for the job and not have to turn people away."
Houser and Kumetat invested in an E200-2331 LED exposure unit, which accommodates screens having frames as large as 23 x 31 in. (58 x 79 cm). The unit is mounted on a Dri-VaultTM screen drying cabinet that holds 10 screens up to 25 x 36 in. (64 x 91 cm).
"We're able to expose screens in 45 seconds using LED, versus 10 minutes with regular fluorescent bulbs," says Kumetat. "Not only are we more productive, but we're more vigilant with the quality of our work. If we expose a screen and run a test print, and we're not happy with the outcome, we can change it; it's not an arduous task. And at the end of the day, the customer is happy because the print looks really good."
After the first year, Pink's Inks outgrew the limousine garage and moved to Globe Dye Works, a former yarn-dying factory built in the 1850s. Unlike the garage, the new facility had a multitude of windows that flooded the shop with sunlight.
"After we moved, our films weren't exposing well, and we thought something was wrong with our exposure unit," Kumetat recalls. With help from Vastex, Houser and Kumetat concluded that the problem was caused by sunlight.
"We were coating our screens in the sun, storing them in the sun, and lining up films in the sun," says Kumetat. "The emulsion is photo-responsive, so the sun was partly exposing the screens, and when we tried to burn a film onto it, it didn't work properly."
Houser and Kumetat solved the problem by building a dark room for their screen coating functions.
Curing upgrades boost productivity
Kumetat cures ink between colors with a RedFlash™ flash cure unit with 18 x 24 in. (46 x 61 cm) heater. An AutoFlash™ upgrade rotates the head of the flash cure unit into position above the pallet via a foot pedal, and automatically rotates the head away from the pallet after a preset dwell time, preventing over- or under-flashing.
"Often it's just the two of us in the shop," says Kumetat. "If I get a phone call and I'm on press, I have to pick it up. Or if I get distracted and walk away for 30 seconds, that shirt could catch fire. Best case scenario: I have to get more shirts, and the order is delayed. Worst case scenario: The shop is on fire. So the AutoFlash is a lifesaver."
When the duo first set up shop, they purchased a LittleRed X1-30 infrared conveyor dryer with a 30 x 48 in. (76 x 122 cm) long conveyor belt. The dryer is capable of curing approximately 100 one-color plastisol-printed images and about 40 six-color plastisol-printed images per hour.
As the business grew, they upgraded the dryer by adding an 18 in. (46 cm) conveyor belt extension. Several months later, they upgraded the unit again with another 18 in. (46 cm) belt extension and an additional heating chamber, allowing them to double the conveyor belt speed.
"At the time, we couldn't afford to purchase a larger dryer, so we loved the fact that we could upgrade the one we had," says Houser. "Finally, we got to a point where a new dryer was in our price range."
Houser and Kumetat chose a BigRed™ V54 dryer with a 54 in. (137 cm) wide belt and three heaters per chamber. "The belt is about twice as wide and the heating chamber is roughly three times the size of our original LittleRed, so we can dry twice as many shirts at a faster rate of speed," notes Houser.
He anticipates that the big dryer will also speed up the drying process when printing with specialty inks, which typically require a slower cure time. "We print a lot of black-on-black using reflective ink," says Houser. "It's a unique upsell for our customers. Not only does it look cool, but it can be a great safety feature."
The ink contains glass beads that reflect artificial light, causing the printed image to glow in the dark. According to Houser, reflective ink is challenging to work with; applying too much ink causes the beads to sink to the bottom rather than stay close to the surface where they reflect light more effectively. The beads also reflect heat during the drying process, which necessitated reducing the dryer's belt speed by 50 percent, limiting capacity to 40 or 50 shirts per hour. Houser expects the larger dryer to cure at higher rates when pressed into service.
A happy accident
The name Pink's Inks can be traced back to the day Houser was hit by a bus while riding his bicycle.
"After the accident, I was hospitalized for several weeks and bedridden for another six weeks," he says. "The rehabilitation center I was in only had pink sinks, so after I came out of rehab I joked about the sinks and called my Instagram account pinksinks."
Fast-forward seven years: Rather than open a new Instagram account, Houser changed the spacing in the name, added an apostrophe, and Pink's Inks print shop was born.
"It was really a happy accident that this joke between friends became the name of our company," he says.
Today, Pink's Inks is thriving. The shop caters to a mixed clientele of tattoo artists, street wear companies, and mom and pop shops in the Philadelphia area.
"No matter how much we grow, we always want to help out the guy down the street, because you can't forget where you came from," says Houser. "It's the small, local businesses that gave us a chance to get in the game."