NEW TO SCREEN PRINTING?
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Where can I set up my equipment, and how much space do I need?
Your screen printing equipment can be set up in many different locations. You can use a garage, basement, an extra room in your house, or a commercial location. Our startup shop's space requirements range from a 10' square area or corner of your basement, to a 12' x 16' room. It is beneficial to have access to running water in your location.
Where do I purchase supplies and clothing blanks?
The best resource for locating a supplier in the industry is trade shows. Supply companies will exhibit at their local trade shows, and they're looking for you! If you are unable to attend a local trade show, industry magazines are another great resource for finding supplies. Impressions, Printwear, and Screen Printing magazine are our favorites. If you still need more sources, you can always look in your favorite search engine online for "Screen Printing Supplies" or "Printing Supplies".
How many colors do I need on my press?
The average printing job is one to three colors, but there are several advantages to getting a press with more than 4 colors. Being able to keep a 1 or 2 color job setup for a short period of time after delivery is good for those "Oops, I need 3 more Mediums!!" cases. Also, a popular multi-color process uses the 4 basic colors; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. This means, if printing this process on anything but a white shirt, you will need a 5th color, white, as your underbase. But keep in mind, Vastex presses can be upgraded with additional color heads at any time.
How can I do art work?
You will need either an art program and knowledge of vector art, or you will need to establish a relationship with an artist. Either solution has its pro's and con's. If you decide to do your own artwork, there are many programs that will help you. Illustrator and Photoshop are two very popular art programs. You will also need a separation program which aids in separating the colors of a photo or picture. A rip program may be necessary to send the artwork to your printer, to make a high quality positive. You will need to indicate to your customer the file format you work in if they supply their own art. A lot of start-up shops will use a freelance artist to get their artwork "Print Ready". Many Screen Printing Supply companies will also offer art services. Trade shows, magazines, and local classifieds are a great place to find artists.
I am looking at buying my first manual press. I noticed that some manufacturers offer an option called all heads down. What is this and what are the advantages?
An all-heads-down machine refers to a press where more than one print head can be lowered and locked into a pallet at the same time. For example, if it's a six-station, six-color press, all six screens can be locked down at once. Some presses are multiple-heads-down machines, while others allow you to put only one head down at a time. On a rotary manual screen printing press, you can lower down only one head at a time. Only one operator can print at a time on a rotary-load press.
On an all-heads-down press, each pallet can be a single-color print station. So on a four-head, four-station press, you could potentially have four operators each printing a single-color job. The press doesn't rotate so each operator can work at his/her own pace.
If you wanted to do a two-color job on a four-head press with two operators, it would get more complicated. Each operator would have to work at the same speed as his partner because you would print the first color, then rotate the screens to print the second color. This can work but it can be a little tricky. However, it does allow you to get more production out of the press than the exact same size rotary-load press.
Another consideration with more than one operator on a press is each person may have a slightly different printing technique so you may get different results because of the lack of consistency. Both the operators would also need to print with about the same pressure and technique.
The option to put multiple or all of a machine's heads down will cost more, so ask yourself if it's something that will benefit your shop.
I'm going to a trade show to check out purchasing my first manual press. Any suggestions on what I should be looking for?
When shopping for equipment, industry trade shows are a great place where you can talk with suppliers, see equipment in action, and get recommendations from other decorators. You may also want to ask your supplier for a list of its customers, and stop by some shops for a visit to get feedback on the equipment. You also can get recommendations on industry forums, where you can find candid feedback from decorators.
When checking out a press in person, look closely at its structural stability. Feel the machine, spin it, push down on the pallets, and get a sense of how well it's built. In many ways, it's much like taking a car for a test drive; you're trying to get a sense of how it feels to use it. You'll spend a lot of hours spinning those pallets so make sure you like the feel.
Also, look closely at the construction of the pallet, whether it is made from wood, steel, or aluminum. Wood is inexpensive but can warp easily and costs more in the long run as you're forced to replace pallets. Aluminum is a good choice, although steel is, of course, a stronger material and dissipates heat better. Some pallets also are covered in rubber, which protects them and provides a firmer grip to hold garments in place. Finally, ask the supplier about the warranty he offers.
Can you use a flash cure to cure a shirt instead of a conveyor dryer?
You can use a flash cure unit, however, it will take longer. You also have to be a little more watchful to make sure that you don't over cure it or under cure it. You really have to be there with a temp gun or thermal probe.
Once you've done a few, you'll have a time frame down and you can set up an automatic flash. This will disengage on its own once the time is up. But this method requires more babysitting that a conveyor dryer which simply drops the shirt off into a box at the end of the cycle.
The easiest way to figure out the correct amount of time is to put a shirt underneath the flash and sit there with a watch and temp gun and figure out the time. Once you have your time, I would add a couple of seconds to that and then set your dwell time.
How long should I expose my screens?
This is one of those questions that's it's tough to answer on a general basis because there are so many variables. You have to factor in thickness of the emulsion, type of emulsion, mesh count, color of the mesh, and humidity among other things. When I get asked this at shows, I recommend that the printer get an Exposure Calculator or use the Step Wedge Test.
The Step Wedge is a modified exposure calculator. The exposure calculator is a piece of art and a filter that are placed together and burned for a specific amount of time. After exposure, wash it out and each section has a value, which will give you an exposure time.
When using a Step Wedge, you place a piece of artwork on your exposure unit and then a piece of paper to block light. You will need to manually slide the light-blocking paper one block per minute, for about five or six blocks. Then when you are done exposing and washing out the image, read which time block had the best result. The exposure calculator is the more convenient and accurate way to get the optimal exposure time.
If you want to go with the exposure calculator, your local ink supplier should have an exposure calculator in stock.
Would you have any tips for reducing the amount of spray tack that seems to get all over the shop?
To stop pallet adhesive from getting all over everything in your shop take a box, or even better a plastic wash basin used to do dishes, and cut a hole in the top approximately 9 inches round. When you need to apply spray adhesive to the pallet, place the box or basin over the pallet and spray down into the hole. This keeps spray tack from going all over the place. When done, you can throw the box away. If you use a plastic wash tub, take some on press wash and spray on a rag and you can reuse it over and over.
What temperature does the ink need to hit to cure properly?
It needs to hit 320 degrees F for most plastisols, but it really depends on what you are doing too. If you are using a plastisol ink with a lot of silver in it or some type of reflective property, it can throw off the times. Everyone in the industry knows that yellow is hard to get cured because of its reflective properties. In cases where the ink has reflective properties, it may need to go longer to get up to 320 degrees.
Once you get the dwell time figured out can you be pretty secure that it will be consistent or could it shift?
No, it shouldn't shift. Once you have determined the dwell time it should be pretty consistent. You should be setting the flash pretty close, within 2-3 inches of the shirt, and as long as you don't have the fan or a lot of airflow, it will stay very consistent.
How many shirts an hour is it reasonable to expect to be able to do using a flash cure unit?
I would think you could do somewhere in the range of 40 to 60 shirts an hour.
Can printing and drying with a flash cure be done with only one person?
Most shops who are using a flash cure to dry shirts are going to be doing it with one person because they are small. You do not want to flash cure on your press. The heat is being kept on longer than is typical when simply flash curing a design to go to the next head to be printed. That type of heat on your pallet, whether its steel pallets or a wood pallets, would just wreak havoc and warp the pallets.
How do I pick a conveyor dryer?
Floor space, utilities accessibility and cost, and production requirements are the big things to think about. All of Vastex conveyor dryers use electric infrared heating elements and require a dedicated line. The warranty and expandability of the dryer is also something to consider. Ideally, your dryer should be at least 4 inches wider than the decorated area to ensure a good cure. Wider belts, such as 54 inches, allow for two shirts to be placed across doubling your production capability.
What are the electrical needs of the equipment?
Most conveyor dryers require 240 volts. Most flashes and drying cabinets are available in 120V and some smaller conveyors as well. Check the conveyor dryer production output to be sure it will meet your short and midterm goals. All electrical wiring should be handled by a licensed electrician to ensure proper installation. Our web site has electrical specifications on the back of each machine brochure.
I have a septic system at the shop, what do I do about chemicals?
Screen printing shops will need to use chemicals to complete tasks such as reclaiming, ghost removing, and degreasing. Alternative methods to cleaning screens such as dip tanks, closed loop filtering systems, or holding tanks are a viable option. Dip tanks are self contained chemical baths to "dip" the screens to remove ink and emulsion before they final washed. There are several water filtration systems available to aid in catching the majority of harmful byproducts from going down your drain. Many screen printers have septic systems at the location where they operate, and it is merely an extra precaution you must take.
I'm interested in starting up a screen printing business at home. I am curious how much space is recommended for doing this. I'd prefer to keep my garage free for the car.
At least half of screen printers start in their homes, perhaps in a garage, basement or building in the back yard. You need about a 20' x 20' area to work comfortably. You can do it in less space, and more is better, but that's what you really need.
Aside from production, you'll also need some storage space. This will vary depending on how many orders you do per week and how large the orders are. But you will have to have some place to put boxes of blank shirts until they are printed and then a place to put finished orders before they are shipped out.
Besides storage space, you'll also want dedicated areas for staging screens, if possible. Screens are delicate, so you don't want them lying around. If space is an issue for your startup shop, there are space-saving options available in equipment. For example, some manufacturers offer an exposure system that can be placed on top of something else like a screen drying cabinet. So you are able to stack two pieces of equipment in one space. Be sure to research the many options available as you shop for equipment.
When I purchase a Vastex manual press, can I install this myself or does it require hiring a technician?
Installing a Vastex manual press does not require a technician and most customers install their own. Sometimes a dealer may come out to a shop to help.
The press is pretty easy to put together. Before we send a V-2000 to a customer, the machine is put together to make sure everything is properly labeled and nothing is missing. Every piece is numbered. For example, the rotary arm has a number that corresponds to a number on the hub.
On a four-station press, when the customer gets the machine, the hub is numbered one through four where each arm is to be attached. The arm hooks onto the hub. Once all four arms are attached, you attach a pallet to each arm.
Next you put a screen in print head number one and lock it into position. Rotate that from head one over to head two and put your pallet on. Level the pallet off to that screen, rotate over to number three and level the pallet off to the screen, over to four and do the same thing. Now all your palettes are level.
You can level the pallets by eye. I personally like to take three quarters and stick them on each corner of the screen and that's my eye contact point.
I'm looking for ways to offer more products and services to my shop. I understand a vacuum pallet would allow me to use my manual press to do a wider range of products. Can you explain how this works?
A vacuum pallet can turn your manual press into a sign and transfer printer. It's a special pallet that holes on the surface. It is attached to a wet/dry shop vacuum and when it's turned on, this sucks air down through the holes. Anything you put on the surface of the pallet, like foam board or paper is securely held in place.
With this pallet it's possible to print small signs such as those used for yard sales, political candidates, or real estate. You also can print plastisol transfers that can be heat applied to cotton, polyester or cotton/polyester T-shirts.
To print signs, you will need a special ink that air dries. Since in most cases, you will want to print both sides of the sign, you do not want to lay the sign down on a pallet sprayed with adhesive as it will gum it up. So the vacuum pallet holds both sides of the sign in place while you are printing. You do need to dry the one side before printing the other side.
To do plastisol transfers, you are using a plastisol ink but it is not exactly the same ink as is used for T-shirts. Ask your ink company to recommend a plastisol transfer ink. Transfer inks can be divided into two categories: hot split and cold peel. Hot split refers to the fact that the transfer should be peeled from the carrier paper while still warm. Some of the ink adheres to the shirt and some stays on the carrier sheet, which produces a very soft hand. A cold peel transfer is peeled after completely cooling and all the ink transfers to the shirt. It produces a heavy hand, which is often preferred by teams and the athletic market.
When printing transfers, you print one color, gel it in the dryer and then print the second color and then gel it, and so on. You can use a flash cure unit or a conveyor dryer but if you use a flash cure, you need to be a lot more attentive. You do not want to fully cure the ink on the paper because a complete cure needs to happen when applying the transfer to the shirt to create a good bond.
Transfer paper and inks can be purchased from any screen printing supply distributor as can the sign printing inks.
A third product you can print on your vacuum pallet is bumper stickers. Because these are made of vinyl, they require a special ink. This ink is a little trickier to work with and has a very strong smell. You will want to use proper ventilation if you decide to print with this ink. You can buy precut bumper stickers.
I know a lot of people get started in their garage. What kind of electricity and plumbing needs are necessary to set up shop at home?
Although your shop's size and equipment determines electrical needs, even the smallest screen printer will need several dedicated power lines - a dedicated breaker and control panel for the flash and a dedicated breaker for the dryer. You should get a professional electrician to help with the wiring.
While suppliers offer equipment at 120 volts, going with 220-volt equipment is the better route to take. To get anything over a small, entry-level dryer, you have to have 220, which enables you to have a larger dryer.
Whether you use 120-volt or 220-volt equipment will have no impact on your electricity costs. Higher voltage just allows for a larger, faster machine. You can get more production out of it. It's almost like having a car with a motor that's too small. It may seem like a good idea at first, but you can't pull out on the highway fast enough, that can be a problem.
Water and Ventilation
You'll need access to water to prepare and clean your screens, something you can get by running a garden hose into your work area. However, it's better if your plumbing allows direct access. Some people wash out screens at the local car wash, and some farm it out completely, but that's a short-term option. You'll want to add the ability to do screen washout as soon as possible.
Because simply opening a can of ink releases fumes into the air, it's important to ventilate your work area, including the area that houses the dryer. People often ask us if they should ventilate the dryer. You should - not for the sake of the dryer, but for your environment and quality of life. You want good air movement out of the shop. Also, solvent fumes are heavy, and ventilating the ceiling only isn't good enough. You need to circulate the air with ceiling fans, and ventilate the air.
While larger dryers have built-in power exhausts that allow the user to pipe the air outside, smaller dryers may require after-market ventilation systems.
If you are using a flash cure unit to cure, what should you do it on?
I recommend having a separate station behind you that you can rotate the flash underneath or over it and do it at a separate spot. We now offer the F-Flash Dual Rotary Pallet Table that is perfect for doing this.
I'm interested in any tips for speeding up cleanup in my shop.
A great way to speed up squeegee cleaning is by using masking tape. Use a good-quality masking tape to cover the handle and the section of the blade where it inserts into the handle. The tape prevents ink from migrating into the crevice between the blade and the handle and it also keeps the handle clean. When finished, it's quick to strip off the tape, throw it away and simply rinse off the remainder of the blade of ink and you're done.