What to Look for When Buying a Manual Press

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Anyone with a two car garage has the potential of being a screen printer. It’s the beauty and the curse of the industry. Easy for you to get involved, and easy for every other person with that two car garage as well.

You can compete with the biggest printer, as long as you learn the process, and do what is necessary to output a first quality product. The possibility and potential is there for anyone willing to put in the time and effort to learn.

The number of colors, a six-color press for example, means the number of screens that you can set up at any one time. Will you print mostly six-color jobs? Not very likely. The bread and butter of screen printing is one, two and three color work. But you will have the potential of printing most any job, including full color images on dark shirts if you buy a six color press.

The platen is the board where you place your shirt for printing. Some presses, even multiple color presses have only one stationary platen for printing. More commonly, you will see multiple platens. These platens will move around the press independently from the movement of the screens around the press. Presses come standard with adult size platens, and a common add-on purchase will be youth platens as well.

Platens move around the press for two reasons:
1.) To print a white underbase on a dark shirt, rotate the platen under a flash cure unit, and then back to print the others colors on top of the white underbase.
2.) Platens move so we can have someone else loading and unloading shirts while we print. A helper loading and unloading will speed up the process. During day-to-day printing though, most manual presses have a single operator, and automatic presses will commonly have two operators.

There is much discussion about micro-registration. Some presses have it and some do not. Registering your screens, one to another so a multicolor image lines up correctly, is more a function of a good set of films, tight screen mesh, and properly locating your multicolor image on each screen than anything else. In other words, setup begins with the screens, and not the press. (Read the article Exposing Multicolor Screens: Lining Up Images for Quick Set Up)

Many old time printers (who predate micro-registration systems) can set up presses very quickly without using micros. Can micro-registration systems speed your setup? Yes, but you can still learn to setup a press very quickly without. As with all things in this industry, use or non-use of micro-registration systems will be a matter of personal preference.

So what’s the best press to buy? First, you’ll buy what you can afford. Many avenues will lead to the same end product. And second, you’ll buy the press that allows the number of colors to best service your particular market(s) of choice.

And remember, whatever press you buy, you will likely keep and use it as auxiliary equipment when adding more machines to your production shop.

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