What is a Screen Printing Press?
When it comes to screen printing there are a ton of options as far as printing presses themselves go. Besides just determining if you need a manual or an automatic, each manufacturer likes to put their own twist on the equipment. However, pretty much every screen printing press revolves around platens (stations) that are used to load a product onto the press for printing, and then arms (print heads) that are used to hold the screens. Once the screens are on the press a product just needs to be loaded onto a platen and it is ready for printing. To print ink through the screen onto a product a floodbar is used to spread ink on the screen, and then a squeegee is used to push the ink through the screen onto the product. At its core a screen printing press pushes ink through a screen stencil onto a product that is then sent down a conveyor dryer to be cured. Most manual and automatic screen printing presses are in the shape of a circle and are what we call carousel presses. On a manual carousel press both the platens and the screens can be spun in a circle. On an automatic press the bottom platen spins and the screens stay in the same place.
A screen printing press is either built to have an individual print by hand (manual press) or driven by electricity in which the ink is printed by the machine (automatic press). As you would think, manual printing presses are much less expensive than automatic presses. Automatic presses are built for speed and consistency that a manual press cannot match. However, that is not to say that an automatic press is far superior than a manual. While it makes sense to think that a manual and automatic printing press are substitutes to one another, they are more like complementary pieces of equipment. While an automatic can print shirts must faster it also often takes longer to load a screen and prepare the squeegee and floodbar on the press.
How to Choose the Right Printing Press?
The first factor to consider when selecting a press is the volume you anticipate the equipment having to handle. That is not to say how much total screen printing the shop does, but more around the size of the average order the equipment needs to print. Manual presses are often more ideal for small run print jobs, whereas an automatic is more ideal for larger quantity orders. So don’t think an automatic is simply better because it is more expensive. It will often come down to the jobs being printed that will determine which press should be used / purchased.
Once you know the type of press you are going to purchase you must determine the amount of heads and stations you need on the equipment. Each print head represents a potential color that can be printed. So the more heads, the more amount of colors that can be printed for an order. The platens themselves are the “stations” and the amount of them on a press is typically close to the same as the amount of print heads, but not always. Screen printing presses are listed with the amount of print heads and stations that the equipment comes with. So a 6 head, 4 station manual press means up to 6 colors can be printed with 4 products being on the equipment at one time. However, this is not the same situation on automatic presses because the screens do not rotate anytime ink must be dried using a flash dryer the flash dryer must take the place of where a screen would be located. So a 6 color, 6 station automatic typically will only be able to print 5 colors, or 4 if a cooldown is needed.
An automatic press’s printing heads don’t rotate like on a manual because every head is printing a color at the same time, whereas on a manual each color has to be printed individually one at a time. This is what makes an automatic press so much faster than a manual, especially when it comes to printing artwork with many colors. Because each color has to be registered on the press so that it lines up with the other print colors in the artwork, most presses contain what is called “micro-registration”. Once a screen is loaded onto a press micro registration adjustments must be made to line up the screen/artwork perfectly. Not every press manual printing press comes with micro registration, but if you plan on printing multi-color designs by hand you definitely will want to make sure the press you are looking at buying has them.