May 11, 2016

Builder of Race Engines Builds High Performance Screen Printing Business

WARWICK, RI — John Fitzgerald, owner of Letters and Graphics by Fitz, is a hard worker with a sharp eye for precision and high-performance equipment. For nearly 30 years he worked as a master mechanic for one of the leading racing engine builders on the east coast. "I built all types of engines... NASCAR-Busch series, dirt-track, sprint-car, dirt-modified, drag-racers, race-boat, even racing lawn mowers. I used to work 120 hours a week, sometimes four days straight. Eventually, I burned out and about eight years ago took a regular, full-time job as a mechanic for a large corporation near my home," said Fitzgerald.

At that time Fitzgerald also saw a part-time business opportunity producing vinyl lettering for racecars, so he built a shop behind his former home in rural Delaware. Starting with a vinyl cutting machine, he soon added a large-format vinyl printer. When customers saw the quality and creativity of his work, they began asking for printed tee shirts.


Comparing screen printing equipment at trade shows

"I wanted to be a one-stop shop and decided to add screen printing," explains Fitzgerald. At one show he found what he wanted, and purchased a Vastex V-2000, 6-station press. Then he took the 3-day training course at Vastex headquarters in Allentown, PA, and attended several screen printing classes offered by the company. "The training courses were fantastic. Any time I have a question, I can call the guys from Vastex and they help me out," he says.


Improving registration, productivity and quality through equipment selection

"The V-2000 is easy to adjust with its 6-way screen leveling. It's user friendly. I've been using it steady for five years and never had anything wear-out or had an issue with it. I've done quite a few six-color jobs, and it's a very accurate and sturdy press."

Fitzgerald relies on the Vastex Pin Registration (VRS) system for registering screens off press to increase productivity. "On multi-color jobs, you can get them lined up very close with VRS before you locate the screens onto the press. Once you get it on the press you may have to make half a turn on the micro-control knob. And, that's it."

Fitzgerald owns almost every press accessory that Vastex makes, including ones for yard signs, jackets, and pocket attachments, and for printing can-cozies six at a time.

Initially, he purchased a small EC1 infrared conveyor dryer, but then he began doing water-based discharge printing and needed longer cure-times. So he added a Vastex Dri-Box II, a 30 in. (76 cm) wide dual-heater infrared conveyor dryer. "With the bigger dryer, I can cure twice as many shirts per hour which is really productive.

"Every day I also use my P180-18-120 Vastex Flash Cure unit to cure between colors and avoid smearing when printing the next color."


Taking a growing business to the next level

Five years after starting his business, Fitzgerald estimates that 80 percent of his work is screen printing, and the fastest growing segment of his production. With the expansion of screen printed tee shirts, customers began asking for hats so he added embroidery. He bought a direct-to garment-printer, but most of what he does now in garments is screen printed. Besides clothing, Fitzgerald offers signs, vehicle lettering and graphics, mugs, tote bags and photo banners in sizes up to 4' x 20' (1.2 x 6 m).

His business has been so busy that he outgrew his Delaware facility. He has taken the next step and moved Letters and Graphics by Fitz to Rhode Island where he can benefit from an alliance with a signage firm.

"I love doing this work. My wife says I am the pickiest person in the world, especially with equipment, but that's a good quality in this business," John Fitzgerald concluded.


Letters and Graphics by Fitz

Heart of Letters and Graphics' shop is a V-2000 6-station press, which John Fitzgerald has found accurate, sturdy, and reliable over five years. In foreground is his DB-II-30, 30 in. (76 cm) wide infrared conveyor dryer.

Dri-Box II infrared conveyor dryer allows drying of water-based inks, while its 30 in. (76 cm) wide belt handles larger garments.

Having pre-registered screens off-press using the pinboard (left) of a Vastex pin registration system (VRS), John uses the system's pallet jig (on press) to register six screens of a multi-color job, ready to print in less than 10 minutes.



Vastex flash cure unit (black, left) partially cures ink to avoid offsetting between colors, increasing both image quality and production rates.

John Fitzgerald's screen printing shop evolved from his original business of producing vinyl lettering for race cars and building engines. Shown here is a dirt-modified race car outfitted for a "Run What You Brung" race at Delaware International Speedway. John supplied the graphics and built the 875 hp engine.