FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Where can I set up my equipment, and how much space do I need?
Where do I purchase supplies and clothing blanks?
How many colors do I need on my press?
How can I do art work?
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.
How long should I expose my screens?
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.
Can you use a flash cure to cure a shirt instead of a conveyor dryer?
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.
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.
Would you have any tips for reducing the amount of spray tack that seems to get all over the shop?
What temperature does the ink need to hit to cure properly?
Once you get the dwell time figured out can you be pretty secure that it will be consistent or could it shift?
How many shirts an hour is it reasonable to expect to be able to do using a flash cure unit?
Can printing and drying with a flash cure be done with only one person?
How do I pick a conveyor dryer?
What are the electrical needs of the equipment?
I have a septic system at the shop, what do I do about chemicals?
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.
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.
If you are using a flash cure unit to cure, what should you do it on?
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 VentilationYou'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.
When I purchase a Vastex manual press, can I install this myself or does it require hiring a technician?
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 interested in any tips for speeding up cleanup in my shop.