CALUMET, MI — A four-color offset printer since 1992, Copper Island Printing broke into screen printing of garments at the recommendation of press operator Ron Trapp, who needed several dozen T-shirts screen printed. Based on his offset experience, Trapp felt that screen printing could offer another source of revenue, and recommended that Copper Island owner, Marc Norton, add screen printing to the shop's repertoire.
Finding the cure
Once Trapp and Norton made the decision to start screen printing, they invested in an inexpensive, four-color, single-station screen printing press and began printing everything from shirts and hats to signs and tote bags.
Because screen printing was a new venture, Trapp and Norton were hesitant to invest in additional equipment. ""We didn't have a conveyor dryer because we didn't know how screen printing was going to work out," says Trapp, "so I was curing shirts with a flash dryer, which is extremely slow."
Slow dry times meant that jobs were taking too long to complete, and the shop was soon backed up with orders. "It was getting ridiculous," notes Trapp. "We decided to bite the bullet and get an infrared dryer."
Trapp surfed the Web for a quality dryer and decided on an EconoRed-I 30 infrared curing system from Vastex International. "It appeared to be exactly what we needed, and we couldn't find any negative reviews about it," he says. "It was within our price range and a good fit for the volumes we do."
Trapp ordered the dryer from a dealer in Wisconsin and soon had it up and running. "I could have assembled it with my eyes closed," he says, adding "All the holes lined up — which they usually never do — so you just shove the bolts in, tighten them up, flip it over and you're in business, with no fiddling to get it to work. You just set it and go."
At 43 in. W x 66 in. L (109 cm W x 168 cm L) , the unit's relatively small footprint conserves limited floor space. "We don't have a huge area, so for us it's the perfect length," notes Trapp. "And there's space to add another dryer chamber in the future."
Versatility improves throughput
By adjusting the temperature and belt speed, Trapp is able to cure both offset and screen printing work.
"We screen printed some trail signs in PVC with three colors, and instead of air drying these all over the shop, I turned the dryer's temperature down and cured them so I could go to my second color much quicker," explains Trapp. "It probably cut the dry time in half."
Additionally, the EconoRed-I's 30 in. (76 cm) wide belt increases the unit's versatility and improves throughput. "Originally we were going to go with an 18 in. (46 cm) belt," says Trapp, "but Marc decided to go with a 30 in. belt so we wouldn't waste time folding the shirts to make sure they go through the tunnel properly." The extra width, plus the ability to adjust the belt-to-heater height, allows Trapp to dry thicker items such as hooded sweatshirts.
The dryer helps the shop fill orders as small as 40 T-shirts. Recently, Trapp used it to cure more than 1000 T-shirts for a fundraiser. "We printed single-color front, back, and sleeves, and the dryer came in quite handy for that," he says.
Planning for the future
Trapp is hoping to expand the shop's screen printing business by selling his own T-shirt and bumper sticker designs to some of the local tourist shops.
"The neat thing about screen printing is you can print on anything," says Trapp. In addition to the usual T-shirts, golf shirts and sweatshirts, Trapp has screen printed bumper stickers, vinyl labels, binders, metal medallions and even hockey pucks. Customers range from university students to local businesses.
When the company's screen printing volume maximizes the output of the existing dryer, Norton and Trapp would upgrade it by adding another heating chamber, allowing them to double belt speed and capacity.
"Whoever engineered that dryer should get a promotion," says Trapp.