MARSHALLTON, DE — Sue and J.R. Howell own and operate a thriving business called Shacraft that offers screen printing, sublimation, embroidery, and CAD cutting services.
They started the company as an embroidery shop in the early 2000s when J.R. sustained an on-the-job injury, ending his career as a railroad mechanic.
"I've always been an active person, and I was too young to retire," says JR. "Sue has always worked with crafts, so we purchased a single-head embroidery machine and set up shop in our basement." When requests came in for screen-printed garments, J.R. outsourced the work, but his contractor proved unreliable. When Shacraft started receiving orders for 1,000-plus screen printed sweatshirts and T-shirts, J.R. knew it was time to take screen printing in-house.
Shacraft focuses on quality
After attending several trade shows, J.R. purchased screen printing equipment from Vastex International and attended a weekend training course at the company's facility to learn the screen printing process.
The husband and wife team set up a 4-color/2-station V-2000HD press in their basement and began printing T-shirts for local businesses, churches and schools. Sue creates the artwork and J.R. operates the press, printing up to 35 single-color shirts an hour.
"It takes me a little longer because I prefer to focus on quality," he says. "I don't often try to accelerate because I'm keeping a close eye on the shirts and the printing."
Using a VRS™ pin registration system, he positions film positives on the screens off press and then locates the screens on press in register, saving time and reducing rejects.
"From day one the press has maintained registration," says J.R. "Once you lock it in, it's there until the job is done, and it's easy to make registration adjustments between jobs."
When printing multiple colors, J.R. uses a RedFlash™ infrared flash cure unit with adjustable heat that flashes plastisol ink in less than 10 seconds.
He runs printed garments through an EconoRed™ infrared conveyor dryer with a 30 in. (76 cm) wide belt and heater height adjustment to compensate for sweatshirts, hoodies and other bulky items without scorching.
J.R. estimates that it takes 30 seconds to run one shirt through the conveyor dryer. As shirts exit, he monitors the ink's surface temperature with a laser thermometer and adjusts the temperature and belt speed if needed to ensure complete curing at the desired rate.
Making space for a growing business
As their business expanded, the Howells dismantled the press and moved their workshop from the basement to the garage.
"When we set up the press again, the parts were easy to reattach, and everything was in line," says Sue. "We didn't have to tinker with it to get it to work."
J.R. prints film positives with an inkjet printer using raster imaging processing (RIP) software to achieve opaque blacks. He tapes film positives to the screens in register using the VRS registration system, and then uses an E-1000 ultraviolet screen exposing unit with vacuum pump to tightly sandwich the positive between the screen and glass, adjusting exposure times using the touchscreen.
He admits that he was reluctant to start screen printing, but now enjoys the process and finds the end result rewarding.
Today, embroidery, sublimation, and CAD cutting services have taken a backseat to screen printing, which accounts for approximately 70% of the Howells' business.