How to Buy a Manual Screen Printing Press

The manual press is the backbone of the small textile screen printing shop, and it plays an important role in many larger shops as well. For a relatively low investment, a manual press can get you started in screen printing, and you can use it for smaller jobs, proofs, and sampling no matter how large your business grows.

The right manual can make a big difference in your company's efficiency and its bottom line; so it pays to choose carefully. Doing your homework before buying is critical.

The key to selecting a manual press is understanding your shop's needs and finding the press that best can help you meet them. In terms of your operation, you should consider:

  • your market and your approach to it (type, image sizes, complexity, and quantity of printing; run sizes; deadlines; etc.),
  • your company's long- and short-term goals and objectives,
  • your human resources (number of printers, loaders, unloaders, etc., and their experience),
  • shop space and layout,
  • existing equipment and operation,
  • budget (equipment, maintenance, and labor).

The market you're targeting impacts your press requirements in a number of ways. You need to ask yourself what type of printing you'll be focusing on. For example, how many colors will a typical job involve? Will you be printing on dark garments or using specialty inks? Coupled with the number of garments in a typical order, this information is important in determining how many printing stations or pallets you want on your press.

Generally, the more stations you have, the faster your production, because you don't have to rotate as far. If you're printing on dark garments and using a flash-cure unit (to surface cure a white underbase before printing another color over it), having more stations allows for more cooling time between flashings.

The number of jobs you'll be running and job complexity also factor into how many print stations you want on your manual press. You may find that a six- or eight-color machine makes the most sense, even if most of your work is going to be one to four color. This is because the greater number of stations makes it possible to run multiple jobs that have fewer colors simultaneously. Thus, it's also important to ask yourself how many jobs am I likely to have going at once and how many colors are they likely to involve?

The number of jobs you anticipate running also determines how much consideration you should give to set-up time when selecting your press. The more jobs you're going to be setting up, the more important ease of setup is. The time savings can be significant if you're going to be setting up several jobs a week. Minimizing set-up time also is important if you're doing short runs where the setup could take as long as printing.

Typically, the amount of shirts it makes sense to print on a manual press range from a couple of dozen to several hundred pieces. The quantity also depends on how long the job takes to print, but in general, larger-volume runs are more efficiently and profitably printed on an automatic. Veterans recommend contracting these types of jobs to a shop with an automatic until your operation has built up its business to the point where it can afford its own machine.

You also should consider the types of garments or other items you plan to print. Some substrates may require special printing attachments or pallets.

Your company's physical, human, and economic resources are other important factors in manual press selection. How much space does your shop have, not only for the press itself, but also for using it?  

The number of press operators you have may impact the amount of working room you want, where you position your press relative to other equipment, and the type of printing technique you use-which, in turn, can influence the type of press you choose.


Your budget, of course, has a bearing on how all of these issues will be addressed in your press selection. We have manual press packages starting as low as $3,000. These packages are designed to help buyers think through the process and their specific needs. Careful analysis may point up possible cost-efficient alternatives that can still do the job. For example, you may find that a six-color, four-station press serves your needs-and your budget-as well as a six-color, six-station model.

Understand Your Options

When shopping for a manual press, you need to understand what makes for a good machine and what makes a machine good for you. No matter what your specific needs, you should look at:

How the press is constructed -- Is it fabricated with tubular steel or sheet metal? How sturdy is the press? Will it hold up in production? Do press components such as print stations have sufficient support? In terms of weight, you want a press to be heavy enough to stand up to the work, but light enough to be production practical and ergonomic.

Standard and optional features -- Is an all-heads-down capability available so it's possible to print at each station simultaneously if that suits your needs or is the press a rotary load, on which only one screen comes down at a time?

What type of screen-holding system is used -- rear or side clamps -- or does the manufacturer offer a choice? The key considerations here are support and set-up time, but basically it gets down to personal preference.

What registration systems are offered or compatible with the press? Is microregistration for finetuning screen alignment available? If so, how does the system work?

Does the press offer adjustable off-contact so instead of laying directly on the surface being printed, the screen makes contact only as the squeegee presses the ink through it? (This allows the screen to "snap" back and helps make for a "sharper" print.) If so, how easily and to what degree can the amount of off-contact be adjusted?

Is the screen angle adjustable? Screen angle adjustment enables you to compensate for the weight of the frame and ensure that it is parallel to the printing pallet without impacting the amount of off-contact.

What tools are required to make press adjustments? Tool-free adjustment can lessen downtime and boost production.

Production rates -- The main factor that determines how fast you can print in terms of the machine itself is the number of stations. Whether the press is designed for rotary or all-heads-down printing also impacts production rates.

The final issue to always be aware of is the manufacturer's warranties and customer service. Be sure you clearly understand what a warranty will cover in the event of a breakdown. It also pays to call references and ask them about their experience with the company's customer service department.

If possible, one of the best ways to shop for new equipment is to attend a trade show. Here, you can see machines in action, try one out for yourself, and do comparison shopping all in one place. By making some decisions ahead of time, as noted above, you can ask sales representative intelligent questions that will guide you to the best choice for your shop.