Cap Printing Made Easy

Many screen printers dread printing on headwear. The curved shape of the cap and the unsmooth surface caused by seams present challenges not encountered with day-to-day apparel decorating. However, when done with the proper equipment and supplies, cap printing can be as quick and easy to do as T-shirts.

The good news about cap printing is because so many decorators don't want to bother with it, someone willing to make the investment in the specially designed equipment can create a profitable niche-not only printing caps for his customers, but also for other shops who don't want the hassle.

Workhorse Products offers a wide range of cap printers and accessories to fit any size shop and budget to help you find the best solution for your company. The CapMax, a cap printing system that comes in four models including three bench and one rotary printer, uses a curved platen and screen that follows the natural shape of the cap. This makes it easy to print on the cap without having to stretch or distort it as is necessary with a flat platen cap printer.

The CapMax is specifically designed to print on any type of cap, even six-panel styles that are considered tougher because they have a seam down the center of the crown. The printer-friendly features of the CapMax allow the operator to adjust the press to the specific shape and material of the cap. For example, fine thread microregistration allows the printer to fine tune the screen position to get it just right so multicolor designs line up perfectly. The adjustable off-contact allows a printer to adjust for any thickness of cap and the adjustable screen angle allows the operator to adjust the screen so it's perfectly parallel to the printing surface. It also has large diameter registration points to make registration easier and more accurate.

Which model of CapMax you choose will depend on how many caps you'll be printing and in how many colors. The series starts with the one-color/one-station bench model, #CMM11, priced at around $400, which is geared to doing small one-color, short-run jobs. The bench model can be used with any standard size table. There are thread holes in the base that allow the press to be bolted down, and self-leveling feet can be adjusted to make sure the base is level and flat. Approximate production on the single-color/single station will be about 72 pieces an hour.  

The bench model is upgradeable to two (#CMM21) or four colors (#CMM41), so you can start out with a one color and if you find a greater demand for multicolor than you originally estimated, it can be converted to do more colors.

The CMM44 CapMax is a standard rotary textile printing press that can be used as a cap or T-shirt printer simply by switching out the pallets. It comes with four adult-size T-shirt pallets (38cm by 46 cm) and the CP2 size platen, which is the most universal cap platen. Platens for other cap sizes can be purchased separately. The rotary press is designed for doing higher volume, multicolor work. The press will pay for itself after printing about 2,000 caps. Production averages around 144 multicolor caps an hour making it much faster and easier to use than the bench model.  

Special Plates Fit Any Cap

The CapMax system offers six cap platen sizes that are designed to accommodate any size or shape of headwear available on the market. The CP1 is designed for low crown and youth caps. The CP2 is the standard platen intended for use with medium-crown twill, poplin, nylon, and Taslon caps. The CP3 and CP4 fit with summer mesh caps, one for a standard-size print and the other for a larger print, while the CP5 is designed for visors. And finally, the CP6 has a groove machined in the center enabling you to print the toughest headwear challenge, a low-crown, six-panel cap. The seam fits right in the groove.

To go along with the cap-size platens, you'll also need cap-size screens. CapMax screens are made of flat flexible steel that bends to fit the curvature of the cap frame. So they will coat and expose just like any regular screen. The screens come prestretched with mesh in a range of sizes to fit any type of job. In general, a printer will use a lower mesh count (80 to 124) for simple bold artwork or for a job that requires a thicker ink deposit such as printing a center seam cap. For more detailed designs, halftones, and lighter ink deposits, a higher mesh count ranging from 156 to 300 is appropriate. The screens can be restreteched with new mesh, but are so inexpensive, most printers simply toss them and use new ones.

Workhorse even offers a handy CapMax screen coater frame that holds the curved frames flat during coating. And there is a CapMax storage box that will hold up to 10 frames at a time while drying.

 Workhorse also offers several flash cure solutions specially designed for caps. The CapMax flash curing unit comes in a bench and a floor model. It has a unique, curved heating element that is designed to follow the natural curve of the cap making it easier to get closer to the cap for the quickest, most effective drying. It is height adjustable and has a large 13 mm-by-23 mm panel for complete heating coverage. A flash is required for any job with more than one color as cap printing is done on-contact not off-contact. Without flashing between colors, the ink will be smeared when the second color/screen is applied.

Cap Printing Attachments

Workhorse cap attachments allow you to convert a T-shirt press from Workhorse, Odyssey, and other popular brands like Hopkins into a cap printer. The shirt pallet is removed from the press and the cap attachment is put on. The cap attachment uses exactly the same platens as the CapMax printer so the quality and performance are equal. The only disadvantage to an attachment is the time it takes to convert your press's pallets from shirts to caps. The CapMax cap printing attachment comes with  a 110 mesh screen, special squeegee, and a CP2 platen. Just as with the bench model, each attachment can be upgraded to do two colors or you can simply buy a second cap attachment and use another head on your press.

Another option for printing caps is the EZ-Cap Printing Pallet package. The screen has one thin side making it easy to print close to the cap's bill. The flat printing surface has a maximum print area of 7.7 mm x 12 cm. It comes with a 110 mesh screen and a 7.7 cm squeegee.  The EZ-Cap simply attaches in your screen clamp the same as any T-shirt frame. This option is intended only for one-color jobs on basic foam-front caps.

Once you've chosen the best cap printing method for your shop, there's a few tips and tricks you'll want to remember to make the job easier.

  • You will have to learn how to pull your squeegee over a curved screen while keeping your squeegee at a 45-degree angle. This is not terribly difficult, but it takes some practice.
  • Cap screens are small so coating them is a bit different than when printing T-shirts. The frame isn't stable enough to press a hard coater against it. For best results, use a squeeze bottle to put the emulsion on the screen, and spread it with a credit card or a vinyl burnisher as is used in the sign industry.
  • Watch out for dye bleed problems with some lower-quality caps. For example, when doing a white print on a camouflage cap, the camouflage may bleed through the white. Workarounds for this dye bleed problem include preheating the cap, or the "hit-flash-hit" method, where the second layer of printing acts as a barrier to obstruct the bleeding.
  • Because some caps may have a shrinkage problem, it's smart to use a little puff in your final color and trap everything.
  • Artwork size depends on the cap. A smaller cap means a lower profile and a smaller print area. For example, a trucker's cap gives you biggest printing area, approximately 8.9 cm by 15 cm, while a low-profile cap would give you about 5 cm by 11 cm. Your artwork can only be as big as your platen.
  • Artwork should be kept simple. Avoid halftones, especially in the beginning. Lettering should be at least 3/8 inches high for legibility. An open, simple font is the most legible.
  • All caps were not created equal. Do not let the customer control what cap you print. Stick with caps you have worked with and you know how to print for the best results.