Got an issue with your screen printing and in need of some expert advice? Never fear, industry consultant Tony Palmer is here! This month, we ask Tony: “When is the right time to get an auto?”

You really are asking the wrong person here – in my opinion printers should skip the manual and dive straight into an auto! But that’s just my preference and I’m the sort of person who uses the dishwasher for two dishes rather than washing them in the sink.

Getting an automatic press is a huge investment, and it’s not just the cost of the press: the inks, the extra screens, a dryer to cope with the output, flash units that are compatible, a compressor, new squeegees… So, the boring financial bit must be carefully considered – the additional cost of the peripherals can be as much as 40% of the cost of the press.

Ask yourself, “Where do I want to be in five years’ time?” If the answer is still printing artisan shirts by hand and earning a living from it, then stay with the manual, but if you want to grow and if you want to leave the shop while it’s still sunny every now and again, then you owe it to yourself to investigate an auto.

The age-old conundrum of supply and demand comes into play; if you have the means to produce but can’t sell, then that’s a separate problem. If, however, you have the sales but are struggling to produce because every waking hour is spent staring at the back of a wooden squeegee blade that you have probably touched more than your nearest and dearest, then it’s probably time to look at increasing your production capacity.

Manual printing is not the enemy, but it is time-dependent: every colour must be printed one at a time (unless you have an ‘all heads down’ press and four mates who are willing to help for free). This makes a six-colour job into a training regime, the result is killer abs and forearms that would make Olive Oil swoon (a really old cartoon reference that may baffle some more youthful readers).

Predictable results

We like to think we are selling a product but, in truth, we are selling time! The longer it takes to produce a job, the more expensive it becomes because it takes more time. If we have a means to produce more product in less time, the decision is obvious. The technical side of the decision is easy for me: the controllable repetition of a particular set of variables is the most efficient way to achieve predictable results.

The automatic press can produce from one piece (not efficiently) to 1 million pieces, it will never get tired, it will not request a day off because its grandma’s cat has anxiety, and once the parameters are set, it will not waiver. The manual press has a small footprint and can produce small quantities of work with low operating costs.

In summary, I would say that the best time to get an auto is when the dog bites you when you go home because he doesn’t recognise you, when the screen pit sees you more than your kids, and when the UPS guy knows he can always make you the last collection on his round. Time is too precious to
spend it pulling (never, ever pushing) a squeegee for eight hours to produce 100 six-colour shirts for a student pub crawl that will be covered in vomit and regret in two weeks’ time.

Tony Palmer has been in the garment decoration industry for over 30 years and is now an independent print consultant working closely with print shops to get the most from existing processes and techniques. He is passionate about keeping and enhancing production skill levels within in the industry. He is the owner and consultant at Palmprint Consultants, offering practical help and assistance to garment decorators all over the globe.