A primer on how to choose a manual press you can count on.

A manual will not only be easier on your budget, it’ll also help you develop solid printing technique that you can transfer over to an automatic as your business grows. First, you need to decide if a manual screen printing press is really the right tool for you shop. If you choose to go manual, there are some key features and qualities to look for if you want a press you can rely on.

Is a Manual Screen Printing Machine the Best Choice for You?

If you’re just starting out in screen printing, a manual press is probably your best option. Manual presses are built for smaller production, so unless you’re sure you’ll have enough business to justify an automatic, a manual should be the way to go. If you’ll be working with limited space, manuals have smaller footprints than most automatic screen printing machines (though there are automatics available with similarly small footprints). Unlike automatic presses, manuals don’t need air supplies or electricity to operate (except for manuals with special configurations, like pneumatic screen clamps), saving you space and money.

A Manual Press Can Be a Workout!

An important thing to understand is that a manual press requires physical effort to operate! You’ll need to rotate the carousel and lift/lower the print heads, push and pull a squeegee all by hand to print. Depending on your average job size – and your physical condition – this can be a tall order, as large print runs can take days of work to fill. When you consider your manual press options, look for one that is both sturdy and ergonomic, or light and smooth enough to rotate easily.

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Keep Space in Mind

As a new screen printer, you’ll probably be working from a small space – maybe even your garage! A manual press is ideal for a tight space because it requires no extra equipment for power, while the typical automatic needs an air compressor and chiller (there are exceptions). Presses are offered in different configurations based on their number of stations (places with pallets that hold the shirts) and their number of colors (places for the screens). You can get a manual press in as small a configuration as a 1-color/1-station tabletop model, but a professional setup will require something larger. If it works for your budget, 6 colors is a good place to start. Most screen printing designs are less than 4 colors, so a 6-color press will let you tackle reasonably complex jobs while keeping a station or two open for a flash cure – a key tool if you want to print colors in layers – and a station to cool down prints after they’re flashed. If you can’t afford a 6-color, a 4-color screen printing press is the next best alternative.

When you plan your setup’s layout, make sure you think about the people operating the press. Be sure to leave a comfortable amount of space around the press so you can maneuver. Also, if you’re just starting out keep in mind that a press isn’t the only piece of equipment you’ll need for your shop – you’ll also need an exposure unit to prepare your screens and a conveyor dryer to fully cure your prints.

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As simple as a manual press might appear, there are some options available that set certain models apart from others. Like shopping for any piece of equipment, it’s a good idea to compare models by the features they offer so you can get the most bang for your buck. Here are some key things to look for in a manual press:

  • Pallets – Is the press compatible with a variety of different pallets (child-size, umbrella, etc) to handle any special jobs that might come your way?
  • Clamps – Does the press have screen clamps that hold the sides of the pallet or the back? Can you choose which type you want, or mix and match? Is adding pneumatic screen clamps an option?
  • Microregistration – Does the press offer precise microregistration to make it easier and faster to set up multicolor designs? Microregistration gives you finer control over the alignment of your prints.
  • All heads down – Can the press be operated with all the print heads down (meaning all screens lowered to allow printing on all pallets at once)? This lets multiple people print on the press at the same time, increasing your production.
  • Off contact – Off contact refers to the vertical distance between the substrate you’re printing on and the screen. Does the press let you precisely adjust off contact? Different substrates require different amounts of separation for a quality print.
  • Spring tension lift – Does the press come with a spring tension system to help lift the print head easily and smoothly?

Now you’ve got a good idea of how appropriate a manual press is for your operation and what to look for when choosing a model. While it’s important to find a press that fits your budget, remember that your decision should come down to more than just price. If you really want to achieve your maximum potential, look for a press that will not only meet your current needs but also grow with you as you take on bigger, more complex jobs. One day that growth will lead you to another big decision – your first automatic press!

Anatol’s Thunder and Lightning manual screen printing presses are designed to be easy to use and durable, with plenty of features to make your printing as smooth as possible. Ready to get printing? Let’s talk!