How to Print Shirts

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It’s All in the Screen

Take a moment and think about why you went into business. If you’re like me, you started your business to make money. You invested money, time and resources into an idea and ran with it.

Now, did you jump into your business blind or did you do lots of research and careful planning to analyze every step you took? Hopefully you did your homework and planned out your path to success.

The same train of thought applies to screen making. Do you use static aluminum frames with low tension and print-flash-print whites (or worse, colors), or are you printing one stroke of every color and getting maximum opacity with high tension roller frames?

While retensionable roller frames cost more upfront than static aluminum frames, the money you will save (or better yet, earn!) from using the correct tension will propel your screen printing business to higher profits, quicker print speed, superior quality, faster growth, and less problems that you will most likely have to end up putting a band-aid on.

What is This Going to Cost Me?

Let’s start with the initial investment:

(24) Newman Roller Frame 18″x20″ I.D. MZX frames at $38.84 each ($932.16), plus about $4.00 of mesh for each frame ($96.00), a tension meter ($359.00), and a toolkit ($380.50) is equal to $1,767.66.

(24) Static Aluminum Frames 18″x20″ pre-stretched with mesh at $21.00 each is equal to $504.00.

Your initial investment in roller frames is over three times the cost of the static frame kit. At first glance, the decision seems to be a no-brainer. Why spend three times the amount of money on those retensionable frames when the static frames come pre-assembled and ready to go for 500 bucks? I’ll tell you why, just bear with me.

The first couple of uses of your new static frames will work just fine. The ink willclear the screen easily, the multi-color jobs will register fine, and jobs will go out the door with relative ease. However, after the first round of jobs you will notice that the ink won’t clear the screen after the first stroke. Multi-color jobs will not register properly. White ink will have to printed with two strokes, flashed, printed again with either one or two strokes, flashed again, and then you will be able to print your colors. Stencils won’t be thick enough. Exposure times will jump around and some stencils will wash out too much or not wash out at all. Ink will build up on your prints and it will feel like you are wearing a bulletproof vest made out of ink on your chest. Production speed will halt to a crawl. Wrists will grow weary of print strokes. Midnight oil will be burned at your shop while you continue to work on the job. These are but a few of the problems that you will encounter when you screen print with screens that have poor tension.

Actual Production Application

We’re going to showcase a job brought into a print shop that the customer wanted reproduced. The shop that printed the original uses static aluminum frames. The shop that reproduced the artwork uses Newman Roller Frames. The white ink was printed through a 110 mesh and the royal blue ink was printed through a 230 mesh.

This is the first image that was printed. The white had been printed/flashed/printed and built up very thick on the garment. Both screens were tensioned around 15 Newtons.

Let’s take the 2 color print on a black t-shirt. A full front image in white and royal blue. On a static aluminum frame (in this instance around 15 Newtons), you will most likely need to print two strokes of white ink (.05 per stroke), flash, one stroke of white ink (.05 per stroke), flash, one stroke of royal blue ink (.05 per stroke). This means you have $0.20 of ink sitting on your garment. On a 100-shirt job, you have spent $20.00 in ink, plus whatever your cost is in two flashes.

The loose tension will not have the proper openings in the mesh therefore causing you to put more pressure into your stroke and only getting a little bit of ink through the mesh. The screen will be loose and may not pop right back up after printing, bringing up the possibility of the ink smearing on multi-color jobs or the shirt sticking to the screen.

This is the second image that was printed. This was one stroke of white ink with a soft hand. Both screens were tensioned around 35 Newtons.

Using retensionable roller frames at the correct tension (in this instance, 35 Newtons), you can print the exact same job with one stroke of white (.05 per stroke), a flash (.05 per flash), and one stroke of royal blue (.05 per stroke). You have $0.10 of ink sitting on your garment and only the cost for one flash. On a 100-shirt job, you have spent $10.00 in ink.

The tight tension on roller frames will allow you to fill the mesh openings in your fill (or flood) stroke and lay the ink on top of the garment with minimal pressure. Tight tension will make the screen jump right back up after the squeegee has passed over the openings and will not stick or smear the ink.

So What’s the Savings?

10,000 2-color prints (4 total strokes, 2 flashes) on static frames at 15 Newtons at .30 each – $3,000.00

10,000 2-color prints (2 total strokes, 1 flash) on roller frames at 35 Newtons at .15 each – $1,500.00

The savings in ink and flash cost on 10,000 impressions alone will almost purchase your entire roller frame kit. Now, you may think 10,000 impressions will take a while to get to. Fair enough, let’s consider the savings in overhead that you will encounter.

Let’s say your shop rate is $50/hour (includes labor, light bill, phone bill, all overhead etc.) If you’re able to print 50 shirts per hour on a Riley Hopkins Press with the static frames at $50/hour, it will take you 200 hours to print 10,000 impressions. That adds up to be $10,000 in costs or $1.00 per shirt.

Now, by printing the design on the same press with retensionable frames, your print time is cut in half. You should be able to print about 100 shirts per hour at your $50/hour rate, and spend only $5,000 (.50 per shirt) in overhead over the course of the 10,000 impressions.

Now how would that $5,000 savings affect your business?

From an Automatic Point of View

Another way to look at this is if you use an automatic press. Printing on an M&R Diamondback press at 480 pcs. per hour at the same shop rate per hour will cost you ($50 x 20.8333 hours) $1,041.66 in overhead using retensionable frames.

Using static frames on an auto? Realistically you’re looking about half the production speed. So you’d spend $2,083.32 in overhead costs.

So Now What?

If you take the time to apply these numbers to your business you will see where Newman Roller Frames will drastically help grow your business in greater strides than you ever imagined!

– Tance Hughes is President of Tesep Supply Company. The company sells textile screen printing supplies and offers training to new and existing screen printers.

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2 Responses

  1. jamie says:

    Great write up. We’re strong believers in Newman Roller Frames and their high tension mesh as well.

    • Thanks Jamie, glad to hear that. Many printers do not realize how roller frames can turn a business around. Most successful printers and large auto shops are using roller frames because it’s proven that they can save so much money while delivering much higher quality!

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