Should You Go Auto or Hire Another Printer?

Should You Go Auto or Hire Another Printer?

Boxes of shirts are stacked from the floor to the ceiling. You’re covered with pallet adhesive and ink. Your wrists ache with pain, your legs are numb, fingers are stiff. You pause, staring at the 716th shirt you printed that day. You stare at the stack of t-shirts behind the press, printing 1,500 to be exact. The clock reads 11:17 PM. This order is due tomorrow. You look down and sigh, staring at your cracked, callous hands. This is the 12th time you’ve had to work late to finish a high-volume order this month. You can’t take it anymore. Something has got to change.

So, you, the printer, have two options. Hire another printer or go auto. But which should you do? Let’s explore these options so you can decide which is best for your growing shop.

You’ve decided it’s best to hire another screen printer. This can be a great option. The extra help can be used in tons of different ways at your shop. They could work on screen prep and reclaim, or help print jobs so you can focus on the business side of things. If you’d rather be the one pulling a squeegee, hire a business manager to take care of the paperwork. 

No matter which position you decide to hire, you’ll need to first determine whether you want to hire a full-time or part-time employee. Obviously, hiring part-time help will be the cost-saving option, since you won’t need to provide benefits and they’re working fewer hours overall. But part-time employees typically aren’t as invested as full-time employees are, and tend to have higher turnover rates. 

A part-time employee also probably won’t have all that screen printing experience that comes with working in a shop. Hiring someone to help with office management or reclaiming are two popular options for part-time employees.

The other hiring option is a full-time screen printing employee. These types of people are generally more skilled and have much more experience pulling a squeegee. They might have even run their own shop before or are looking to jump into business ownership themselves down the line. To keep these valuable employees around, you’ll need to pay them a competitive wage and likely offer benefits as well, like health insurance and a 401k. 

With a full-time screen printing employee, you’ll be able to trust that they know how the trade operates and can hold the fort down while you focus on other aspects of your business: managing and taking orders, making connections, and exploring ways to expand and upgrade. Again, if you want to be that hands-on screen printer, hire a business manager to take care of ordering and purchasing so you can focus on what you’re passionate about. 

A big part of the hiring process includes finding someone who’s a good fit for your shop. Hiring your friends can work, but doesn’t always come with quality. Sure, your friend Jeremy might have been your closest buddy since 3rd grade, but does he have a good work ethic? It can be hard to hire — and fire — friends. 

You’ll need to find an employee that fits the vibe of your shop and brand, who works hard, and who believes in the success of your shop as much as you do. Do you like to listen to death metal while you screen print? They should too, or at least bring their noise-canceling headphones and listen to their own music. Is your brand full of edgy, crazy artwork? Your employee should enjoy printing that artwork as much as you do. 

Finding the right help for the right price can be tricky. It’s all about matching the passion to screen print with the skills to handle the shop while you focus on running the business. 

Not interested in hiring an employee? Maybe it’s time to invest in a press with a mind of its own.

Automation in screen printing can alleviate many printers’ issues. With long days and huge orders jamming up production, having a screen printing machine with a brain and mechanical arms helps a lot. Going auto is a great way to increase your capacity without having to hire another employee. The main factor to consider? Everything gets bigger with a large press.

The press can print on its own, but you still need to do all the setup, registering, and clean up after the job is done. All the equipment needs to be bigger; it’s not just the press that’s getting upsized. You’ll need a larger conveyor dryer to accommodate more shirts per hour, a larger flash to cover those large platens, bigger screens, and a washout booth that can handle reclaiming those screens. 

Buying an automatic screen printing press is a big investment. Automatic presses, even small ones, are far more expensive than large manual presses. Say the press you want is $100k. That’s a lot of money, and it won’t arrive tomorrow. Automatic screen printing machines have a lot of moving parts, and these types of sales take a long time to finalize. After it’s all said and done, the press will still need to be shipped, installed, and tested. Then, you’ll need to be trained on how to properly use it. 

The good news is that once the press is paid off, which is typically done in installments, like a car payment, you won’t have to put any more money toward benefits. Well, at least until robots gain sentience, but that’s probably still a few years away (probably).

If you’re a one-printer shop, pulling a squeegee won’t be your job anymore. Instead, you’ll be setting up the job, loading and unloading shirts, and reclaiming screens. An automatic press can increase your production by miles. The larger the job, the wider the margin gets when comparing run time to a manual printer and press. If you have lots of large jobs, an automatic machine is a great option for your shop. 

Even after you’ve gone auto, you might want to keep your manual press around anyway. Let’s say you print a lot of jobs that have 24-50 pieces but are made of different garments. The customer wants 24 t-shirts, 16 hoodies, and 15 poly-blend garments. Each type of garment will need different colors and a change in off-contact. For a job like this is best to print on a manual press, since the automatic press has more to change between garment and color types. 

With two solid options for your rapidly growing shop, how do you know which way to go? This depends on a couple of factors. 

If your shop is in a small space and you’re not looking to relocate, an auto might not fit in your shop. The majority of automatic presses use compressors, so a residential area might not be the best fit for an auto. While some shops run autos out of their garage, a commercial or warehouse space is best. 

Maybe you love to pull a squeegee. You’ve got that EZ Grip squeegee that doesn’t strain your arms and you love watching the print materialize in front of you. If that’s the case, an automatic press might not be your best choice. Consider hiring a business manager to handle customers, payment, and other office-related tasks so you can focus on what you love about screen printing.

Hate reclaim? If you’re struggling to keep up and reclaiming screens is that one job you just push off, hire someone to come in and reclaim your screens. Having a part-time screen reclaimer can take hours off of your workload. With a bit of training, they can help alleviate a pain point for your shop.

As mentioned before, an auto performs best with large jobs. Let’s say you’ve accepted a 200-piece order with an eight-color design. If you’re working at max capacity on a manual press, you could finish the job in about 12 hours (but it’ll likely take longer). On an automatic machine that runs 800 pieces an hour, that same job will take about 15 minutes.

Printing itself is quicker on an automatic press. If you’re printing jobs with 72 or more of a single type of garment, an automatic press will be more beneficial for your production process. Take that same order: instead of three different types of garments, the customer wants 72 black t-shirts. Easy enough on an auto. And it’ll save you time.

The decision to hire help or go auto is totally up to you. If you’re thinking about either option, find other print shops like yours that have taken that leap. The best way to learn is by asking questions. No matter what you choose, you’ll increase productivity and take a step up in the world of screen printing.

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