Manual or Automatic Screen Printing: What is More High Quality?

Automatic Screen Printing

Screen printing technology has been around for over a thousand years! But there’s something that’s newer: giant automatic screen printing machines.

Automatic screen printing machines regularly print upwards of 500 shirts per hour. But does it come with the same quality?

Let’s take a quick look at what’s better, automatic or manual screen printing.

T-shirts and Quantity

Cost is also a big factor when it comes to screen printing. An automatic screen printing machine, just at the entry level, costs upwards of $30,000. A manual press, on the other hand, might cost as little as $5,000.

Despite the higher upfront cost of an automatic machine, you often get cheaper prints when ordering from an automatic printer. Why? Because of the other costs involved with screen printing on these two kinds of machines.

An automatic printer requires only 2 people: one to load and one to unload the machine. A manual press can be much more labor intensive, increasing the costs of personnel.

An automatic screen printing machine also prints much faster, so if the machine is kept busy it might “earn its keep” more than a manual machine, meaning the cost per hour might be much lower. A manual machine probably prints 40-100 shirts per hour, which means an automatic machine is 10 times faster!

With both types of machines, you have load times, but manual setup can be much slower (another factor in cost). Some materials won’t load well on an automatic machine, however. An example is a jacket, with multiple layers. In any kind of printing, each layer must be secured to avoid the materials slipping. For multiple layers to the fabric, then, securing each on a manual printer will have better results.

Higher quality?: Manual printing works better on layered material.

Smaller job?: Given the time described above, smaller jobs will usually go on a manual printer. You wouldn’t want a large, expensive machine to spend all of its time on setup and takedown. So, most automatic machines have higher minimum orders.

So What about Print Quality?

In general, an automatic screen printing machine will print better quality images. This is especially true when you’re talking about:

  • Lining up colors – Automatic screen printers line up digitally, and thus consistently, especially when you want color to change gradiently.
  • Line art – Thin, crisp lines work best on an automatic printer.
  • Multi-colored text – Because of the ease of alignment, multi-colored text tends to be more consistent on automatic printers.
  • Dark colors – Printing dark colors might require an underbase and flash cure, which is done on an automatic machine.

So for the top quality on a higher-quantity job, an automatic printer will save money and deliver better results.

Not every business has automatic screen printers, though. As discussed earlier, the machines themselves cost quite a bit more than manual presses.

When will a Printer Go Manual?

Sometimes your printer will decide for you, and insist on a manual machine. These types will most likely be about cost, but also about quality, depending on certain conditions.

You will likely get a manual printer for a custom print job when:

  • You are printing on unusual materials.
  • You are printing on the sleeve of a long-sleeve shirt.
  • It’s a smaller print job.
  • Printing with just one ink color.

So, if your printer has both options available, manual and automatic screen printing machines, you may have times when the manual printer is preferred.

Let the Experts Decide

A top-quality t-shirt printing company understands their equipment. The goal is to get you the highest quality possible work, while maintaining cost efficiency. In this way, you get high quality custom t-shirts at the lowest possible price, whether that means on a manual or automatic machine.

At T-shirt Labs we print in our own facilities, in the USA. We oversee every job from start to finish, regardless of the automaticity of the machine. That means a real life human will see your job, and ensure the quality of the work, even if the machine is largely automatic!

Looking for quality custom screen printing? Let us help you!

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