An Overview of Automatic Garment Presses
Use this guide to automatic garment presses to find out about important features and functions and learn about some of the models on the market.
Automatic garment presses are designed to deliver print-production speed and accuracy, access to more colors and effects, and higher levels of consistency and output quality. Many models are available to accommodate new shops or facilities without much floor space to spare, growing businesses that need greater capacity than manual presses can offer, and large-scale operations that print garments in the millions. Before we look at a cross-section of what’s on the market, let’s review some of the basics you’ll need to consider when shopping for an automatic garment press.
The carousel configuration is the most common type of automatic garment press and is the focus of this article. Its operation is similar to that of the manual press—that is, it indexes in a circular pattern. Oval presses are still available, though the number of domestic manufacturers that offer this type of machine has decreased significantly over the years. As its name implies, the oval press is longer than it is wide. It typically is modular in design and indexes shirts along a track on the perimeter of the press.
Carousel presses require unobstructed areas that are larger than their total circumference, otherwise known as footprint, to give operators access to all print stations and press controls. Shop floors that are peppered with ceiling-support pillars or other structural components can limit the maximum allowable press size. An oval press may be a good solution in places where broad, open areas are unavailable.
Colors and stations
Automatic garment presses are available with as few as four colors/six stations to more than 18 colors/20 stations. Auto-matics typically feature two more stations than colors to provide for garment loading and unloading. Some configurations are designed specially for single-operator use and are equipped with only one extra station dedicated to loading and unloading. Be sure to take into account the flash-curing positions you’ll need—as well as positions dedicated to underbases, specialty inks, and more—when deciding how many stations you want.
Drive systems and press movement
Pneumatic, electromechanical, and servomechanical drives are the most common types used in the operation of automatic garment presses. Some machines use one type of drive; others combine them. Pneumatic systems use pressurized air to index printing platens and/or to power squeegee/floodbar assemblies. Electronic valves control speed and distance of motion. Presses with strictly pneumatic drive systems are often less expensive than models that use electromechanical or servomechanical drives.
Electromechanical drives typically have electric motors and analog controls that are used to index the press and/or power the printheads. AC and DC drive motors may be incorporated into the printheads for greater movement control.
Servomechanical drives are often regarded as the most precise in terms of accurate press movement. Digitally controlled servomotors provide continuous feedback to the press’s control system to ensure exact position. Automatic garment presses may be completely servo driven or equipped with a servo indexer and pneumatic or electromechanical printheads.
Press movement refers to the press’s actions after indexing. Some automatics raise the platen to the screen for the print stroke. These are referred to as platen-lift presses. Others lower the screen from a raised position before the print stroke. These are called screen-lift presses. Each has its supporters, so it’s best to see a variety of presses at work before making a selection.
Clamping, frame size, and image area
Most automatic presses are equipped with pneumatic frame clamps. They may grip the frames along one edge or multiple edges. Generally speaking, the more sides of a frame that are clamped, the greater the stability and registration accuracy of that frame during printing. Note that several manufacturers offer pin-registration systems designed to speed up screen alignment on press.
Frame size determines the frame format the press will accept. If the automatic press you like won’t support the frames you currently use, you’ll have to switch to new frames. Image area refers to the largest image size you’ll be able to print. Make sure the press you’re checking out will permit you to print garment graphics at acceptable sizes. Note that some press models feature optional attachments that allow you to switch between standard-sized prints and large-format or all-over prints.
Cycle speed is, perhaps, the greatest draw for automatic presses. The maximum cycle speed refers to the number of prints a press can produce with one or two operators in an hour. Some presses support the decoration of several hundred garments per hour; others can produce more than a thousand in that time. Realistically, actual cycle speed depends on how many colors you print, how many flash sequences are in the workflow, the types of inks you print, and other job-specific factors.
Control systems range from analog dials and switches to microprocessor-based systems with touchscreens. Digitally controlled presses typically feature a master control system and independent controls on each printhead for fine tuning. Some models allow operators to store and recall job settings, which can reduce setup time significantly on repeat orders. Some presses also feature connectivity solutions that permit manufacturers to access control systems and troubleshoot problems remotely.
Anatol Equipment Manufacturing Co.
Anatol’s Vindicator is available in 10-, 12-, 14-, 16-, 18-, and 20-color models with a maximum image area of 20 x 28 in. (508 x 711 mm) and maximum platen size of 18 x 28 in. (457 x 711 mm). All models feature a steel frame and servo-driven indexers (platen-position tolerance of ±0.001 in., 0.025 mm), lift and lower, and printheads. According to Anatol, these servo-driven components ensure consistency, impeccable registration, and smooth production cycles. The press comes standard with air screen clamps, touchscreen control panel, digital central off-contact adjustment, clockwise or counter-clockwise operation, adjustable side screen holders, quick-release platen changeover, rubber-coated-aluminum platens, a full set of squeegees with blades, a full set of floodbars, skip-shirt button on the control panel and at loading and unloading stations, and printhead/main-panel stop buttons. The touchscreen control system features a Microsoft Windows-based interface and allows access to real-time production data and an on-board self-diagnostics system to locate problems for minimal print interruption. All operating parameters are accessible at the control panel, and operators can save, restore, or automatically update print parameters to reduce setup time. Individual printhead controls include print speed, flood speed, stroke length, screen clamping, and squeegee pressure. Options for the Vindicator include Accu-Temp and Rapid Wave Medium quartz flashes, a variety of platen sizes and styles, foot pedal for manual-mode control, individual station laser and bar protection, and front and rear screen holders.
A.W.T. World Trade Inc.
A.W.T. says its American M&M Centurian supports output of up to 900 garments/hr and combines the latest electronic technology into the finest high-speed textile printer available today. It features a central programming station (PLC and touchscreen interface) that offers operation control, production-data feedback, and troubleshooting; electromechanical indexer and carriage drives; lock-in heads and platen-tip supports; carriage-locking mechanism and a pneumatic locking fork designed to maintain ±0.001-in. (0.025-mm) registration repeatability; and more. A production/set-up mode permits indexer operation from any print station, and freewheeling mode allows manual indexer rotation. Each printhead is equipped with an 18-in. (457-mm) high-lift for screen cleaning. The Centurian also features the Squeegelizer, a pneumatic system that’s designed to control and maintain uniform print pressure along the entire squeegee blade. The press also includes a Remote Diagnostics System that links to A.W.T.’s computers. Options and accessories include a perimeter all-over platen system that is designed to enable full printing of one complete side of a T-shirt, including the sleeves, in one pass; sleeve and pant-leg platens; Q-Flash cure units; and more.
Brown Manufacturing Group
The ElectraPrint Stealth Series from Brown Manufacturing Group is available in five configurations, from a six-color/six-station unit to a nine-color/ten-station system. Brown says electrical operation makes these presses quieter to run, easier to maintain, and less expensive to operate. Electrical features include a control panel, auto start and shut down, independent squeegee-speed control, independent head multi-stroke, manual print mode on each head, on-board self-diagnostic system, flash ports on each head, shirt-skip detector, iPod mounting system with speaker, shirt counter, audible alerts, batch-mode flash operation, and more. The press requires 110-volt, 10-amp electrical power and no air. Other standard features include direct drive microregistration system, independent floodbar and squeegee pressure, winged floodbars, quick-release floodbar and squeegee (tool-free), quick-release rubber-topped-aluminum platens, full machine off-contact adjustment, independent head off-contact adjustment, front screen loading, side clamp screen holders, print-stroke adjustment from 10-24 in. (254-610 mm), and more. The presses are constructed of steel and can accommodate production speeds of up to 700 pieces/hr.
The Synchroprint S-Type AC is available in eight, ten, 12, and 14-color models, and Hirsch says it’s fully loaded with an array of standard features simply not found elsewhere. It runs on single-phase power and comes standard with AC drive printheads with linear guidance, fully enclosed drive belts for protection from inks and chemicals, individual front and rear off-contact adjustment on all stations with click-type calibrated dials, control keypads on every station with all main operator functions, lifting printheads to provide an unobstructed view of the image during setup and ink refill, adjustable screen holders for front or side screen loading, front and rear microregistration with visual guides, tool-free front and rear stroke-length adjustment, independent flood/print-speed controls, squeegee-pressure regulator on every station, and more. Each model in the product line is designed to produce up to 1400 pieces/hr, and each supports a maximum image area of 17.5 x 21.5 in. (444.5 x 546 mm). Features include a full-color touchscreen display with commands for all main operator functions, including individual printhead controls with multiple print-stroke capability, plastisol/water-based print modes, sequential print start/finish, sample/test print facility, dwell timer, remote flash-cure-unit programming (including platen warm-up), real-time production data, and picture-driven self-diagnostics. A built-in USB port facilitates online support and software upgrades. An optional multiplier program operates individual printheads in programmed sequence, allowing flash curing in multiples without losing a printing station. Other options include flash-cure units, a film-positioning unit, aluminum honeycomb platens, pre-registration system, flocking modules at any station, and more.
Lawson Screen & Digital Products Inc.
Lawson’s Mini Trooper is a four-color/six-station press that’s designed to accommodate shops that have limited floor space. It features a modular configuration, flex-head design (user-defined printhead placement), 14-in. (356-mm) maximum print stroke, double stroke on the first printhead, front and rear microregistration, auto-balance squeegees, adjustable print stroke and individual printhead control, adjustable print and flood speeds and angles, adjustable off-contact and platen height, 16 x 18-in. (406 x 457-mm) platens, and more. The press supports a maximum image area of 14 x 16 in. (356 x 406 mm) and maximum frame size of 21 x 28 in. (533 x 711 mm). The Lawson Equalizer feature allows for the addition of an extra print head without the loss of the load/unload station. The system enables users to have a six-color/six-station Mini-Trooper. A PC option equips the press with a touchscreen control system mounted on boom arm that rotates around the carousel. Other options include the XL Package (automatic carousel indexing, foot pedal start, shuttle flash integration, integrated flash ports, and PLC diagnostics), additional printheads, double stroke on multiple heads, air compressor, pre-wiring for modular heads, rubber platen pads, additional dual-action squeegees, air clamps for frames, youth and sleeve platens, jacket holddowns, and more. The Mini-Trooper is also designed to accommodate Lawson’s QZE-Shuttle Flash Unit without taking up the space occupied by a printhead. The Shuttle Flash automatically positions itself over the printed garment, flashes based on operator-determined temperatures and dwell times, and then returns to its resting/home position during the next print cycle.
The Challenger III is available in models that offer 10-18 colors and 12-20 stations and maximum image areas of 19 x 22 in. to 36 x 43 in. (483 x 556 mm to 914 x 1092 mm). Printheads are driven by electric-drive motors and include tool-free front and rear print-stroke adjustment and tool-free, click-stop, four-corner off-contact settings for screen leveling. Challenger III’s indexer enables double indexing in one uninterrupted motion. Pneumatic screen clamps come standard, as do squeegee-pressure regulators, independent squeegee- and floodbar-speed adjustments, independently set angle and calibrated squeegee- and floodbar-pressure adjustments, adjustable rear screen holders, and M&R’s Revolver Print Program. According to M&R, Challenger III’s front and rear screen holders allow for easy placement of extra-wide screens for oversize and all-over printing. Each printhead features print, reset, and print/flood-speed controls, as well as a socket to accommodate a flash-cure unit at any station. The press’s carousel/indexer allows for clockwise or counterclockwise rotation. A touchscreen control panel with icon-based labeling can display information and commands in a range of languages. It gives operators access to an independent print-start/print-finish setting, jog-left/jog-right controls, multiple print-stroke capability (up to nine), onboard self-diagnostics, production-speed monitor and real-time production data, a test-print setting that turns individual printheads on/off during the test-print cycle, and more. Other press features include tool-free, quick-release platen locks; rubber-coated-aluminum platens; front microregistration adjustments with visual guides; rear micro-registration; adjustable rear screen holders; flip-up front screen holders speed setup; compatibility with M&R Tri-Loc, M&R Double Tri-Loc, and Newman Pin-Lock registration systems, and more. Options include fold-down printhead supports, foot-pedal control, optical no-shirt detector, and pneumatic squeegee/floodbar locks with tool-free angle adjustment.
TAS says its Hawk and Hawk Compact ranges represent a new breed of machine and says they incorporate the latest state-of-the-art engineering and cost-saving technologies. Features include electrically driven printheads; quick-release platens; skip-shirt and pause pedal; pneumatic screen clamps (optional on Hawk Compact presses); central and individual off-contact; hardened, ground-aluminum platens; front, center, and rear microregistration; touch-panel controller with Roto Multi-Flash Print Program; and more. Standard Hawk models come in six-color/eight-station to 14-color/16-station versions and support a standard print area of 18 x 25 in. (457 x 635 mm) and a maximum print area of 20 x 28 in. (508 x 711 mm). Standard platen size 18.5 x 30 in. (470 x 762 mm) for Hawk presses. Hawk Compact presses come in six-color/eight-station to 12-color/14-station versions and support a standard print area of 18 x 20 in. (457 x 508 mm) and a maximum print area of 20 x 23 in. (508 x 584 mm). Standard platen size is 18.5 x 24 in. (457 x 610 mm) for all Hawk Compact presses. All Hawk and Hawk Compact systems come with 18-in. (457-mm) floodbars and 65-durometer squeegees. All operate on 220-v, single-phase power.
Workhorse Products bills its Progressive Falcon M as a high-volume production machine with an entry-level price tag. Standard features include servo indexing, AC heads, pneumatic screen clamps, pneumatic squeegee/flood clamps, and central off-contact. The press comes in four configurations, from a six-color/eight-station model to a 12-color/14-station unit. Each supports a maximum image area of 18 x 18 in. (457 x 457 mm). All models come standard with Plug ‘N’ Go Flash technology, which is designed to permit an operator to hook up a flash to any printhead, after which the machine senses it and automatically shuts off that printhead. Other features include availability of real-time production data, on-screen diagnostics, built-in operational timers, digital control of indexer function and positioning, automatic home function, screen holders configured for the Newman pin-registration system, tool-free printhead adjustments, adjustable front and rear screen holders, integrated flash curing, rodless cylinders, linear guide rails, and more.