Defining the Ideal Manual Press

Almost every facet of a manual press is as important to productivity and print quality as the next. Consider the features and functions described here when shopping for a new manual press.

No matter how large your garment-printing operation, chances are that manual presses play an important role. In larger shops, these presses may be used to handle sampling and overflow work, while in smaller shops manual models may be the backbone of production. But regardless of what part manual presses play in your facility, the machines must be sturdy, accurate, and reliable.

Ease of use is the first thing to look for in a manual press. You do not want a machine that takes excessive effort to use. Some believe that the heavier a press is built, the stronger and better it is. This is not necessarily true. For example, some presses are built like tanks but have weak registration systems. On the other hand, there are plenty of solid manual presses that require twice the effort to operate.

Start your search for manual garment presses by polling your fellow printers in the industry. Ask for their general opinions on the performance of units they’ve used. Developing a general consensus can help steer you in the right direction. In addition to getting user feedback about different press models, here are some other features and considerations to keep in mind:

Number of colors The number of colors supported by the press you plan to purchase is always an important concern. If you operate a fledgling company, you may want to plan for expansion from the standpoint of colors. Although you may be satisfied initially with a six-color press to keep things simple, you might instead want to consider an eight-color unit that will accommodate future jobs.

Microregistration Design movement during a job run is one of the most frustrating aspects of manual screen printing. To reregister an image, you typically have to wipe the screens clean and print your registration marks. Having a good microregistration system will enable you to make small adjustments to get the print back in register without having to clean the screens. When assessing a press’s microregistration, determine whether the system is easy to work with, accurate, and able to hold its position well once you’ve tightened down your screens.

Platen-plane adjustment Most manual presses do not have this feature—the presses are supposedly designed to make such adjustments unnecessary. But the truth is platen plane shifts as a press starts to wear from daily use. This may not be an issue for those who print athletic wear, because critical registration isn’t involved with those graphics, but it can have a major influence on close-tolerance graphics, such as butt-registered artwork or process-color designs.
Because most printers who attempt close-tolerance work use highly tensioned screens, any variation in platen plane can have negative effects in the form of film-thickness inconsistencies, registration shifts, and undesirable dot gain. In addition to eliminating these negatives, the adjustable platen plane also allows for increased accuracy in setting off-contact, which must be very consistent when printing close-tolerance graphics.

Frame-clamp format Rear frame clamping and side frame clamping are the two primary formats. The concern is the press’s capacity for maintaining screen stability once the frame is locked into place. The last thing any printer wants is screen movement once the press is dialed in.
Presses that are designed with rear clamp mounts work well for trapped artwork and athletic types of printing. Although you can achieve tight registration with a rear-clamp manual press, you are more likely to experience registration shifts than you would with a press that is manufactured with side clamps. Side-clamp presses allow for greater stability because the frames are fixed to the press with two clamps as opposed to just a single, rear-mount clamp.

Most rear-clamp manual presses can be modified to accept side clamps with attachments either available through the manufacturer or a third-party accessory supplier. Side-clamp presses are preferable for close-tolerance printing and allow for the additional stability needed for such applications.

Garment-loading clearance Many first-time press buyers fail to consider this important aspect of press design. Garment-loading clearance refers to the workable area you have to load the garment onto the platen. Some presses have large platen-mounting devices beneath the platens that can take up valuable space needed to allow smaller-sized garments to stretch easily onto the platen. Youth platens help, as do elongated youth platens, which allow you to load the garment away from the platen mount. When you’re looking at a potential press, consider the area underneath the platen in the context of printing of youth garments. If it appears to be an issue, ask the manufacturer for some options.

Platen construction Wood and aluminum are the most common materials used for platens on manual presses. The ideal platen is one that is very resistant to solvents and heat. Formica-topped, wooden platens work well as long as you don’t leave them under flash units for extended periods of time. Excessive heat can melt Formica and cause it to catch fire. Aluminum platens won’t melt or ignite under flash units, but they can warp over time. In either case, you would need to replace the platens—a proposition that can quickly become quite costly. Here again, you should get the opinions of other printers to see what has worked best for them in the past.

Pressing ahead
Conducting the proper research and knowing what you need in a manual garment screen-printing press can make all the difference in terms of increasing productivity, reducing waste, and growing the profitability of your facility.



A.W.T. World Trade Inc.

American M&M

Anatol Equipment Manufacturing Co

Antec Inc.

Brown Mfg. Group

HIX Corp.

Lawson Screen & Digital Products Inc


Printa Systems, Inc

Ranar Mfg. Co. Inc.


Riley Hopkins Screen Printing Machinery LLC

Vastex Int’l Inc

Workhorse Products

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