The Case for Printing Samples on Automatics
Setting up an automatic press to print samples may seem like a waste of time and money, but Davis explains how the benefits of doing so can far outweigh the costs.
Some buyers fear that you won’t be able to reproduce the exact print they are hoping for. That’s why you’ll eventually find yourself in a situation where a customer will want to visually approve a sample prior to printing. This practice is more prevalent in larger, mass-production printing programs, but clients in the custom-printing market, which includes job runs small enough for a single sports team, also may wish to conduct a pre-production inspection.
In most cases, a customer’s problem stems from a concern over the variations possible in the printing process you use—no matter how subtle. In this installment, I will explain why an automatic press is a fine tool for creating pre-production samples and how you can justify the time and expense of employing an automatic instead of the manual press you might be more inclined to use.
Manual vs. automatic
Samples created for pre-production approval are typically printed by hand for one basic reason: it’s not cost efficient to tie up a $100,000 production press for two hours in order to print 12 garments. The justification here is basic and understandable until we start to look at the variations that come into play in the printing of that approval sample on a manual press. The primary objective is to produce an exact replica of the garments that you’ll ultimately print in production and do so in a manner that is cost efficient and indistinguishable from a production garment—at least to the customer’s satisfaction.
Printing the same design onto two garments on the same press can be a difficult task on its own. Putting that same job on a manual and an automatic press introduces a number of variables that will inevitably lead to dissimilar results. Many production runs fall to their knees on automatic presses when someone discovers that the prints don’t match the sample produced on a manual press for client approval.
Even though the cost of setting up and operating an automatic press just for pre-production sample seems prohibitive, generating the sample on the same press you plan to use to handle the entire job run offers a number of advantages. I have mentioned in the past that the inherent variables that the human hand brings to the table prevent the manual printing process from matching the repeatability of an automatic. This fact holds truer than ever when it comes to producing approval samples.
Consistency, intensity, and other variables
Perhaps the greatest justification for using automatics in the production of approval samples is in the squeegee stroke. Regardless of the care taken or experience acquired in manual sample production, the human hand cannot emulate the consistency of the automatic press’s control over the squeegee’s speed, pressure, and angle. The automatic press offers unparalleled management of all three parameters, none of which varies without the intervention of the press operator. Changes in any of these three parameters from print stroke to print stroke on a manual press means a potentially costly lesson may be in store once the job moves to an automatic.
Color intensity is another variable that becomes apparent when printing on a manual press. The inconsistencies from manually operating the squeegee, whether producing too light or heavy of a stroke, alter the thickness of the ink film on the garment and, therefore, the absolute color intensity of the print. Even though the condition of the screen itself also plays a crucial role here, the assumption here is that the screen conditions in your shop are the same on both manual and automatic machines. The next installment of this column will take a closer look at the screen’s influence.
Squeegee and screen variables, and their negative effects on print quality and consistency, are only magnified when we start talking about process-color printing. For example, any variation in the squeegee stroke in process-color printing will affect dot gain and hurt print intensity, definition, and resolution. Automatic presses are designed to handle accurate halftone reproductions and meet other demands associated with high-end work. Once again, you’ll be better served by printing samples of these premium graphics on the same press—or at least the same kind of press—on which you’ll finish the job run.
The hand of the print also plays a role in approval samples. The customer seldom appreciates hearing that the hand of the print will improve on the production run because the sample was printed on a manual press. The customer wants to see the real McCoy up front—not a close reproduction. Otherwise, you’re giving the client an opening to make interpretations about the quality and accuracy of your work.
If you give the buyer the final print in the samples you provide, then you’ll have an established standard for that print run. The client won’t have the chance to balk at any aspect of the production print if it matches the sample, which it readily should.
Registration is the last aspect of the process that I will address this month. Although manual presses today can hold registration to a degree that is tighter than ever, the heavy-duty construction of automatics generally provides a greater degree of registration repeatability from print to print. Today’s consumer has a more scrutinizing eye than ever and will identify variations from print to print with relative ease.
By man or machine?
I don’t want to suggest that you should avoid the manual press altogether when creating production samples. The use of a manual press for this task is perfectly acceptable when the press operator has a clear and thorough understanding of the manual’s limitations and what it takes to reproduce the actions of an automatic garment press.
The best manual sample printers are typically the best automatic press operators, as they have acquired this understanding and have battled the automatic to produce an comparable prints on a manual press. The best of these press operators have a clear understanding of the capabilities, as well as the limitations of the respective presses. Printers employing short cuts, such as extra strokes needed for opacity or purposely attempting to adjust the ink-film parameters or color intensity through squeegee variations, will typically land the automatic press in a situation where the sample just cannot be reproduced.
Considering the performance differences between manual and automatic presses, I think the best advice is to use the actual press, or at least the same type, you plan to use in production to produce samples. The benefits include more predictable results and, most importantly, more satisfied customers.
Rick Davis is the president of Synergy Screen Printing in Orlando, FL. A 27-year veteran of the textile-printing industry, Davis is a member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology and has a background that spans production management, artwork engineering, application testing, and industry consulting. He is a frequent contributor to trade publications and a speaker at industry trade events.