Manual vs Automatic Screen Printing: Which is the best?


Screen printing has been in use for a very long time now. The process includes pressing ink through a stenciled mesh screen to create a design for the product. It is widely used in the apparel industry and now has also made its way into metal printing. The technique is being used in other different industries too, and as a consumer, you might have come across many clothes or products that are screen-printed without knowing it. The process is also known as serigraphy or silkscreen printing but all these methods refer to the very basic use case of screen printing.

Screen printing machines can be used for bold canvases, posters, artworks, and also on the web to print. It is very effective in creating prints on various conventional and non-conventional materials. Also, it produces vivid colors even on dark color fabrics and the print stays on the layers of the fabrics which makes it look very good and sophisticated.

The technique in general has been used by many printers to easily produce designs multiple times. Because the method uses stencils you can repurpose it to replicate the same design again and again. It is a very useful method when it comes to bulk orders. It helps create multiple copies of the same garment or accessory without having to go through the entire process.

With time things have changed and now we have more modern technology to carry out screen printing. Many printers use modern equipment to improve the quality of print and also reduce manual labor while producing the screen print. Color-wise as well the multi-colored designs are easy to replicate without having to worry about the quality. The colors with advanced technology have become more intense than ever before to achieve the quality of digital print.

Automatic vs Manual screen printing

Automatic screen printing machines are now available in the market. They are a great way to reduce manual labor and optimize the speed of the process. Before the advent of technology, screen printing was done manually using manual presses. Another method for screen printing that is fairly rare is belt printers.

Some of the advantages of going for an automatic screen printing press include:

  • Faster operations
  • Reduced manual work
  • Better quality
  • Reduced wastage

In this blog, we would be comparing automatic and manual screen printing machines to understand which a better solution is in modern times and how both options help you in multiple production processes, process optimization, automation of the work, workflow management, and quality control.

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Also, we would do a close analysis of cost, production, speed, efficiency, overall return on investment, etc. If you are new at screen printing and like to know more about how you can set up your own web to print store where you provide screen printing services feel free to contact our customer service executives.

So, let’s get started with some basic questions before jumping to the complex part.

  1. Difference between the automatic press and manual press

Manual press as the name suggests would require manual intervention at each stage, that is holding the product, pressing designing, keeping it on the other station to dry and get processed for later, etc.

In an automatic process, everything is done by machinery. The modern tool comes with platens which hold the product and once printed it gets advanced to the next station automatically. Secondly, there are floor bars and squeegee raise automatically, and the product gets lowered and moved automatically for being processed too.

  1. Is manual screen printing a slow process?

Not exactly a slow process, as with manual screen printing also you can produce 40 to 100 prints per hour. But it is highly dependent on the operator’s speed. Also, some design-related factors such as no. of colors in the design, flash cure during printing, etc. are some important factors that can affect the speed of the process.

  1. What is the speed of the automatic press?

One of the best automatic screen printing machines for shirts has a world record of printing 2139 prints per hour. It was set by Luis Omar Viera in 2013. In the last 7 years, the technology has made major progress and you can expect more high-end machinery to make a debut in the market and how you can use them to optimize the operation speed and improve the quality of the print.

But that is a stretch, in general, you would not be running your machine to be competing in a world record competition. To give you a reasonable number as to how many prints an automatic press gives you per hour when maintained at an auto mode – 500 – 800 prints per hour.

Since an automatic machine does not depend on the operator’s speed thus you can find the best screen printing machine with good speed as per your business requirements and achieve the number of prints as many as you want.

If you want to achieve a top-notch speed to get these many numbers of prints per hour, you would be required to indulge two press operators – one for loading and the other for unloading.

  1. Cost and speed: is it a smart decision to invest in an automatic screen printer?

An automatic screen printing press is way faster than a manual press. A good and reliable automatic screen printing press can print 500 prints per hour and would cost you only $34,000. With the speed, quality, reduced human resources, and other overhead expenses, you actually save a lot of money and can break even faster with your investment in automatic grade products.

  1. For other customization methods, do you need to provide screen printing services? What do the facts say?

Other processes used in product customization such as print and cutting vinyl, embroidery, laser transfer, dye sublimation, and more are a bit slower processes as compared to automatic screen printing. You can provide much faster and more cost-effective solutions to your customers as compared to other methods of customization.

  1. Other methods of printing and how does screen printing compare to them?

Some of the other printing methods such as the offset press can run as fast as 100,000 prints per hour. So, you see screen printing is nothing in comparison to other methods of printing. It is a fairly slow process when it comes to decorating products with print. The commercial printing industry still relies on these faster and more efficient methods.

  1. Cost comparison manual vs automatic screen printing press?

Cost is another important factor to consider when making an investment. Before we get down on cost, you must always see the market potential to help you get the return you are expecting from your investment. So, start by doing an in-depth market search, do many of your customers come for screen printing services? How much are the competitors charging, etc.?

Now, coming back to the cost, an entry-level manual screen printing press may cost you somewhere around $5000 USD and would produce 60 prints per hour with one employee engaged. Comparatively, an automatic screen printing machine costs you $34,000 and produces 500 prints/hour with two employees – one to load and one to unload.

The catch here is by understanding how much per print costs you. To compare you must ask yourself how much you are spending on each print over every dollar you are investing in the machine. With this method, the manual print would cost you $83USD per print/hour and the automatic press would cost you $68 per print /hour.

  1. Is there any other factor that can affect the cost of the print in both methods?

Yes, there are many factors that you must consider. Although automatic, the auto method would still engage your two employees per hour when it produces 500 prints. While two employees on manual for an hour would produce only 120 prints. So, the labor cost per print also would affect the cost of the print/hour. This means an automatic screen printing machine would use only 24% of the cost of that manual press.

Over time when the business increases and the manual screen printing would demand more labor and added machinery, this would exceed more and would give you more edge and control over your spending. Going with an automatic screen printing solution thus becomes a smarter choice.

  1. Why should your labor cost matter?

Since the cost of a manual machine is less than an automatic screen printer, to achieve the output that you get from an automatic screen printer which is 500 shirts per hour you would need 6-8 manual printers. This may be somewhat equivalent to the cost of the automatic screen-printer.

But when it comes to labor cost, you would be required to employ 8 employees. For an automatic solution, you only have to hire 2 people. When you start seeing your investment for the long term this would become a liability and ultimately your return on investment would be much faster as compared to manual screen printing investment.

  1. What about the order size, operational cost, and other factors?

For smaller orders – yes, the manual press is much more effective. While investing in automatic screen printing it is very important that you invest as per the potential in the market. If you are investing $34,000, you don’t want your machine to sit idle. You want it to print fast and print more as compared to the manual press.

For smaller orders, the time to set up, print approval, and other factors take a lot more time as compared to the time taken in the printing. So, teardown jobs and setups would just keep your automatic screen printing press idle. Invest in the screen printing automatic solution only when you get big commercial or non-commercial orders. But if not a manual screen printer is good enough to get you started and give you a good profit.

Other factors such as the number of colors in a design and larger the quantity affect the buy decision. To make a clear – if you have a bulk order and there are many colors in the design it is very likely that you would want to reduce the time and manual intervention down to a minimum. But if it is a small order and the design is pretty basic with fewer colors manually the order can be managed.

Other design-related factors such as material color –if you want to screen print over a dark shirt you need to have an under the base and a flash cure so that the printing is effective and colors are vivid. To achieve this is automatic screen printing press is easier. Lighter color materials can easily be printed with a manual printer.

  1. Product type and how does it affect the buy decision?

Not only do design-related factors affect the buy decision but the product itself is a huge decisive factor. Since, screen printing is widely used in the apparel industry consider a scenario where you have to print a jacket, or something bulky and large as compared to a t-shirt which is pretty manageable when compared to a jacket.

Multilayer materials require more hold-down frames and are required to clamp each item once loaded and removing it is going to be a time taking process. Hence, the advantage of using a faster solution is lost. Your employees would be taking a lot of time in loading and unloading. Hence, the manual press there becomes more prevalent and useful.

Other factors being equal, sleeve prints and long-sleeve shirt printing are more likely to be practically printed with a manual method as the automatic machine would again be a slow process due to load time.

  1. Quality difference in the automatic and manual screen printing?

Since automatic, the auto screen printing press is more consistent in the prints than the manual printers – even the best of them. For printing line art or any kind of design, it is very important that all your products look the same and consistent, and should achieve quality standards. The more complex the design you are printing more likely it is that you would see better results in an automatic press as compared to a manual press. Unless you have a few shirts to print, the product is difficult to manage on the automatic press and colors are not very much in the design – a manual press is a good choice.

Wrapping Up

Hopefully, you enjoyed the blog. One of the questions that might be hurting your head now is that is manual screen printing press going to be obsolete. To answer that- not obsolete but surely we are going to see automatic screen printers take a lead in the market and manual printing would decrease.

Manual printing has been in the world for more than a thousand years now and it is time that technology improvises screen printing. While it is going to be cherished around by hobbyists and people that are love traditionalism it is the beginning of the end of the era for manual printing.

For any more questions about setting a web to print solution for the screen printing industry do connect with our technology experts. We are always happy to answer your questions regarding web to print and how you can start your digital journey with our web to printer editor and completely automate the process.

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