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Manual vs. Automatic Screen Printing: How Are They Different?

Screen-printing custom t-shirts for JDRF non-profit organization.

When researching a screen printing company for your custom apparel, you have likely come across two types of printers, those who operate a manual screen printing press and those who use an automatic press. So, what’s the better choice for your custom apparel print job?

There are a number of factors to consider when choosing between a screen printing company that operates on an automatic or manual screen printing press. This includes the size of your order, the number of colours in your design, how quickly you need your custom apparel order, and whether you will plan on doing repeat orders of the same design.

The Physical Challenge of Manual Screen Printing

Manual screen printing is more physically taxing. The end result of the design relies heavily on the physical abilities of the screen press operator. Getting the alignment of the custom t-shirts to be ready for printing just right takes some experience and accuracy training and knowing how much pressure to apply to the blade to ensure the right amount of ink is applied to the custom t-shirt requires practice and expertise.

Manually printing custom t-shirt by spreading the paint on the screen.

When placing an order with a company that uses a manual printing press, you may want to consider whether you will be placing repeat orders and if consistency amongst the orders is important to you. Since the amount of pressure one applies to the blade may vary from person to person, there may be some differences between your custom t-shirt orders when placing multiple repeat orders with a company that operates a manual printing press.

Small Print Runs Are Best for Manual Presses

Manual screen print presses are ideal for small run orders. Many companies that operate automatic screen printing presses have a minimum quantity for screenprinted custom t-shirt orders. Entripy’s minimum for screen printing on custom t-shirts is 12. This is due to the time required to make each screen and by our screen printing press operators loading screens onto the machine for each colour that slows down productivity if we are doing all that work for only two or three custom t-shirts. Because the overhead costs of operating a manual screen printing press is significantly lower, these companies are able to still make a profit by screen printing these smaller run orders.

Squeegies drying from manually screen-printing custom printed t-shirts.

The Speed of Automatic Screen Printing Machines

Speed is often the reason custom apparel companies make the investment in an automatic screen printing machine.While a printer may be able to produce 400-500 custom t-shirts per 8-hour shift on a manual press, they can print 4,000 – 5,000 custom t-shirts per hour on an automatic screen printing machine. The shorter production and turnaround time is ideal for handling large run orders. When Entripy printed 20,000 custom t-shirts for the Toronto Raptors playoffs games, we were able to get the order out in a 20-hour turnaround using our automatic screen printing machines.

Automatic screen-printing machines running a custom t-shirt order.

When Consistency Is Key

If you’re hosting a large event such as a charity run and require custom t-shirts for your 500 participants, volunteers and staff and you want all of the garments to look the same, with logo placement in the same area and consistency in print quality, a company with an automatic screen printing press is going to be a better option. An automatic screen printing press can print a large run in a short period of time to meet your short deadlines and each custom printed t-shirt will look exactly the same, with the same amount of pressure on the blade used to apply the ink to the garment for a consistent look across all printed t-shirts.