When you’re spending over $100,000 on a new automatic press and dryer, what’s another $300 tacked onto the final price tag? That’s what Greg Knostman, owner of Lotus Mountain Custom Screen Printing in Redwood, CA, figured when he agreed to add a laser alignment system to his first automatic. “I was spending so much money anyway, and the salespeople told me I would love it,” he says.
Turns out, they were right. The lasers, which can be configured into a multitude of combinations, allow for positioning of garments with precision, speed and accuracy – and, adds Knostman, are particularly handy when dealing with nontraditional items, like aprons or “weird tank tops.” Using lasers is similar to drawing guidelines directly onto the pallet, the main difference being that once the shirt is loaded, the laser lines aren’t covered up, he says. “When we’re moving really fast, shirts just go right on – in the same place,” Knostman says. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Laser alignment systems – whether integrated into a machine or purchased separately – are a relatively inexpensive addition to your shop setup, costing anywhere from $300 to $800, depending on the style and number of lasers used. But they can pay huge dividends. Greg Kinney, owner of Laseit (which offers patented two- and four-laser systems) says lasers often enable a printer to double production output, thanks to time saved during pre- and post-printing. The veteran printer out of Ogden, Utah, says he’s able to churn out more than 600 pocket T-shirts an hour on his automatic, using lasers to outline the print area. Prior to developing Laseit, Kinney’s shop was only able to finish 200 to 300 pocket prints each hour, using old-school cardboard templates. “It’s a no-brainer,” Kinney says. “You’ve got a map that you’re looking at to load everything from.”
Lasers serve multiple purposes for printers, according to Ryan Moor, CEO and founder of Ryonet (asi/528500).
Laseit (circle 101 on Free Info Card) offers multiple options for its laser targeting systems. This four laser fixed mount alignment system is its most popular model.
His list includes:
- Marking the center of the pallet to aid with loading a shirt correctly
- Assisting with neck placement
- Allowing a printer to place a shirt at the same level on the pallet every time
- Being quicker than using a ruler or tape measure to ensure pallets are placed at the same distance on a pressSaving time when loading cut pieces
Helping printers line up special placements like pant legs or gloves with ease.
Stahls’ Hotronix (circle 103 on Free Info Card) offers a portable laser and a Laser Alignment Wizard (LAW) printed with popular design layouts to help with heat pressing.
Before Ryonet offered lasers as a standard option on automatic presses, Moor says laser systems were sometimes a hard sell for set-in-their-ways screen printers. “They would be like, ‘Do you really need a laser? That’s what a Sharpie does,’” he says. Now, however, 95% of Ryonet customers buying an automatic opt to add the laser system, and once they do, they’re instant converts: “It’s so simple and so inexpensive compared to the machine itself and it makes it work so much better,” Moor says.
A laser system can also help a printer skate close to a seam, without fear of crossing that boundary, says Kinney, adding that it can be especially helpful when printing garments in multiple sizes. He gives the example of hoodie pullovers ranging from extra small to 2X. “Most people don’t want to pay for screen sizes for each shirt,” he notes. Using the Laseit or other systems, a printer can get as close as possible to the bottom of the collar and top of the muff pocket on the smaller hoodies, ensuring the logo is big enough to look appropriate on the larger-size garments.
The benefits extend beyond screen printing, though. Laser alignment has applications for heat transfers, embroidery hooping and any decoration technique where precision and uniformity are a necessity. Stahls’ Hotronix, for example, offers a portable laser that works for both clamshell and swing-away heat presses, along with a Laser Alignment Wizard (LAW) printed with popular design layouts to help with heat printing, says Ben Robinson, general manager. “We tell everybody to follow the LAW,” he adds. “You can pull the laser right up to the heat press and shoot vertical and horizontal lines telling you where to put the shirt on the platen but also where to put the logo, using the alignment grid.”
For decorators on the fence, it’s time to put away the rulers, the permanent markers, the cardboard templates and tape, and give these high-tech (but low-entry) gadgets a whirl. Once you do, Robinson says, the laser is likely to “hook you like a UFO.”
Ryonet Corp. (asi/528500; circle 102 on Free Info Card) offers mounted laser systems that attach to the company’s ROQ and Riley Hopkins presses.
All The Angles
There are several types of laser alignment systems out there. Here are some factors to consider before making a decision.
Number of Lasers: Laser alignment systems come in various levels of complexity, generally from one to four lasers. A simple two-laser model can project an X, parallel lines or similar configurations. Four-laser systems create an adjustable grid, allowing a logo to be boxed in by the beams.
Portable or Permanent: Some lasers are sold as part of an automatic press; others are separate but built to be threaded permanently into a standard pipe. Portable lasers may be pulled up alongside the equipment and used in conjunction with an alignment grid, like the solution from Hotronix. The portable model from Laseit can be mounted magnetically to prevent jostling.
Where to Mount: When installing your laser alignment system, think carefully about how you want to place it. Greg Kinney of Laseit recommends mounting the equipment securely from the floor or ceiling, to avoid vibrations from an active automatic press. Ryan Moor of Ryonet, however, recommends lasers that are integrated into the press. “If your laser sits off the press, something could change with the laser or press, and you will be back to zero starting over again,” he says.
Consider Your Equipment: Some lasers won’t work with clamshell-style heat presses, for instance. Laseit is developing a new model that will forecast lasers from a 45-degree angle off to the side to accommodate such presses, Kinney says.