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Build Your Business: Shop Talk
Following the SignsEquipment upgrades help this apparel printer handle increased production demands.
The shop’s new athletic-numbering system enables T-shirts, jerseys and uniforms for Little League baseball and softball teams.
Fortunately, Doyle Rogers is as good at reading signs as he is at making them. When he took over his father’s Bridgman, Michigan-based sign shop in 2003, he soon realized the company was missing out on a lucrative business opportunity.
“Art-Fx Signs & Graphics focused on vehicle graphics and signage,” Rogers says. “But after owning the business for a couple of years, it became apparent that our sign shop clientele [comprised] the same customers who were purchasing apparel.”
His father dabbled in screen printing in the late-1990s, so Rogers dusted off the shop’s old equipment — a three-color, one-station tabletop press and flash dryer — and began taking orders for custom-printed merchandise.
According to Rogers, work initially was slow and the shop was limited by the equipment. But as word spread and orders flowed in, he bought a secondhand six-color, four-station manual press and small conveyor dryer.
“Our business has thrived on word of mouth,” Rogers says. “Our customers are small businesses, local breweries and schools. We print a lot of T-shirts, jerseys and uniforms for Little League baseball and softball teams.”
Numbers Add Up
While the six-color, four-station press served its purpose, the machine was old and couldn’t hold registration. “A lot of parts were worn and out of whack,” he says. “It needed fine-tuning, and looked like it would cost a lot to fix, so we decided to buy a Vastex V2000 HD six-color, four-station press. It was a huge improvement over what we had before,” he says. “We didn’t have to worry about the registration moving.”
Rogers also can adjust the registration on the fly with levers. “With our old press, we had to use a wrench to adjust the off-contact of a screen,” he says. “Sometimes we had to make adjustments with every job, so this was a huge upgrade for us.”
The new press also has a rear-clamp system, which differed from Rogers’ previous side-clamp press. “With a side-clamp system, the lateral movement of your screen is limited,” he explains. “The rear-clamp system gives you more freedom to move your screen left and right, and [can] accommodate larger screens if needed.”
Rogers also invested in an athletic-numbering system for sports jerseys and T-shirts. The system uses two screens, each with five numbers that slide left and right, and lock into position for each number. It also compensates for a thin number in a two-digit number by reducing the extra space between the adjacent digit, while centering the entire number.
“The numbering system is versatile,” Rogers says. “You can print the number ‘11’ on one shirt and ‘45’ on the next shirt without removing the screen from the press.”
Prior to using the numbering system, Rogers numbered garments by applying vinyl heat transfers to jerseys with a heat press. “It was time consuming, and there were inconsistencies,” he recalls. “Also, when we started doing more performance fabrics, like moisture-wicking shirts, the heat transfers didn’t adhere well.”
Each spring, Art-Fx Signs & Graphics faces an influx of business as tourists flock to the area and businesses increase advertising. The shop also gets inundated with orders for baseball uniforms and other sports apparel, Rogers says.
“During certain times of the year, the work piles up and we would have a two-week backlog on our screen-printing orders,” he says. “One person and one press could no longer support the workload, so we purchased a second [screen-printing press], identical to the first press, except with four colors instead of six.”
Rogers also added a conveyor dryer with a 54-inch belt, doubling his prior dryer’s capacity and allowing garments from both presses to be cured. “We previously couldn’t have a second person screen printing because the conveyor dryer was unable to keep up,” he says. “We also gain control over the drying process because we can adjust the temperature, speed and height of the heater.”
In addition to the conveyor dryer, Rogers purchased a new flash-cure unit with a device that rotates the unit’s head into place above the pallet with the touch of a foot pedal, and automatically rotates it away from the pallet after a user-adjustable dwell time has elapsed.
“The flash cure allows us to cure a larger area compared to our previous unit,” he says. “We also have better control over the amount of time each print is flashed. Before, if we paused the printing process for a few seconds, we had to move the flash dryer out of the way before it scorched the shirts or over-flashed the prints.”
Rogers also invested in an LED screen-exposing unit. “The LED bulbs are more efficient and faster at exposing a screen, so what used to take five minutes now takes 10-20 seconds,” he says. “There’s no bottleneck to burning screens anymore.”
The screen-exposing unit’s vacuum hold-down produces a tight screen-to-film contact. Prior to the upgrade, Rogers had to stack weight on top of his exposure unit to press the image against the glass in an attempt to simulate a vacuum hold.
According to Rogers, the new equipment has boosted efficiency. “For an entire year, we had a two-week backlog and we couldn’t take on anymore work,” he recalls. “Now, we’re in a position where we can.”
Business is going so well that Rogers thinks Art-Fx will outgrow its space in the next few years. “When we do, we will make similar equipment upgrades and potentially hire more people.”
Mark Vasilantone is owner of Vastex Intl. Inc. and builds on the legacy of his father Michael Vasilantone, the company’s founder in 1960 and an inventor and pioneer in mass producing screen printed T-shirts. For more information or to comment on this article, email Mark at email@example.com.
Art-Fx Signs & Graphics At A Glance
Company Name: Art-Fx Signs & Graphics
Address: 9486 Red Arrow Hwy., Bridgman, MI 49106
Locations: Fresno, Calif.; Fremont, Calif.; Dallas; Indianapolis; Scranton, Pa.
No. of Employees: 4-5
Decorating Methods Offered: Custom signs; vehicle graphics and wraps; screen printing and custom apparel; and graphic design and layout
Company Website: artfxsign.com
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