The compact Merchmakr screen printing system is a Start-up project it looks very interesting, mainly because of their unique approach to printing multiple colors, which they call “HotSwap”.
My first full-time job was like in a screen printing shop in 1978; I have hand cut color separations for sports gear, team shirts, and various other clothing, as well as the embroidery design layout for Letterman jackets and biker gang patches. I have worked intermittently in screen printing throughout my career, designing t-shirts for a wide variety of clients. In 1985 I bought my own monochrome printer and got a small side print of original designs for sale in local boutiques and occasionally at flea markets or exchanges. If the Merchmakr had existed at the time, I would have gladly salvaged it instead of the bulky, crudely fabricated mount I ended up with (and still have, even though I haven’t used it for a few years) .
When I first saw Merchmakr’s Kickstarter solicitation, I thought it sounded interesting, but there were a few red flags in my mind, based on my previous experience. The first is the idea of changing screens on the fly; Registration (aligning to make sure the colors line up as they should) is always tricky and usually involves multiple print tests to get it right. The idea of changing screens to print a shirt seemed impossible to me. Second, the mention of water-based inks. I prefer plastisol (a rubbery, solvent-based ink that requires heating to 320 degrees to cure) because when I have tried water-based inks they dry quickly on the screen, clogging the design and causing it to bleed. bad impressions. I was sure that the time it took to change the screens would pretty much guarantee drying and clogging.
But rather than go with my initial suspicions, I emailed the folks at Merchmakr (DIY Screen Printing Supplies) and asked them about it. It turned out that my suspicions were valid, but they were careful to answer it and resolve these issues. The fact that this machine is a product of a real silkscreen printing company is very reassuring; they really understand the needs of printers.
The solution to the registration problem is surprisingly simple and brilliant. Typically, screens in a design are prepared with very little consideration for registration, assuming they will fit on the press; most screen printing machines allow a large degree of adjustment in all directions, so it is almost irrelevant how the artwork is placed on the screens. Merchmakr takes the opposite approach; their screen frames include a registration tab that ensures the frames are mounted in the same position, and they created an exposure unit that allows them to create the screens in place on the press. If the screens are properly installed on the press, the recording is already perfect because the screens were made this way from the start.
Drying ink on screens is a common problem with low-end “hobbyist” inks which are most often used by the hobby printer. The professional Matsui brand ink supplied with the Merchmakr has a longer drying time and will not clog the screen. In addition, the clamp specially designed for screens allows them to be changed and put in place very quickly. here is a video showing the process. As you can see, it is quite simple for kids to do.
One of the uses they suggest for the system is on-site shirt printing for groups or teams; under these circumstances the process becomes a spectator event, and customers are happy to stand and watch, so speed is not essential as it would be in a production workshop where hundreds of shirts have to come out every day .
Screen printing is one of the easiest and cheapest businesses to get started. skills are mastered quickly, equipment and supplies are not horribly expensive, and it is possible to be up and running with a simple monochrome printer running from a garage or spare part. Many of the world’s largest screen printers started out with a simple setup like this.
The Merchmakr is an ideal system for the young entrepreneur or artist who wants to enter the screen printing industry on a limited budget. It is not a production machine; trying to print hundreds of multi-colored shirts at once would be a crazy exercise (DIY sells these multi-colored printing media as well, if you want to outfit a professional store), but for short runs of 2-3 color designs , that would be very appropriate, and as a monochrome machine, it’s very competitive. If you plan on printing a dozen shirts a year, this flimsy plastic Yudo machine (now discontinued) would do, but the Merchmakr is a much superior machine, much more solidly built, for not much more money. If you want to make small quantities, print a few dozen shirts at a time for your group, club, school or team, or small runs of any kind, then Merchmakr is the best deal I’ve seen in a long time. . I also got to see a high school art class using this system for projects.
If you have a kid who wants to make their own t-shirt (or tote bags, jackets, etc.) to sell, you might want to give it a go. Kickstarter campaign while you can. If I was still doing screen printing projects myself, I would jump on them.