Why To Buy Used Screen Printing Equipment (and Save Money)

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Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.

This is a comprehensive guide for buying used equipment for your screen printing shop. Whether you are new to screen printing or just want to save a buck while you expand, learn how to save some serious cash.

Nice furniture, a fancy office, brand new computers, and the latest printing equipment won’t win you any awards or make your screen printing any better. You’ve got to hunt for deals on used equipment, put in some work to find alternatives to expensive production equipment, and be ready to take advantage of connections you have.

You don’t want to have bad equipment – and you need to have things that work well for a long time – but that doesn’t mean that you should just buy new and call it finished.

Pretty much everything in my shop is used. Everything runs and prints just as well as if it were new. Buying new might be easier and faster, but good used equipment ultimately offers the same value at a much lower cost. Do your due diligence – thoroughly research, inspect, test, and ask detailed questions about the equipment.

In a small business, your cash is a finite resource. If you run out of cash, your business dies. So you have to balance acquiring the tools and the equipment you need in order to run your business properly with paying the lowest possible price.

I’ve been hustling since I was old enough to realize money makes the world go ’round. So this is second nature to me – but not everyone thinks about how much money they can save through used equipment.

Where to Find Deals on Used Screen Printing Equipment

Industrial equipment is great. It’s built to last! That’s also why it’s so expensive. If you want to really save money on startup costs (or upgrade your shop) the number 1 rule to follow is simple:

 Never pay the full retail price.

You can find deals on used equipment and production supplies through multiple channels:

  • Dead Shop Deals
    • Screen printing shops that are going out of business are a quick and easy way to save tons of money on equipment. Keep tabs on competitors – big and small – in your area.
  • Liquidation Outlets
    • Almost every metropolitan area has a large liquidator for furniture and office supplies. Get to know these people, let them know what you’re looking for, and keep coming back.
  • Moving Sales
    • Businesses relocate all the time. Whether a small manufacturer is moving, closing, or upgrading their equipment – the odds are good they’ll be happy to part with things they don’t want to haul off. You’re likely doing them a favor!
  • Internet Outlets (Screen Printing Industry Specific)
    • Digitsmith is the screen printing and embroidery industry’s go-to resource for used gear. It’s an old-school forum but it has unbeatable deals.
    • Screenprinting Products and its owner, Dave McLain, offer rock-bottom prices on high-end equipment.
    • Cosmexgraphics sell used screen printing equipment at fair prices.
  • Internet Outlets (General)
    • Craigslist is worth its weight in gold. Keep it bookmarked and check often. Check major metro areas nearby if you’re not finding anything in your town.
    • eBay always has something you’ll want at a far lower cost than retail.
    • Facebook Marketplace is an easy and fast way to find deals near you.

If you hear about a screen printing shop near you that’s going out of business – run, don’t walk. Visit their location for better deals, rather than relying on the internet. The bigger the shop, the better deals you can find – they will have more stuff to get rid of. You don’t know what they might not have listed.

Here in the Bay Area, we’ve bought used gear from Andy’s Tees, Studio 1204, City Screen, CLP Embroidery and more. Don’t limit your search to the city limits…we’ve even found deals from a shop in Las Vegas.

Screen Printing Tools, Supplies, and Machines to Buy Used

You can save money on your next purchases by buying used. Here are a few examples of supplies, tools, and machines I’ve bought with deep discounts. Mull this list over and see if there isn’t somewhere that you can save money!

  • Automatic press squeegee blade holders
    • Squeegee holders retail for around $70 each! We bought a bunch from Studio 1204 for $0.50 per inch – that’s $8 for a 16-inch squeegee blade holder. That’s an 85% discount just for going to a shop that’s closing. We even bought oversized blade holders and flood bars from off eBay and then cut them down with a miter saw.
  • Static screens
    • This is the easiest and fastest way for a new screen printing shop to save money: buy used screens. The sweet spot in pricing for used screens is between $2-5 if they still have usable mesh. The screen tension may not be ideal, but getting in the game with 100 screens with various mesh counts for $300 really saves a young shop serious money. Later on, you can re-mesh your used screens for around $10 each. Even after re-meshing costs, you’re still getting a discount compared to purchasing new screens.
  • Plastisol ink
    • Plastisol, if it’s stored correctly, has no expiration date and essentially lasts forever. We have picked up old Plastisol from various places over the years. I’d recommend sticking to full containers rather than half-empty leftovers because it’s less likely the last guy did something weird to it (like adding in a bunch of reducer).
  • Stock ink & Pantone matched ink
    • Be aware that stock ink can often be had a steep discount. Even better, shops often give away Pantone matched ink for free. Just be aware that disposing of uncured Plastisol ink requires following local regulations about hazardous materials. If you can think of a use for it then free ink is an easy win. Maybe it’s the perfect ink for live printing, a “Free Print Day” at your shop, or cheap shirts for a promotional event?
  • Platens
    • Platens are so expensive when they’re new. I virtually always buy them used. Just check to ensure that they’re not warped (you can eyeball it or bring a level along). I’ve found plenty of used platens that cost about 50% less and work exactly like a new set. You can also buy dramatically discounted new platens from broker Dave McLain for about 20% less than what Action Engineering and M&R will charge.
  • Flash cure units
    • This is a great example of how a little work and a small investment of your own time can save your business a lot of money. I bought my Red Chili flash cure unit for just $1,400 from a nearby shop that was relocating. It’s an older model, so it needed a little bit of work. It was missing a few bulbs (which are around $100 each) but that’s still a lot cheaper than the $2,500-3,000 asking price from online brokers!
  • Exposure units
    • Reducing your exposure times is a huge area for possible savings. While finding used exposure units that are in great shape can be tricky, it’s worth the time spent. We initially got a big Ranar unit locally for $700, then sold that for about the same price on Digitsmith. Then we upgraded to a Nuarc MSP3140 from a shop in Louisiana for $2,500. They go for $2-3k used, so I didn’t get a great bargain – but I got a great unit that’s still in production.
  • Electric dryers
    • Dryers are big enough that they require some grunt work to transport. If you’re willing to rent a box truck, you’ll find that dryers can be had at steep discounts since they’re such a pain to relocate – particularly if a shop is closing. I got a 48″ BBC electric dryer for less than $1,500 because of that exact scenario. Just be prepared for the ventilation work and 3-phase power requirements these dryers have.

Buying Used Screen Printing Presses

If you’re planning to start investing in used gear, here’s a tip:

 Always be prepared to leap on a good deal, even if you don’t have a specific plan for what you’ll do with the gear.

You don’t have to need a press to get a great deal on it – and the reality is that you can likely flip it in due time.

I kickstarted my shop through an incredible bargain: I paid just $1,000 for a Rototex 6/4, a Workhorse flash cure unit, and a National 8’ Electric dryer. We used the equipment for the first year and upgraded once it made sense. Sold the Rototex & dryer for about $1,000. Later sold the flash for $800. Not only did this start our business, but we also turned a profit after using it for production!

Don’t want to just take my word for it? I’ve owned 5 manual presses. Each one has a story. We just kept buying used manual presses and then upgrading when I found a good deal. I didn’t really see manual printing as the ideal long-term solution. Instead, a used manual press is an affordable way to get off the ground.

Here are some of the bargains on manual presses I’ve been able to take advantage of:

  • M&R Chameleon 6/4
    • Paid $4,000 for it, sold it for slightly more than $4,000. That’s 50% less than the retail price.
  • Workhorse Mach 6/4
    • Bought it for $1,100. Sold it for $1,400 later on when we started moving to automatic. Its retail price is almost 4 times what I paid.
  • Workhorse Mach 6/4 (#2)
    • Bought it for $250 off Craigslist. Will probably sell for around $1,000.
  • M&R Kruzer
    • Bought it from a used equipment dealer for $2,200 while it retails for $3,500. We still use this in production for difficult jobs.

There are even bigger bargains to be had with automatic presses. While it’s certainly a lot of work to break down and transport an automatic press, you’re saving thousands of dollars versus purchasing it new.

Here are two great examples of deals I’ve been lucky to get:

  • Gauntlet RS 8/10 Automatic Press
    • I paid just $10,000 for this high-end automatic press. A dealer offered me the same model about 2 years earlier for more than $25,000! I even financed the press through the shop that was closing, spacing out payments over a year. The shop also gave me a rotary screw compressor, holding tank, and 48” Sprint dryer for a song.
  • Sportsman 8/10 Automatic Press with Servo
    • I traveled to Las Vegas for this deal (a 12-hour drive) and saved more than $13,000. That makes it worth the trip! Not only did I save a huge amount of money for a high-quality press, but I also flipped the compressor for $1,000 shortly thereafter. I even picked up spare ink and a washout booth while I was there.

I didn’t actually need these presses right away. I just stashed them in my shop for a while. But since it was such a good deal, I knew I could either flip them for a profit – or utilize it when my production needs grew. Grab it, stash it, install it later!

Tips for Saving on Production Shelving, Racks, and Furniture

Desks, office chairs, filing cabinets, storage racks, shelving, and tables all command a very high premium when you buy new. Since you’re just going to subject the furniture to abuse – scratches, ink stains, clumsy employees – get something that’s replaceable and low-cost. 

Find your local furniture liquidators and get to know them well. Look for moving sales and try to keep abreast of any large relocations or business closures in your area. Stay informed about auctions held by the government and local schools. There are almost always great bargains to be had.

Here are easy ways to save:

  • Pushcarts
    • Industrial grade carts are surprisingly expensive, but they are a must-have for every shop. Even a simple Rubbermaid cart retails for more than $150! With patience and enough time online, you’ll find plenty of bargains for used carts. I picked up a lot of ours in the $20-40 range.
  • Shelving and wire racks
    • We got a whole bunch of wire shelving when my neighbor moved out. It’s ugly, but it’s just for production, so who cares? I bought a set of nice shelves at an estate sale for $10 each. No one else wanted them, and they easily cost hundreds of dollars when they were new. Now they’re customer-facing on our showroom.
  • Pallet racking
    • Brand new pallet racking is overpriced. A single 8 foot pallet rack costs more than $350 from ULINE when you buy it new. What a waste! I bought 64 linear feet (with shelving) for $600 just by going to a moving sale for a local warehouse. I had to break it down and relocate it – admittedly time-consuming – but it was easily worth the $2,000 or so that I saved.
  • Clothing racks
    • My neighbor runs a company that furnishes tradeshow expositions. He gave me two clothing racks for free and I kicked him over a few t-shirts for his Solar Eclipse party. I’ve also found deals on clothing racks when local department stores go out of business or relocate.

When you visit a shop that’s moving or closing, look closely for accessories like these. I bought a DTG machine from a dead shop and was simply given two Rubbermaid carts!

Don’t overlook garage sales, moving sales, estate sales, and other opportunities for getting steep discounts on furnishings for your shop – wire shelving, bookcases, and even office furniture like desks and chairs are all extremely expensive when you buy them new (and they provide so little direct production value). The best way to save at estate sales: go on the last day of the sale to get the best deals!

Another tip: find ways to solve problems that don’t involve expensive furniture or accessories. For example, I just use reams of paper as impromptu computer stands. It’s a clever hack because you’ve got paper easily accessible right from your workstation and it only costs as much as a ream of paper (which you were already going to use).

You’re not going to win any office design awards, but you will save money.

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Save Big: Build Your Own Standing Desks

Ergonomic standing desks make a huge difference in a production environment. You don’t want workers hunched over or sitting down, because they’ll inadvertently waste a lot of time sitting down and getting up. People also tend to get a little bit lazy when they sit down.

Standing desks are super expensive since they’re all the rage right now. Instead of spending thousands of dollars for desks that are just going to get abused, I did a little research and figured out how to make our own standing desks. All of our standing desk units are modified items we’ve re-made into standing desks.

My personal favorite shortcut for saving money on a standing desk is to use an inexpensive AmazonBasics wire shelf. It’s easy to take a basic $20 wire shelf, add a piece of cardboard for your keyboard and use a clipboard for a mouse pad. These are great for computer terminals where users don’t need to place heavy items on the shelves.

In our receiving and ink mixing areas, we have more sturdy standing desks made from modified Ikea items that cost around $150. You can find the tutorial here.

Don’t Buy New Computers – Buy Used Enterprise-Grade Laptops

Computers are expensive. It’s easy (and appealing) to blow your budget on computers, but you really don’t need to.

We have a bunch of old computers that run like new. I’ve purchased these off eBay for about $300 each. You want to look for enterprise-grade Lenovo or Dell laptop computers – don’t mess with consumer-grade computers in a production environment. They’re subject to too much abuse!

Enterprise-grade computers are built to last – and they still run like new! We’ve been using them every day for the last two years with no issues. Out of around 10, I’ve only had 1 machine break down on us.

We outfitted our entire production area with these inexpensive laptops: exposure rooms, ink stations, two screen printing stations, DTG stations, shipping department, receiving department, and even our marketing department.

Several simple tips for purchasing computers for production:

  • Don’t buy mechanical disk machines.
    • Stick to SSD hard drives. They’re faster and more reliable in a production setting.
  • Look for computers that are Microsoft partner refurbished.
    • This will reduce the risk of lemons.
  • Look for a refurbishment grade of B or higher.
  • Buy laptops instead of desktops.
    • Laptops are great for production because they come equipped with a screen and keyboard – and they’re portable. Adding a mouse is a trivial expense, while keyboards and monitors can be far more expensive.
  • Buy used Macs (if you must).
    • If you’re a die-hard Mac user, you already know that Apple charges a serious premium for their computers. We run older Macs. You can easily buy used Macs for thousands less than the MSRP, and they’re typically refurbished so they’ll provide years of use. Try Macofalltrades for used Apple products.
  • You don’t need cutting-edge equipment.
    • I got more than 10 older LCD computer screens when a family member’s office upgraded their computers. They upgraded to bigger and better ones and had these wasting away in their storage unit. I hauled them all out and installed one at every computer station in our production. They’re not the highest resolution, but they’re durable and work like they’re supposed to. This easily saved us a few thousand dollars.

Between investing in enterprise-grade laptops and leveraging eBay, I estimate I’ve easily saved north of $10,000 compared to purchasing new equipment.

It’s just not that important to have shiny and high-powered computers in a production environment – certainly not ten thousand dollars important!

Conclusion: Leverage Used Screen Printing Equipment

Every screen printing shop is different.

What’s similar for everyone in our industry is this: there’s tons of great used equipment waiting to be purchased at very low prices.

If you’re starting out, you want to take advantage of this – and if you’re looking for ways to save money in 2019, this is a great angle to start with. As delightful as new equipment is, I’d wager that you’ll find extra profit a lot more enjoyable.

Building your business is an uphill battle. You can speed up the process by getting the gear you need for less.

Do your due diligence: research, test, ask probing questions, negotiate, and keep up with what competitors are doing. Always be on the hunt for a deal, and be ready to snatch it up when you find it.

That dead shop might have the gently used equipment you’ve been waiting for.

We love reducing waste. A lot. Printavo is built with screen printers in mind so they can save time and money, print more jobs, get approval faster, and stay organized.

There’s always more help with setting up & using Printavo – as well as marketing and business advice from seasoned professionals – on our YouTube channel.

About Printavo

Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.

Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.


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