Black Hills Press
June 2, 2001
(front page)

T-shirt printer expands

Marian Taves, left, is one of the Buckle Tree employees training on the new
automated screen printing machine. She is joined by fellow employee
Glenda Plunkett, right, and owner Fred Lange, center. The new printing machine
is capable of printing up to eight different colors. (BHP photo by George Thompson)

Local T-shirt designer and custom screen printer Buckle Tree has expanded it operations with the acquisition of a new automated screen printer. The new equipment allows the company to increase production, improve quality, and expand creative capabilities.

The new eight-station printer handles up to eight colors and can crank out T-shirts at a rate of one shirt every six seconds at top speeds. Buckle Tree owner Fred Lange says the printer will not only improve efficiency, but also allows the company to enter yet another market: the quick print business.

The machine, manufactured in St. Louis, Mo., lets one person oversee the printing process through the use of computer assisted technology. Lange says what was once a job for a crew of four or five people can now be whittled down to a two-person operation.

The veteran rally T-shirt printer says the new system also assures better quality control, especially when compared to the old hand-operated equipment. "Normally we do shirts in three to five colors, depending on the customer," he said. "But now we can do up to eight colors, or we can make the three- to-four-color operation much more efficient." That means the company can take on bigger orders while not having to worry about getting its own orders out on time.

The manufacturer says this is one of between 200 and 300 automated screen printers in the country. Lange thinks it's one of two or three working in western South Dakota, and a first for Sturgis.

Prior to installing the new equipment the company could print about 20,000 shirts a year, a figure that Lange expects to eclipse shortly. "We've done mostly rally-related shirts," he explained, "but we've also done some shirts for local the sports scene and other groups. We love to do more of those kinds of jobs."

Despite being automated from the time a design is burned on a screen until the time a T-shirt rolls off the dryer, Lange says the business will remain labor intensive, mainly due to all the shirt folding and counting. "This is really going to cut down the time we spend on a run, because once you get going, it really cooks," he added.

Besides T-shirts, Buckle Tree has printed coffee mugs, caps, and other rally souvenirs, in addition to selling some other lines.

Lange notes that the hardest part of his job is getting everything set just right, but it's a task he and the staff are looking forward to. "This is an investment towards greater earnings," he concluded, "and the customers are going to get better quality T-shirts now."