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Copper Island’s infrared dryer dramatically cut drying time compared to the flash-cure unit that the company previously used.

March 3, 2014

Predominantly a four-color offset printer, Copper Island Printing & Graphic Services, Calumet, Mich., broke into screen printing garments at the recommendation of press operator Ron Trapp, who needed several dozen T-shirts screen printed.

The idea was that screen printing could offer another revenue stream for the shop, and Copper Island owner Marc Norton agreed.

Once Trapp and Norton made the decision to start screen printing, they invested in an inexpensive, four-color, single-station screen printing press and began printing everything from shirts and hats to signs and tote bags.

Because screen printing was a new venture, Trapp and Norton were hesitant to invest in additional equipment. ”We didn’t have a conveyor dryer because we didn’t know how screen printing was going to work out, so I was curing shirts with a flash dryer, which is extremely slow,” Trapp says.

Slow drying times meant jobs were taking too long to complete, and the shop was soon backed up with orders. “It was getting ridiculous,” Trapp recalls. “We decided to bite the bullet and get an infrared dryer.”

Trapp surfed the Internet for a quality dryer and decided on Vastex Intl. Inc.’s EconoRed-I 30 infrared curing system. “It appeared to be exactly what we needed, and we couldn’t find any negative reviews about it,” he says. “It was within our price range and a good fit for the volumes we do.”

Trapp ordered the dryer from a dealer in Wisconsin, and they soon had it up and running.

“I could have assembled it with my eyes closed,” he says. “All the holes lined up — which they usually never do — so you just shove the bolts in, tighten them up, flip it over and you’re in business. You just set it and go.”

The unit’s 43″ x 66″ footprint conserves Copper Island’s limited floor space. “We don’t have a huge area, so for us it’s the perfect length,” Trapp says. “And there’s space to add another dryer chamber in the future.”

By adjusting the temperature and belt speed, Trapp can cure both offset and screen printing work. This was an added bonus of purchasing the dryer.

“We screen printed some trail signs in PVC with three colors, and instead of air drying these all over the shop, I turned the dryer’s temperature down and cured them so I could go to my second color much quicker,” Trapp says. “It probably cut the dry time in half.”

Additionally, the choice of a dryer with a 30 inch-wide belt increased the unit’s versatility and has improved throughput.

“Originally we were going to go with an 18-inch belt,” Trapp says, “but Marc decided to go with a 30-inch belt so we wouldn’t waste time folding the shirts to make sure they go through the tunnel properly.” The extra width, plus the ability to adjust the belt-to-heater height, allows Trapp to dry thicker items, such as hooded sweat shirts.

The dryer helps the shop fill orders as small as 40 T-shirts. Trapp recently used it to cure more than 1,000 T-shirts for a fundraiser. “We printed single-color front, back and sleeves, and the dryer came in quite handy for that,” he says.

Trapp hopes to expand the shop’s screen printing business by selling his own T-shirt and bumper sticker designs to a few local tourist shops.

In addition to the usual T-shirts, golf shirts and sweat shirts, Trapp has screen printed bumper stickers, vinyl labels, binders, metal medallions and even hockey pucks. “The neat thing about screen printing is you can print on anything,” Trapp says.

The shop’s customers range from university students to local businesses. When its screen printing volume maximizes the output of the existing dryer, Norton and Trapp would like to upgrade it by adding another heating chamber, allowing them to double belt speed and capacity.

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

Copper Island Printing At A Glance

Company Name: Copper Island Printing
Address: 423 Pine St., Calumet, Mich. 49913
Company History: Purchased by current owner in 1987; Name changed to Copper Island Printing in 2004
Services Offered: Screen printing; wide-format printing (up to 50 inches wide); single, multi- and full-color offset printing; high-speed folding; design and layout; digital color copying; trade bindery services; letterpress printing, numbering and die cutting

Company Website: