Neoflex 4880 DTG PrinterNEW $14,000
Cost of Ownership5.4/10
- Large 17 x 42 print area
- Load multiple garments at once
- Great build quality
- Great support system
- Proven, award-winning print quality
- Painfully SLOW print speeds!
- Frequent parts replacement
- Can't leave sitting for longer than a day
- Print cost for larger images is huge!
The Neoflex DTG printer has been the leader in the industry for the last two years, and continues to be a proven solution for many small business owners. The Neoflex DTG printer is built on the popular Epson 4880 Professional printer – it has been highly modified to act as a direct-to-garment printer, and great care has obviously been taken to ensure that the machine is built from the highest quality parts. Although this is not the largest machine we have ever owned, it is one of the more well built models. Since acquiring the Neoflex line of printers at our sister facility (www.fusionlogisticsgroup.com) over a year ago, we have been able to successfully turn out the highest quality product we have ever produced, while remaining more consistent and reliable during the production cycle.
This printer offers a generous 17″ x 42″ printable area, which allows for “JUMBO” printing applications or for the inline printing of multiple items in a single pass. The most common t-shirt setup is the “3-Up” configuration, which makes room for three average sized platens (11.25″ x 15″) to be loaded onto the print bed for maximum efficiency; each t-shirt in the lineup can have a different image printed on it, and of course the color of the garment doesn’t matter (in terms of functionality – there is certainly something to be said about the more logical approach of printing all “like colored” garments in the same run). Rather than moving the substrate that is being printed, this model relies on a “flat bed / moving printer” design to accomplish its task – this design feature combined with the ability to line up multiple garments in a row for printing, allows the end user to load and unload garments as the printer is still in motion, thereby eliminating the “loading and unloading” phase from the production cycle. Although someone still has to load and unload shirts, of course, the time required for this step does not cause any idle time on the machine.
Many people will argue that loading and unloading garments only takes a few seconds, which can sometimes be true; however, as someone who has employed many different people in the last several years, I can assure you that your low paid employees aren’t going to move with the same level of urgency that you might, and the loading and unloading phase will often be performed in a casual, slow demeanor. This is made worse when dealing with specialty items such as hoodies or polo shirts, or when you consider how critical it can be to ensure that your substrate is smooth and flat (to avoid print head strikes that could potentially damage the machine) – some employees will work with the utmost caution and care when loading the shirts, taking time to carefully smooth them out before pressing print; while I certainly don’t mind the extra attentiveness from my staff, it is way better on the bottom line when the printer can be happily humming along while additional garments are being loaded and unloaded.
The flexibility of the Neoflex DTG printer is something that certainly sets it apart from the rest of the pack – as small business owners, who hasn’t considered adding additional decoration / print techniques to their arsenal? Traditionally, the move to alternative substrates would require huge added investments, as most of the different ink chemistries can’t be used in the same machines – therefore, the only solutions were to either purchase a whole new printer to run an additional ink set, or to completely purge, flush and clean your system any time you wanted to swap ink sets to print on any alternate substrates. Of course, this is neither ideal nor cost efficient.
The Neoflex employs a modular design structure that allows the individual printer units to be easily swapped out (I have long arms so I can move the printer by myself, but it’s easier with two people); it takes about two minutes to slide the print bed back slightly, unplug three cords and completely swap one printer unit for another. This makes it much more practical to keep an additional printer unit on hand (an extra printer unit costs around $6,000, rather than buying a whole new printer for $20,000) in case one breaks down – in my experience, having redundant print capabilities is absolutely vital to ensuring the longevity of your DTG printing business. As long as you have an additional printer unit on hand, there are many things you can do with it:
- Store it in a closet somewhere in case you need to quickly get back to printing after a catastrophe.
- Set it up as a “dual CMYK” garment printer to increase productivity on light garments, while reducing your overall manufacturing costs significantly.
- Set it up as a Solvent printer to print on rigid substrates such as plastics, metals, wood, golf balls, CD’s / DVD’s and much more.
- Set it up as an”edible ink” printer to print on cake topping sheets, cookies and other edible products.
The major drive components of the Neoflex DTG printer are the massive lead screw which runs the entire length of the printer (this is what moves the printer), the primary motor that drives the lead screw, (4) individual motors that raise and lower the print bed and a host of sophisticated control hardware. There is a common misconception in the industry that the Neoflex is simply a ‘copy’ of an earlier model of printer than All American paid a company to develop for them; the reality is that the Neoflex is a stronger, upgraded version of the same concept (a concept which was sound to begin with, which is why the company pursued it for so many years without changing directions rapidly or frequently like many other companies are tempted to do), which actually delivers on the performance and reliability promises typically expected of an industrial piece of shop equipment.
As soon as we add images to this particular review, we will include comparison shots of the actual drive mechanics of the two printers, illustrating some of the key differences.
While the cost of the water based DTG inks used by most DTG machines seems to be priced way out of line, it is important to remember that there are still things we can do as business owners to make our businesses more efficient, and therefore make them more profitable. Some things may involve changes to the order process, the use of an online ordering system to streamline the overall process, etc. Other things can be done at the machine-level to maximize your efficiency, some of which we have already discussed. For instance, the ability to load and unload the garments while the machine is continuously printing is a huge benefit in a production environment; this allows the Neoflex DTG printer to actually produce more ‘prints per hour’ than other 4880 based machines printing at the exact same resolution. Additionally, the NeoRIP PRO (which actually processes the images and tells the machine exactly how to reproduce them on the garments) uses sophisticated image reproduction techniques which actually save ink and money, while simultaneously producing a richer print with greater depth and color.
One of the ways you can make the greatest impact on your bottom line is to properly take advantage of the modular design of the Neoflex system; if your goal is to print on t-shirts, then t-shirt printing should be your first and only focus until you have the process dialed in to perfection. By investing in one additional printer unit (which can be quickly and easily swapped out on the machine at any time) and configuring it for “dual CMYK” printing (using the same water based garment inks you are using to print on dark garments), you can effectively move all of your dark garment printing to one machine and all of your light garment printing to another. The cost effective advantages that this provides are twofold:
- Any DTG printer, desktop inkjet printer or general purpose printer will perform automated maintenance on the print head at scheduled intervals, often related to the number of prints that have been completed since the last cleaning or purge cycle. Inkjet printers are required to keep the print heads clean and primed, and to prevent them from drying out; this is achieved by firing a small amount of ink from each channel at predetermined intervals during the printing process, regardless of whether the channels are currently being used to print. How does this affect a DTG printing business, you might wonder? As you are printing “light garments” (those which do not require a white ink under base), the printer will continue with its automatic cleaning cycles, forcing a small amount of white ink down the drain after every number of print cycles – since many DTG printers find themselves decorating about 70% light garments compared to only 30% dark garments, it would be very easy to print one or two thousand white t-shirts in a given month and find your cartridges of white ink half empty even though you haven’t printed a drop on any dark garments. Many DTG printers sit around at the end of the month wondering where the hell all of their white ink went, and this is just one source of waste in the overall process; by printing all of your light garments on a separate “dual CMYK” printer unit, you could print 10,000 light garments and not waste a drop of white ink.
- By printing all of your light garments on a “dual CMYK” printer unit, it is possible to achieve the same amount of ink saturation at half the resolution, since the machine would be using (8) channels of CMYK instead of the normal (4) channels that would be used (since the other 4 would have been filled with white ink). By doubling the ink output in a single pass (thereby allowing a lower print resolution to be used) you are able to print at a much faster rate, significantly increasing your production numbers on light garments – since light garments are the ‘bread and butter’ orders for many small and medium businesses, this has a huge impact on the overall bottom line.
SUPERIOR COLOR MANAGEMENT / INDUSTRY LEADING RIP SOFTWARE
Any company can re-package an existing RIP and say that it is compatible with their particular DTG printer. However, when a company decides to take the time to tailor the color profiles and image handling properties to achieve the optimal print quality for that particular setup, that is when they set themselves apart from the rest. The team at All American has put in a great deal of work in their endless pursuit of perfect print quality – with custom color profiles, custom ink curves, precise dot control optimized for each substrate / print resolution, they have continued to raise the bar for everyone around them. The Kothari-based RIP software is already the most powerful RIP in the industry, but coupled with more specialized color profiles it is able to produce some of the best prints we have seen from any DTG printer.
Since we purchased our printers over a year ago, I have watched as the guys over in Philly have created new custom printing environments, while also dialing in each color profile for “high resolution” printing, “high production” printing and much more; with so many ink sets to deal with, I am honestly amazed that they are able to get anything done over there…. However, they somehow manage to do it and we as end users benefit from their ongoing efforts to be the best.
Besides the adjustments and improvements that All American has made “in house”, the fundamentals of the RIP itself are stunningly powerful. The ability for the RIP software to so cleanly and accurately recreate graphics from the screen onto cotton t-shirts is unlike anything I have seen in the past – since I first noticed the incredible disparity between this brand of RIP and the next leading competitor about a year ago (which, btw, opened an entire hornet’s nest in the process), there have been many tweaks and improvements from the competition, slowly shrinking the initial quality gap (strictly in terms of smooth, crisp image detail and accurate reproduction – color profiling is the other side of the coin). To this day however, I have not seen an image reproduced as cleanly on any other printer using any other RIP. Some people will argue that increased quality above a certain threshold is unnecessary – however in the last six years I have run into the perceived “limits” of DTG quality on many, many occasions, and always something or someone eventually comes along and shatters those barriers. Better inks, better pre-treatment, better RIP software, better hardware, etc. I think we should never stop pushing for faster printers, lower consumables costs and of course, ever increasing quality. Some people say we don’t need to reproduce the Mona Lisa on a t-shirt – I say “why not?”
….. coming soon.