DTG Glossary of Terms and Phrases

The DTG Glossary will help you better understand the terms and phrases often heard in this industry.  Familiarizing yourself with this list will allow you to better communicate clearly and efficiently for support and general questions.

  • Artwork Resolution – This refers to the resolution of the artwork, itself – most DTG printers prefer artwork to be at 150-300 DPI (Dots Per Inch).  While this ensures the artwork file will be crisp, it has no impact on the actual print resolution!
  • Banding – This refers to the horizontal or vertical stripes which appear in an image, after printing.  Vertical lines for printers where the print head moves left-to-right along the X-Axis (ie, nearly all printers on the market), and horizontal for printers where the print head is stationary and the platen moves in and out repeatedly (ie, Kornit printer).  Banding is often an indication of dropped channels or nozzles, but can sometimes be attributed to improper step distance along the Y-Axis.  In he latter case, some RIP software allows you to compensate by adjusting the step distance, between scan lines.
  • Bleeding – This refers to the process where bordering colors blur into each other to create messy edges and muddled colors.  The root cause is generally either be too much ink being laid down and / or not enough time allowed for the ink to gel.  Some RIP software allows you to add a small delay between each scan line pass or reduce the volume of ink being printed (there are a number of approaches, including lowering the print resolution or controlling actual volume curves).  Many time, bleeding can be caused by an over-abundance of white ink being printed in the Highlight – heavy, wet white ink has a tendency to flood into other areas of solid color.
  • Capping Station – The Capping Station often resides on the right side of the printer, and is responsible for all aspects of system flushes and cleaning cycles.  The Capping Station raises up slightly to create a perfect seal around the print head nozzle plate, then a lower pump activates to pull ink or cleaning solution through the nozzles.  Any buildup of ink around the edges of the capping station (or blockage in the lines beneath the assembly) can prevent a seal from forming and will render any attempt at cleaning cycles, ineffective.
  • Cartridge – A Cartridge holds the ink, while it waits to be fed into the printer system.  Some cartridges are “closed”, meaning they contain an internal bladder and are usually replaced when empty.  Some cartridges are “open”, meaning they can be refilled easily.  Open ink cartridges can either be standalone or be connected to a bulk CIS system.
  • Channel – A Channel is line of ink running to a print head, which is then distributed through a series of nozzles in the nozzle plate.  DTG printers most often come in a 4, 6 or 8 channel configuration, although larger systems exist.  The most frequent setup is an 8-channel configuration (generally four white channels plus one for each CMYK).
  • Cleaning Cycle – This refers to the process of running an automatic cleaning cycle, from the printer interface itself (or from the Adjustment Program or associated printer software).  On most Epson based systems, this forces the printer to go through a series of capping station pump cycles and wiper blade passes to push a small amount of ink through all the channels and attempt to clear the nozzle plate of any obstructions.  Some systems allow for varying levels of Cleaning Cycle intensity.  NOTE: Cleaning Cycles, while often effective, are not a substitute for manual maintenance!  You still need to physically scrub your capping station top and wiper blade, regularly.  Do not rely solely on auto cleaning cycles, or you will find yourself in a tough situation, down the road.
  • Cleaning Solution – This refers to the chemicals used to break down ink and clean your machine.  Cleaning Solutions come in a wide range of strengths – more mild solutions should be used for wet capping a print head or system flushes, whereas stronger solutions should be reserved for more difficult situation where exposure will be limited to short term bursts.
  • CMYK – Refers to the Cyan / Magenta / Yellow / Black color space – these are also the fundamental colors used by most DTG systems to generate all the other colors being printed.
  • CMYK Layer – The CMYK Layer is the actual color layer, printed either by itself (light garments) or on top of a white underbase (dark garments).  The Cyan / Magenta / Yellow / Black inks are mixed as they are sprayed on the garment, recreating the desired colors (NOTE: it is the RIP software and color profiles which determine how the inks are mixed, thus determining the actual printed output).  The Highlight layer is often printed simultaneously with the CMYK layer.
  • Color Profile – Color profiles are “conversion keys” which allows specific colors to be reproduced on screen, or on a garment.  Most images have an embedded color profile, which defines the range of colors within the image.  Most RIP software also employ color profiles to determine how to mix the ink on the garment to recreate the intended colors – different color profiles can produce vastly different results!
  • Dark Garment – Any garment which uses a white ink underbase.  Even a relatively “light” garment color (light blue, for instance), may be printed as a Dark Garment if you want the CMYK layer to POP a little more.
  • Encoder Strip – This clear or translucent strip is often located at the top of the printer itself, running parallel to the print head rail.  The Encoder Strip is responsible for tracking the position of the print head along the X-Axis.  If the Encoder Strip becomes dirty, it can interfere with the sensor which is tasked with reading the position, thus resulting in possible errors and misprints.
  • Encoder Wheel – This wheel is often located on the left side of the printer itself – it is a round, clear wheel mounted to a gear and drive belt.  The Encoder Wheel is responsible for tracking the position of the platen along the Y-Axis.  If the Encoder Wheel becomes dirty, it can interfere with the sensor which is tasked with reading the position, thus resulting in possible errors and misprints.
  • Fibrillation – This refers to the effect on a printed garment, where small fibers stick up through the ink causing a patchy appearance in the final product.  This can be caused by lower quality garments, poor pretreat application, not enough pressure during the pretreat curing stage, or other factors.  Stick with high quality garments (such as Cotton Heritage) to reduce this issue during normal production.
  • Flushing – Refers to the process of moving large volumes of cleaning solution through a system or component, for the purpose of cleaning it.  You can flush an entire printer system (usually by attaching cleaning carts and running an Ink Charge), you can flush a set of CISS carts (usually by priming them with solution) and you can even flush your capping station and print head, independently.
  • Highlight Layer – The Highlight is the white ink printed alongside the color inks, providing greater opacity to any visible white ink in the design.
  • Ink – Ink is what goes into the machine to be printed on the garment or substrate.  There are a wide variety of inks available, which can determine what types of fabrics / materials you can print on.  Each ink set has its own specific chemistry, cure time, durability and cost.  It is important to select the ink which works best for your business model and intent.
  • Ink Charge – Refers to the process of initiating an initial ink load into the printer system, itself – this is often done during initial setup to move ink from the cartridges into the internal lines, dampers and print head.  Failing to perform this step upon initial setup will prevent any ink from flowing, during test prints – it will not have moved from the carts to the print head, so there will be a lot of air in the system.  The Ink Charge feature can also be used on many systems to flush cleaning solution in the system, for the purposes of regular cleaning or ink flow maintenance.  Some systems require you to use “new” cartridge chips to perform an Ink Charge – options include: using a physical chip reset tool to revert the chips to “new” status, using a brand new set of flushing carts or converting your machine to the “chipless” firmware (where available).
  • Ink Reset – On converted Epson-based systems, the ink cartridges sometimes need to be reset when they are reading as “empty”.  While there may still be plenty of ink in your reservoirs / carts, the Epson donor thinks you are still using OEM sized carts – most systems have a built in reset option, although you can also reset ink cart chips using an external chip reset tool.
  • Ink Settling – This refers to the natural tendency of ink pigment to settle to the bottom, over time.  This process occurs the fastest in white ink, as the heavy Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) used for opacity is difficult to keep suspended.  Settled inks can leave behind heavy deposits of “sludge”, which can permanently clog a delicate inkjet printer system.  Most inks can be easily re-agitated to force the heavy pigment back into proper suspension, and care must be taken to perform this process on a regular basis!  You should be agitating your inks daily, from your carts to your reservoirs to the ink which is sitting idle on your inventory shelf.  Agitating your ink is very important, but it does nothing for the ink sitting in your internal lines, dampers and print head – it is sometimes necessary to purge a little ink via hardware function or by printing a few test prints, prior to starting your daily production runs.  NOTE: To see how quickly your white ink tends to settle, try putting some in a clear plastic bottle and leave it on a shelf for a week or longer.  Check back daily to monitor the progression of settling / separation, and remind yourself that the same thing is happening inside your DTG printer any time it is not in use.
  • Ink Viscosity – This refers to the thickness of the ink, itself.  Some printers are designed for more viscous inks, whereas other are designed for thinner inks.
  • Inkjet Receptive Coating (IRC) – This refers to any soft of coating used to allow printing onto an otherwise non-printable surface.  Pretreat qualifies, but this can also refer to white primer (when printing on wood and other items), gesso and other assorted primer products.  IRC’s can come in spray or paint-on form, and are available in a variety of colors (generally white, gray or clear).
  • Light Garment – Any garment which does not utilize a white ink underbase.  A Light garment can also be a red shirt, if the image being printed is only using black ink – essentially, any time the printed colors are darker than the garment color itself, it could potentially be printed as a Light Garment rather than using a white ink underbase.
  • Nozzle Check – A Nozzle Check serves as a sort of “physical checkup” for your print engine – it gives you a good indication of how well your ink is flowing and whether or not you are suffering from any blockage in your channels.  Nozzle Checks should be performed daily, prior to the start of production – any missing channels or nozzles should be address immediately, before they have a chance to become a serious problem.
  • Nozzle Drop – This refers to missing or “dropped” nozzles in the print head and can easily be identified by performing a standard Nozzle Check.  Nozzle Drop can be caused by air in the lines, ink blockage or back pressure in the ink flow system.
  • Nozzle Plate – The Nozzle Plate is the flat, reflective surface on the bottom of most print heads.  The nozzle plate consists of a series of channels (one for each ink line), which in turn consist of a series of tiny holes (nozzles) which spray the various ink droplets.  The nozzle plate can be prone to potential ink clogging and should be monitored and cleaned, regularly.  Lower quality garments can contribute to a buildup of small fibers on the surface of the nozzle plate, inhibiting ink flow.
  • Paint – Paint is a program created by Microsoft in the ’80’s.  Some people erroneously refer to DTG Ink as “paint” – this is incorrect.  There is no paint used in Direct to Garment printing.
  • Pilling – This refers to the effect in a printed garment, where small pinholes seem to appear in the print.  Pilling is often caused by lower quality garments or poor pretreat application.
  • Platen – The Platen is the “shirt board” that the garment is loaded onto.  There are a number of different platen systems available, including (but not limited to): hoop systems, threadable systems, “tuck” systems, etc.  Platens are also often available for shoes, caps, beverage insulators and pretty much anything else you can think of!
  • Pretreat – Pretreat must be applied to any garment where white ink will be printed – in some cases. users also choose to pretreat their light garment prints, as well.  This chemical spray allows the white ink to gel, and also bonds the ink to the surface of the garment.  Without pretreat, the ink would soak into the fabric and be much less visible.  A proper pretreat foundation is one of the most important steps when it comes to high quality DTG printing.
  • Print Head – The Print Head (sometimes written as one word – “printhead”) is the part which actually moves back and forth along the X-Axis, spraying ink as it goes.  Different heads spray different sized droplets at varying speeds.  Larger droplets mean a more viscous ink and faster print times, while possibly sacrificing print resolution.  Smaller droplets mean a thinner ink and slower print times, while often producing more detailed prints.  The print head should always glide just above the surface of the garment or substrate (most users agree that the thickness of a nickel is ideal) and should never touch the garment itself!  A print head strike can cause significant damage to your print head.
  • Print Head Carriage Rail – This refers to the metal rail which the entire print head assembly slides along as it moves left-to-right and back again.  The carriage rail should be lubricated at semi-regular intervals, ensuring smooth operation with minimal friction resistance.
  • Print Head Strike – This refers to any instance where the print head physically drags across the surface of the garment or slams into any other physical obstruction – this should be avoided, at all costs!
  • Print Resolution – This refers to the actual resolution the image will print, on the garment – for instance, printing at 1440 x 720 will print 1440 droplets of ink wide by 720 droplets of ink tall within any 1″ square.  The greater the number of droplets printed within a 1″ square, the greater the volume of ink printed on the garment.  This can affect both the opacity as well as the print cost for the image.
  • Raster Image Processor (RIP) – This refers to the image processing software which almost all DTG printers require to operate – the RIP software is responsible for converting the image you see on the screen into millions of tiny ink drops, referencing specific color profiles to determine how to dynamically mix the ink while printing.  NOTE: The RIP software is the brains of the whole operation – the exact same hardware can produce wildly varying output quality, based on which RIP and color profile are used to process the image.
  • RGB – Refers to the Red / Green / Blue color space – this mode provides a wider color gamut, and the CMYK inks are dynamically mixed to simulate the wider RGB range.  Most monitors create visible colors using a mixture of RGB rather than CMYK.
  • Scan Line – A Scan Line refers to the path of the print head, along the X-Axis – each line it prints is considered one scan line.  A print head may sometimes be set to pass over a single scan line, multiple times – this is similar to painting a house or a car in multiple, thinner layers, rather than flooding it on, all at once.
  • Spit Station – The Spit Station is often located on the left side of the print system – this is where the print head occasionally returns to “spit” a small amount of ink from all channels.  Since some images only utilize specific colors, use of the spit station ensures that none of the idle channels dry up during the print process.
  • Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) – This refers to the heavy pigment used in most DTG compatible inks, to provide opacity to the white.  This pigment is the root cause for most clogging and settling issues, which all DTG users face on a regular basis.  Titanium Dioxide can also subject the print head to a great deal of long term wear-and-tear, especially when it is not properly agitated on a regular basis!  Some inks incorporate less TiO2 to reduce clogging, but this also sacrifices opacity – others incorporate more TiO2 for greater opacity, but require greater maintenance to prevent potential settling and clogging.
  • Trade-Off – The entire Direct to Garment printing industry relies on a series of trade-offs.  For instance, you can opt for a thinner ink chemistry for less clogging, but then the trade-off is less opacity on a single pass.  You can opt for a printer with larger, more industrial print heads, but the trade-off is much higher cost for replacement and often a loss of resolution (larger droplet sizes).  You can select a higher quality garment for printing to ensure top print quality, but it might cost a little more.  The key to success in this industry, is determining your own priorities and finding a combination which offers the most effective trade-offs for your specific situation.  There is NO universal solution, when it comes to Direct to Garment printing solutions.
  • Underbase Layer – The Underbase is the white layer printed under the color inks, allows them to POP on the  garment.  Since CMYK inks are translucent (so they can blend together to create all the other colors), they would not be visible on dark colored garments without an Underbase.
  • Wet Cap – This refers to the common process of capping your print head in a mild cleaning solution or inert liquid (such as distilled water), reducing the risk of ink drying out in the nozzle plate.  This process can be performed on almost all available DTG printers, and is especially useful in dry environments.  NOTE: This does nothing to prevent the ink from settling in the lines or the internal system – agitation is still required for reliable, long term printing!
  • Wiper Blade – The Wiper Blade is responsible for physically wiping across the surface of the nozzle plate, during automatic print head cleaning cycles.  The wiper blade is often retractable – each system offers a different method for how to expose this component for maintenance.  This should be cleaned daily to ensure no ink deposits build up, over time – thin layers of dried ink can easily prevent the wiper blade from doing its job effectively, sometimes causing additional harm to the delicate nozzle plate.