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Things NOT to Do As a Brand New DTG user!

Direct to Garment printing can be exciting and rewarding, but from time to time we tend to get a little ahead of ourselves when it comes to diving in, head first.  While the process of DTG is nowhere near as complicated and fickle as it was only a few short years ago, it is still absolutely important to understand the critical learning curve you will experience as a new user in the field.

In order to ensure the greatest chances of overall success, and to avoid stumbling right out of the gate, we encourage you to consider these following bits of advice if you are currently expecting (or have recently received) your new DTG printing hardware.


  1. Booking jobs before your equipment arrives – You must understand there will be a (sometimes) long and difficult learning curve to overcome when you first start out with Direct to Garment printing.  If your machine has not even arrived yet and you are already under the gun to deliver orders to waiting clients, the stress of setup and initial training will become practically overwhelming.  We fully understand the excitement of new print processes coming into your shop, but working your way through the learning curve is going to be far more palatable if you don’t have clients breathing down your neck in the process.
  2. Refilling your own ink bags or cartridges – Refilling your own bags or cartridges can be a truly cost-saving measure, which may yield substantial savings on ink in the long run.  However, the process is fickle and requires careful control of a number of variables – at this early stage in the game, your time is better spent learning the fundamentals of your hardware as it was meant to be run, and understanding the complexity of the RIP and pretreatment processes.  In an effort to save a few bucks on your first few ink refills, you may inadvertently introduce air bubbles or contaminants into the lines which could potentially compromise the entire system.  Additionally, the manual process can be time consuming and messy, quickly negating any short-term effects.  In the beginning, stick to using the bags and cartridges filled by professionals, and work your way toward a more complex process.  You’ll thank us, later.
  3. Attempting to print complex garments – Some folks receive their DTG equipment and immediately attempt to print on long sleeves, sweatpants, blended materials and all manner of complicated garments.  Without establishing a base line standard, it is nearly impossible to gauge the true performance and quality of your machine while introducing so many different variables at such an early stage of the game.  In the beginning, stick with  high quality ringspun cotton garments with a proven track record, and work your way out from there.  In some cases, new users will spend countless hours, days and weeks trying to figure out why they can’t get a decent print, only to finally discover that the blended material they are trying to use is not properly accepting the ink or the sweatpant legs are too complicated to keep level….  Once you have a solid understanding of the basics, then you can flex your true creativity by printing on complicated garment styles and locations.
  4. Altering default printing environments without proper understanding – Understanding how your manufacturer intended the hardware to interact with their respective RIP choice is critical – too often, users jump to the conclusion that they  must be using the wrong print settings without ever exploring other variables (such as their PT process, selected garment type, etc).  This can cause new users to dive into the RIP with the intention of “making it work”, but they often create a ripple-effect of consequences which prevent them from getting back to the intended quality point.  The first step is always to ensure the basic fundamentals are in place for high quality DTG printing, then as you begin to understand the various levels of RIP control you can dive in a little deeper and truly go wild!
  5. … We will add more as they come to mind.

Being an overzealous new user can seem exciting for a moment, but may cause you to stumble on some of the most basic of fundamentals – and make no mistake about it, Direct to Garment printing is all about the fundamentals!

Of course, this is merely a simplified list and there are many more things to avoid, as a new user in the field of Direct to Garment printing.  Feel free to offer any suggestions and tips in the comments below, and we will be sure to add some of the best ones to our list!

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A Call to Action: What Needs to Change Before DTG Printing Can become Reliable and Profitable

DTG Printing has been around for many years and it has certainly evolved quite a bit throughout the process.  In the early days of DTG, white ink printing wasn’t even possible and the general color gamut of CMYK inks was less than impressive. In a few short years, however, DTG printing has come a long way – white ink is mainstream (available on nearly every printer on the market) and the level of color output and print detail is absolutely stunning.  Visit any industry trade show across the country and you would find it incredibly difficult to not be impressed – it is not uncommon for the DTG booths to be absolutely loaded with potential buyers and interested parties, soaking up every second of the action as these high-tech wonders produce beautiful, full color prints on garments with what appears to be relative ease. Why then, do so many companies that adopt DTG printing wind up selling their machines within months of purchasing them (or sometimes, if they really like the abuse, they might keep battling their printers for a year or longer before they inevitably jump ship), often at a huge financial loss?  Part of the answer is staring us in the face while we stand there at the trade show, mesmerized by the visual print quality of the garment – the prints are just so incredible that we feel there is no way we can’t make money selling them!  Most of us would be hard pressed to find a screen printer would could even come close to competing with this level of quality.  However, what we often fail to notice is how excruciatingly long it takes to create a finished product, and they aren’t even showing all the steps at the trade shows!! Along these lines, I have compiled a simple list to explain what I feel must change in the DTG printing industry, before it can ever be accepted as a truly mainstream process.  After all, if small business owners can’t actually make money on it, then what’s the point??

DISCLAIMER: I am well aware that there are people out there having success in the DTG market.  These successful individuals are often the exception, rather than the rule.  I have noticed that people on the East coast seem to have slightly fewer issues with production (possibly due to higher overall humidity levels) but overall, more people fail out of DTG than are successful in the long run.  This article is meant to address the issues faced by most people who engage in the fine art of DTG printing, regardless of which printer they have selected.



To print in the highest quality settings using most standard 4880 based DTG printers (which, regardless of what the salespeople tell you, is virtually mandatory if you want to achieve the same level of quality you see at the shows) on a dark garment, assuming a standard sized print area (approximately 12″ x 12″), it could easily take 10 minutes per garment to complete the actual printing process!  While this does not include the time required to pre-treat each shirt prior to printing, it is important to remember that you will have plenty of time to perform this step while the machine is doing its thing….  In theory, the initial pretreatment process shouldn’t add any time to the overall process, just more

labor – that is, unless you are one of those shops who pre-treats shirts prior to printing them (rather than doing it simultaneously with the print process). At approximately 6 units per hour for high-quality DTG printing, how can anybody really make a profit?  Dark garments are, as one might imagine, the most popular type of garment for most clients – you can try to talk them into white shirts (which are much easier to print, faster, cheaper, etc) but you can’t build a strong foundation if you are constantly trying to talk people into the “easier” option for you….  Sure, light garments (ie, no white ink underbase) are better for us as printers, but your potential clients really don’t care how much effort, time or money you put into the finished product – at the end of the day, they all want it cheap and they want it fast! Of course, some machines are faster than others, but I have personally owned everything from the Kornit to a multitude of Epson-based DTG printers in the last 10 years and the best I have been able to get in a real production environment, thus far, was about 12 units per hour on dark garments (and I was not entirely satisfied with the print quality, at those speeds).  Advancements in technology have allowed some companies to develop printers using larger, more industrial print heads – Ricoh is a common choice among manufacturers, but using larger print heads to lay down more ink in a shorter period of time can often compromise the overall print quality, since tiny droplets of ink are critical to creating to most subtle details and effects (just ask Anajet how that worked out for them).

Until we get to a point where the average DTG printer is capable of producing at least 24 units per hour (dark garments, at a standard print size), I don’t see most people being able to make a decent profit – especially when compared to many other print decoration options available which are faster and less expensive.

NOTE: You can approach DTG from the perspective of an embroidery business model – since each machine can only produce a painfully limited number of units per hour, it makes sense that you could scale your business appropriately by adding additional machines…  The problem with this, of course, is you wind up dealing with a multitude greater level of tech support and troubleshooting, so the scale factor is not easy to calculate.  Additionally, since the cost of each unit is general $15,000 or more, it would require an investment of about $150,000 to hit an hourly production rate of about 60 units per hour on dark garments – in the real world, you will always have a certain number of machines which are “acting up” at any given time, so really you wouldn’t even hit those numbers most of the time (even for such a staggering investment).


In the world of custom printed t-shirts, everyone is trying to save a buck.  Each and every client seems to want everything for nothing, so there is not much room for margins (especially when the client is ordering anything other than a single unit).  This becomes a major issue, of course, when you can only print 6-12 units per hour (which means you must amortize the cost of your general overhead and labor across a minimal number of finished product) and the cost of ink “per print” is often in the range of $2-3.  For the record, that number doesn’t even include the cost of the pretreatment, which must be added to the garment prior to printing. At one point my shop had 3 Neoflex DTG printers, which produced the absolute best quality at the time (compared directly to all the other models and brands I have owned) – since these 4880-based units we capable of producing some pretty big prints, we had lots of clients coming through the doors to take advantage of our print size capability.  While we were excited at first, our emotions soon turned to disappointment as we found the average cost of ink “per shirt” for these larger prints (generally 16″ x 20″) was easily averaging $8-10 per print!!  Oh, and at that particular print size (at the highest print quality) the total print time “per garment” was about 22-24 minutes.  At that rate and at those prices (assuming we had ZERO other expenses to contend with, aside from labor) we would have had to be charging around $34 per shirt to make our relatively low “net profit target” of $60 per hour. Of course, this would not have taken into consideration any misprints, quality rejects, shop overhead (like rent, electrical, phone and internet, etc) – the true number would have been north of $40 per garment, for a typical t-shirt…..  I suppose some markets do exist which would support this price for unique, one-off custom garments, but that market doesn’t include the clients that most of us tend to service on a regular basis.  If you can charge that much for a shirt, then more power to you!  We were trying to be competitive wholesale DTG providers, and it simply wasn’t feasible at those prices.  In fact, it was outright laughable.

In order for the average print shop to become competitive and profitable with DTG printing, the average cost “per print” really needs to fall in the .50-$1.50 range for an average size print on a dark garment.

NOTE: Many salespeople will try to tell you that their average cost “per print” is incredibly low – Brother even records print cost data across a broad range of users, allowing them to determine an allegedly accurate number for use in their sales and marketing documents.  However, these numbers generally include the cost of ink for small images (like left chest prints) as well as light garments – after all, it is a “total average” not a specific average…  At the end of the day, this is incredibly misleading since we must base our pricing on what it costs to do a standard size print – our profits don’t work in averages…. They work on a “per job” basis!


The production rates and ink costs provided assume that the DTG machine is actually working properly, without fail – in the real world (and I cannot emphasize this enough), I have never owned a DTG printer that actually worked all the time!  In fact, I don’t think it is uncommon to spend upwards of 30% of your time, on average, maintaining and troubleshooting your investment. Some companies offer excellent tech support service, while others tend to leave you high and dry after you make the purchase – even with excellent tech support, you will never receive the full-time, hands on assistance that most shops need in order to keep these machines running at peak performance, all the time.  Most DTG printer owners find themselves overnighting parts at an alarming rate, and spending as much time with their printers “opened up and in pieces” than actually printing garments for their clients…  Many issues are fairly common and don’t take too long to resolve, but this does not excuse the fact that DTG printers simply require significantly more maintenance and downtime than any other printing method or equipment I have ever seen.  Maybe 3D printing is the same way, but that is literally the only comparison I can make at this point in the game. When my shop finally stepped away (for now) from DTG printing, we had 5 DTG machines from different companies, as well as our own in-house tech support team dedicated to keeping them running.  Our main tech had been involved with many of the DTG printers we had owned, spent countless hours replacing parts and fixing major and minor issues, and had a solid working relationship with the primary tech support guys at the various manufacturers who had provided our equipment.  At the end of our run, there was not enough money I could possibly offer him to stay around and help me continue fixing my machines – he actually told me it was like trying to nail Jello to a tree, and he was “done with it”. A single Epson print head can cost between $400-700, depending on which model of printer you own (for the Ricoh, Brother and Spectra based machines, the cost is sometimes $1,000-4,000 per print head) – considering how shockingly easy it can be to destroy a print head (either through continuous use or by improper maintenance), this is a serious cost that must be considered in the long run.  This, of course, doesn’t take into account replacement capping stations, wiper blades, encoder strips, worn down plastic pieces, ink lines and lots more).

NOTE: I have owned at least 14 DTG printers in the last 10 years, and there has not been one single unit which has not required me to replace the print heads at least once!  This includes the supposedly “perfect” Brother GT-541 and the Kornit 932, as well as all other Epson based printers that have found their way through my shop over the years.  The inks we are running through these things have a much higher viscosity level than what the Epson print heads were designed for, and even the more industrial heads are subject to wear and tear from the TiO2 pigment that is added to the white inks to give them their opacity.  Additionally, all print heads are prone to drying out when they are not used regularly, so don’t even think about letting your investment sit idle – not even for a day!

Browse this website and you will find countless images from the last ten years, showing every single printer literally turned inside out and in various stages of disrepair – we are not unfamiliar with the technology and our issues cannot (to the dismay of so many salespeople, tech support people and equipment manufacturers) be simply attributed to fundamental “user error” – although this is the most common message you will hear in this industry, we cannot accept that we are the problem and the machines are so awesome….  That concept simply does not mesh with reality. Consider this – major companies such as CafePress and Zazzle are famous for their large, streamlined facilities and overall success in the industry; despite this, anyone behind-the-scenes will readily acknowledge the fact that at any given point, a certain percentage of their manufacturing stable is inoperable or receiving maintenance (scheduled or otherwise).  There is an overwhelmingly high amount of equipment turnover with larger DTG printing companies, whereas they will often invest huge sums of money into large numbers of new printers in an ongoing effort to find the “best machine out there”.  If these companies were completely satisfied with their chosen machines, we wouldn’t see them constantly switching between different brands.  Of course, I know they all have a certain number of reliable units which establish their “base foundation”, but having been on the sales side and having discussed various aspects of the technology with some of the big wigs in these companies, I can say with certainty that they are not completely content with any of the machines they are using.

If the DTG manufacturers want small business owners to succeed, they will design these machines to operate with minimal maintenance for much longer periods of time.  Even with OEM inks, most Epson printers are not intended to be printing constantly, so adding thicker ink to the equation isn’t doing us any favors in terms of reliability.  I should not have to do more than 10 minutes of maintenance per day (at most!) and there should be very little downtime on my DTG printers….  Additionally, I should be able to leave my printer idle for 2-3 days without worrying about whether I just cost myself $700 in a damaged print head.


Understand, I am not a “DTG hater” – in fact, I am probably one of the greatest supporters of this technology, having been involved since the very early days in a very public way and invested huge sums of my own money (as well as various investment capital) into trying to make it work in the real world.  When one machine didn’t hold up to expectations and hype, I tried the next in line, and so on until I finally couldn’t justify it any longer.  I am not beholden to any manufacturer or brand, and although I have many long standing relationships and close friendships within this industry, the primary purpose for my involvement is my own success in this niche and I would never continue to own a machine that was not truly making me money.  I want DTG printing to work in the real world, and I want to stop hearing stories about people who have invested their life savings into this business, only to be disappointed in the end. For now, I find myself licking my wounds and settling old accounts to try and recover the pieces from a long, difficult journey into this technology – having adopted several different processes which don’t involve DTG (dye sublimation being my favorite, so far), I am slowly rebuilding and getting things back on track.  As the industry continues to develop and grow, I find myself checking in constantly to see what the “next big thing” is, hoping and praying that we are getting closer to something that can be widely adopted (and retained) by the average business owner.  I expect that, at some point, I will be totally impressed and awe-struck at how far the industry has come, and I will take another stab at in-house DTG printing. Until then, however, I would like to offer an open challenge to all DTG equipment manufacturers out there:

We as a consumer base need more from you.  We need you to consider the points laid out in this article and we need to see some tangible progression in this industry.  Distributors are making a killing off of equipment sales commissions and ongoing ink sales, but the end user is often left disappointed and broke.  We cannot tolerate 6-12 unit per hour print speeds, and we certainly cannot shoulder the burden of $3-10 in ink for a single print – large sized prints should cost us about $3-5 in ink, max (with decent coverage).  Standard sized images, on dark garment, should use between .50-$1.50 in ink.  During a normal shift, while also considering any possible downtime and whatnot, we should be able to print 24-36 garments per hour on a single machine – anything less makes this more of a hobby than a serious business.  Finally, although we understand that there is only so much you can do about the cost of parts and whatnot, it is really important that our printers are able to function for an entire day without requiring us to do any heavy maintenance.  In fact, we really shouldn’t be opening up our machines (beyond opening the lid for a quick cleaning) more than once every few weeks (or months).  We don’t want to be constantly replacing parts, and although we love understanding every aspect of our machines we would rather not have to be certified experts and replace parts on a seemingly regular basis – we don’t have to deal with that sort of thing from our wide format printers / plotters, or from our dye sublimation equipment, so why should we have to put up with it for DTG?  If things still aren’t completely up to par, be honest about it – don’t tell us to expect 15 prints per hour, when we both know we should probably expect more like 6-8…  At the end of the day, it will help us better determine if this business is really for us, and if we choose to dive in then we can at least prepare for what is in store for us and create a business model that is appropriate for this process.  DTG printing has come a long way and we are pleased by this, but there are still too many people losing their asses after a relatively short period of time trying to make it work.  Don’t just promise us more, but deliver more – actions speak louder than words, and we can’t wait to see this technology evolve into something entirely practical and profitable.

PS – Oh, and don’t try to pull that nonsense about how “when it becomes too easy, everybody including Wal-Mart will be doing it” – dye sublimation is easy, as is standard vinyl printing and plotting (relatively so, of course)…  However, we don’t see them destroying the small business market in these other fields – sure, there will always be big corporate competition, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be just as competitive with some reliable and affordable equipment and inks.

If you agree with this, please comment or share this article!  We are spending a lot of money to help develop this industry, so we should definitely be getting more out of it, at this point.  The important people are reading it, and the more attention we can give (and support), the more likely they will be to take it seriously.  Don’t be content acting as a paying guinea pig for the equipment manufacturers – demand more from this industry, so we can all get more out of it.

Top 10 Reasons NOT to Get Into DTG Printing

Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing can be incredibly rewarding, and offers many advantages over traditional screen printing.  Whether you are a new startup company or an established print shop looking to augment your production capabilities, DTG is definitely worth a second look.  However, it is important to note that DTG printing is not for everybody; due to the particular challenges that it creates, you must be prepared to commit yourself to understanding every facet before you can hope to have a relatively trouble-free experience.  Here are 10 good reasons to consider avoiding DTG printing, for the moment:

1. Printing Environment Must be Carefully Controlled

The physical properties of the water-based inks are incredibly sensitive, changing drastically based on the external environmental conditions.  For instance if the air in your print room is too hot or dry, the ink will quickly dry in the print head causing nozzle blockage and other related issues; this can manifest in moderate to severe banding (missing or rough lines in the printed image) or even entire nozzles dropping out.  Especially in areas with more extreme weather (for instance, Southern California tends to be very hot and dry), steps must be taken to keep the environment cool, humid and comfortable.  An ideal operating environment would have the temperature somewhere in the general range of 75-80 degrees and a relative humidity level of somewhere between 30-60% – depending on where you are located and what kind of building you are in, you’re going to have to look into various humidification systems, air conditioning, swamp coolers, etc.  This is not the type of equipment you can randomly add to your warehouse work space without seriously considering whether or not it will be protected from the extreme elements.

2. Equipment / Consumables are Expensive

Getting into DTG printing can represent a huge financial risk for a small business on the edge; with many DTG printers averaging around $20,000, you can easily wind up spending $25-$30,000 for an entire package (complete with printer, pre-treatment machine, heat press, supplies, shipping, training, etc).  If you are confident that this is the route for you, try going to a few trade shows and keep your eyes out for a great deal – trade shows are the best place to save money on the initial equipment purchase.  However, once your machine arrives, there isn’t much you can currently do about the ongoing costs of the ink and supplies; on many machines the cost of ink “per print” can easily be in the $1-3 range for a standard size print on dark shirts and the cost of pre-treat fluid can easily cost another .30-.80 per print – compare that to the cost of plastisol ink, which often ranges from .05-.15 per print!  On machines that accommodate larger print areas, the cost of ink alone can actually get up to $4-8 depending on size and coverage.  Unfortunately, the cost of ink does not come down in larger quantities, so there isn’t much we can do (as DTG print shop owners) to compete with screen printing prices on larger quantity orders – there is almost always a break-even point where screen printing still makes more sense than DTG, and it is important to recognize this distinction and not try to make a decoration technique work for an order that does not call for it (for example, 50 black t-shirts with a white ink print on the front would be better suited for screen printing rather than DTG).

3. The Process is Painfully SLOW

While we are able to skip the majority of the setup and tear-down process, screen printers have a huge advantage when the ink actually hits the t-shirt; screen printing presses (even the manual variety) are considerably quicker when it comes to actually printing, whereas the process on a DTG printer can take quite some time.  Although white shirts are relatively quick (its not uncommon to knock out 20-50 white shirt

s per hour, depending on your particular equipment, setup and print resolution), dark shirt printing can be the bane of any DTG print business – realistically, expect to print about 8-15 black shirts per hour under normal circumstances.  The number of prints you get per hour is directly related to the specific print resolution you operate at, so the higher quality you are looking for, the fewer prints per hour you will be able to achieve; printing at the highest resolution on the Neoflex, there are times when oversize images (15″ x 20″ dimensions) are coming off the machine at a rate of about 3 prints per hour….  You need to enter into this business with a practical, realistic view of how long it is going to take you to print some of the more extreme orders – without this realistic understanding, you might price yourself out of business before you even get started (Need help understanding how to properly price DTG printing services?  Learn about our free tools, here).

4. No Minimum Orders

Wait a minute…. Didn’t this same point make an appearance on our list of top 10 reasons to get involved with DTG printing??  Why then, would it also show up on a list of reasons why NOT to get involved with DTG printing?  The answer, while simple, is often overlooked; although it is great to have the ability to print “on demand” for your customers with no minimum order quantity, it is also overwhelming to take the time out of your busy day to educate a client, find out what they are looking for, then hold their hand throughout the entire process for them to only order a single custom shirt – the harsh reality that many small business owners run into is that it can be very difficult to maintain profitability when you are spending an average of 45 minutes per client and each person is only ordering one or two shirts!  The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to streamline your ordering process as much as possible, through the use of online design software and other technology to minimize the amount of time spent processing each order – also, try providing as much detailed information as possible for your clients, allowing them to seek out answers on their own either through your website or other provided documentation.  The fewer times you have to repeat answers to simple questions, the more profitable your business will be!

5. Garment Selection is More Critical than Most Other Processes

DTG printing is not intended to be used on all garment types; in fact, the inks tend to work best when applied to 100% cotton, so it is best to avoid 50/50 blends and other non-cotton fabrics as much as possible.  On top of that, it is important to remember that not all cotton is created equal – you will experience better print quality and more consistent wash fastness when you select garments that are woven from higher quality ring spun cotton (30/1 weave is ideal).  All individual brands, styles and colors can potentially produce varying results of quality and wash-fastness, therefore it becomes critical that you thoroughly evaluate any potential blank garments that you want to print on.  It can get even more confusing when you begin tracking where each batch of shirts was manufactured, as different countries of origin can produce drastically different results, even when the brand / style / color are identical!  Once you’ve found blank garments that print well and are consistently meeting your quality expectations, try to stick with them and encourage your clients to do the same; even if you warn a client that 50/50 blends won’t print as well, they will still insist that you do it and then become indignant when the results are sub-par.  As a DTG printer, it is recommended that you think long and hard about a company policy that indemnifies you of all responsibility for client-supplied blanks (if your company even accepts client-supplies blanks), since you cannot properly vet products that you have not thoroughly evaluated.  Or, even better, simply avoid accepting client garments altogether and focus on blanks that provide the highest possible quality – this is the only way to properly protect your reputation down the road.


Monitor Your Humidity for High Quality DTG Printing!

As the weather begins to warm up in many areas of the country, it is important to remember how critical proper temperature / humidity control can be and how big of an impact it can ultimately have on the printing process, as well as the quality of the final product.  Regardless of which brand of DTG printer you are using, or who you bought it from, the ideal operating ranges are quite similar across the board.  For most machines, the ideal humidity level for high quality DTG printing is between 40%-60% relative humidity – although the machines will likely print (and even operate proficiently in some cases) when the humidity is as low as 25-35%, you will almost certainly experience a higher-than-normal volume of ink related issues as the level drops below 20% (the higher the temperature, the more of an impact the low humidity will likely have on your printing).  Regarding temperatures, most DTG printers prefer to operate within a range of 75-90 degrees; going too hot or too cold could potentially cause your inks to dry up on your while printing, causing all sorts of mayhem in the process!

Many people will spend hours trying to troubleshoot their printer to find out why they are experiencing sudden nozzle dropout, clogged heads or other similar symptoms, while the actual issue has nothing to do with the machine itself – this can easily result in lost production time and plenty of wasted ink being purged down the drain!  Every single DTG print shop in the world should have some sort of inexpensive humidity reader mounted inside the production room, providing constant feedback on the current moisture levels in the air – whenever you are experiencing strange ink behavior, it is helpful to start your troubleshooting with a quick glance at the humidity meter, to get an idea of what your machine is currently dealing with.  If you do not already have one of these (or something similar), head out to your local Wal-Mart (or preferred vendor) and find one!  They only cost a few bucks, and it will provide insight on one of the most critical aspects of the DTG printing process – your local printing environment.

There are a number of solutions available for raising the relative humidity level inside your production environment, ranging from swamp coolers (ideal for larger, warehouse style facilities), home humidification systems (which don’t often make a very big impact, unless you are running several of them in a relatively closed space) and more industrial “vaporization” systems that are typically custom built for each facility (this is the method used by most large printing companies, including many major newspaper publishers where humidity is also a concern).  Some DTG printer owners have even constructed a plastic “tent” around their machines, allowing them to climate control a smaller, more limited space – in this type of a setup, the smaller “home” humidification systems can be slightly more effective (remember to mount the humidity meter inside the plastic tent, should you pursue this option).

Whatever method you prefer, make sure you are monitoring your humidity (and temp) on a daily basis, and take the necessary precautions before the summer weather starts to hit!  If you wait until your humidity is below 20% to figure something out, you could potentially be risking downtime and unnecessary problems – maintain your climate, and maintain high quality DTG printing!

What is DTG Printing, and Why is it So Awesome?

The days of simplifying your artwork to meet your budget are over!  No longer do the general masses have to settle for “dumbed down” versions of their incredibly crafted designs, and no longer do they need to order a hundred shirts (or more) to be taken seriously!  DTG printing arrived on the scene in its infant stages over 6 years ago, and has spent the last several years being tweaked, prodded and modified until it was finally manifested in a form that offered top level competitive quality, excellent durability and reliable manufacturing practices.

If you thought you knew all about DTG printing, check again!  There have been plenty of advances and improvements that have made the process not only viable, but also highly sought after by major clothing brands and online retailers all across the globe.  Our team is proud to have been actively involved as pioneers in this industry for the last 6+ years, pushing for ever increasing quality and reliability, while lobbying for lower consumables costs and delivering the highest quality products to our clients.  Now, after all those years of being actively engaged in printing for clients, we are proud to bring the tools and information you need to make this a viable option for your business.

DTG printing stands for “Direct To Garment” printing, which refers to the process of jetting water based ink directly onto the surface of a printable substrate, rather than printing a transfer which would then be heat pressed onto the substrate.  DTG printing equipment is similar in many ways to the type of desktop ink jet printers which can be found in most homes and offices; utilizing a small selection on ink colors (typically Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and White), the printer is able to dynamically mix the process inks “on the fly” as it prints, recreating a myriad of colors and effects as it goes!

The printers are generally much larger than most home or office printing systems, and the drive mechanism has been modified to feed blank t-shirts rather than paper or other flat substrates.  By eliminating the need for expensive and time consuming screen setup, as well as the mess and the costs that go along with the traditional screen printing process used by most print shops, we are able to use the process of DTG printing to create beautiful, full color designs with almost no setup, allowing us to offer full color custom garment printing with NO MINIMUM ORDERS and NO SETUP FEES!  Essentially, if you can create it on the computer, it can be reproduced on a t-shirt.

When compared to traditional decoration techniques, such as screen printing, the quality of a DTG printed garment is unrivaled – the print details, gradients and print accuracy will beat out almost any other garment decoration technique available (sublimation is another “digitally printed” option which offers a fairly competitive option for decorating garments with beautiful full color designs, however sublimation is limited to polyester garments and there is no white ink, meaning it can only be used on white or light colored garments – it cannot really compete with DTG printing when dark garments or 100% cotton is concerned).

The process of DTG printing involves several steps, which can be loosely summed up as follows:


Before any ink can actually be printed on the garment, the fabric must be prepared with a liquid pre-treatment chemical, designed to create a bond between the ink and the garment itself.  Without this pre-treatment fluid, the ink would simply absorb into the porous cotton material and appear very poorly (if at all).  Pre-treatment is absolutely required for any dark garment printing (any time white ink is involved, either as an under base or a highlight layer), although it is entirely optional when printing on light colored garments.  If pre-treatment fluid is applied to the light garment prior to printing, the ink will remain on top of the fabric (rather than soaking in) and will appear more vibrant, while providing superior wash-fastness over the life of the garment.  If no pre-treatment is used on light colored garments, the print will still look good but you will notice that it simply doesn’t “POP” like it would have with the pre-treatment.  The pre-treatment is applied either manually or via an automated pre-treatment unit, depending on the situation – after the spray is applied, the garment is then brushed with a fine Wooster brush to press the fibers down (reducing the effects of fibrillation, especially on non-ringspun garments) and then heat pressed to seal the pre-treatment to the garment – once this is completed, the garment is ready for printing!


Although we can certainly load up any artwork file and press the print button, it is important to understand that proper artwork preparation is vital to the successful recreation of complex DTG prints – there is no magic involved in the printing process that will turn “adequate” artwork into “amazing” artwork…. The better the initial artwork file is in terms of quality, color saturation and vibrancy, the better the final printed t-shirt is going to look.  You can read more about artwork prep and file format options by visiting the Artwork Information page at Fusion Logistics Group.


While this may seem like one of the easiest steps, it can actually become quite tricky when trying to reproduce complex specialty prints that cross over seams or collars, as well as when trying to print odd shaped or odd sized garments (such as onesies, or printing on sleeves and whatnot).  We use a series of “loading boards” called Platens to keep the garments pulled flat and smooth for the printing process, and we will often set up custom spacers to allow us to print on a variety of alternative substrates and print locations.


Once everything is prepped and ready to go, we simply load up the artwork file in the specialized RIP software we use (RIP stands for Raster Image Processor, by the way) and press the print button!  The printer will travel the entire length of the garment print area, spraying ink as it goes – when it is done we are left with an incredibly detailed, vibrant print that will impress even the toughest critics.  For dark colored garments, the machine will first print a full pass of white ink (as an under base to the colors), then it will return for a second pass that will complete the image with the color layer.


Since water based inks remain “water soluble” until they are permanently heat-set, it is important to press the garments after printing to ensure that the design does not come off in the wash!  For light garments, this generally involves direct exposure to high pressure and heat for around 90 seconds, while dark garments get the same treatment for at least 180 seconds; it is important to select garments for printing that are able to withstand the arduous manufacturing conditions involved with DTG printing water based inks.


While this may seem like a lot of steps, most people would be blown away to find out everything that goes into the process of traditional screen printing – relatively speaking, DTG printing involves far fewer steps.  In addition to taking less time for the overall setup / print cycle when compared to traditional decoration methods, DTG printing also involves far fewer chemicals and consumables, none of which contain the level of harsh and abrasive chemicals found in many screen printing products.

DTG printing is perfect for short run or full color printing – with a little creativity, you can recreate some incredible effects that will leave most screen printers in the dust, without breaking the bank in the process! Check out our website for more information on the DTG printing process, as well as reviews on various equipment that is actually being used at our sister company (www.fusionlogisticsgroup.com) – many of these products are being made available directly through this website, and we will be here every step of the way to ensure you have an opportunity to succeed in this difficult market.

ViperONE Automatic Pretreater Early REVIEW!

DTG Print Solutions is pleased to have been given the opportunity to become an early BETA tester for the ViperONE automatic pretreatment machine, which is being delivered to the market by i-Group Technologies, LLC (the same team that brought out the original Viper automatic pretreatment machine).  For many years, our sister company Fusion Logistics Group has gotten by with the traditional Wagner HPLV sprayer for manual pre-treatment application – the results were not always perfect, but the process has become far more forgiving and manageable in recent years.  Printing thousands upon thousands of shirts has made our staff incredibly knowledgeable regarding the manual application of pre-treatment, and we have come to accept this as a normal part of the DTG printing process.  Although we have indeed tested other automatic pre-preatment machines in the past (including one which sat dormant in our shop for over a year before we got rid of it), none have ever delivered upon our expectations of reliability, consistency and quality.  That all may have changed, however, with the introduction of the new ViperONE pre-treatment unit.


Our staff was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new ViperONE pre-treatment machine, long before it actually arrived – since we got our hands on a very early concept model, we had to be patient while the necessary adjustments were made by the manufacturers; we were kept informed during the entire process, and when our delivery date came it was like an early Christmas.  At some point in the mid-afternoon, I received a call from my production manager to inform me that the pre-treatment machine had arrived – he asked me what I thought we should do with it, and my response was “Well if you feel so inclined, feel free to set it up and take a look at it – otherwise I will be in the shop in a few hours”…  Imagine my surprise when the response from the other end of the phone was “Phew, thank goodness – I already unpacked it 20 minutes ago and have been pre-treating shirts with it!”

This anecdote speaks to the ease at which my staff was able to unload the unit (which, by the way, is incredibly compact), set it up and begin implementing it into our production process; although they were in the early evaluation stages, they had no trouble getting it ready to go with almost no direct guidance or instruction.  Ease of use is an incredibly crucial factor these days, especially if you plan to utilize paid employees to do your bidding while you’re in Vegas blowing all your earnings on Blackjack…

As mentioned, the unit is physically compact and occupies a much smaller space than the original Viper pre-treatment machine.  This makes it easy to integrate into a small production area, where space is a valuable commodity.  Our initial feeling was that there could have been a little more money put into some of the construction materials used to build the unit – in particular, we felt the slide rails were not as sturdy as we were used to seeing on other equipment.  We discussed our feedback with the manufacturer, but the feeling seems to be that any improvements in this area would add quite a bit to the manufacturing costs – since we do not build or source the parts, we will have to take their word on that!

The machine utilizes a drawer-style design which involves the main body of the unit (where the actual drawer is), an upper spray mechanism and an assortment of tanks / bottles to dispense and recollect the pre-treatment spray; the machine also requires a small air compressor unit to operate (not included), which is a departure from the original Viper design (which utilized electronically controlled spray nozzles, rather than pressure nozzles).  To be completely honest, we were unsure how well the single-nozzle design would work out, considering we have never seen a single-nozzle unit that performed to our specifications – now that we have had some time to fully evaluate the system, we are pleased with the consistent and smooth results we have been able to achieve thus far.  Although we notice that the outside edges seem to vary from the center of the spray area, slightly, our experience has shown that this subtle discrepancy has almost no effect on the quality of the prints we are getting on our Neoflex printers.  The improved quality and repeat-ability we are able to achieve now in our pre-treatment department has surpassed even our most optimistic expectations, and our printing business has been positively impacted by this change – any slight difference in spray volume seems unnoticeable in the printed image, as the improved quality we are now getting far outweighs any concerns we may have had.


Our employees had little difficulty setting up the machine and pre-treating the first couple of shirts – in addition, Brian Walker was kind enough to provide some thorough documentation, including a user guide that helped indicate how much fluid should be applied to get the best results.  When dialing in the machine, there is a knob which you turn either direction to increase or decrease the amount of air flow, thereby affecting the volume of pre-treatment that is ultimately applied; we found that it can be a little tricky to determine the “zero point” for the dial, due to the fact there is no hard-stop when turning the dial counterclockwise.  A trick we were shown is to rotate the dial until we felt resistance, at which point it was at the “zero point” – from there, each full rotation would increase the spray volume incrementally.  This process is fairly simple, although it does not eliminate the need for someone who truly understands the pre-treatment process to be available during production, in case something needs to be dialed in again – since most brands / styles / colors require varying levels of pre-treatment to be applied, the machine would need to be re-adjusted on a fairly frequent basis.

Once the machine is dialed in for a particular garment style or color, it becomes a simple process to just load the shirt, close the drawer and press the “GO” button – in fact, you could almost hire anyone to perform this step over and over again, as long as the person who was actually dialing in the machine knew what they were doing (I would not leave that step to just any random employee, since it will ultimately determine the quality of the prints you will be getting).  Before I had even arrived at the shop to inspect the unit, my production manager had already set up the machine, dialed it in and had several employees pretreat some shirts to test it out – the only issue that came up involved one particular employee holding the green “GO” button for an extended period of time, which apparently causes the spray nozzle to get stuck in the back position with the spray coming out full steam ahead…  The solution, I am told, is to make sure your employees do not hold the green “GO” button for an extended period of time!  Makes sense to me, and we have not had that issue since we became aware of it.


The price range of the ViperONE pre-treatment machine is projected to fall between $3,500-$4,000 – while this may seem rather steep for a secondary piece of equipment, many shops will find the added consistency and quality to be well worth the investment.  After thoroughly discussing the price issue with my production manager, we are in agreement that although it seems expensive when you look at the fundamental construction of the machine, the value that it provides our business far exceeds that number and it is well worth the investment, regardless of the build cost – this is an example of a product being worth “well more than the sum total of it’s parts”.  As many people who are running their own DTG print shops will tell you, the stress and frustration (not to mention wasted prints and resources) of the manual pre-treatment process, while completely manageable if you put your mind to it and monitor the process closely, is one of the biggest hurdles that stands between them and long term success; if you could remove the headache and stress that this step causes, and ensure that a full run of 100+ dark garments will print the same from the first to the last garment, would that be worth the price tag to your business?  For us, the answer is yes.


An automatic pre-treatment machine is not the first thing a startup DTG print shop should be looking into – before you begin to automate this process, you should become an expert by manually applying pre-treatment to hundreds if not thousands of shirts.  Without this thorough and fundamental understanding of the way pre-treatment works and what affects the ultimate quality of the print, you will always struggle to make the process work effectively.  Additionally, if you are only printing a few dark garments per day, the time and effort involved with setting up the machine and subsequently flushing it out when you are done is simply not worth it; due to the nature of the pre-treatment chemicals used by most DTG ink manufacturers, it is not recommended that you leave anything sitting in the machine overnight.

If you are printing 30+ dark garments per day and feel that you have a decent understanding of the pre-treatment process, you might consider adding an automatic pre-treatment machine to your arsenal – the ViperONE has proven to be a great choice and is allowing us greater confidence in our process from start to finish.  Each garment is loaded onto the “platen” and the drawer is manually closed – once you are ready to spray, you simply press the green “GO” button and the nozzle travels across the garment to apply the pre-treatment; the entire process only takes a few seconds, so it is easy to pre-treat 60 shirts per hour without breaking a sweat.  If someone were to really hustle on the machine, I wouldn’t be surprised to see 120+ shirts per hour being pre-treated with little difficulty.


Rather than spraying the shirt once, we have found that we get better fluid deposit on the garment when we lower the volume down and press the “GO” button twice, instead of once; we subscribe to the professional painting philosophy that “two light coats are always better than one heavy coat”.  By laying down two light passes instead of one, we seem to get smoother pre-treatment results with more consistent fabric penetration – this is especially important when printing on porous cotton (such as standard vs. ring spun), or fleece materials.  Additionally, we have not eliminated the “brushing” step that precedes the heat press – after we spray each garment, we quickly brush it down with a high quality Wooster brush, to ensure that fibrillation is minimized.

At the end of the day, we are very happy with the ViperONE automatic pretreater, and our thanks go out to the team at i-Group Technologies, LLC!  This device may even allow us to begin offering “pre-pretreated” shirts to some of our local DTG customers, providing them even greater control of their own printing process while they build up the necessary volume to justify the purchase of an automatic machine – we believe the difference in print quality and consistency speaks for itself.  As i-Group Technologies, LLC makes this product commercially available, watch for it to appear on one of our product pages for you to purchase for your own DTG print business!  Remember, if it doesn’t work for us in our own production facility (www.fusionlogisticsgroup.com), we won’t recommend it!

Some Tips for Printing with White Ink

We previously posted this information on a popular industry forum (T-Shirt Forums), but decided it should be available here on DTG Print Solutions, as well.  This is a general overview of some of the things we do in our own production facility at Fusion Logistics Group (our sister company), and should be used as a general guideline for printing with white ink.  Of course the first step to achieving a top quality print is selecting the proper garment for DTG printing – you can read more about that by going here.

In order to get the best possible results (on any tee, really), here are some basic pointers:



This is the most important part of the process; if your spray is inconsistent, splotchy, too light or too heavy, your results will suffer. Nothing else really matters if you can’t nail down this step! We will be putting out some videos of our pretreatment process, sometime next week; hopefully a visual will help some people understand what we do – your process may vary.


Dial in the pretreatment spray gun to ensure that you are not “blasting” the garment with spray… This is a t-shirt printing operation, not a 1960’s anti-war demonstration; you’re not trying to teach the shirt a lesson – just a gentle spray will do!


If your pretreatment gun is “sputtering” when you spray, you should probably stop and clean it thoroughly (and also double check to make sure it is still properly dialed in). In fact, we typically pour the contents of the spray gun back into the main pretreatment container about every 4 hours; we rinse the gun with warm water, shake the main pretreatment container then reload the gun. Some might say that is overkill, but our results have been far more consistent than they have ever been since we implemented this process.


We usually spray “left to right” then “right to left” on the next step down, releasing the trigger on the gun at the far right and far left of each spray; we repeat this until we have gently covered the entire print area with spray, as evenly as possible. If you hold the trigger and simply move the gun back and forth, you will end up with much heavier deposits at the outside edges of the spray area – look for a YouTube video of a professional painting a car with an HPLV sprayer and you can use that as a model for how it should be done. Once the first coat is done we immediately make another pass (moving left to right and back again, while working our way from top to bottom) – two lighter coats provides more even coverage and allows you to use your judgement on a “garment by garment” basis regarding when enough is enough (fleece often requires a heavier deposit, whereas thinner ‘fashion’ style garments will often require a far lighter pretreatment deposit)


Once the garment receives its two even layers of pretreatment, we use a Wooster 4″ brush to even out the liquid and help push down garment fibers (this step is important!) – we brush “top to bottom”, moving from the left side to the right side, slowly and firmly brushing the pretreatment into the shirt. We have used foam brushes and rollers in the past, and these Wooster brushes provide far superior results in my opinion – we purchase them online: Wooster White Fancy
NOTE: From the moment we slide the shirt on to the pretreatment board we created to the time we are done brushing the shirt, generally takes about 30-40 seconds. I should probably time it to find out, but that sounds about accurate.


After pretreating the garment, we put it on the heat press, cover it with a sheet of Quilon paper and press with HEAVY pressure for 20-30 seconds (340 degrees). We have found that the heavier pressure during this step, combined with the brushing from the previous step, seems to do a great job of creating a smooth, ideal printing surface; fibrillation is minimized and we get very little “pitting” in the image. We did an installation for a customer a few months ago who had a pneumatic heat press system, which looked to me to be the best thing I have seen for this step of the process; when the time is right, we will definitely upgrade to a pneumatic heat press system (with a shuttle to improve productivity) that will provide consistent and repeatable results during this critical step.

  • If there is any resistance when taking the Quilon paper off of the garment, it sometimes helps to press the garment without any paper for an additional 10 seconds; this will ensure that the PT is dry, and will push down any fibers that might have been pulled up when you removed the Quilon paper. This step is not always necessary.


When the print heads are dialed in through the print head alignment process, they are often dialed in very close to the substrate (on the Neoflex, there is a metal bar that is usually set about one dime’s thickness above the print surface, providing the ideal gap) – if you move the substrate further away from the print head for the sake of “safety” (hey, nobody likes head strikes!), the ink droplets will not land where they are supposed to and your end result will not be as crisp… This can range from being “just slightly off” to being obviously blurry, depending on how far away you get. Keep the print head close to the substrate for the crispest possible results!


We don’t do this simply once or twice a day – if we are printing non-stop (using white ink), we will sometimes stop and roll the bags in the cartridges every hour or so. This ensures that there is always a consistent pressure level in the system, as this can fluctuate as your ink cartridges empty out. This basic principle is true on probably any machine out there, and I am sure there are a number of ways to deal with it. In our case, we have found that frequently rolling the ink bags creates more consistent results, regardless of what type of garment we are printing on.


Each morning, you will probably come in to find your white ink may have settled slightly overnight – sometimes it won’t be very noticeable, and you might even fool yourself into thinking that you are getting a “good” white base…. However, if you take the time to really shake all the ink, purge the settled ink out of the dampers and the lines by doing a few sample prints or running a K2 or K3 cleaning, you will sometimes see your white get considerably more vibrant – we don’t notice it until we have something to compare to, then we realize we aren’t getting the best white ink! In fact, it might be a good idea to take your machine on its BEST day and print a few control samples to have handy at all times…. Each morning, use the control samples to ensure that your machine is fully dialed in, then you will know for sure if the issue is the garment or the ink; we do our morning setup on Anvil 980 tees, since we KNOW how good the white ink should look on them – once we have it looking perfect, then we can try printing on another brand (such as a AAA tee) to see what the difference would be. Of course, performing your regular maintenance on your machine is integral to this step, because if you are not properly taking care of things then you will find yourself wasting a lot of effort and ink in the long run.


They are simple things, but any one of those points can cause major fluctuations in print quality…… Rather than banging our head against the wall trying to figure out what the issue is, we just try to follow these steps every day and our results are pretty consistent!  With a little practice, you could easily be printing top quality dark garments all day long with minimal downtime and minimal fuss – just keep reminding yourself that the little things makes a BIG difference!

Selecting the Proper Garments for DTG Printing

Aside from the quality of the original artwork file, the most critical factor in achieving top quality products with DTG printing is the actual garment that is being printed on.  Variables such as cotton content, weight, knit, texture, unique post processing chemical treatments and much more can ultimately effect the results we see on DTG printing, so it is important to select garments that are best suited to this unique method of decoration.


1. Garments with a high cotton content print best!

Try to avoid 50/50 cotton / polyester blends, as the water based inks used for DTG printing do not adhere well to polyester.  Additionally, the dyes used to color polyester garments tend to “migrate” into the printed image during the curing stage, causing the image quality to be negatively effected.  100% cotton garments are going to provide the best results, but if you cannot find a suitable 100% cotton option (which is often the case when printing on fleece hoodies) then look for the next best thing, which is typically 80% cotton / 20% polyester.

2. Ring spun cotton prints better than standard cotton!

The better (smoother) the print surface, the better the end results will be; this is typically true of any type of printing method.  Even with your desktop printer at home, you will achieve varying results when printing on standard paper, when compared to the same print on high quality glossy photo paper; the simple truth is that a better printing surface will almost always yield a better print.  The softer, finer weave of the ring spun cotton provides a more ideal printing surface for the DTG printer inks, creating a more stunning print that will hold better on the garment during repeated wash cycles.  Whenever possible, it is recommended to use ring spun or combed ring spun garments for most DTG printing applications.

3. Ribbed texture / patterns can ruin a DTG print!

The nature of ribbed fabrics allows for greater stretchability due to the inherent weave of the cloth; for most purposes, this is ideal and does not pose any sort of problem.  For DTG printing, on the other hard, this can cause the printed image to break apart at the vertical “channels” that are present in the fabric – this effect cannot be controlled so it is important to test and verify ANY ribbed garments before offering them to your clients.


We have spent years working with DTG printers, and we tend to select brands and garment styles that are highly compatible with the DTG process – not only do we look for garments that print and wash well, but we must also ensure that our products can withstand the intense heat and pressure that our garments are exposed to during the printing and curing process.  Once we have found garments that we like, we try to evaluate how consistent they are between batches to even further refine our selection of preferred blank garments (we have found that the same brand tee produced at a different factory location can sometimes yield different levels of print quality and overall consistency).

DTG 9-1-1: Preparing for Inevitable Disaster with a DTG First Aid Kit

You’re at the shop late one night, printing another rush order for yet another client who needs their order done “tomorrow” – everything is going smoothly until BAM! – suddenly your machine is giving you issues, and you don’t know why.  Perhaps some contaminants made their way into the print head, preventing some nozzles from firing?  Perhaps one of your employees was doing some routine maintenance recently, and somehow managed to spill a little ink on a ribbon cable (rendering it useless)?  Whatever the cause, this is a situation that no DTG printer owner ever wants to find themselves, because it can have dire consequences on their overall business.  After unleashing a whirlwind of profanities under your breath (can’t let the wife hear you, or else you get the painful “I told you this was a bad idea!”), you ponder your options:

Option 1:

You can order a new print head, damper, ribbon cable, capping station, or whatever else is causing your immediate problem….  Of course, you won’t be able to put the order in with your supplier until the next morning, meaning you won’t have the part in hand for several days; if you are printing late on a Thursday or Friday night, you’re pretty much hosed because you’re not going to see those parts for awhile.  Effectively, your entire printing operation is dead in the water until UPS shows up at your door.

Option 2:


… As you can see, your options are pretty limited in situations like these!  While issues like this are relatively inexpensive and easy to fix, the bigger problem stems from the subsequent downtime that comes as a result of having to wait days for a replacement part to arrive at your door step – in this way, a small problem manages to become a major inconvenience, which can ultimately threaten the very safety and longevity of your business.  Many DTG business owners find themselves in situations like this all the time, being completely at the mercy of a “single point of failure”; that is, any single problem with the equipment can literally take their entire business offline for hours, days or even weeks at a time.

So as a business owner, how do you avoid being thrust into such a negative situation?  The answer is actually much simpler, and far more inexpensive, than one might think!  Additionally, it seems pretty intuitive – however, many business owners don’t bother to take the one simple step that could literally determine the ultimate future of their DTG print business…  Think about it like this: we are healthy people, most of the time – our bodies do what they’re supposed to, and we run them hard.  However, each and every one of us knows that at some point in the future, we are going to run into physical problems (wear and tear issues, if you will) – for this purpose, we have grown up with the understanding that it is just smart business to carry personal medical insurance, to cope with that inevitable time in the future where your otherwise healthy body is going to be need some “repairs”.  We HOPE we won’t need it, but it is there just in case.  Our entire life we are taught to prepare for disaster – get insurance for this or that, have backups on hand, have an emergency first aid kit ready (and maybe even an earthquake disaster kit, if you live in Southern California), etc.  We take this seriously in almost every area of our lives, then we go out and invest our life savings in a business opportunity where we have NO backup, NO emergency plan and NO “first aid kit”.

Ideally, the best way to achieve peace of mind is to ensure that you always have redundant printing capabilities – having multiple machines in your shop ensures that (in case one unit stops working) you are always able to finish client orders, without having to blame your machine for missing their event deadline.  While ideal, this is not always a practical solution for most small business owners, who have already put themselves out pretty far financially just to get into the business.  Some DTG printers, like the Neoflex and Mod1 models, are capable of swapping out the actual “print unit” on the machine, which allows business owners to keep an extra print unit on hand “just in case.”

So then, what is the solution if you want reliable printing capabilities, but you can’t necessarily afford an additional printer unit?  Build yourself an emergency DTG 9-1-1 First Aid Kit, of course!!!  For around $1,100 (most machines, but not all), almost any small business owner who uses DTG printers in their shop can put together a solid emergency kit that just might save their bacon when the ‘ish hits the fan.  Here is a brief list of the things we recommend for you to keep on hand at all times (this is not an all inclusive list, and all prices are estimates): in case” – again, this is a solid solution, but may also represent a $6,000 purchase that you are not quite ready for.

  • Spare print head for your particular printer model – $600
  • Spare capping station / pump assembly – $150
  • Spare dampers (4-8 recommended) – $80-160
  • Spare wiper blade(s) – $6
  • Spare encoder strip(s) – $10
  • Assorted ribbon cables – $80
  • Additional waste ink tank – $120
  • Assorted replacement parts (plastic joints, “O” rings, small electronic components) – $60-100
  • Anything else you think might break or fail at some point!!!  You can never be too prepared.

In addition to these critical machine components, it is also recommended to keep an extra spray gun on hand, if you pre-treat all your shirts by hand!  Heck, even if you have an automatic pre-treatment machine, you still don’t want to run the risk of being without any sort of backup plan.  A Wagner HPLV spray gun is about $70 at Lowe’s or Home Depot, and it is something that can fail on you right in the middle of a major print run.  While this may not be as devastating as having a print head go bad, it is still inconvenient to run down to the hardware store on short notice – besides, what happens when it fails on you after hours, leaving you helpless until the following morning?  In this business, you can never be too cautious.


You’re at the shop late one night, printing another rush order for yet another client who needs their order done “tomorrow” – everything is going smoothly until BAM! – suddenly your machine is giving you issues, and you don’t know why.  Perhaps some contaminants made their way into the print head, preventing some nozzles from firing?  Perhaps one of your employees was doing some routine maintenance recently, and somehow managed to spill a little ink on a ribbon cable (rendering it useless)?  “No problem” you think to yourself…  You walk over to your DTG cabinet and pull out your DTG First Aid kit, and within 20-30 minutes you are back up and running – your clients are thrilled when you deliver the order on time, and your business continues to grow!

In the world of DTG, small problems can easily become major headaches – avoid this by preparing yourself for the worst-case-scenario and you can save yourself time and money in the long run.

Neoflex Daily Maintenance

In the world of DTG printing, nothing is quite as important as performing the necessary regular maintenance to keep your equipment operating like new.  Without proper maintenance, it doesn’t matter if you are using the correct print settings, it doesn’t matter if you have selected the proper garments for DTG printing and it certainly doesn’t matter what the relative humidity level is – if you neglect your machine, you will find out soon enough how important a few minutes a day can actually be.

Due to the relatively viscous nature of most DTG inks (read: ALL DTG inks), combined with the heavy particles used to achieve a desirable opacity in the white ink (often TiO2 – Titanium Dioxide particles), residue can quickly build up in certain areas of your machine that will eventually begin to restrict ink flow – this could easily manifest itself in dropped nozzles, ineffective cleaning cycles and eventually damaged components (such as print heads, plastic gears, etc).

Follow these easy steps every day to ensure that your Neoflex DTG printer continues to runs smoothly:

Shake the White Ink

The heavy TiO2 particles in the white ink will quickly separate, sinking to the bottom of the cartridges, bottles, ink lines, print head, dampers and anywhere else the ink sits for an extended period of time.  This process will occur over the course of several hours, although you probably won’t notice much of a difference unless you walk away for 8-12 hours (depending on your altitude, relative humidity, temperature, etc); the easiest way to combat this is to take out each of your white ink cartridges every morning before you start printing, gently shaking them for approximately 10-15 seconds (don’t think of shaking a can of spray paint – it should be more of a mild rocking motion, as you do not want to introduce large air bubbles into the ink supply).  If you have a supply of ink on the shelves, it is probably a good idea to shake that as well; as long as you keep the ink from completely separating you should have far fewer issues down the road.  Remember to always keep it agitated!  If you are printing continuously the ink will not always have time to settle, meaning you won’t necessarily need to shake the cartridges as frequently – however we all need to go home and sleep from time to time, so unless you are running your production operation 24/7 you should become very comfortable with this step (relax, it doesn’t get any easier).

Clean the Seal on the Capping Station

When the capping station makes contact with the print head, the thin rubber gasket around the edge of the capping station allows for a perfect seal – a pump beneath the capping station then begins to draw air downward, pulling ink through the system and thus cleaning the print head, inks lines, etc.  During the course of normal printing and cleaning cycles, small ink droplets begin to gather and dry around the rubber gasket; if these small amounts of ink are left unchecked, they can quickly build up and prevent a decent seal from forming.  Without a proper seal forming between the print head and the capping station, all the cleaning cycles in the world aren’t going to make a bit of difference because air will be entering from the sides and no ink will be drawn through the print head / ink lines.  To prevent this from happening, use a recommended cleaning solution and cleaning swab to thoroughly remove any visible ink buildup – this can generally be purchased wherever you buy your ink from, although many people use original formula Windex mixed with distilled water to save a few bucks; check with your manufacturer to find out what they recommend.

Clean the Wiper Blade

The wiper blade is not always visible right away – you will need to move some things around to gain access to it, then you can use the same cleaning solution / cleaning swab combo from before to remove any ink buildup that has gathered on the wiper blade (this small rubber blade wipes ink from the surface of the print head after each cleaning cycle, so it can show a buildup relatively quickly).  NOTE: Take a quick look at your wiper blade each morning to make sure it is still crisp and straight; if the blade is starting to look ragged, it won’t effectively remove ink from the print head surface – you can replace this part for only a couple of bucks, so it is recommended to keep an extra one on hand at all times.

Clean Area Around Capping / Spitting Station

During the normal printing process, it is easy for ink droplets to slowly build up around the various components on your machine; this could cause various moving components (the wiper blade, the capping station itself, assorted plastic gears, etc) to become blocked, which could result in strange grinding sounds coming from your machine or even parts breaking.  Using your cleaning solution and cleaning swabs, try to remove any visible ink buildup around the capping station / spitting station area – while you’re at it, give the entire inside of your machine a quick visual inspection, and make sure you catch any potential problems early.  Every once in awhile, it is a good idea to pull the side cover off of your Neoflex in order to give the plastic gears and the encoder wheel a good cleaning, as well (although you certainly don’t need to do this every day).

Purge Settled Ink From Dampers / Lines

After you have cleaned the various components responsible for subsequently cleaning your machine, you are ready to address any ink that might have settled in your print head, dampers and ink lines while you were away from your printer; although you should have already agitated the ink in the cartridges, remember there is still plenty of ink in the system that has been sitting.  Tragically, there is little we can do at this point to reclaim and properly agitate that ink – your best bet is to run a simple cleaning cycle through the machine itself (all the internal components should be nice and fresh at this point, so a simple clean should be effective to prime the print head), then print a morning test cycle before you begin production.  A basic test print cycle at the beginning of each day may take up a few bucks in ink, but the white is probably not as vibrant as you want it yet so its not like that ink was going on any shirts for clients, anyways.  If you use your own company logo for your morning test prints, you can begin to stockpile “freebie” shirts for your family and friends (they won’t even notice that the white ink isn’t as perfect as you want it to be, and you are minimizing waste).


That’s it!  As long as your test print cycle looks good (no dropped nozzles, the white has brightened up by the end of the cycle, etc) you are ready to load up customer shirts and start making money!  The entire daily maintenance process should take no more than 5-15 minutes, depending on your experience and proficiency level; in fact, it will probably take you less time to do your scheduled daily maintenance than it took you to read this article!  As you repeat the above steps over and over, it should become second nature to you and you will eventually be able to do it in your sleep (not recommended).  In addition to the steps listed here, there are deeper levels of cleanings that can be done in the event your machine starts giving you real problems, and there are additional maintenance steps that should be performed on a monthly basis or less frequently – we will cover more of these options in future posts.