The KatanaDTG printers are well built, with plenty of great features that make printing and maintenance easier. The modular print system makes it easy to swap modules in seconds, and the threadable platens load just like a standard screen printing press. Kothari RIP is included as the standard and ONLY option, because nothing else compares to the print quality available from this particular software. Complete with easy-access maintenance panels and an electronic z-axis control, the Katana line of DTG printers is a competitive option for an incredibly low price.
The newest p600 series includes the ability to run a one-touch Purge, as well as one-touch access for the capping station and wiper blade.
The Mod1 is Belquette’s second foray into the DTG market, following the PRO series Flexi-Jet. Based on a modified Epson r1800/r1900 print engine, this A3 style printer is quick, boasting a range of high tech features and an innovative appearance and construction. The ability to independently control either of the z-axis motors for maximum control is a huge plus, but some might find the auto laser level to be somewhat restrictive.
The Mod1 boasts a modular design for quick and easy print module swaps, as well as a bagged ink system for bulk convenience.
Have you been involved in DTG printing for some length of time, and want to provide your feedback for a specific DTG printer model? We have now introduced the new Product Reviews function for DTG Print Solutions, allowing for full length, in-depth equipment reviews as well as associated follow-up rankings by the general community!
Once a review has been placed, any logged-in user can add a Comment (complete with their unique rankings for each of the provided categories) and the total product review will reflect the subsequent ratings calculation. By adding your rating, you are contributing to a global community of DTG users with the intention of providing valuable insight and information for any potential buyers.
Whether your particular experience was good or bad, your feedback can help other users make a more informed decision in this process. Be honest about your experiences and include any comments which could provide potentially useful information for someone contemplating the purchase of a particular piece of equipment.
Don’t see your particular printer listed? Consider being the first to review your DTG printer (or equipment accessory) by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we would love to receive additional feedback from the general community, regarding DTG printers we have not been able to personally review!
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 shirts 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.
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 work a second look. Here are 10 good reasons to consider adding DTG printing capabilities to your business:
1. Full Color Printing
Since DTG printers operate more like your home or office printer, you can print stunning “full color” images in one pass (or two passes if printing on dark garments). Clients no longer need to simplify their design ambition to meet their budget, and you can simplify your pricing structure to eliminate the number of colors in the print as a consideration for cost. Its a win-win!
2. Minimal Setup Time / Cost
With DTG printing there is no need to setup individual screens to create a design; in fact, aside from the initial artwork file (and the maintenance required to get the machine up and running at peak efficiency each morning) there is really very little setup at all! Forget about screens, emulsions, film output, screen exposure, rinse-out booths, etc; all you need to worry about is pre-treating your shirts prior to printing, and you are good to go. Let’s take a typical 3-color print job and compare the two processes: if the client is ordering anywhere between 1-72 items, there is a good chance you could have finished the order on a DTG printer in the time it would take you to print multiple film outputs, expose a couple of screens, rinse out the screens, tape the screens (and apply block-out liquid for pinholes, etc), align the screens on a press and ink them up.
3. Minimal Tear-Down Time / Cost
Using the same example from above, the screen printer would have had to scrape ink off all three screens, remove the tape and clean the screens with some sort of ink remover, then apply an emulsion remover and pressure-wash the hell out of them until all the exposed emulsion was gone. After that, they would need to use a haze remover chemical, followed by a degreasing agent, prior to spreading a new layer of fresh emulsion onto each screen in preparation for the next job! Meanwhile, if you had just finished printing this job on your DTG machine you could simply box up the shirts and grab the next batch for printing! That’s it! Not only does this save valuable time, but it also saves a ton of money on additional chemicals and resources for the setup / tear-down process.
4. No Minimum Orders
Due to the fact that there is virtually no setup or tear-down associated with each print job, it is easy to load up a single shirt and print it! You no longer have to demand that your clients order a few dozen shirts (when they only really need a handful for their upcoming event) – start selling short-run orders to the clients who are being turned away at other local print shops, since screen printers won’t touch their orders! Bachelorette parties, home Poker tournaments, fundraising and charity groups, artists, small businesses and more can all be part of your new client base, since they have not traditionally been able to meet the minimum orders required by most screen printers. Most clients who only order a handful of shirts are already aware that it is hard enough to find someone to print for them, so they will often be more willing to spend a few extra dollars on each shirt; also, when small groups of individuals collect money from each person (for instance a club or a poker group) they will generally pay more than an individual who is trying to get the lowest price possible on a bulk of shirts. Small orders can mean big profits!
5. Beat the Local Competition
Once people discover your full-color, no-minimum printing capabilities, they will start to expect similar services from other local shops (most off-the-street clients don’t have a clue how screen printing happens, let alone DTG printing, sublimation or other decoration methods; in some cases you are lucky if they even know what they want printed before they walk through your door). When your competition is forced to stand by their “36+ minimum order”, or when they can’t waive the huge setup fees that the client is no longer paying through your company, they won’t stand a chance! Of course, aside from the fundamental policy differences you will be able to offer, you will also be capable of producing some of the most stunning artistic prints that have ever graced the surface of a cotton t-shirt. Even the highest-quality screen printers in the world would have a very hard time reproducing some of the stunning print effects that can be achieved through DTG printing, so it is simply a matter of educating your client base and showing them why you are different than anyone else in your area.
6. Sell Online
When you offer no minimums, full color printing and stunning output capability, you start to see a lot of people who want to send you an image or two to be printed on a shirt; these orders will start in your local area, but if you are savvy about getting the word out (try Facebook, LinkedIn, Craigslist, etc) you will begin to connect with clients who will probably never even see the inside of your shop. Expand your global reach and start making money EVERYWHERE!
7. Cutting Edge Technology
Staying ahead of the technology curve is how you keep your business at the front of the pack; true pioneers don’t react to trends – they create them. The reason your local market doesn’t expect stunning, full-color printing with no minimums is because you haven’t introduced them to it yet; however you better believe the industry is shifting, and if Bob’s Printing down the street starts showing off his new DTG printing capability before you do, then it’s a lot harder to establish yourself as the local expert in this growing new field. If you like being a follower, then this technology is not for you!
8. No Harsh Chemicals
In almost all cases, the inks used for most DTG printers is water-based; this means they are safe and environmentally friendly, unlike many of the harsh chemicals used in traditional screen printing (in screen printing, even the majority of the inks used are plastic based). Windex is a common cleaning solution used to remove dried ink from various internal components, which is a far cry from the emulsion removers and various liquids used during the screen printing process. DTG printing can be done in a closed space, in a home or garage, and in almost any business environment (whereas some areas require special permitting to do screen printing, and it is often restricted to certain commercial zones).
9. Relatively Clean Process
Unlike screen printing, you can show up to work in a button-down shirt and tie, and you would have little fear of ruining your clothes while you work. Of course there is always the slight chance that you might somehow spill ink on yourself if you are not careful, but you certainly won’t find yourself scraping ink to and from small plastic containers, or covering yourself in back-spray as you pressure wash a screen.
10. Product Flexibility
Once you are comfortable with the process of DTG printing, you can quickly expand into additional product markets by trying to print on new and exciting substrates. For instance, many DTG print shops make great money on the side printing things like mouse pads, pre-stretched art canvas, some shoes, ceiling fan blades, leather, light switch covers and lots more! Of course some stuff requires a little creativity, and like any other print method you will have to consider certain pre-treatments and top coats for certain products in order to successfully print them. If you are the creative, experimental type, then DTG printing could prove to be quite profitable for you! Some printers, such as the Neoflex DTG and the Mod1, have the capability to quickly and easily swap the printing unit from the main base, opening up the possibility of using different printing units loaded with various ink types; for instance, some people use an additional print unit loaded with solvent ink to print on plastics (such as iPhone covers), glass, wood, etc, while others load an edible ink and print on cookies, cake toppings, etc! The sky is the limit and the book is yet to be written on what all can be done with a DTG printer, in the hands of a talented end-user.
If these things sounds good to you and you are the type of person who is just itching to try printing on a million different substrates, then DTG printing might be perfect for you! However, before you pull the trigger you might want to consider some factors that may change your frame of mind – to find out why you might NOT want to get involved in DTG printing, click the following link: Top 10 Reasons NOT to Get Into DTG Printing.
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:
MAKE SURE YOUR PRETREATMENT METHOD IS ROCK SOLID!
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.
USE HEAVY PRESSURE WHEN PRETREATING!
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.
MAKE SURE THE SUBSTRATE IS AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE PRINTER, WITHOUT RISKING A HEAD STRIKE
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!
DURING LONG RUNS OF DARK GARMENT PRINTING, ROLL YOUR WHITE INK BAGS FREQUENTLY
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.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR MACHINE DIALED IN EACH MORNING, PRIOR TO STARTING YOUR PRODUCTION RUNS
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!
The Neoflex DTG printer has been the leader in the industry for the last two years, and continues to be a proven solution for many small business owners. The Neoflex DTG printer is built on the popular Epson 4880 Professional printer – it has been highly modified to act as a direct-to-garment printer, and great care has obviously been taken to ensure that the machine is built from the highest quality parts. Although this is not the largest machine we have ever owned, it is one of the more well built models. Since acquiring the Neoflex line of printers at our sister facility (www.fusionlogisticsgroup.com) over a year ago, we have been able to successfully turn out the highest quality product we have ever produced, while remaining more consistent and reliable during the production cycle.
This printer offers a generous 17″ x 42″ printable area, which allows for “JUMBO” printing applications or for the inline printing of multiple items in a single pass. The most common t-shirt setup is the “3-Up” configuration, which makes room for three average sized platens (11.25″ x 15″) to be loaded onto the print bed for maximum efficiency; each t-shirt in the lineup can have a different image printed on it, and of course the color of the garment doesn’t matter (in terms of functionality – there is certainly something to be said about the more logical approach of printing all “like colored” garments in the same run). Rather than moving the substrate that is being printed, this model relies on a “flat bed / moving printer” design to accomplish its task – this design feature combined with the ability to line up multiple garments in a row for printing, allows the end user to load and unload garments as the printer is still in motion, thereby eliminating the “loading and unloading” phase from the production cycle. Although someone still has to load and unload shirts, of course, the time required for this step does not cause any idle time on the machine.
Many people will argue that loading and unloading garments only takes a few seconds, which can sometimes be true; however, as someone who has employed many different people in the last several years, I can assure you that your low paid employees aren’t going to move with the same level of urgency that you might, and the loading and unloading phase will often be performed in a casual, slow demeanor. This is made worse when dealing with specialty items such as hoodies or polo shirts, or when you consider how critical it can be to ensure that your substrate is smooth and flat (to avoid print head strikes that could potentially damage the machine) – some employees will work with the utmost caution and care when loading the shirts, taking time to carefully smooth them out before pressing print; while I certainly don’t mind the extra attentiveness from my staff, it is way better on the bottom line when the printer can be happily humming along while additional garments are being loaded and unloaded.
The flexibility of the Neoflex DTG printer is something that certainly sets it apart from the rest of the pack – as small business owners, who hasn’t considered adding additional decoration / print techniques to their arsenal? Traditionally, the move to alternative substrates would require huge added investments, as most of the different ink chemistries can’t be used in the same machines – therefore, the only solutions were to either purchase a whole new printer to run an additional ink set, or to completely purge, flush and clean your system any time you wanted to swap ink sets to print on any alternate substrates. Of course, this is neither ideal nor cost efficient.
The Neoflex employs a modular design structure that allows the individual printer units to be easily swapped out (I have long arms so I can move the printer by myself, but it’s easier with two people); it takes about two minutes to slide the print bed back slightly, unplug three cords and completely swap one printer unit for another. This makes it much more practical to keep an additional printer unit on hand (an extra printer unit costs around $6,000, rather than buying a whole new printer for $20,000) in case one breaks down – in my experience, having redundant print capabilities is absolutely vital to ensuring the longevity of your DTG printing business. As long as you have an additional printer unit on hand, there are many things you can do with it:
Store it in a closet somewhere in case you need to quickly get back to printing after a catastrophe.
Set it up as a “dual CMYK” garment printer to increase productivity on light garments, while reducing your overall manufacturing costs significantly.
Set it up as a Solvent printer to print on rigid substrates such as plastics, metals, wood, golf balls, CD’s / DVD’s and much more.
Set it up as an”edible ink” printer to print on cake topping sheets, cookies and other edible products.
All American offers a wide range of ink options and support consumables for each ink chemistry, allowing you to easily explore additional revenue streams without the need to purchase another $20,000 printer for one specific purpose. Of course, if your primary unit were to ever fail, it would only take an hour or two to convert a “dual CMYK” garment printing unit into a “white + CMYK” printer, offering you peace of mind that you will always be able to complete a customer’s job on time. It would be a little more difficult to convert a printing unit with a different ink set back to water based textile inks, but it is possible (the cost associated with purging out and thoroughly cleaning the entire system makes it impractical to do on a frequent basis). When choosing which setup is right for your particular business model, proper planning and execution are critical – make sure you know where your business is headed, and be prepared to commit a full time effort to learning any new decoration technique.
In addition to being able to configure the Neoflex DTG printer in a variety of ways, you are also able to explore additional revenue opportunities by taking advantage of the generous print area (17″ x 42″ overall). The flat bed design enables you to configure custom platens / holders for a variety of products, including pre-stretched art canvas, solvent-ready substrates such as pens / frisbees / USB drives / etc, and much much more. Your creativity is truly the limiting factor with this machine, as it can sometimes take a little creative ingenuity to properly configure functional platen systems for various items.
The major drive components of the Neoflex DTG printer are the massive lead screw which runs the entire length of the printer (this is what moves the printer), the primary motor that drives the lead screw, (4) individual motors that raise and lower the print bed and a host of sophisticated control hardware. There is a common misconception in the industry that the Neoflex is simply a ‘copy’ of an earlier model of printer than All American paid a company to develop for them; the reality is that the Neoflex is a stronger, upgraded version of the same concept (a concept which was sound to begin with, which is why the company pursued it for so many years without changing directions rapidly or frequently like many other companies are tempted to do), which actually delivers on the performance and reliability promises typically expected of an industrial piece of shop equipment.
As soon as we add images to this particular review, we will include comparison shots of the actual drive mechanics of the two printers, illustrating some of the key differences.
While the cost of the water based DTG inks used by most DTG machines seems to be priced way out of line, it is important to remember that there are still things we can do as business owners to make our businesses more efficient, and therefore make them more profitable. Some things may involve changes to the order process, the use of an online ordering system to streamline the overall process, etc. Other things can be done at the machine-level to maximize your efficiency, some of which we have already discussed. For instance, the ability to load and unload the garments while the machine is continuously printing is a huge benefit in a production environment; this allows the Neoflex DTG printer to actually produce more ‘prints per hour’ than other 4880 based machines printing at the exact same resolution. Additionally, the NeoRIP PRO (which actually processes the images and tells the machine exactly how to reproduce them on the garments) uses sophisticated image reproduction techniques which actually save ink and money, while simultaneously producing a richer print with greater depth and color.
One of the ways you can make the greatest impact on your bottom line is to properly take advantage of the modular design of the Neoflex system; if your goal is to print on t-shirts, then t-shirt printing should be your first and only focus until you have the process dialed in to perfection. By investing in one additional printer unit (which can be quickly and easily swapped out on the machine at any time) and configuring it for “dual CMYK” printing (using the same water based garment inks you are using to print on dark garments), you can effectively move all of your dark garment printing to one machine and all of your light garment printing to another. The cost effective advantages that this provides are twofold:
Any DTG printer, desktop inkjet printer or general purpose printer will perform automated maintenance on the print head at scheduled intervals, often related to the number of prints that have been completed since the last cleaning or purge cycle. Inkjet printers are required to keep the print heads clean and primed, and to prevent them from drying out; this is achieved by firing a small amount of ink from each channel at predetermined intervals during the printing process, regardless of whether the channels are currently being used to print. How does this affect a DTG printing business, you might wonder? As you are printing “light garments” (those which do not require a white ink under base), the printer will continue with its automatic cleaning cycles, forcing a small amount of white ink down the drain after every number of print cycles – since many DTG printers find themselves decorating about 70% light garments compared to only 30% dark garments, it would be very easy to print one or two thousand white t-shirts in a given month and find your cartridges of white ink half empty even though you haven’t printed a drop on any dark garments. Many DTG printers sit around at the end of the month wondering where the hell all of their white ink went, and this is just one source of waste in the overall process; by printing all of your light garments on a separate “dual CMYK” printer unit, you could print 10,000 light garments and not waste a drop of white ink.
By printing all of your light garments on a “dual CMYK” printer unit, it is possible to achieve the same amount of ink saturation at half the resolution, since the machine would be using (8) channels of CMYK instead of the normal (4) channels that would be used (since the other 4 would have been filled with white ink). By doubling the ink output in a single pass (thereby allowing a lower print resolution to be used) you are able to print at a much faster rate, significantly increasing your production numbers on light garments – since light garments are the ‘bread and butter’ orders for many small and medium businesses, this has a huge impact on the overall bottom line.
As you can see, with the proper business planning and configuration, the Neoflex DTG printer offers a wide range of options for startup companies and existing businesses looking to expand their market – these options allow for greater productivity, increased profitability and a more attractive ROI for business owners. I would probably go so far as to say that the Neoflex is one of the top DTG machines in its class in terms of cost effective operation, when done properly. The more ‘generalized’ you want to be with your business, the more your cost effectiveness will suffer; if your goal is to print t-shirts, be sure you make t-shirt printing as profitable as possible before moving on to other markets. That is just our advice over here at DTG Print Solutions, anyways.
SUPERIOR COLOR MANAGEMENT / INDUSTRY LEADING RIP SOFTWARE
Any company can re-package an existing RIP and say that it is compatible with their particular DTG printer. However, when a company decides to take the time to tailor the color profiles and image handling properties to achieve the optimal print quality for that particular setup, that is when they set themselves apart from the rest. The team at All American has put in a great deal of work in their endless pursuit of perfect print quality – with custom color profiles, custom ink curves, precise dot control optimized for each substrate / print resolution, they have continued to raise the bar for everyone around them. The Kothari-based RIP software is already the most powerful RIP in the industry, but coupled with more specialized color profiles it is able to produce some of the best prints we have seen from any DTG printer.
Since we purchased our printers over a year ago, I have watched as the guys over in Philly have created new custom printing environments, while also dialing in each color profile for “high resolution” printing, “high production” printing and much more; with so many ink sets to deal with, I am honestly amazed that they are able to get anything done over there…. However, they somehow manage to do it and we as end users benefit from their ongoing efforts to be the best.
Besides the adjustments and improvements that All American has made “in house”, the fundamentals of the RIP itself are stunningly powerful. The ability for the RIP software to so cleanly and accurately recreate graphics from the screen onto cotton t-shirts is unlike anything I have seen in the past – since I first noticed the incredible disparity between this brand of RIP and the next leading competitor about a year ago (which, btw, opened an entire hornet’s nest in the process), there have been many tweaks and improvements from the competition, slowly shrinking the initial quality gap (strictly in terms of smooth, crisp image detail and accurate reproduction – color profiling is the other side of the coin). To this day however, I have not seen an image reproduced as cleanly on any other printer using any other RIP. Some people will argue that increased quality above a certain threshold is unnecessary – however in the last six years I have run into the perceived “limits” of DTG quality on many, many occasions, and always something or someone eventually comes along and shatters those barriers. Better inks, better pre-treatment, better RIP software, better hardware, etc. I think we should never stop pushing for faster printers, lower consumables costs and of course, ever increasing quality. Some people say we don’t need to reproduce the Mona Lisa on a t-shirt – I say “why not?”