Tag Archives: pros cons

KatanaDTG r3000 / p600 DTG Printer – User Reviews

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.

Belquette Mod1 DTG Printer – User Reviews

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.

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Print Size: 13″ x 19″(x 6″ Z-axis height)

Rate your DTG printer! The New Consumer Reports for the DTG Industry…

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.

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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 info@dtgprintsolutions.com – we would love to receive additional feedback from the general community, regarding DTG printers we have not been able to personally review!

CLICK HERE TO VIEW PRODUCT REVIEWS

OR APPLY TO SUBMIT A BRAND NEW PRODUCT REVIEW

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.

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PAINFULLY SLOW PRINT TIMES

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).

CONSUMABLES AND OPERATING COSTS ARE WAY TOO HIGH

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!

ITS JUST NOT THAT RELIABLE

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.

IN CONCLUSION – A CHALLENGE HAS BEEN ISSUED

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.

Nonstop Neoflex Production – One Hour in 15 Minutes

Many people ask us about the potential production rates they can expect with their DTG printer…. While the answer to this question may be difficult to pinpoint without understanding your machine capabilities, intended print resolution, production setup and other factors, we can at least show you a one-hour snippet of production from our very own DTG production facility.  This video was released awhile ago, but it shows a full one-hour production cycle, uninterrupted, including the entire pretreat / print / heat press cycle.

This video shows only one employee working on production (me) using on only one of our DTG printers, and is sped up to 4x normal speed to ensure you don’t get too bored during the process…  We are using the following production setup for this video:

  • PRINTER: Neoflex DTG printing system by All American MFG (based in Philly, PA)
  • RIP: Kothari DTG RIP (branded as NeoRIP PRO)
  • PRETREATMENT: ViperONE Automatic Pretreatment machine
  • PRINT SETTINGS: As always, we are printing in Hi-Resolution mode (the only mode we feel comfortable offering to clients for top-quality DTG printing)
  • GARMENT COLOR: We are printing on dark garments, using the full three platen setup available on the Neoflex DTG printers

Average production speeds (with our configuration) are approximately 6 finished garments per hour on one machine.

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 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.

CONTINUE READING ———->>

Top 10 Reasons 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 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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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.

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:

MAKE SURE YOUR PRETREATMENT METHOD IS ROCK SOLID!

TIP ONE:

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.

TIP TWO:

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!

TIP THREE:

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.

TIP FOUR:

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)

TIP FIVE:

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.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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!

Neoflex DTG Printer Review

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.

EFFICIENCY

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.

FLEXIBILITY

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.

DURABILITY

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.

COST EFFECTIVENESS

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?”

GENERAL SUMMARY

….. coming soon.

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