How to Properly Prime a Bulk CIS Ink System

A few years ago, we never would have recommended a bulk CIS system for ink delivery into any DTG printer.  However, with recent advances in ink chemistry stability, many of our users have been switching to bulk systems with great success!  It is our goal to provide current and useful information to our entire user base, to ensure everyone has the best tools available for their long term success.  Along those lines, we have done extensive testing with a variety of bulk CIS systems and have determined that our preference is for systems which have an air chamber in the actual bulk ink reservoir.  Our testing indicates superior reliability with such systems, although we have determined there is certainly a right and wrong way to fill these units!

NOTE: This article comes from KatanaDTG user Knowledge Base.

This tutorial is meant as a starter guide for properly loading a bulk CIS system for direct to garment printing – please note that these systems are designed to maintain a balance of ink and air, so properly managing your rubber plug arrangement is crucial!


Almost all bulk CIS ink systems are manufactured overseas, and while most are relatively reliable there will be an occasional manufacturing or assembly error which can result in serious problems for DTG end users.  Before attempting to load ink into your new bulk system, take a good look from every angle to determine if there are any potential issues with the system, itself.  In particular, you want to ensure that the ink line leading out of the reservoirs are routed smoothly along the bottom side of the assembly.  This is a major pain point for DTG users – a kinked line can lead to back pressure in the system, which will prevent ink from flowing along a particular path.


NOTE: A kinked line can be deadly for DTG users.  The line starting from the Yellow reservoir can be a particularly annoying pain point, as this can sometimes be pinched if it is installed at an aggressive angle.  Below is an example of smooth ink line routing in a bulk CIS system!


The rubber plugs for any CIS system are an important, yet often undervalued asset.  These plugs allow you to properly balance the volume / flow of ink and air in the reservoirs.  The plugs should be fully closed when the system is not in use, but when performing any functions on the printer which require the positive flow of ink, the Breather Plugs MUST be open!  If these plugs are closed during printing, priming or cleaning, a back pressure vacuum will be created as the system attempts to pull a closed ink line.

The Fill Plugs should be closed at all times, except when refilling a reservoir.  Before opening any Breather Plug, ensure you have fully closed the corresponding Breather Plug for the duration of the process!


Open the Fill Plug for the reservoir you wish to refill – also ensure that the corresponding Breather Plug is closed.  Using a small funnel or syringe, fill each reservoir to an appropriate level.  Once completed, close the Fill Plug, ensuring a proper seal.

NOTE: If done correctly, ink should remain in the primary chamber, while air remains in the rear chamber.  This balance is important for proper ink flow!

Below is what the system should look like, once you fill each ink chamber – keep in mind the MK is left empty, or loaded with a light cleaning solution.  The PK / MK chambers are both routed to the same channel in the print head, and since we don’t switch between the two lines during normal DTG operation, the last chamber is left unused.

NOTE: Remember, the air chambers in the back of the reservoirs should remain empty after filling the system!  Make sure the Breather Plugs remain in place before opening any corresponding Fill Plug.

As you fill each ink reservoir, you will hopefully notice ink flowing naturally down the lines until they reach a balance – while they won’t flow completely to the ink cartridges, they should flow easily with the help of gravity.

NOTE: On the p600 print engine, ink is internally pressurized once it is pulled from the cartridge into the printer system, itself.  This helps considerably with smooth operation and ink flow!



  • Make sure you have proper syringes which fit snugly into the bottom of the cartridge.
  • Make sure you have properly filled your bulk CIS system, so there is ink to draw into the carts.
  • If ink does not begin to flow immediately, try shifting your syringe side-to-side, slightly, to ensure you have fully opened the rubber seal – you may also want to ensure you have fully inserted the syringe into the cartridge.


  • Try to keep the opening of the cartridge facing upward most of the time – the point where the syringe enters the cartridge is the last place you want ink to flow.
  • Keep your fingers away from the chip on the side of the cartridge, as it can affect the functionality if you get grease or residue from your skin on it.
  • Try to ensure the chip on the side of the cartridge is always facing uphill from any potential ink drips or spills.
  • While there should be some expected back-pressure, if you feel an extreme amount of resistance you should stop and inspect your system.  Look for “pain points” where the ink lines may be kinked, or otherwise obstructed.  If everything looks clear, try shifting your syringe slightly until you see / hear / feel the ink begin to move.


Once your CIS system is fully primed, you need to move the ink from the cartridges to the print head.  To do this, use the Epson Adjustment Program to run an initial Ink Fill routine, which will subsequently prime the entire print engine!

NOTE: You can only run an Ink Fill routine if the Epson print engine thinks you have brand new cartridges installed.  Use a manual chip resetter to fool the system into recognizing brand new cartridges – it can sometimes take several attempts to fully reset some chips.

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.

Kothari RIP Now Available for the Epson f2000 from DTG Print Solutions!

Kothari RIP for DTG printing has long been one of the most well respected and awarded RIP software on the market – thousands of end users have made the switch after seeing what a huge difference the proper RIP software has on the final output quality.  Kothari RIP has been at the top of every major print competition, across a broad range of DTG printers – the results speak for themselves, and we invite anyone to try comparing Kothari with any other RIP to see the difference, first hand.

After much anticipation, DTG Print Solutions is now officially able to offer the powerful Kothari RIP for the Epson f2000 DTG printer!  However, that isn’t the only platform we support – check out this partial list of printer models which can all benefit from the Kothari RIP:

  • Epson r1800/r1900
  • Epson r2000/r2200
  • Epson r3000
  • Epson p600
  • Epson PRO 4800/4880
  • Epson PRO 7800/7880
  • Epson f2000 !!!
  • DTG M2
  • … and MANY MORE!

Contact us today to find out how we can help step up your DTG game with this powerful piece of software!


What Should I Charge? Pricing DTG Printing Services

We often get asked “what should we charge for our printed shirts?”  This is a tough question to answer, due to the extraordinary number of variables involved.  Each business owner will be operating on different fixed monthly expenses (rent, electricity, phone, etc), and production capabilities will be vary depending on factors such as:

  • Number and type(s) of DTG printers you are using
  • Efficiency of the person operating the machine(s)
  • The specific RIP settings, print resolutions, etc used for production
  • Your business model / specific production process setup
Since everyone likes to do things slightly different, it is important to tailor your pricing to your business model rather than simply trying to copy someone else’s prices.  It never hurts to price check in your local market to find out where other printers stand for similar products, but remember that you are selling much more than just a simple printed t-shirt; you are offering your expertise, artistic skill and creativity, as well your customer service that cannot always be easily compared when simply “price shopping” around.  While some of your competition may be selling the “same product” for less, you may come to find out that they are using inferior print settings to save money on ink, or perhaps their level of quality control isn’t to the same standards that you adhere to.  The bottom line is that while it is important to know and understand what your competition is charging, it is more important to charge appropriately for the quality product and customer service that you deliver to your clients.
The first step in creating a viable price list for your DTG printing service is to make a list of all of your regular monthly expenses, or recurring bills.   For this list, you should not include things such as labor, ink cost, etc, as these items can vary each month based on other factors.  The things that belong on this list would include:
  • Shop Rent
  • Electricity
  • Phone and Internet
  • Equipment Finance Payment
  • Any other fixed monthly expense
Once you have determined your total “fixed expenses” for the month, you want to break that number down to figure out an approximate “hourly operating cost”, which represents the cost to simply keep the doors open at your shop – this does not include labor, nor does it include consumables expenses such as ink and pretreatment.  For example, let’s assume your total fixed expenses for the month are $3,000 – if your shop is open 8 hours per day, 5 days per week then your estimated hourly operating cost would be about $18.75.  The breakdown is simple:
  1. 8 hours per day x 5 days per week = 40 work hours per week
  2. 40 work hours per week x 4 weeks per month = 160 work hours per month
  3. $3,000 monthly operating cost / 160 work hours = $18.75 per hour
Understanding what it costs to simply own your business is a very important part of being a successful entrepreneur, yet you would be amazed to find out how many people are not watching their own bottom line; make sure you are well informed going into this venture so you can make smart choices moving forward.  If you are running your DTG printing operation from home, some of these expenses might not apply to you…  However, if you ever plan to expand outside of your home it might be helpful to structure your pricing in such a way as to allow for ample growth in your business; without accounting for these expenses before hand, you might risk become cash starved as your business rapidly grows.
If you are already running a successful business and DTG printing is just one more addition to the shop, then you are ahead of the game!  Many of the regular monthly expenses are already covered by other decoration techniques or products that you offer, and you will simply need to account for the added expenses that DTG entails.
Now that you know how much it costs you to keep the lights on and the doors open, you need to account for your additional operating expenses such as labor and ink.  Labor is easy, since you just have to figure out how much you want to pay your crew, as well as how many crew members you need to be working at any given time.  For this example, we will assume that you want two employees working and you are going to pay each of them $10 per hour (not bad for loading and unloading shirts) – this will put our hourly labor cost at $20, which we then add to the fixed hourly overhead cost ($18.75 + $20 = $38.75 per hour to keep the lights on, the doors open and two guys standing around waiting for instructions).
NOTE: Prior to continuing, keep in mind the prices indicated are from 2011, so please make sure you plug in overhead costs according to your particular business model and capacity.
 Ink and pretreatment can be slightly more tricky, since you have to figure out what your average ink cost per print is going to be (that is a whole other subject we will get into at a later time).  Since we use the Neoflex DTG printers in our sister shop (Fusion Logistics Group) we know that our average ink cost “per print” for a standard size print on a dark garment is $1-3; since we want to be sure we account for the “worst case scenario” print, let’s assume a $3 per print ink cost for our dark garment price list calculations – that way, even if the design has a lot of coverage we have already accounted it (since we are limiting the “standard print size” to 12″ x 12″, we are confident that most standard sized prints won’t exceed $3 in ink).  In addition to the ink cost, you must also remember to factor in the pretreatment that was used to prepare the garment for printing; we will plug in .50 for a standard size print, which we have found to be accurate.
Knowing what you pay “per print” in ink and pretreatment is vital, but how do we convert that into an hourly number that we can work with?  Easy!  By figuring out how many prints you can realistically do per hour on your machine (using your specific RIP settings, print resolutions, etc), you can multiply this by your “per print” cost and get an hourly estimate.  At this point, we are entering into the grey area when it comes to set pricing because every image is going to take a different length of time to print, and the ink cost will certainly fluctuate.  Since we are trying to figure out a set of pricing guidelines, an educated estimate is a good place to start.  We have found that (using our high resolution print settings) we can expect to produce about 9 dark garment prints per hour, at a standard size (which we have determined to be up to 12″ x 12″) – $3.50 x 9 = $31.50 per hour in ink and pretreatment.  Add this to the $38.50 you are already paying for your shop overhead and labor, and you’re in business!  Your hourly operating expense at this point is $70, which includes every needed to run your shop……..  Or at least to pay the bills.  Since the purpose of running our own business is not simply to pay the bills, we need to add one more thing to this equation – HOURLY PROFIT!  If we forget to factor in some pocket money on top of all the expenses, we are going to find ourselves in the unenviable position of working day in and day out and having nothing to show for it.  This can be easily rectified by simply determining how much NET PROFIT you want to make per hour on this segment of your business, and adding that number to the total.
As with everything else, each individual business owner will need to determine how much their time and effort is worth – we did not buy these machines to simply “get by” each month, so don’t be afraid to pay yourself well.  I once heard on a screen printing forum many years ago that “Profit is NOT a dirty word” – that phrase has stuck with me ever since (if I could remember who said it first I would give them credit right now).  Personally, I don’t roll out of bed in the morning for less than $60 per hour net profit, so let’s start with that – our final hourly total would look something like this:
  • $18.75 to keep the lights on and the doors open + $20 to pay two employees to stand around + $31.50 for ink and pretreatment + $60 PROFIT and a partridge in a pear treeeeeeee = $130.25
  • $130.25 divided by 9 prints per hour = $14.47 / per print ($6.67 of which is actually NET profit)
Of course, this figure does not include the blank garment – this is simply a determination of your actual print cost, including profit.  Using this number as a starting point, you can apply small price breaks at set quantities to attract larger orders – if someone is going to order 100 prints, most print shops don’t mind taking a slightly lower “profit per hour” just to keep the machines busy.  As long as the price you are charging is HIGHER than your root manufacturing cost, then you can at least be confident that you will stay in business.
Don’t let the figure above shell-shock you – for the purpose of this article I have intentionally chosen numbers on the high end to demonstrate just how expensive it can be to pursue this method of printing.  Realistically, a small shop with a single DTG printer will not require two paid operators to be standing around working the machine.  Also, the ink cost for most standard size prints on dark garments will be much less than the $3 we plugged in to our example.  For light garments, the numbers would be way different as a result of different production capabilities on lights, considerably lower ink costs, etc; depending on how it is done, DTG printing can be incredibly profitable for a keen business owner.  Some shops might have multiple printers, which will change their production capabilities as well as hourly profit expectations.
To make this process easier to understand, we have created a simple yet powerful spreadsheet that can quickly and automatically create a projected price list for your business model.  By plugging in some basic information about your business variables and production capabilities, our spreadsheet will tell you what your running manufacturing cost will be, how much you should sell your printing services for and how much profit you will make on each print.  Additionally, you can easily adjust the price breaks that are given at specific quantity levels, which allows you to create price list estimations across the entire quantity spectrum, automatically.  As you adjust variables throughout the document, the rest of the information dynamically updates to reflect your changes.  If you happen to apply a quantity discount that reduces the cost below your actual root manufacturing cost, the individual cells will turn red to show you where you need to increase your prices.
Don’t sell yourself short on your DTG printing business!  Make sure you are charging enough to stay in business, and print smarter not harder.