Tag Archives: neoflex
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!
We are working hard to improve DTG Print Solutions, with the intentions of providing the best tips, tricks and resources for the DTG printing industry. With this in mind, we have created an area on our website called the Community Marketplace, which we hope to build into the premier marketplace for used (and possibly new) DTG printers, pretreat machines, supplies and lots more!
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Anyone with a used DTG printer, accessory or assorted supplies can post ads in the Community Marketplace. The system works similar to the popular Craigslist platform in terms of self-moderation and management; you create your own ads, upload photos and a detailed description of what you are selling, then post the ad – buyers contact you directly (you can mask your e-mail address when posting) and all transactions are handled privately.
SELL YOUR DTG PRINTER!
Guidelines for Posting Ads:
- Be Honest and Transparent – Don’t Skimp on the Descriptions: Make sure you describe what your are selling honestly and accurately. Describe the condition of the equipment, and don’t leave out any flaws or broken parts. Buyers of used DTG printers often understand what they are looking for, and any information they can get about what might need replacing will not only allow them to make an informed buying decision that is compatible with their specific business model, but also help ensure a more successful and enjoyable experience for both parties. Any ads with false or misleading information will be removed.
- Be Tidy: Please be sure you delete your ad once your equipment is sold. This will prevent a bunch of follow up leads trying to contact you after your printer has been sold, and it will allow potential buyers to focus on the most current and relevant listings.
- Use High Quality Photos: Small, grainy photos don’t show anything and do little to help enable a more informed decision for the buyer. Make sure all photos are of decent size and quality, and try to highlight the important aspects of whatever you are selling. Photos sell products, so please take this step seriously.
- Offer Your Buyers a Great Deal: We all know the used DTG printer market is tough – these products tend to lose value quickly in this industry and it breaks our heart to take a major loss after (often) such a short period of time. However, make sure you are pricing your equipment realistically, understanding that the main reason most people buy used is to save money. Offer your potential buyers a great bargain and your listing won’t last long – the better the bargain, the faster your stuff will sell! Also don’t forget to describe any additional supplies, equipment or replacement parts you are including in your listing (if any).
BUY A DTG PRINTER!
For buyers, this will create a concentrated supply of options to make the buying process easier, while hopefully providing for the best possible deals and the fastest way to compare printers and accessories! Keep the following points in mind, when considering used equipment:
- DO YOUR HOMEWORK! DTG printing is not easy, whether you buy new or used. Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and find out everything you can about your potential purchase. Ask about any parts that might need replacing and ask why the user is selling their equipment (don’t necessarily take it at face value when they say “they machine is great, I just don’t have the clients to support it”). Go online and research any brand or model prior to making a decision, and whenever possible, try to see the machine printing in person, before you make any commitments! This is a major decision, so take your time and be smart about the process. Caveat Emptor (“buyer beware”).
- Try to See the Equipment in Action, Prior to Purchasing: Although this was mentioned above, it merits repeating. Nothing will tell you more than actually watching a machine print, while evaluating the actual print speeds, ink costs, output quality, etc (preferably with artwork of your own choosing). If there are any major issues, or if it takes a long time to finally get a decent print, you can understand these before you actually take the printer home. Many people tend to remove the ink from their machines, once they decide they don’t want to do DTG printing anymore – it isn’t always feasible to ask them to re-ink their machine, but someone who wants to make the sale and who is supremely confident with the condition of the printer should be able to accommodate such a request… After all, this is usually not a small purchase.
- Any Deals Made are Strictly Between the Buyer and the Seller: DTG Print Solutions is not involved in any way with any specific transaction, and we do not warrant or guarantee anything that is bought or sold through the Community Marketplace! Just like Craigslist, we provide an open marketplace for users to buy and sell, and it is up to you to do so responsibly. Unlike Craigslist, we provide a highly targeted stream of traffic and a very refined type of products and equipment, tailored specifically to this industry!
CAN I POST AN AD FOR FREE?
Absolutely! The basic ad model is always free, which includes one photo and a short (200 characters) description of what you are selling. However, we also offer additional ad models which allow for more photos and considerably longer descriptions, which would effectively improve your response ratio to any given ad. Photos sell products! Take a look at our various listing options, below:
NOTE: In lieu of paying directly for your ad listings (for premium style ads), you can also purchase Credit Packs which can then be used to pay for your ads. Credits remain on your account until you decide to use them, and packs are available for bulk sellers for as low as .50 per credit! This means your cost for each listing would be half of what you see in the image above! Click here to learn view Credit Pack options.
DOES IT HAVE TO BE USED EQUIPMENT?
No! You can post ads for new equipment and supplies as well.
CAN MANUFACTURERS AND SUPPLIERS POST ADS?
Sure! In fact, we encourage it. However, unless you provide some sort of special offer, package deal or discount to incentive potential buyers to purchase new (rather than used), you might find it difficult to compete against the great deals on used equipment.
HOW DO PEOPLE FIND THE COMMUNITY MARKETPLACE ADS?
We have dedicated an entire portion of the website to the Community Marketplace, which visitors to our website can access by clicking the new link at the top of any page:
Additionally, we have integrated widgets into various portions of the website, which will constantly showing random and Featured ads while users are browsing the DTG Print Solutions website – viewers can even search listings with our powerful search interface, from any page on the site!
Our website is a niche specialty site, focusing on a very specific portion of the market – our readers are exactly the people you are looking for to sell your used DTG printer to! With over 20,000 page views in the last 30 days, we continue to grow our traffic to give you the greatest possibly exposure. Remember, our viewers are highly targeted to this niche, so with your participation we can build the Community Marketplace to a thriving equipment listing in a short period of time.
For a limited time only, we are offering a FREE 30-Day “Enhanced” Listing credit to anyone with a new or used DTG printer to sell! To receive your free credit, simply send an e-mail to email@example.com with your website account name and we will apply your credit within 24 hours!
Please make sure you have created an account on DTG Print Solutions (see link, below) and include your account name in the e-mail so we know where to apply your free credits! Remember this offer is only for a limited time, so take advantage today and let us help you sell your printer!
Not currently a member of DTG Print Solutions? Sign up today, for FREE!
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.
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.
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.
The most common question I hear in this industry is “What is the best DTG printer?” This question pops up regularly on major forums, and people ask every time they discuss DTG with me or anyone I know. While this is a perfectly valid question, it might not be the right question to ask when considering whether or not DTG printing is right for you.
Unfortunately, the issue of “which DTG printer is best” is one that is completely subjective, and depends on a multitude of circumstances and personal preference. After all, what really makes one printer better than another? Production speed? Print quality? Reliability? Support? Price? Which criteria do we apply, and which criteria is important to you? The real question you should be asking is this:
“Which DTG printer is right for ME?“
There is a critical and fundamental difference between the two questions: one takes into consideration your personal situation, circumstances, priorities, etc. The other one does not. Since most small ‘mom and pop’ shops wind up investing virtually their entire life savings to get started in direct to garment printing, this critical question can make all the difference in the world. After all, if your particular business model is focused on high-volume, low dollar printing, actual production speeds might make the difference between success and failure. If your business model is focused on the highest quality prints in the industry and you have a market that allows you to price accordingly, then selecting a printer that produces top-level results might be your main concern.
There is no such thing as an “apples to apples” comparison when considering which DTG printer to purchase; rather, it is better to make a list of what your top priorities are for your business model and preference, and rate each individual model based on the key criteria as identified by you. Don’t let someone else tell you which printer is best for them – a little bit of proper planning before the purchase can go a long way!
Here is a list o possible aspects to consider when determining which printer is right for you:
How many garments can you realistically produce in an hour in a realistic production environment? Don’t trust any numbers given to you by any sales rep; visit actual production shops and watch your designs printed in real-life so you can be absolutely sure of the print times you can expect when you receive your machine.
Different printers are limited by factors which can limit their overall production quality. These factors can include: max print resolution, droplet size, machine-specific color profiles, RIP selection, ink selection, printer base and lots more. Be sure to have your own specific artwork printed on multiple platforms, in different RIP settings, to help determine what the realistic limitations will be on each model.
With thousands of DTG printers in the field coupled with the incredibly long learning curve associated with direct-to-garment printing, equipment vendors are literally overwhelmed with tech support related issues. If you are tech-savvy and thorough (and you pay attention at training), you might be able to trudge the murky waters of DTG without much support; in this case, your options for which companies you can work with will be greatly expanded. However, if you require a lot of personal care from dedicated techs to help guide you throughout the process, you had better do your homework beforehand to ensure your expectations will be met, after the sale.
PRO TIP – Make sure your BLACKS are BLACK, and not charcoal grey! Below you will find another example of how a small adjustment to the original artwork could make a big difference in the final print – many customers send us files that may appear “black” on the screen, but when compared to a true “RICH BLACK” the difference is quite dramatic – educating them on this subtle difference could make the difference between a satisfied client, and someone who badmouths you for printing “faded” looking designs:
Example A shows the original artwork, which was probably exported from a vector program such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw (it is easy to lose color value when exporting a vector file into a raster format, so always double check your artwork in a raster program such as Adobe Photoshop to ensure that everything looks right after being exported) – although the image appears “black-ish” on the screen, this will not print a deep, rich black color and will almost certainly end up looking faded or “washed out”. Example B shows the artwork after we performed a slight levels adjustment in Photoshop, to restore the original color values that were most likely present in the vector version of the file. You can see the dramatic contrast in color in the following overlay image (the top half is obviously the original, while the bottom half is the adjusted version):
We will continue to provide tips and tricks to help you dial in your process, including useful tools that will help you get started with basic image optimization. To download some simple Photoshop actions and to read more about proper artwork formatting for DTG printing, check out the following link on our Fusion Logistics Group Website – Artwork Information.
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.
DTG printing can produce some pretty incredible full-color prints, but one thing that can really ruin the overall appearance of any print (no matter how vibrant or beautiful the image may be) is fibrillation – those annoying little fibers that always seem to pop up through the ink, causing an otherwise great looking print to look rough or patchy. No matter what ink / pre-treatment combination you use or which DTG printer you print with, the problem exists across the board. Of course, selecting the proper garments for DTG printing can go a long way to help reduce this problem (look for garments with a smoother print surface; blanks that have been treated with an enzyme wash are a great place to start) but there are additional steps you can take to help reduce this problem – brushing the shirt after pre-treating is perhaps one of the easiest and most effective of these, and choosing the proper tool is vital.
The purpose of brushing the garments is two-fold:
- Better Pretreat Coverage: By brushing the entire printable area after spraying, you spread the pretreat fluid around and ensure more consistent penetration.
- Push Down Garment Fibers: By applying consistent pressure while brushing in smooth, consistent strokes, the fibers of the garments are pushed down creating a smoother, more even print surface.
When we started printing white ink with DTG, we evaluated a wide variety of foam brushes, rollers, etc – although these worked modestly well for spreading the pretreat fluid evenly across the print area, our experience showed us that the porous foam brushes seem to pull the fibers up more than they push them down, thus negating the effect and doing little to prevent fibrillation.
At some point it was recommended to us to try using premium Wooster brand brushes instead of foam rollers / brushes, so we invested a few bucks in a (6) pack of 4″ wide brushes and we haven’t looked back since. These brushes are perfect for use after spraying the pretreat fluid on the garment, and they do a much better job of pressing the fibers down onto the garment (without lifting them back up in the process). We strongly recommend giving these brushes a try if you are involved in DTG printing, especially if you are experiencing trouble with fibrillation in the final printed garment.
The specific brushes we use are available online, but for convenience we have added them to the Amazon widget toward the top of this page!
Pre-treatment is quite possible one of the most critical components to the high-quality DTG equation; too little pretreat chemical and your print results will surely suffer, whereas too much pretreat chemical can easily compromise your wash results. In addition to finding the right volume of pretreat for the specific garment you are printing, you must also take steps to minimize fibrillation and reduce “pre-treatment marks” on the garments (you can read more on pre-treatment marks by clicking here).
There are many different ways to apply pre-treatment to blank garments, but the most common methods include the use of a Wagner HPLV (“High Pressure Low Volume”) spray gun or some sort of automatic pre-treatment machine (such as the ViperONE Automatic PT Machine). Some DTG machines, such as the Kornit brand of printers, actually apply the pre-treatment while the shirt is loaded on the machine; there are basically two schools of thought on whether or not this makes sense, with one side advocating for the ease-of-use and reduction in the overall number of steps required to print, and the other side claiming that the inclusion of the pretreat step on the machine actually reduces overall efficiency (since it can’t start printing until the pretreat step is done, causing downtime at the printer) and presents the possibility of a “single point of failure” (if the pre-treatment nozzle becomes compromised or starts acting up, your entire print operation is offline). Personally, I prefer to do the pretreat step off the printer, for a number of reasons:
- If a Wagner HPLV spray gun starts giving us trouble, we can easily replace it at any time; we even keep extras around at all times, reducing the possibility that we will be stuck without the ability to pretreat shirts.
- By pre-treating the garments off the machine, there is no downtime at the printer itself. We simply load up shirts that are ready to be printed, and the printer continues to spit out completed product without delay.
- When pretreat is applied on the machine itself, there is no opportunity to heat press the garment to flatten out the fibers and evaporate the excess PT fluid – this reduces the overall clarity in the print, and can leave room for fibers to stick up after the pretreat is applied.
Having said that, here is the basic method we use at Fusion Logistics Group to pretreat our garments (using a standard Wagner HPLV sprayer). In the following example we were pre-treating a standard black t-shirt for a left chest DTG print:
1. HEAT PRESS THE GARMENT:
Before pre-treating any garments, it is a good idea to heat press them to flatten out any loose fibers that might ruin your awesome DTG print. We set our heat press to 340 degrees Fahrenheit and pre-press each garment for approximately 10-15 seconds (using MEDIUM pressure); you don’t need to press for too long because the garment will be under the heat press another 2-3 times by the end of the production process. Depending on the type of garment you are printing on, you may or may not have to perform this particular step – if you stick to higher quality ring spun cotton (the tighter the knit count, the smoother the print surface) you should see much less fibrillation than you might find with a standard cotton garment. Additionally, garments that have received an Enzyme wash during manufacturing seem to show far less fibrillation, primarily due to the fact that the Enzyme wash “burns” off most of the rogue fibers before the garment ever leaves the manufacturing facility – ask your garment providers which styles have been treated with an Enzyme wash, and see if that helps your overall printing quality! Also, notice we are using a Stahl’s Hotronix draw press at the moment – we do not currently recommend this particular press due to its lack of an auto-release feature; when things get hectic in the shop, the last thing you want to be doing is chasing down the beeping heat presses – an auto-release press would allow you to leverage your time more effectively, without the fear of accidentally over-curing or forgetting the garment completely. Auto release clam-shell presses are priced very competitively compared to standard clam-shell or draw presses.
2. SPRAY THE GARMENT WITH PRETREAT FLUID:
After the garment has been pressed, we drape it over a simple shirt board that we made from inexpensive laminate particle wood from the Home Depot. Before you begin pre-treating for the day, it is recommended that you take a few moments to dial in your spray gun – you want an even, gentle spray that doesn’t sputter or spit any wild drops of pretreat fluid all over the place. The Dupont pretreat fluid is a sticky, corrosive chemical that can easily gum up the spray gun if left unattended for lengthy periods of time (even a few hours could cause a deterioration in spray quality) – to combat this, 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…. Once we begin spraying the garments, 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 pre-treatment deposit).