Tag Archives: pre-treat
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.
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).
When using DTG printing as a decoration method, there are many additional steps that are not necessarily required for traditional decoration methods (such as screen printing). For example, many people are not aware that we must spray a liquid “pretreatment” chemical on all dark garments before they can be printed using the DTG process; this additional step is required to ensure that the white ink that is printed onto the garment does not “soak in”, literally disappearing before your very eyes.
In addition to the requirement that we must currently pretreat all dark garments, we are often asked to pretreat light garments as well (the improved color vibrancy and washability on light garments is worth the extra cost) – once again, the pretreatment liquid acts as a “barrier” to prevent the CMYK inks from soaking into the garment. Without this pretreatment on light garments, the print would appear slightly more faded, although still acceptable (whereas dark garments literally cannot be printed without the pretreatment step).
During the curing process, the pretreatment can discolor slightly, and can sometimes leave a slightly off-white residue that may be interpreted as a stain of some sort. This is entirely normal and should disappear with the first wash of the garment. If you want to test it out, try wetting a clean cloth and gently wiping around the edges; you should notice that the effect is minimized, which should offer some reassurance that the first wash will indeed take care of the phenomenon. When pretreatment is applied to certain light garments, the curing process will sometimes cause a light “yellowish” box to appear around the design – again, this is most often caused by normal discoloration of the pretreatment fluid on the garment, which should come off in the first wash. The pretreatment residue is completely harmless (just don’t try to eat your shirt and you should be fine) and is used by any person who is using a DTG printing system; unfortunately it is simply a fact of the industry at this point.
Aside from the possible discoloration of the pretreatment fluid itself, you may also notice a “box” around the printed design – this box is can sometimes be caused by the pressure from the heat press (used for curing the inks) forcing the fibers down into the garment. Since we are applying high heat and heavy pressure for an extended period of time, this box will sometimes be noticeable until the garment goes through the first wash cycle. Additionally, thicker items such as fleece, and items that contain polyester will usually have a harder time masking the difference between the area that has been heat pressed and the area that has not; once again, the first wash should take it back to normal.
Some garments will show an enhanced version of this effect, while other garments will show no signs of the pretreatment area at all – at our sister company (www.fusionlogisticsgroup.com) we try to encourage all of our clients to select garments based on the following criteria:
- How well they print
- How well they wash after curing
- How well they accept the pretreatment fluid
The days of simplifying your artwork to meet your budget are over! No longer do the general masses have to settle for “dumbed down” versions of their incredibly crafted designs, and no longer do they need to order a hundred shirts (or more) to be taken seriously! DTG printing arrived on the scene in its infant stages over 6 years ago, and has spent the last several years being tweaked, prodded and modified until it was finally manifested in a form that offered top level competitive quality, excellent durability and reliable manufacturing practices.
If you thought you knew all about DTG printing, check again! There have been plenty of advances and improvements that have made the process not only viable, but also highly sought after by major clothing brands and online retailers all across the globe. Our team is proud to have been actively involved as pioneers in this industry for the last 6+ years, pushing for ever increasing quality and reliability, while lobbying for lower consumables costs and delivering the highest quality products to our clients. Now, after all those years of being actively engaged in printing for clients, we are proud to bring the tools and information you need to make this a viable option for your business.
DTG printing stands for “Direct To Garment” printing, which refers to the process of jetting water based ink directly onto the surface of a printable substrate, rather than printing a transfer which would then be heat pressed onto the substrate. DTG printing equipment is similar in many ways to the type of desktop ink jet printers which can be found in most homes and offices; utilizing a small selection on ink colors (typically Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and White), the printer is able to dynamically mix the process inks “on the fly” as it prints, recreating a myriad of colors and effects as it goes!
The printers are generally much larger than most home or office printing systems, and the drive mechanism has been modified to feed blank t-shirts rather than paper or other flat substrates. By eliminating the need for expensive and time consuming screen setup, as well as the mess and the costs that go along with the traditional screen printing process used by most print shops, we are able to use the process of DTG printing to create beautiful, full color designs with almost no setup, allowing us to offer full color custom garment printing with NO MINIMUM ORDERS and NO SETUP FEES! Essentially, if you can create it on the computer, it can be reproduced on a t-shirt.
When compared to traditional decoration techniques, such as screen printing, the quality of a DTG printed garment is unrivaled – the print details, gradients and print accuracy will beat out almost any other garment decoration technique available (sublimation is another “digitally printed” option which offers a fairly competitive option for decorating garments with beautiful full color designs, however sublimation is limited to polyester garments and there is no white ink, meaning it can only be used on white or light colored garments – it cannot really compete with DTG printing when dark garments or 100% cotton is concerned).
The process of DTG printing involves several steps, which can be loosely summed up as follows:
1. PREPARING THE GARMENT FOR PRINTING:
Before any ink can actually be printed on the garment, the fabric must be prepared with a liquid pre-treatment chemical, designed to create a bond between the ink and the garment itself. Without this pre-treatment fluid, the ink would simply absorb into the porous cotton material and appear very poorly (if at all). Pre-treatment is absolutely required for any dark garment printing (any time white ink is involved, either as an under base or a highlight layer), although it is entirely optional when printing on light colored garments. If pre-treatment fluid is applied to the light garment prior to printing, the ink will remain on top of the fabric (rather than soaking in) and will appear more vibrant, while providing superior wash-fastness over the life of the garment. If no pre-treatment is used on light colored garments, the print will still look good but you will notice that it simply doesn’t “POP” like it would have with the pre-treatment. The pre-treatment is applied either manually or via an automated pre-treatment unit, depending on the situation – after the spray is applied, the garment is then brushed with a fine Wooster brush to press the fibers down (reducing the effects of fibrillation, especially on non-ringspun garments) and then heat pressed to seal the pre-treatment to the garment – once this is completed, the garment is ready for printing!
DTG Print Solutions is pleased to have been given the opportunity to become an early BETA tester for the ViperONE automatic pretreatment machine, which is being delivered to the market by i-Group Technologies, LLC (the same team that brought out the original Viper automatic pretreatment machine). For many years, our sister company Fusion Logistics Group has gotten by with the traditional Wagner HPLV sprayer for manual pre-treatment application – the results were not always perfect, but the process has become far more forgiving and manageable in recent years. Printing thousands upon thousands of shirts has made our staff incredibly knowledgeable regarding the manual application of pre-treatment, and we have come to accept this as a normal part of the DTG printing process. Although we have indeed tested other automatic pre-preatment machines in the past (including one which sat dormant in our shop for over a year before we got rid of it), none have ever delivered upon our expectations of reliability, consistency and quality. That all may have changed, however, with the introduction of the new ViperONE pre-treatment unit.
Our staff was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new ViperONE pre-treatment machine, long before it actually arrived – since we got our hands on a very early concept model, we had to be patient while the necessary adjustments were made by the manufacturers; we were kept informed during the entire process, and when our delivery date came it was like an early Christmas. At some point in the mid-afternoon, I received a call from my production manager to inform me that the pre-treatment machine had arrived – he asked me what I thought we should do with it, and my response was “Well if you feel so inclined, feel free to set it up and take a look at it – otherwise I will be in the shop in a few hours”… Imagine my surprise when the response from the other end of the phone was “Phew, thank goodness – I already unpacked it 20 minutes ago and have been pre-treating shirts with it!”
This anecdote speaks to the ease at which my staff was able to unload the unit (which, by the way, is incredibly compact), set it up and begin implementing it into our production process; although they were in the early evaluation stages, they had no trouble getting it ready to go with almost no direct guidance or instruction. Ease of use is an incredibly crucial factor these days, especially if you plan to utilize paid employees to do your bidding while you’re in Vegas blowing all your earnings on Blackjack…
As mentioned, the unit is physically compact and occupies a much smaller space than the original Viper pre-treatment machine. This makes it easy to integrate into a small production area, where space is a valuable commodity. Our initial feeling was that there could have been a little more money put into some of the construction materials used to build the unit – in particular, we felt the slide rails were not as sturdy as we were used to seeing on other equipment. We discussed our feedback with the manufacturer, but the feeling seems to be that any improvements in this area would add quite a bit to the manufacturing costs – since we do not build or source the parts, we will have to take their word on that!
The machine utilizes a drawer-style design which involves the main body of the unit (where the actual drawer is), an upper spray mechanism and an assortment of tanks / bottles to dispense and recollect the pre-treatment spray; the machine also requires a small air compressor unit to operate (not included), which is a departure from the original Viper design (which utilized electronically controlled spray nozzles, rather than pressure nozzles). To be completely honest, we were unsure how well the single-nozzle design would work out, considering we have never seen a single-nozzle unit that performed to our specifications – now that we have had some time to fully evaluate the system, we are pleased with the consistent and smooth results we have been able to achieve thus far. Although we notice that the outside edges seem to vary from the center of the spray area, slightly, our experience has shown that this subtle discrepancy has almost no effect on the quality of the prints we are getting on our Neoflex printers. The improved quality and repeat-ability we are able to achieve now in our pre-treatment department has surpassed even our most optimistic expectations, and our printing business has been positively impacted by this change – any slight difference in spray volume seems unnoticeable in the printed image, as the improved quality we are now getting far outweighs any concerns we may have had.
We previously posted this information on a popular industry forum (T-Shirt Forums), but decided it should be available here on DTG Print Solutions, as well. This is a general overview of some of the things we do in our own production facility at Fusion Logistics Group (our sister company), and should be used as a general guideline for printing with white ink. Of course the first step to achieving a top quality print is selecting the proper garment for DTG printing – you can read more about that by going here.
In order to get the best possible results (on any tee, really), here are some basic pointers:
MAKE SURE YOUR PRETREATMENT METHOD IS ROCK SOLID!
This is the most important part of the process; if your spray is inconsistent, splotchy, too light or too heavy, your results will suffer. Nothing else really matters if you can’t nail down this step! We will be putting out some videos of our pretreatment process, sometime next week; hopefully a visual will help some people understand what we do – your process may vary.
Dial in the pretreatment spray gun to ensure that you are not “blasting” the garment with spray… This is a t-shirt printing operation, not a 1960′s anti-war demonstration; you’re not trying to teach the shirt a lesson – just a gentle spray will do!
If your pretreatment gun is “sputtering” when you spray, you should probably stop and clean it thoroughly (and also double check to make sure it is still properly dialed in). In fact, we typically pour the contents of the spray gun back into the main pretreatment container about every 4 hours; we rinse the gun with warm water, shake the main pretreatment container then reload the gun. Some might say that is overkill, but our results have been far more consistent than they have ever been since we implemented this process.
We usually spray “left to right” then “right to left” on the next step down, releasing the trigger on the gun at the far right and far left of each spray; we repeat this until we have gently covered the entire print area with spray, as evenly as possible. If you hold the trigger and simply move the gun back and forth, you will end up with much heavier deposits at the outside edges of the spray area – look for a YouTube video of a professional painting a car with an HPLV sprayer and you can use that as a model for how it should be done. Once the first coat is done we immediately make another pass (moving left to right and back again, while working our way from top to bottom) – two lighter coats provides more even coverage and allows you to use your judgement on a “garment by garment” basis regarding when enough is enough (fleece often requires a heavier deposit, whereas thinner ‘fashion’ style garments will often require a far lighter pretreatment deposit)
Once the garment receives its two even layers of pretreatment, we use a Wooster 4″ brush to even out the liquid and help push down garment fibers (this step is important!) – we brush “top to bottom”, moving from the left side to the right side, slowly and firmly brushing the pretreatment into the shirt. We have used foam brushes and rollers in the past, and these Wooster brushes provide far superior results in my opinion – we purchase them online: Wooster White Fancy
NOTE: From the moment we slide the shirt on to the pretreatment board we created to the time we are done brushing the shirt, generally takes about 30-40 seconds. I should probably time it to find out, but that sounds about accurate.
USE HEAVY PRESSURE WHEN PRETREATING!
After pretreating the garment, we put it on the heat press, cover it with a sheet of Quilon paper and press with HEAVY pressure for 20-30 seconds (340 degrees). We have found that the heavier pressure during this step, combined with the brushing from the previous step, seems to do a great job of creating a smooth, ideal printing surface; fibrillation is minimized and we get very little “pitting” in the image. We did an installation for a customer a few months ago who had a pneumatic heat press system, which looked to me to be the best thing I have seen for this step of the process; when the time is right, we will definitely upgrade to a pneumatic heat press system (with a shuttle to improve productivity) that will provide consistent and repeatable results during this critical step.
- If there is any resistance when taking the Quilon paper off of the garment, it sometimes helps to press the garment without any paper for an additional 10 seconds; this will ensure that the PT is dry, and will push down any fibers that might have been pulled up when you removed the Quilon paper. This step is not always necessary.
Aside from the quality of the original artwork file, the most critical factor in achieving top quality products with DTG printing is the actual garment that is being printed on. Variables such as cotton content, weight, knit, texture, unique post processing chemical treatments and much more can ultimately effect the results we see on DTG printing, so it is important to select garments that are best suited to this unique method of decoration.
GENERAL RULES OF THUMB WHEN SELECTING GARMENTS FOR DTG PRINTING:
1. Garments with a high cotton content print best!
Try to avoid 50/50 cotton / polyester blends, as the water based inks used for DTG printing do not adhere well to polyester. Additionally, the dyes used to color polyester garments tend to “migrate” into the printed image during the curing stage, causing the image quality to be negatively effected. 100% cotton garments are going to provide the best results, but if you cannot find a suitable 100% cotton option (which is often the case when printing on fleece hoodies) then look for the next best thing, which is typically 80% cotton / 20% polyester.
2. Ring spun cotton prints better than standard cotton!
The better (smoother) the print surface, the better the end results will be; this is typically true of any type of printing method. Even with your desktop printer at home, you will achieve varying results when printing on standard paper, when compared to the same print on high quality glossy photo paper; the simple truth is that a better printing surface will almost always yield a better print. The softer, finer weave of the ring spun cotton provides a more ideal printing surface for the DTG printer inks, creating a more stunning print that will hold better on the garment during repeated wash cycles. Whenever possible, it is recommended to use ring spun or combed ring spun garments for most DTG printing applications.
3. Ribbed texture / patterns can ruin a DTG print!
The nature of ribbed fabrics allows for greater stretchability due to the inherent weave of the cloth; for most purposes, this is ideal and does not pose any sort of problem. For DTG printing, on the other hard, this can cause the printed image to break apart at the vertical “channels” that are present in the fabric – this effect cannot be controlled so it is important to test and verify ANY ribbed garments before offering them to your clients.
You’re at the shop late one night, printing another rush order for yet another client who needs their order done “tomorrow” – everything is going smoothly until BAM! – suddenly your machine is giving you issues, and you don’t know why. Perhaps some contaminants made their way into the print head, preventing some nozzles from firing? Perhaps one of your employees was doing some routine maintenance recently, and somehow managed to spill a little ink on a ribbon cable (rendering it useless)? Whatever the cause, this is a situation that no DTG printer owner ever wants to find themselves, because it can have dire consequences on their overall business. After unleashing a whirlwind of profanities under your breath (can’t let the wife hear you, or else you get the painful “I told you this was a bad idea!”), you ponder your options:
You can order a new print head, damper, ribbon cable, capping station, or whatever else is causing your immediate problem…. Of course, you won’t be able to put the order in with your supplier until the next morning, meaning you won’t have the part in hand for several days; if you are printing late on a Thursday or Friday night, you’re pretty much hosed because you’re not going to see those parts for awhile. Effectively, your entire printing operation is dead in the water until UPS shows up at your door.
… As you can see, your options are pretty limited in situations like these! While issues like this are relatively inexpensive and easy to fix, the bigger problem stems from the subsequent downtime that comes as a result of having to wait days for a replacement part to arrive at your door step – in this way, a small problem manages to become a major inconvenience, which can ultimately threaten the very safety and longevity of your business. Many DTG business owners find themselves in situations like this all the time, being completely at the mercy of a “single point of failure”; that is, any single problem with the equipment can literally take their entire business offline for hours, days or even weeks at a time.
So as a business owner, how do you avoid being thrust into such a negative situation? The answer is actually much simpler, and far more inexpensive, than one might think! Additionally, it seems pretty intuitive – however, many business owners don’t bother to take the one simple step that could literally determine the ultimate future of their DTG print business… Think about it like this: we are healthy people, most of the time – our bodies do what they’re supposed to, and we run them hard. However, each and every one of us knows that at some point in the future, we are going to run into physical problems (wear and tear issues, if you will) – for this purpose, we have grown up with the understanding that it is just smart business to carry personal medical insurance, to cope with that inevitable time in the future where your otherwise healthy body is going to be need some “repairs”. We HOPE we won’t need it, but it is there just in case. Our entire life we are taught to prepare for disaster – get insurance for this or that, have backups on hand, have an emergency first aid kit ready (and maybe even an earthquake disaster kit, if you live in Southern California), etc. We take this seriously in almost every area of our lives, then we go out and invest our life savings in a business opportunity where we have NO backup, NO emergency plan and NO “first aid kit”.
Ideally, the best way to achieve peace of mind is to ensure that you always have redundant printing capabilities – having multiple machines in your shop ensures that (in case one unit stops working) you are always able to finish client orders, without having to blame your machine for missing their event deadline. While ideal, this is not always a practical solution for most small business owners, who have already put themselves out pretty far financially just to get into the business. Some DTG printers, like the Neoflex and Mod1 models, are capable of swapping out the actual “print unit” on the machine, which allows business owners to keep an extra print unit on hand “just in case.”
The T-Shirt Forums are a popular social spot for many industry insiders, as well as for newbies who are struggling to learn about the business. This year marked the first annual “DTG Battle Royale” print competition, where DTG printers from all over the world were invited to test their printing skills against each other in a controlled test to determine who could produce the highest quality DTG print in the industry. To level the playing field, every person was directed to print the exact same artwork file, which was provided by Rodney at the T-Shirt Forums website – all images were printed on the front and back of a black shirt, and sent in for judging. Each participant could print the design with whatever print settings they chose, and print time was not a factor in this competition.
Entries were received from a well-represented range of DTG printing machines, and the results certainly varied. Each entry was judged based on a number of criteria:
– First Impressions
– Sharpness of Detail
– Softness of Hand
– Print Accuracy
The Neoflex DTG printer has been the leader in the industry for the last two years, and continues to be a proven solution for many small business owners. The Neoflex DTG printer is built on the popular Epson 4880 Professional printer – it has been highly modified to act as a direct-to-garment printer, and great care has obviously been taken to ensure that the machine is built from the highest quality parts. Although this is not the largest machine we have ever owned, it is one of the more well built models. Since acquiring the Neoflex line of printers at our sister facility (www.fusionlogisticsgroup.com) over a year ago, we have been able to successfully turn out the highest quality product we have ever produced, while remaining more consistent and reliable during the production cycle.
This printer offers a generous 17″ x 42″ printable area, which allows for “JUMBO” printing applications or for the inline printing of multiple items in a single pass. The most common t-shirt setup is the “3-Up” configuration, which makes room for three average sized platens (11.25″ x 15″) to be loaded onto the print bed for maximum efficiency; each t-shirt in the lineup can have a different image printed on it, and of course the color of the garment doesn’t matter (in terms of functionality – there is certainly something to be said about the more logical approach of printing all “like colored” garments in the same run). Rather than moving the substrate that is being printed, this model relies on a “flat bed / moving printer” design to accomplish its task – this design feature combined with the ability to line up multiple garments in a row for printing, allows the end user to load and unload garments as the printer is still in motion, thereby eliminating the “loading and unloading” phase from the production cycle. Although someone still has to load and unload shirts, of course, the time required for this step does not cause any idle time on the machine.
Many people will argue that loading and unloading garments only takes a few seconds, which can sometimes be true; however, as someone who has employed many different people in the last several years, I can assure you that your low paid employees aren’t going to move with the same level of urgency that you might, and the loading and unloading phase will often be performed in a casual, slow demeanor. This is made worse when dealing with specialty items such as hoodies or polo shirts, or when you consider how critical it can be to ensure that your substrate is smooth and flat (to avoid print head strikes that could potentially damage the machine) – some employees will work with the utmost caution and care when loading the shirts, taking time to carefully smooth them out before pressing print; while I certainly don’t mind the extra attentiveness from my staff, it is way better on the bottom line when the printer can be happily humming along while additional garments are being loaded and unloaded.
The flexibility of the Neoflex DTG printer is something that certainly sets it apart from the rest of the pack – as small business owners, who hasn’t considered adding additional decoration / print techniques to their arsenal? Traditionally, the move to alternative substrates would require huge added investments, as most of the different ink chemistries can’t be used in the same machines – therefore, the only solutions were to either purchase a whole new printer to run an additional ink set, or to completely purge, flush and clean your system any time you wanted to swap ink sets to print on any alternate substrates. Of course, this is neither ideal nor cost efficient.
The Neoflex employs a modular design structure that allows the individual printer units to be easily swapped out (I have long arms so I can move the printer by myself, but it’s easier with two people); it takes about two minutes to slide the print bed back slightly, unplug three cords and completely swap one printer unit for another. This makes it much more practical to keep an additional printer unit on hand (an extra printer unit costs around $6,000, rather than buying a whole new printer for $20,000) in case one breaks down – in my experience, having redundant print capabilities is absolutely vital to ensuring the longevity of your DTG printing business. As long as you have an additional printer unit on hand, there are many things you can do with it:
- Store it in a closet somewhere in case you need to quickly get back to printing after a catastrophe.
- Set it up as a “dual CMYK” garment printer to increase productivity on light garments, while reducing your overall manufacturing costs significantly.
- Set it up as a Solvent printer to print on rigid substrates such as plastics, metals, wood, golf balls, CD’s / DVD’s and much more.
- Set it up as an”edible ink” printer to print on cake topping sheets, cookies and other edible products.