Tag Archives: pre-treat
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.
We are happy to announce that we are making many of our most popular blog posts (from our printing company website) available to the general public for use on any website. If you are involved in the Direct to Garment (DTG) Printing business, it helps to offer your potential customers as much information as possible. By addressing their concerns early, you will be able to avoid many potential miscommunications with your clients during the actual order process.
Feel free to use the FREE resources available on this website, including the FREE Articles for YOUR Website list to enhance your own customer experience for your DTG printing company.
Over the decade we have been running our DTG printing business, we have developed a number of articles which help better explain certain facets of the business to new clients. For your convenience, we are making some of these articles available to you, for your website – feel free to copy the articles and paste them on your own website to help further educate your customers. All articles listed below are available to use and edit as you see fit – please let us know if you have any questions.
INSTRUCTIONS: Start by copying and pasting the text of your selected article to your own website. Once you have pasted the text, be sure you replace all of the company name and contact information with your own, and carefully review each article to adjust pricing examples and other information to fit your own business model. Don’t be afraid to make some changes!
NOTE: Your are free to use the text from these articles as you see fit, but the images are copyrighted material and may not be reused without our express written consent. Please show your customers what you are capable of producing by printing and photographing your own custom products to go along with these articles. The images currently presented represent our efforts and hard work, and it is important to show off what you can do.
Aside from that, have fun with it! These articles should give you a good starting point when building your DTG printing website, and will allow you to more thoroughly cover your back-end when people take issue with certain caveats of Direct to Garment Printing.
We hope you enjoy these free articles to help jump start your own independent DTG printing website – if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us or make a comment at the bottom of THIS PAGE!
More great articles will be coming soon, so check back frequently to ensure you have all of the most up-to-date information for your company website!
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.