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Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing can be incredibly rewarding, and offers many advantages over traditional screen printing. Whether you are a new startup company or an established print shop looking to augment your production capabilities, DTG is definitely worth a second look. However, it is important to note that DTG printing is not for everybody; due to the particular challenges that it creates, you must be prepared to commit yourself to understanding every facet before you can hope to have a relatively trouble-free experience. Here are 10 good reasons to consider avoiding DTG printing, for the moment:
1. Printing Environment Must be Carefully Controlled
The physical properties of the water-based inks are incredibly sensitive, changing drastically based on the external environmental conditions. For instance if the air in your print room is too hot or dry, the ink will quickly dry in the print head causing nozzle blockage and other related issues; this can manifest in moderate to severe banding (missing or rough lines in the printed image) or even entire nozzles dropping out. Especially in areas with more extreme weather (for instance, Southern California tends to be very hot and dry), steps must be taken to keep the environment cool, humid and comfortable. An ideal operating environment would have the temperature somewhere in the general range of 75-80 degrees and a relative humidity level of somewhere between 30-60% – depending on where you are located and what kind of building you are in, you’re going to have to look into various humidification systems, air conditioning, swamp coolers, etc. This is not the type of equipment you can randomly add to your warehouse work space without seriously considering whether or not it will be protected from the extreme elements.
2. Equipment / Consumables are Expensive
Getting into DTG printing can represent a huge financial risk for a small business on the edge; with many DTG printers averaging around $20,000, you can easily wind up spending $25-$30,000 for an entire package (complete with printer, pre-treatment machine, heat press, supplies, shipping, training, etc). If you are confident that this is the route for you, try going to a few trade shows and keep your eyes out for a great deal – trade shows are the best place to save money on the initial equipment purchase. However, once your machine arrives, there isn’t much you can currently do about the ongoing costs of the ink and supplies; on many machines the cost of ink “per print” can easily be in the $1-3 range for a standard size print on dark shirts and the cost of pre-treat fluid can easily cost another .30-.80 per print – compare that to the cost of plastisol ink, which often ranges from .05-.15 per print! On machines that accommodate larger print areas, the cost of ink alone can actually get up to $4-8 depending on size and coverage. Unfortunately, the cost of ink does not come down in larger quantities, so there isn’t much we can do (as DTG print shop owners) to compete with screen printing prices on larger quantity orders – there is almost always a break-even point where screen printing still makes more sense than DTG, and it is important to recognize this distinction and not try to make a decoration technique work for an order that does not call for it (for example, 50 black t-shirts with a white ink print on the front would be better suited for screen printing rather than DTG).
3. The Process is Painfully SLOW
While we are able to skip the majority of the setup and tear-down process, screen printers have a huge advantage when the ink actually hits the t-shirt; screen printing presses (even the manual variety) are considerably quicker when it comes to actually printing, whereas the process on a DTG printer can take quite some time. Although white shirts are relatively quick (its not uncommon to knock out 20-50 white shirts per hour, depending on your particular equipment, setup and print resolution), dark shirt printing can be the bane of any DTG print business – realistically, expect to print about 8-15 black shirts per hour under normal circumstances. The number of prints you get per hour is directly related to the specific print resolution you operate at, so the higher quality you are looking for, the fewer prints per hour you will be able to achieve; printing at the highest resolution on the Neoflex, there are times when oversize images (15″ x 20″ dimensions) are coming off the machine at a rate of about 3 prints per hour…. You need to enter into this business with a practical, realistic view of how long it is going to take you to print some of the more extreme orders – without this realistic understanding, you might price yourself out of business before you even get started (Need help understanding how to properly price DTG printing services? Learn about our free tools, here).
4. No Minimum Orders
Wait a minute…. Didn’t this same point make an appearance on our list of top 10 reasons to get involved with DTG printing?? Why then, would it also show up on a list of reasons why NOT to get involved with DTG printing? The answer, while simple, is often overlooked; although it is great to have the ability to print “on demand” for your customers with no minimum order quantity, it is also overwhelming to take the time out of your busy day to educate a client, find out what they are looking for, then hold their hand throughout the entire process for them to only order a single custom shirt – the harsh reality that many small business owners run into is that it can be very difficult to maintain profitability when you are spending an average of 45 minutes per client and each person is only ordering one or two shirts! The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to streamline your ordering process as much as possible, through the use of online design software and other technology to minimize the amount of time spent processing each order – also, try providing as much detailed information as possible for your clients, allowing them to seek out answers on their own either through your website or other provided documentation. The fewer times you have to repeat answers to simple questions, the more profitable your business will be!
5. Garment Selection is More Critical than Most Other Processes
DTG printing is not intended to be used on all garment types; in fact, the inks tend to work best when applied to 100% cotton, so it is best to avoid 50/50 blends and other non-cotton fabrics as much as possible. On top of that, it is important to remember that not all cotton is created equal – you will experience better print quality and more consistent wash fastness when you select garments that are woven from higher quality ring spun cotton (30/1 weave is ideal). All individual brands, styles and colors can potentially produce varying results of quality and wash-fastness, therefore it becomes critical that you thoroughly evaluate any potential blank garments that you want to print on. It can get even more confusing when you begin tracking where each batch of shirts was manufactured, as different countries of origin can produce drastically different results, even when the brand / style / color are identical! Once you’ve found blank garments that print well and are consistently meeting your quality expectations, try to stick with them and encourage your clients to do the same; even if you warn a client that 50/50 blends won’t print as well, they will still insist that you do it and then become indignant when the results are sub-par. As a DTG printer, it is recommended that you think long and hard about a company policy that indemnifies you of all responsibility for client-supplied blanks (if your company even accepts client-supplies blanks), since you cannot properly vet products that you have not thoroughly evaluated. Or, even better, simply avoid accepting client garments altogether and focus on blanks that provide the highest possible quality – this is the only way to properly protect your reputation down the road.
Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing can be incredibly rewarding, and offers many advantages over traditional screen printing. Whether you are a new startup company or an established print shop looking to augment your production capabilities, DTG is definitely work a second look. Here are 10 good reasons to consider adding DTG printing capabilities to your business:
1. Full Color Printing
Since DTG printers operate more like your home or office printer, you can print stunning “full color” images in one pass (or two passes if printing on dark garments). Clients no longer need to simplify their design ambition to meet their budget, and you can simplify your pricing structure to eliminate the number of colors in the print as a consideration for cost. Its a win-win!
2. Minimal Setup Time / Cost
With DTG printing there is no need to setup individual screens to create a design; in fact, aside from the initial artwork file (and the maintenance required to get the machine up and running at peak efficiency each morning) there is really very little setup at all! Forget about screens, emulsions, film output, screen exposure, rinse-out booths, etc; all you need to worry about is pre-treating your shirts prior to printing, and you are good to go. Let’s take a typical 3-color print job and compare the two processes: if the client is ordering anywhere between 1-72 items, there is a good chance you could have finished the order on a DTG printer in the time it would take you to print multiple film outputs, expose a couple of screens, rinse out the screens, tape the screens (and apply block-out liquid for pinholes, etc), align the screens on a press and ink them up.
3. Minimal Tear-Down Time / Cost
Using the same example from above, the screen printer would have had to scrape ink off all three screens, remove the tape and clean the screens with some sort of ink remover, then apply an emulsion remover and pressure-wash the hell out of them until all the exposed emulsion was gone. After that, they would need to use a haze remover chemical, followed by a degreasing agent, prior to spreading a new layer of fresh emulsion onto each screen in preparation for the next job! Meanwhile, if you had just finished printing this job on your DTG machine you could simply box up the shirts and grab the next batch for printing! That’s it! Not only does this save valuable time, but it also saves a ton of money on additional chemicals and resources for the setup / tear-down process.
4. No Minimum Orders
Due to the fact that there is virtually no setup or tear-down associated with each print job, it is easy to load up a single shirt and print it! You no longer have to demand that your clients order a few dozen shirts (when they only really need a handful for their upcoming event) – start selling short-run orders to the clients who are being turned away at other local print shops, since screen printers won’t touch their orders! Bachelorette parties, home Poker tournaments, fundraising and charity groups, artists, small businesses and more can all be part of your new client base, since they have not traditionally been able to meet the minimum orders required by most screen printers. Most clients who only order a handful of shirts are already aware that it is hard enough to find someone to print for them, so they will often be more willing to spend a few extra dollars on each shirt; also, when small groups of individuals collect money from each person (for instance a club or a poker group) they will generally pay more than an individual who is trying to get the lowest price possible on a bulk of shirts. Small orders can mean big profits!
5. Beat the Local Competition
Once people discover your full-color, no-minimum printing capabilities, they will start to expect similar services from other local shops (most off-the-street clients don’t have a clue how screen printing happens, let alone DTG printing, sublimation or other decoration methods; in some cases you are lucky if they even know what they want printed before they walk through your door). When your competition is forced to stand by their “36+ minimum order”, or when they can’t waive the huge setup fees that the client is no longer paying through your company, they won’t stand a chance! Of course, aside from the fundamental policy differences you will be able to offer, you will also be capable of producing some of the most stunning artistic prints that have ever graced the surface of a cotton t-shirt. Even the highest-quality screen printers in the world would have a very hard time reproducing some of the stunning print effects that can be achieved through DTG printing, so it is simply a matter of educating your client base and showing them why you are different than anyone else in your area.
As the weather begins to warm up in many areas of the country, it is important to remember how critical proper temperature / humidity control can be and how big of an impact it can ultimately have on the printing process, as well as the quality of the final product. Regardless of which brand of DTG printer you are using, or who you bought it from, the ideal operating ranges are quite similar across the board. For most machines, the ideal humidity level for high quality DTG printing is between 40%-60% relative humidity – although the machines will likely print (and even operate proficiently in some cases) when the humidity is as low as 25-35%, you will almost certainly experience a higher-than-normal volume of ink related issues as the level drops below 20% (the higher the temperature, the more of an impact the low humidity will likely have on your printing). Regarding temperatures, most DTG printers prefer to operate within a range of 75-90 degrees; going too hot or too cold could potentially cause your inks to dry up on your while printing, causing all sorts of mayhem in the process!
Many people will spend hours trying to troubleshoot their printer to find out why they are experiencing sudden nozzle dropout, clogged heads or other similar symptoms, while the actual issue has nothing to do with the machine itself – this can easily result in lost production time and plenty of wasted ink being purged down the drain! Every single DTG print shop in the world should have some sort of inexpensive humidity reader mounted inside the production room, providing constant feedback on the current moisture levels in the air – whenever you are experiencing strange ink behavior, it is helpful to start your troubleshooting with a quick glance at the humidity meter, to get an idea of what your machine is currently dealing with. If you do not already have one of these (or something similar), head out to your local Wal-Mart (or preferred vendor) and find one! They only cost a few bucks, and it will provide insight on one of the most critical aspects of the DTG printing process – your local printing environment.
There are a number of solutions available for raising the relative humidity level inside your production environment, ranging from swamp coolers (ideal for larger, warehouse style facilities), home humidification systems (which don’t often make a very big impact, unless you are running several of them in a relatively closed space) and more industrial “vaporization” systems that are typically custom built for each facility (this is the method used by most large printing companies, including many major newspaper publishers where humidity is also a concern). Some DTG printer owners have even constructed a plastic “tent” around their machines, allowing them to climate control a smaller, more limited space – in this type of a setup, the smaller “home” humidification systems can be slightly more effective (remember to mount the humidity meter inside the plastic tent, should you pursue this option).
Whatever method you prefer, make sure you are monitoring your humidity (and temp) on a daily basis, and take the necessary precautions before the summer weather starts to hit! If you wait until your humidity is below 20% to figure something out, you could potentially be risking downtime and unnecessary problems – maintain your climate, and maintain high quality DTG printing!
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!
Color management is a very important part of the DTG printing process. In fact, next to selecting the proper garments for printing (which you can read more about here), proper artwork adjustment (color manipulation, etc) is the most important factor in determining how well (or how poorly) an image will print. For starters, always make sure you are using the most accurate, up-to-date color profiles available for your particular printer to ensure that every printed image looks as amazing as possible; keep in mind, however, that even the best color profiles and RIP software will not do anything to “enhance” the existing colors in a custom design, so it is up to you to make the necessary artwork adjustments prior to printing your file(s).
Right off the bat, there are a few “Golden Rules” you should know about DTG printing / color management – by understanding this information and using it as a guide to educate your clients, you can ensure that everyone has a better grasp on what goes into a high quality DTG print:
1. The final print will ONLY look as good as the original artwork that is input for printing!
If the input file is low resolution, blurry or dull, then the final print will be grainy, blurry or dull. If the input file is high resolution (200 dpi for garment printing), crisp and vibrant, then the final print will be clear, crisp and vibrant!
2. There is NO SUCH THING as PMS color matching with DTG printing!
You can always print color charts for yourself or your customers to help select colors that are close to the intended output colors, but it is important to understand that a number of variables can effect the color output on the actual garment:
- Different garment styles, brands and colors will print differently; a color chart may very well print a certain way on one brand of t-shirt, then print differently on an alternate t-shirt brand.
- Many DTG printers use different color profiles for BLACK garments, WHITE garments and “ALL OTHER” colored garments – there is no guarantee of consistency between black and colored garments, or between dark and light colored prints. Additionally, as printers we often have to adjust the volume of pretreatment spray, white ink under base or color layer saturation to prevent “discoloration” of certain garments; since we have to make these decisions during the production process in an effort to provide the highest quality print, while still ensuring that the garments survive the production process with minimal scarring, we cannot always guarantee that we will use the exact same under base percentage or color layer saturation from one day to the next.
- The pretreatment process required for dark garments requires us to dial in the volume of pre-treat spray on a daily basis (sometimes several times per day) – altering the pretreatment volume even a slight amount could alter the colors in a print, slightly. This is an artistic process, not a scientific process.
- Varying degrees of humidity can cause fluctuations in the behavior of the water based inks used for DTG printing – most of us do our best to control all variables of production, including the environmental variables in the actual production rooms; however, there are times where the differences are noticeable, typically manifesting in slightly different hues being printed.
- Color profiling is a touchy, subjective process where altering one range of colors could alternately effect another range entirely. Since we can’t check with all of our clients prior to switching to new color profiles, we cannot always guarantee that a design printed today will print the exact same way in a year, or even a month – always do your best to keep your clients updated (via your website or newsletter) whenever you update your color profiles, but it is ultimately their responsibility to do the necessary testing and adjusting if they are trying to achieve or reproduce a particular color value.
3. The RIP software used to process artwork for printing on to garments is highly specialized and incredibly sensitive!
It will analyze an image and draw out as many color values as possible to recreate every subtle nuance of the digital design. If the hue or tint of certain colors is off slightly, the end result will be more noticeable in the actual print! This means that if there is a slight yellow tint to the design on the screen, you will definitely notice a yellow tint in the printed design. With some practice, you will learn to spot these “off colors” and correct them before you ever send the file for printing – once you have some experience and understanding of the way the DTG process works, you will be able to identify the subtle differences in color and predict how they will look on the printed garment.
In “Golden Rule #3″, we explained how sensitive the RIP software can be when evaluation subtle color tints in a digital image – the following is a quick example of how this can effect a printed image, as well as a few quick tips for how you can avoid this before you ever start printing:
If you are experiencing trouble with your Neoflex DTG printer, one think you definitely don’t want to overlook is the length and quality of the USB cable you are using to connect the printer to your computer. While the printer is operating, it is critical that there are no interruptions in data transfer that could potentially cause the machine to stop printing, or simply lose entire areas of color data. These interruptions can potentially be caused by signal loss across a long data cable, or by delays on the computer that prevent information from being sent to the printer fast enough. If the delays are happening at the computer, try shutting down all programs that are running, with the exception of the RIP – it is important that all available memory resources in the computer are being allocated to the RIP while you are printing.
Due to the massive amount of image data that is being transferred at any given moment (while a print job is being sent to the printer), combined with the fact that the Neoflex DTG printer is designed to begin printing even before the entire file has been ripped and processed, it can be very easy for data to get lost on its way to the destination – if there is even the slightest break in data during the printing process, the print could be interrupted. Any time you transfer a digital signal across a physical line, there will be data quality loss which increases dramatically the further along a wire the signal must travel – by reducing the distance that a digital signal has to travel, to can greatly increase the likelihood that the entire signal will remain intact during transmission from point A to point B.
Keep in mind that there is already about 6′ of solid USB cable running internally on the Neoflex, which connects the USB port on the front of the machine to the back of the actual Epson printing unit; if you add any significant amount of length to this, you are risking potential data loss when transferring large files to the printer. Try to avoid using excessively long USB cords to connect to your Neoflex DTG printer, and position the operating computer as close as possible to the actual printer that is being run.
Signs that you might be experiencing some data loss include (but are not necessarily limited to):
- The printer stopping in the middle of a print and moving to the standby position or home position randomly
- The printer losing channels randomly during the print, even after achieving perfect nozzle checks or prints on the previous run
- Assorted strange behaviors that make it look like your printer could be possessed
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: