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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.
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.