We hear this question a lot at Melco, “What is the best type of shirt to print on?” The Epson F2000 Users Guide says:

“For best results, use a T-shirt that is 100% cotton with thick and tightly-woven material, and a cotton blend ratio of 100 to 50%. Since the print quality cannot always be guaranteed for some types of fabric, perform a test print first.”

Okay that’s nice, but what does a “thick and tightly-woven shirt” look like and how do I know which brand offers thick and tightly-woven options? 

Epson CMYK ink prints great on pretty much any surface it will stick too, it’s white ink that causes problems. This article will help educate you on what to look for in garment construction relating to print results especially when printing with white ink.

There is a great article on the Spectra Apparel site that explains the difference between ring spun and open end yarn, and what 18 verses 30 single means. I encourage you to read it, though I will paraphrase here. 

Ring spun cotton is smoother and longer yarn compared to open ended yarn, where measures are taken to remove impurities and enhance the feel of the cotton. When a garment is classified as 18, 20, or 30 single it refers to the gauge or thickness of the yarn. 

18 single is typically open ended, low yarn count, which is coarse and thick. 30 single is ring spun, higher thread count, and softer feel. 30 single ring spun, is what Epson means by “thick and tightly woven”.

It is safe to assume an 18 single will yield a less than superior print result. Thread count alone does not necessarily determine print quality, though as a rule of thumb,18 single garments are typically budget shirts, with budget die, and budget yarn. 

Examples of an 18 single would be the ever so loved Gildan 2000, and any of it’s budget companions from Anvil, Hanes, Fruit Of The Loom, etc. 

So what about blends? Here is what Epson Says:

“New pigment ink technology for cellulose-based garment imaging developed internally by Epson is compatible with both 100% cotton or cotton synthetic blends to 50/50.”

The issue with synthetics is not color ink. You can print CMYK ink on 100% polly no problem, it’s the white ink that has trouble bonding. White ink does not bond with synthetic fibers, regardless of pretreat application.

Epson says UltraChrome DG ink is compatible with synthetic blends, and this is true, but the same rules apply with blended garments, as they do for 100% cotton. Cellulose-based means the fiber is an organic compound, for example: cotton, hemp, or bamboo. Though the Gildan 2000 is 100% cotton, we are seeing poor prints because of budget yarn, and die. The same rules apply to blends. Budget blends will yield extremely poor print results. White ink will not be vibrant due to the poor cotton, dye, and synthetic fibers. So you guessed it, the Gildan DryBlend 50-50 is out too. No matter what, you will not see a bright white on these garments.  

Now I need to make something clear, I am not saying 18 single budget blanks could never meet the customers expectations, I am saying budget blanks do not offer the best display of what the Epson F2000 can do. 

So what blanks can you print on and receive a beautiful, super bright white? The answer is nearly any other blank that is not a big budget brand, open ended, 18 single. Most blanks, just one step up from the cheapest options, offer outstanding results. Epson uses Hanes nano, at Melco we have found the best results from Spectra Apparel; Epson endorses them too.

Spectra offers 20 and 30 single ring spun garments at extremely competitive prices. They always seem to have inventory and they have outstanding customer service. Plus, their heather 50-50 blend yields the hands down best print results I have ever seen from a DTG print, absolutely beautiful. You can sign up for a wholesale account here. A little something special for Melco customers, use referral code MELCO for insider pricing!

Here are some other great blank options for vibrant print results: American Apparel, Next Level,Alternative Apparel, Bella/Canvas, Fruit Of The Loom ring spun, Anvil ring spun, Blanks Plus, Bay Island, Royal Apparel, Alstyle, Cygnus, LAT, Tultex, J America, most anything ring spun should do. Since you own a garment decoration business, you should be able to create a wholesale account with any of the above manufacturers. Diversify your blank offerings and get some new and unique accounts!

The important question; how do you relay all this to your customer? My suggestion, don’t over complicate it. As an operator you need to know all the crazy details, but your customer does not. Find out your customers needs. Is it price? quality? quick turn around? Work with what your customers expectations are. If they want something quick and budget, and are not terribly concerned about vibrancy, sell them the Gildan 2000. For competitive price and amazing quality, go Spectra.

One of the most important things I have learned from my experience, NEVER MAKE AN ASSUMPTION ON THE CUSTOMERS EXPECTATIONS. When you make assumptions you are simply gambling with your margins, and the odds are most assuredly, NOT in your favor. There is nothing worse than guessing wrong and having to go out of pocket to redo a job.

Take away:

  • White ink does not bond well to poor quality garments because of fabric construction and dye quality.
  • White ink does not bond to synthetic fibers.
  • 100% cotton and blended garments should be higher quality for best results.
  • Look for ring spun.
  • Sell to your customers expectations.

A few things to note before I let you go:

When printing with white ink, Melco and Epson recommend only Epson pretreat. Dilute 60% water 40% pretreat and never more than 50-50. Adding more pretreat to the mixture will not increase the quality of print. 

If you are experiencing poor white coverage or vibrancy, there 5 main culprits:

  1. Have you aligned your print head and is your platen set to the proper height for the garment you are printing on? See Pg.72 in the Epson Users Guide; this is a critical document, Download here
  2. Are your white nozzles clear? Do a nozzle check, if you are showing a poor white pattern or show no white at all, do the appropriate head cleanings to restore, Pg. 69.
  3. Have you properly pretreated your shirt? Pretreatment is about consistent coverage with the proper mixture, Pg. 26.
  4. What is the quality of the garment you are printing on? Remember budget garments typically yield poor results. The less cotton you have in the garment the more likely the garment will not hold white. This is absolutely true for budget blends but does not necessarily apply to high end blends.  
  5. Do your maintenance; clean around your print head and do a cap cleaning. Watch the videos from Epson here.

Read my article Same Print, Different Shirt, Different Results for an example of print quality on different shirts. 

If you do not have the Melco made Set Up and Maintenance Guides, please email me for a copy.

Happy Printing,

John LeDrew • DTG Director • Melco International

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