Let’s be honest, Direct to Garment printing isn’t always straight forward, there are, let’s say, just a few unforeseen variables. Here is some good news for you in 2020, I am going to teach you a relatively simple way to mitigate those variables and find some comfortable consistency in your production process.
It all starts with pre-production, and as an old Fire Chief of mine used to say, “These are my 3 non-negotiables!”. No, my non-negotiable aren’t related to making entry on the fire scene, nevertheless, they are just as important for success. I’ll break these down into 3 simple steps:
Step 1 – Ensure you have a perfect nozzle check.
Step 2 – Use a good quality, ring-spun garment.
Step 3 – Pretreat properly.
Simple right? Thanks for reading my article, happy printing! Just kidding, let’s get into the details.
STEP 1: A perfect nozzle check is obviously critical, all of your nozzles need to be clear and firing properly for the best possible print. To get a perfect nozzle check you must do your preventative and scheduled maintenance.
Now each brand printer has a different maintenance procedure and protocol.
Quite frankly, some printers require ungodly amounts of maintenance, so much so that it’s hard to argue whether that printer is even a viable option for running a profitable business.
Here’s a pro tip for you, if you own a printer like that, if you find you are spending the majority of your day cleaning, diagnosing, and troubleshooting, just get rid of the thing and buy a printer that actually works. Do your research, there are definitely printers that work, and work great, and don’t require an insane amount of maintenance like the Epson F2100 for example.
The concept of DTG maintenance is pretty simple essentially, we need to keep the white ink from clogging the print head. Again, each printer has a process to mitigate this from happening, but if left unchecked all printers white ink will eventually clog. So do your scheduled maintenance and keep your white ink heads happy, that’s step 1.
I want to make it clear that step 1 can be the most complicated step depending on the printer you own. I have to emphasize that not all DTG printers are created equal and if you are struggling keeping those print heads happy, it could very likely be the quality of equipment. Don’t blame yourself, it’s ok. It’s not your fault. You tried, you gave it your all. It’s the printer that is garbage, not you. Ok, enough therapy.
STEP 2: Is the simplest step in the process, but everyone loves to complicate this one. DTG ink is waterbased ink. That means it is somewhat translucent and vicious. White ink in particular is inherently thick and sticky because it is made up of titanium dioxide which is the main component in everything that is white, titanium dioxide is essentially the color white.
In the good printers, white ink is specially formulated to flow through small printhead nozzles. What this means is, unlike screen printing where a ton of white ink can be laid down through low mesh screens and just flood a shirt with thick white ink, DTG uses considerably less and thinner white ink, and therefore needs to be applied on a material that is most conducive.
I won’t get into the crazy details, I’ll let the picture do the talking. Essentially, Carded Open End Cotton is fibrous and loosely woven. This means viscous ink will have trouble holding fast on the yarn. Combed Ring-Spun cotton is a nice tight yarn with a tight weave; it’s pretty obvious that Ring-Spun will give you a cleaner print.
Now it’s not all about the yarn, garment dye has a lot to do with the results. When we subject our DTG Printed shirt to curing under the heat press, often we will see some vibrancy loss. This is due to the dye in the garment and is categorized as dye migration, where the dye from the garment migrates through the ink and dulls the image. This is very common on polyester garments but also on budget blank 100% cotton garments that often use Carded Open Ended yarn. Inexpensive dye is usually made with animal byproducts and these inexpensive dyes are notorious for dye migration even on 100% cotton shirts.
Combed Ring-Spun garments often use a better quality dye, so in conjunction with a nice tight woven yarn and a high quality dye, you will see exponentially better print results on your DTG printer.
When I help troubleshoot customers vibrancy issues, my first question is “What blank are you using?” Most of the time they are using budget blanks. A simple switch to a better quality garment will usually solve the problem, unless of course you’re terrible at pretreating, that’s step 3.
Here are my blank recommendations for best print results:
- Cotton Heritage
- Sanmar Fan Favorite
- Just Hoods USA
- Next Level
- Hanes Nano
STEP 3: Now step three isn’t necessarily the easiest process either, but I’m going to teach you the basics of pretreat, or what I like to call “general rules of thumb.” Since we were just talking about ring-spun garments, pretreat works best on these garments too. To get decent results on poor quality garments, multiple applications of pretreat is needed (pretreat, dry, pretreat, dry). This is time consuming and expensive. I prefer to pretreat once, and be done with it.
The “general rule of thumb” for pretreating is, ensure you have a good spray pattern meaning there are no clogs in the lines and lay down the proper amount of pretreat for the color of shirt you are printing on. Let’s examine the first part, the ensuring you have a good spray pattern part.
This part of pretreating is very similar to Step 1 regarding ensuring you have a proper nozzle check; you have to keep your pretreat machine clean to avoid clogs. Pretreat, for lac of a better description, acts like liquified Elmer’s glue, if you leave it in the lines to dry out, it will stick to everything and clog. My policy is to never let that happen.
I clean my lines with distilled quart of distilled water a 1/2 cup of Simple Green. This will break down the pretreat build up, allowing for pretreat to flow freely. Don’t take this step lightly with your pretreat machine, keep it clean; the more cleanings the better. In addition to running cleaning solution, you will need to remove your nozzles and pretreat line filters and clean these regularly as well.
The next part is related to staining and adding too much pretreat to certain color garments. Light color garments have a tendency to stain. This can be an expensive and frustrating mistake. Again, good quality shirts help tremendously here.
My best practice is to reduce pretreat concentrate and speed up the spray as the color of the shirt gets lighter. I use Epson pretreat which comes in concentrate.
I mix 50-50 with distilled water for black and my darkest garments.
For royal blue, red, Kelly green, I’ll go 60% water 40% pretreat.
For light pink, light blue, I will go 70% water 30% pretreat.
As my color gets lighter and I reduce my concentrate, I’ll also increase the speed of the pretreat spray.
For those that say you need a lot of pretreat to get a good print, you are not paying attention 🙂 Good shirts and reduced concentrate on light color garments will give you equally bright prints without staining.
If you made it this far, you’re in luck. Here is a video I made on the subject, enjoy!
Those are my 3 simple steps for guaranteeing bright prints every time with your DTG printer. Maybe you are reading this because you have had it up to here, and you want to take your printer out and beat it with a baseball bat. If that’s the case, trust me there is an easy way to make DTG extremely lucrative and consistent. If you need a new printer, buy one. If you are using bad shirts, switch. If you are having trouble pretreating, follow my steps. DTG is in extremely high demand, now go out there and give the people what they want and make money while doing it.