Direct-to-Garment printing is like any other business. It’s more than just buying the equipment and supplies, and hanging out your “Open for Business” shingle. If you’re not already running a business, you’ll need to look at the big picture… pricing your product, marketing, setting up a business checking account, and all the other steps and processes in starting a new business. There are many good reference books that will guide you in starting a business in your particular state or locale.
As it comes to the DTG process, start by becoming proficient at the machine and process. Allow time for this before beginning to book orders, as you would with any new equipment or technology. Next, prepare high resolution graphics. DTG printers reproduce exactly what you export to them, either a perfect high resolution file, or exact reproduction of a pixilated, muddy, low resolution file. Lastly, go forth and market! Customers for high resolution, short run production are everywhere! Your potential is limited only by your own imagination.
Either you or someone on your staff will need to have a good understanding of one of the industry’s common art programs - Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, CorelDraw, or a similar program. The higher your level of expertise the easier the process will be. Alternately, there are plenty of professional graphic designers in this industry who would love to do contract work for you, and reasonably priced as well.
Opt to get training on your new DTG machine when you make the purchase. Go to the dealer, or have a trained technician come to your location. You’ve made a large financial investment. See it through to the end. Some new businesses will take a pass on this critical training, only to struggle and fail or seek training after the fact.
This is important: You MUST maintain a clean and environmentally controlled workspace. This is true for all DTG machines. This is a sophisticated piece of equipment. You will not have success trying to place your machine out on the floor of a hot and dusty screen print shop, or in a near freezing garage. Maintain a comfortable room temperature around 72 degrees and a minimum of 40-50% humidity, 24 hours a day. You’ll need to purchase a hygrometer (available at any home store or online) for under $10.00. This will give you the humidity level in your location.
Direct-to-garment is a water based ink process so the best fabric to print will be 100% cotton. Not all cotton shirts are “created equal” so do some experimenting and ask your suppliers for recommendations. Some garments will look more bright and crisp than others, simply because of the fabric weave and finish. You can print on fabric blends down to 50% cotton/50% polyester, but the images on these garments will not be as vivid and will not wash as well as cotton.
The basic rule on pretreating (spraying a pretreat solution onto your garment) is this: Anytime you print with white ink, you must pretreat the shirt first. There are a few methods available to do this, but you best options will be either an electric paint sprayer or an automatic pretreat machine.
On a budget, you can pretreat a garment using a power paint sprayer. This method requires some practice and can be messy, with sticky pretreat overspray on walls and floors. You’ll likely also see some inconsistency within a run of shirts. This pretreat method must be done in another room away from your DTG machine. If not, you may cause an irreparable clog to your print head due to pretreat mist in the air.
Automatic pretreat machines have become the method of choice in most shops. You’ll see consistent laydown of pretreatment throughout. Plus, for ease and convenience, a fully enclosed automatic pretreater can be operated in the same room with your DTG printer.
For proper wash-ability, you must heat set the printed image. This is almost always accomplished using a heat press. You will generally cure a shirt at 330F. Time varies depending on whether you have printed white ink or not, and from one ink brand to the next. Check with your manufacturer or reseller for recommended cure temperature and times.
Buying the proper heat press is just as important as the right DTG machine. There are many inexpensive, low-end heat presses on the market today. Steer clear of these discount presses. If you cut corners on a heat press, you will see inconsistent heating and uneven heat across the surface of the heat press. The result will be areas of the image that will wash away the first time the garment is laundered. Saving a few dollars on a heat press purchase can translate to losing some or all your customers.
A good quality heat press will be priced in the $1,000.00+ range, but will also be a reliable machine in your shop for many years to come. A clam shell press with automatic release is your best bet for DTG printing. The auto-release option allows you to walk away and do other tasks while the garment cures. The heat press will open automatically when the timer expires.
Maintaining a DTG printer is surprisingly easy to do, but it is imperative you make this a part of your daily activities. Maintenance is simple and takes just a few minutes a day, but it is critical to your success.
Here’s the basic day-to-day maintenance. You’ll take a swab and clean around the capping station on most all machines. Some machines will also have a wiper blade that looks like a small rubber windshield wiper. On these machines you will need to clean this blade and swab around the print head as well. Along with printing something daily, you should have no maintenance issues. By daily, I mean weekdays. You generally should not have issues leaving the machine inactive over the weekend. Machines will vary, so consult your manufacturer or distributor for specific daily and weekly maintenance instructions.
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