Preparation is critical when adopting a new technology as unique as digital decoration.
• The print. Many variables here can influence the final image success. From the print control interface, most DTG equipment allows you to dial in the quality setting for the image based on how much ink will be deposited onto the shirt. For dark shirts, image quality will be completely dependent on both the pretreatment and the white ink deposition. Without accuracy at these two stages, the image often looks muddy and the shirt color itself can distort the image.
• Curing. Since the inks used for DTG printing are water-based, 100 percent of the water has to evaporate during the curing process in order for the print to achieve any steadfastness. Most print failures occur due to undercured ink. While some DTG users have success curing with a heat press, I recommend using a conveyor dryer set at the proper temperature and belt speed for optimal curing. I’ve seen shops fail at DTG printing because they bought a great printer but tried to cure with a heat press. This only resulted in a tremendous amount of frustration and undercured prints. You aren’t saving money by failing to invest in a good dryer – you’re just asking for trouble.
This sixth production area to control is the Achilles’ heel of DTG printing. What causes most shops to abandon this print platform? Clogged printheads. Why do printheads become clogged? Either from a poor maintenance schedule or irregular equipment use (or both). With DTG printing, the phrase “use it or lose it” definitely applies. This is why making sure you’ve built a good sales funnel for your equipment is so necessary for the success of the platform.
Equipment makers address this issue differently. Some have a purging system that allows the ink to be removed from the ink lines, while others have a continuous slow “weeping” from their printheads to ensure that ink won’t get caked up inside. Before purchasing equipment, it pays to understand how the machine you like handles this important challenge.
Another factor that can help you gauge your likelihood of success with DTG printing is simply to review the preventive maintenance program for the rest of the company. Do you have one? Does it cover things like air compressors and all of the other pieces of machinery? When shops already employ this type of thinking, it’s a predictor of success with DTG – a good canary in the coal mine.
DTG equipment is complicated. I’ve been to shops where they have never read and – believe it or not – can’t even find the owner’s manuals for the equipment they use every day. When something breaks, they just call in a technician. This type of mentality will doom a DTG machine into becoming a very large and expensive paperweight in a short amount of time.
The Future Is Now
There’s no doubt that DTG is here to stay in this industry. This is an exciting time, as manufacturers are busy developing faster printheads, hybrid DTG systems that will fit into traditional screen printing presses, and new ink formulations that will solve the riddle of printing on polyester fabrics.
Whether digital printing is the right production avenue for your shop is a question that only you can answer, but it needs to result from some sound thinking and prep work before you dive in headfirst. You don’t want to find out that your production application is located in the shallow end of the pool.
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