Even for the best Direct-To-Garment printers, maintenance is key. For any DTG machine to perform its best, you must understand your shop conditions. Knowing how different factors, such as pre-treat grams and curing methods, affect your DTG print lets you produce the best looking DTG t-shirts.
A key baseline is understanding the environment in which your DTG printer lives. Just like a person, your DTG machine wants to be in a comfortable, room temperature area. Try to avoid big temperature swings (that mainly occur over the weekend), and make sure the humidity ranges between 45 - 55%. Use humidifiers to increase humidity if need be. A dry room can increase chances of a clogged print head. As a tip, monitor your air filter consumption. A higher consumption rate can indicate the room’s temperature is not ideal for DTG printing.
Morning Start Up
Starting your printer with a nozzle check every morning indicates the condition of the print head. Depending on your printer and the nozzle check result, you may need to do a head cleaning. A head cleaning will move the ink inside the print head. The idea is to get the ink flowing, a way to re-lubricate the print head. Some printers waste DTG ink by dumping it into the waste bucket. The best DTG machines -- like the Epson SureColor F2100 -- save and recirculate the ink.
Testing Pretreat Solution Amounts and Properly Curing Garments
The key to sustained DTG success is a period of trial and error. It is important to test and document your results. The ability to reproduce the same high quality product over and over will set you apart from the competition. Any DTG printer should know the right amount of pre-treat to apply on dark garments and the ideal cure time and temperature for dtg ink.
A successful DTG print begins with a consistent application of pretreat solution. To be a commercial printer, you must use a DTG pretreat machine. A good starting amount of pretreat solution is between 28 - 32 grams to really lock in your image. However, not all shirts are created equal. Shirt brands vary in the amount of pretreat that must be applied for superior DTG printing. Difference of shirts by the same manufacturer can also vary in required pretreat. Hoodies and other thicker garments require more solution.
Test the different garment types you plan on stocking, or offering to customers. A solid understanding of the right amount of pretreat to provide color brilliance AND wash fastness is critical to success. Record the amount of grams applied on each shirt and the results. Learn more about how to measure your pre-treat in this short video:
Properly test curing ink on your garment, so that dozens upon dozens of washes can occur without the ink flaking off or fading. If you use a heat press, there is a balance between enough and too much pressure. Too little pressure risks not fully drying your tee shirt, while too much pressure drives the ink into the garment itself, causing the colors to fade. Those who use a conveyor belt should invest in Thermo-tels, or a donut probe. Getting temperature readings inside your heat chamber is helpful information and a better indicator than the temperature gauge. Test various cures times and temperatures. From both a production and cost-savings perspective, your goal is to full cure the garment in as little as time as possible.
The Advantage of Conveyor Dryer Heat Tunnels for DTG Curing
Since DTG ink is water-based, it cures as moisture is evaporated. Ever cured a DTG print with a heat press? If yes, then you most likely saw moisture escaping around the heat press. Conveyor heat tunnels pull the moisture away from the shirt as it cures. This simultaneously speeds up the curing time and creates a softer feel, or “hand,” to the shirt.
The best DTG conveyor dryers produce a large amount of CFM (cubic feet per minute). For those looking for the best DTG production heat ovens, check on CFM. A 36” wide x 12’ long dryer should produce about 1,500 CFM. This is the right amount of hot air movement to cure DTG shirts. Dryers that can circulate air throughout the garment create a superior dry. Look for conveyor dryers with large blowers that are capable of creating a significant amount of CFM and air flow.
Keep in mind that a conveyor dryer can also cure pretreat solution to help production times. Pretreating in bulk and then storing ready to print shirts allows for quicker customer turnaround. A pretreated shirt can be stored for about 3 - 4 months. By grouping all of your pretreat into one session helps keep your shop moving and minimizes the amount of maintenance that must be performed on your pretreat sprayer.
Incorporate these 4 foundational DTG tips, you can produce better DTG shirts and grow your DTG business.