EducationQ&A

What master tips can printers use to perfect direct-to-garment printing?

Direct-to-garment printing is catching on as a useful technique for producing fashion-inspired and photo-realistic decorated apparel. Have you recently stepped into direct-to-garment printing? Are you still offering screen printing? Are you looking for some best practices for direct-to-garment to make the transition smoother?

While the learning curve is pretty short, the printers still require special cleaning and prepping and production. These are worthwhile processes to invest in, given the overwhelming customer demand for the life-like finished products.

Here are six tips to help you master the trade.

1. Set proper boundaries

Many new shops fall into the trap of overpromising and underdelivering. As a direct-to-garment printer, know what you do well. Don’t allow the customer to push you into production realms where you’re not proficient. Give clients a limited selection of services, and let the finished products speak for themselves.

Master Tip: Since direct-to-garment inks are water-based, start with 100% combed cotton, as it’s the friendliest material for direct-to-garment printing.

2. Keep detailed job records

Experts know the importance of tracking what works, and what doesn’t. Keep a job sheet that details the processes, garments, fabrics, inks, and placements, as well as the outcome, so you can begin to shape your offerings and streamline production.

Master Tip: Don’t experiment with new processes on client orders. Dedicate time to innovation and discovery outside your regular production hours.

3. Organize your work area

Tight, cluttered work areas lead to frustration and mistakes. Set up your shop logically, so it helps operators work quickly, without needing to move too much between machines or rooms.

Master Tip: Encourage employee participation by asking them to weigh in on how to make their workflow more efficient. After all, they’re the ones performing these tasks every day.

4. Practice placement

While you’ll begin by using a measuring device to determine placement on the platen, you’ll develop a good eye for placement over time. This skill, matched with an additional set of platens, will dramatically increase productivity, as it allows you to reload the next collection of garments while the machine is printing the current garment.

Master Tip: Don’t replace the measuring device until you’ve mastered the placement and positioning.

5. Ensure a consistent pretreatment method

A pretreatment process helps the ink adhere to the garment and can make or break the quality of the finished piece. A pretreatment machine ensures consistent application of pretreatment every time. It’s wise to prepress the garment after pretreatment to smooth wrinkles and dry the fabric for better penetration.

Master Tip: If fibers are sticking up after pretreatment, consider pressing again.

6. Prioritize machine maintenance

If the ink dries on the face or edges of the printhead, your production is in trouble. Think, unintentional ink drops on client orders. To prevent this buildup, cap and wipe assemblies before closing up shop. Follow the maintenance recommendations of the machine manufacturer to ensure your direct-to-garment machine operates at optimal performance.

Master Tip: Perform a print head test regularly to ensure there are no blocked nozzles.

Always strive to implement these best practices along the way. Some derived from collective industry issues and some unique to your specific shop and processes.

   —Hirsch Solutions Inc.

Ed Levy, Hirsch Solutions Inca

Ed Levy

Ed Levy is an industry veteran and director of software technologies at Hirsch Solutions.

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