I Want my Shirts to Look Like Trade Show Shirts!

You’re excited when you get home from a tradeshow. A few days later you unpack your brand new printer and get started. But sometimes you can’t quite achieve the same print quality you saw at the show. Your vendor didn’t trick you with smoke and mirrors, but there are a few things you need to know and do to achieve that same image quality.

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What is Support?

When companies say, “We’ll support you all the way,” it’s a good idea to define exactly what that means. It’s critically important to know what the term support translates to in terms of assisting you at being successful.

First, what are the terms and how long is support available? Is it 90 days… a year… more? And after that period of time, is there a cost to receive additional support? Don’t be afraid to ask the question.

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Pretreat Methods Promoted in Our Industry

There are a variety of pretreating methods being promoted around the garment decorating industry. The options leave those new to the business scratching their heads and wondering what is the truth on all these options. Beyond budget issues, some ideas are just better than others.

Hand pump sprayers, similar to Windex bottles, at first thought sound as if they would be an inexpensive and effective method to apply pretreat solution. But in reality, it is impossible to get an even layer of pretreatment on the garment using this method. This uneven application will be evident in the finished print. You will see the irregularities in the image.

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TucLoc Platens for Epson F2000

Equipment Zone now carries new platens from Livingston Systems. These new TucLoc platens have a unique garment holding system for the Epson F2000. They no longer require adhesives, rings or hoops to secure garments. The garment is simply tucked in between two rubber pads along the edges of the platen. Good news is, both thin and thick garments can be held securely so there’s no need to worry if the thick hoodies you print onwill be compatible. The TucLoc system works great and it holds garments securely, removing wrinkles and creates a smooth garment printing surface giving printing heads an unobstructed path. The garment is actually taughter than using a hoop system and this allows for more control of the print head as it passes over each time. Also, the TucLoc system removes bunching from garments when larger amounts of ink are applied.

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Printed Image Quality – Pretreating

Other than testing and choosing the right garment, proper pretreating is the second of two primary factors contributing to a quality print. It is common for decorators to look elsewhere when determining the cause of a less than acceptable image on the garment. More often than not, it is in fact the pretreating that is the true culprit.

By applying too little pretreatment to the garment, the image will appear dull and washed out. The pretreatment solution gives you a barrier for the water base ink to set upon. Curing will start as soon as the ink makes contact with the pretreatment on the garment. An application of too little pretreatment will result in the ink absorbing into the fabric.

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Printed Image Quality – The Garment

For most garment decorating (screen printing, transfers, etc.), the actual choice in garments has little impact upon the finished product. In other words, most any garment you buy will decorate basically the same. The opposite is true of direct-to-garment printing. Garment selection, both brand and construction, is a critical step in producing an ideal finished product.

What comes as a surprise to many current decorators who add direct-to-garment to their offerings, is that some of the popular and common brands they’re already using may not be ideal for DTG printing. But with the growth of this form of decoration, more and more manufacturers are creating garments specifically for DTG printing.

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Best Products to Print Using Direct-to-Garment

100% cotton is our best friend when it comes to direct-to-garment printing. The water base inks in all DTG printers are specifically formulated to work best with 100% cotton fabric. The truth is, a garment you can print on one DTG machine, you can print on the next. A garment you cannot print on one, you cannot print on another. Your first choice will always be a 100% cotton garment.

Blended fabrics – cotton and polyester – are also printable using DTG, but the higher the cotton content the better. For example, an 80% cotton/20% polyester sweatshirt will print perfectly fine. 50/50 blends are printable, and you can get an acceptable result, but this garment will not print with as vibrant an image, and wash-ability will be decreased as well.

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Steps to Success in Direct-to-Garment Printing

Machine Expertise

Become proficient operating the machine. Allow plenty of practice time, as with any new equipment or technology. Far too often customers tell me they have a huge order to produce the day the new machine arrives. Unless you’ve operated a direct-to-garment printer before, this is an unreasonable expectation, and will likely cause much more frustration than well printed garments.

Artwork

A direct-to-garment printer is a sophisticated piece of equipment, capable of reproducing exactly what you send from your computer. That means either perfect reproduction of a high resolution well-built art file, or perfectly reproducing a low resolution, bad image. The printer gives you back exactly what you send it, whether good or bad.

Learn the basics of an art program like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, CorelDraw, or a similar program. The higher your proficiency, the easier it will be to prepare your artwork for printing. There are plenty of professional graphic designers in this industry who would love to do contract work for you. In the end, what always separates one direct-to-garment company from the next is the quality of their graphics.

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The Facts about Pretreating

Everyone knows you need an actual direct-to-garment printer to do garment production, and most new users understand you need to heat set the ink once the garment is printed, most commonly using a heat press. The confusion usually arises over whether or not to pretreat the shirts before printing.

All direct-to-garment printers use a water base ink system and special treatment is required when printing dark shirts. The rule is: When you print white ink, you must pretreat the shirt first. Without pretreat solution on the shirt, the white and color inks will simply disappear into the fabric after printing.

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