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What is DTG Printing, and Why is it So Awesome?

The days of simplifying your artwork to meet your budget are over!  No longer do the general masses have to settle for “dumbed down” versions of their incredibly crafted designs, and no longer do they need to order a hundred shirts (or more) to be taken seriously!  DTG printing arrived on the scene in its infant stages over 6 years ago, and has spent the last several years being tweaked, prodded and modified until it was finally manifested in a form that offered top level competitive quality, excellent durability and reliable manufacturing practices.

If you thought you knew all about DTG printing, check again!  There have been plenty of advances and improvements that have made the process not only viable, but also highly sought after by major clothing brands and online retailers all across the globe.

DTG printing stands for “Direct To Garment” printing, which refers to the process of jetting water based ink directly onto the surface of a printable substrate, rather than printing a transfer which would then be heat pressed onto the substrate.  DTG printing equipment is similar in many ways to the type of desktop ink jet printers which can be found in most homes and offices; utilizing a small selection on ink colors (typically Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and White), the printer is able to dynamically mix the process inks “on the fly” as it prints, recreating a myriad of colors and effects as it goes!

The printers are generally much larger than most home or office printing systems, and the drive mechanism has been modified to feed blank t-shirts rather than paper or other flat substrates.  By eliminating the need for expensive and time consuming screen setup, as well as the mess and the costs that go along with the traditional screen printing process used by most print shops, we are able to use the process of DTG printing to create beautiful, full color designs with almost no setup, allowing us to offer full color custom garment printing with NO MINIMUM ORDERS and NO SETUP FEES!  Essentially, if you can create it on the computer, we can reproduce it on a t-shirt.

When compared to traditional decoration techniques, such as screen printing, the quality of a DTG printed garment is unrivaled – the print details, gradients and print accuracy will beat out almost any other garment decoration technique available (sublimation is another “digitally printed” option which offers a fairly competitive option for decorating garments with beautiful full color designs, however sublimation is limited to polyester garments and there is no white ink, meaning it can only be used on white or light colored garments – it cannot really compete with DTG printing when dark garments or 100% cotton is concerned).

 

The process of DTG printing involves several steps, which can be loosely summed up as follows:

  1. PREPARING THE GARMENT FOR PRINTING: 
    Before any ink can actually be printed on the garment, the fabric must be prepared with a liquid pre-treatment chemical, designed to create a bond between the ink and the garment itself.  Without this pre-treatment fluid, the ink would simply absorb into the porous cotton material and appear very poorly (if at all).  Pre-treatment is absolutely required for any dark garment printing (any time white ink is involved, either as an under base or a highlight layer), although it is entirely optional when printing on light colored garments.  If pre-treatment fluid is applied to the light garment prior to printing, the ink will remain on top of the fabric (rather than soaking in) and will appear more vibrant, while providing superior wash-fastness over the life of the garment.  If no pre-treatment is used on light colored garments, the print will still look good but you will notice that it simply doesn’t “POP” like it would have with the pre-treatment.  The pre-treatment is applied either manually or via an automated pre-treatment unit, depending on the situation – after the spray is applied, the garment is then brushed with a fine Wooster brush to press the fibers down (reducing the effects of fibrillation, especially on non-ringspun garments) and then heat pressed to seal the pre-treatment to the garment – once this is completed, the garment is ready for printing!
  2. PREPARING THE ARTWORK FOR PRINTING: Although we can certainly load up any artwork file and press the print button, it is important to understand that proper artwork preparation is vital to the successful recreation of complex DTG prints – there is no magic involved in the printing process that will turn “adequate” artwork into “amazing” artwork…. The better the initial artwork file is in terms of quality, color saturation and vibrancy, the better the final printed t-shirt is going to look.  You can read more about artwork prep and file format options by visiting our Artwork Information page.
  3. LOADING THE GARMENT ON THE DTG PRINTER: While this may seem like one of the easiest steps, it can actually become quite tricky when trying to reproduce complex specialty prints that cross over seams or collars, as well as when trying to print odd shaped or odd sized garments (such as onesies, or printing on sleeves and whatnot).  We use a series of “loading boards” called Platens to keep the garments pulled flat and smooth for the printing process, and we will often set up custom spacers to allow us to print on a variety of alternative substrates and print locations.
  4. PRINT THE GARMENT:
    Once everything is prepped and ready to go, we simply load up the artwork file in the specialized RIP software we use (RIP stands for Raster Image Processor, by the way) and press the print button!  The printer will travel the entire length of the garment print area, spraying ink as it goes – when it is done we are left with an incredibly detailed, vibrant print that will impress even the toughest critics.  For dark colored garments, the machine will first print a full pass of white ink (as an under base to the colors), then it will return for a second pass that will complete the image with the color layer.
  5. CURE THE INK: Since water based inks remain “water soluble” until they are permanently heat-set, it is important to press the garments after printing to ensure that the design does not come off in the wash!  For light garments, this generally involves direct exposure to high pressure and heat for around 90 seconds, while dark garments get the same treatment for at least 180 seconds; it is important to select garments for printing that are able to withstand the arduous manufacturing conditions involved with DTG printing water based inks.

While this may seem like a lot of steps, most people would be blown away to find out everything that goes into the process of traditional screen printing – relatively speaking, DTG printing involves far fewer steps.  In addition to taking less time for the overall setup / print cycle when compared to traditional decoration methods, DTG printing also involves far fewer chemicals and consumables, none of which contain the level of harsh and abrasive chemicals found in many screen printing products.

DTG printing is perfect for short run or full color printing – with a little creativity, you can recreate some incredible effects that will leave most screen printers in the dust, without breaking the bank in the process!  Contact us today to find out what we can do for you, or browse our website for even more information before you get started.

 

Fine Detail even with Gradient Screens.

Selecting the Proper Garments for DTG Printing

Aside from the quality of the original artwork file, the most critical factor in achieving top quality products with DTG printing is the actual garment that is being printed on.  Variables such as cotton content, weight, knit, texture, unique post processing chemical treatments and much more can ultimately effect the results we see on DTG printing, so it is important to select garments that are best suited to this unique method of decoration.

GENERAL RULES OF THUMB WHEN SELECTING GARMENTS FOR DTG PRINTING:

  • Garments with a high cotton content print best - try to avoid 50/50 cotton / polyester blends, as the water based inks used for DTG printing do not adhere well to polyester.  Additionally, the dyes used to color polyester garments tend to “migrate” into the printed image during the curing stage, causing the image quality to be negatively effected.  100% cotton garments are going to provide the best results, but if you cannot find a suitable 100% cotton option (which is often the case when printing on fleece hoodies) then look for the next best thing, which is typically 80% cotton / 20% polyester.
  • Ring spun cotton prints better than standard cotton - the better (smoother) the print surface, the better the end results will be; this is typically true of any type of printing method.  Even with your desktop printer at home, you will achieve varying results when printing on standard paper, when compared to the same print on high quality glossy photo paper; the simple truth is that a better printing surface will almost always yield a better print.  The softer, finer weave of the ring spun cotton provides a more ideal printing surface for the DTG printer inks, creating a more stunning print that will hold better on the garment during repeated wash cycles.  Whenever possible, it is recommended to use ring spun or combed ring spun garments for most DTG printing applications.
  • Ribbed texture / patterns can ruin a DTG print - the nature of ribbed fabrics allows for greater stretchability due to the inherent weave of the cloth; for most purposes, this is ideal and does not pose any sort of problem.  For DTG printing, on the other hard, this can cause the printed image to break apart at the vertical “channels” that are present in the fabric – this effect cannot be controlled so it is important to test and verify ANY ribbed garments before offering them to your clients.  It is your responsibility to select garments that meet your unique expectations and requirements.  Since many women’s style garments are naturally ribbed, it is especially important to ensure proper selection of the women’s products; if you cannot find a suitable solution from the list of products that we offer, we invite you to bring your own preferred brand for us to print on, and you will only be charged for the actual decoration of the garments.
We tend to select brands and garment styles that are highly compatible with the DTG process – not only do we look for garments that print and wash well, but we must also ensure that our products can withstand the intense heat and pressure that our garments are exposed to during the printing and curing process.  Once we have found garments that we like, we try to evaluate how consistent they are between batches to even further refine our selection of preferred blank garments (we have found that the same brand tee produced at a different factory location can sometimes yield different levels of print quality and overall consistency).
The Blank Products page of our website provides a searchable list of items that we are able to provide for our customers; we will be continuing to add and amend this list as we go, and we will strive to update the product prices on a regular basis (please keep in mind that we cannot always keep up with the ever changing prices at our suppliers, so the prices listed on our website may sometimes change without notice).  We will also be adding an overall rating system to show our clients which products work well with DTG printing, and which ones work well with sublimation or screen printing – check back often for updates, including the forthcoming product images for each of the garments in our list.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW OUR BLANK PRODUCTS INFO / PRICING PAGE

Reliable, High Quality DTG Printing from IR Tees!

IR Tees is committed to providing the highest quality DTG print services in the industry.  Let us print one of your most difficult files today, and find out what everyone is talking about!

 

Stop by and see us in action.  Check out the detail in the gradient screens as well as the vibrance in the print.

DTG Pretreatment Marks – What Do They Look Like and What Do They Mean?

When using DTG printing as a decoration method, there are many additional steps that are not necessarily required for traditional decoration methods (such as screen printing).  For example, many people are not aware that we must spray a liquid “pretreatment” chemical on all dark garments before they can be printed using the DTG process; this additional step is required to ensure that the white ink that is printed onto the garment does not “soak in”, literally disappearing before your very eyes.

In addition to the requirement that we must currently pretreat all dark garments, we are often asked to pretreat light garments as well (the improved color vibrancy and washability on light garments is worth the extra cost) – once again, the pretreatment liquid acts as a “barrier” to prevent the CMYK inks from soaking into the garment.  Without this pretreatment on light garments, the print would appear slightly more faded, although still acceptable (whereas dark garments literally cannot be printed without the pretreatment step).

During the curing process, the pretreatment can discolor slightly, and can sometimes leave a slightly off-white residue that may be interpreted as a stain of some sort.  This is entirely normal and should disappear with the first wash of the garment.  If you want to test it out, try wetting a clean cloth and gently wiping around the edges; you should notice that the effect is minimized, which should offer some reassurance that the first wash will indeed take care of the phenomenon.  When pretreatment is applied to certain light garments, the curing process will sometimes cause a light “yellowish” box to appear around the design – again, this is most often caused by normal discoloration of the pretreatment fluid on the garment, which should come off in the first wash.  The pretreatment residue is completely harmless (just don’t try to eat your shirt and you should be fine) and is used by any person who is using a DTG printing system; unfortunately it is simply a fact of the industry at this point.

Some garments will show an enhanced version of this effect, while other garments will show no signs of the pretreatment area at all – we try to encourage all of our clients to select garments based on:

  • How well they print
  • How well they wash after curing
  • How well they accept the pretreatment fluid
Many times our clients will prefer to provide their own garments; while this is completely acceptable, please remember that you are responsible for how your garments respond to the pretreating / printing / curing phases of the production process.

Keep an eye on our Blank Products page – we will soon be adding / enhancing our rating system for all of the products that we offer, so you will be able to quickly and easily determine which products are best for you.

(We will update this entry soon to include images of actual pretreatment marks on garments, so you know what to look for!)

Meeting Your Deadlines: Understanding Turnaround Times

We often run into situations where a client will drop off shirts or inform us of their intent to place an order, but then they don’t quite take the steps to actually initiate their order from a “Quote” to a “New Order”.  As their own deadline approaches, they often start to panic, and sometimes go so far as to point the finger at us for not delivering on time.  Of course we have made mistakes in the past, but many of these issues are the direct result of a misunderstanding of when, exactly, a client’s order has begun.

IR Tees is committed to providing the highest quality product in the shortest amount of time, and we do our best to work with our clients when deadlines are a factor.  However, it is important to understand what our policy is regarding new orders, to avoid any potential confusion or complication in the future.  Essentially, our turnaround time policy for most orders is as follows:

  • TURNAROUND TIME AND RUSH ORDERS: Standard turnaround on most custom t-shirt orders is 5-7 business days (M-F). This time does not begin until you have submitted both final artwork approval, and at least a 50% order deposit. Although we reserve the right to officially take up to 5-7 business days to complete any standard order, keep in mind that many orders will ship sooner than this. However, if you need a guaranteed ship date depending on number of shirts a rush charge will apply.  Same day 50%, next day 30%, three days 20%.  (Minimum rush charge is $35).  Rush orders are not a big deal with our equipment, but it often requires us to schedule additional print shifts, take unplanned trips to our suppliers to pick up blank garments, and much more; as much as we would love to provide free rush service to all of our clients, we simply would not be able to support this, financially. It is the client’s responsibility to coordinate their ordering process with their respective due dates.  If you require “Next Day” rush service, this is available for an increased rate of 30% depending on quantity of shirts.
    As an example if you place your order at 3:30pm on Monday afternoon, then we have Tuesday / Wednesday / Thursday / Friday / Monday / Tuesday / Wednesday for production.

 

That means you would receive your order sometime before the close of business on the following Wednesday.  Of course, your order is only “officially” started after we have received ALL pertinent order details, a 50% deposit and final artwork approval; if we are waiting on any of these things, then your order is still considered a “Quote” and will reflect “Waiting for Deposit” in your account.
Also, please keep in mind that any changes to the order details after an order has been started could potentially delay the order from being completed on time; check and double check all order details, prior to placing the order!  Our turnaround time is intended to give us plenty of wiggle room to complete your order (and everyone else’s) with the best possible quality outcome – we sometimes need every production day we have, in order to ensure that everyone’s orders are treated with the utmost care and respect; of course this means that our expected turnaround times DO NOT include shipping or transit times.  Always factor in the amount of time it will take to have your order shipped to your location (if applicable); if expedited shipping is required, it can be provided at your own expense – we cannot offer expedited shipping for the same cost of normal shipping, and we cannot rush your order out the door in order to avoid expedited shipping (unless you pay for the rush production service, which is almost always available).
If you have any questions about our expected turnaround times, or if you need your order to be expedited for faster processing, please contact one of our agents today!
We look forward to earning your business.