The process of printing a T-shirt with today’s direct-to-garment printers is getting almost as close to printing a document from a home computer. It’s simple. Printing a dark garment may be a little harder due to the pre-treatment process, but once you pass the learning curve, it is still quite easy.
Just when you think you’ve got it all down, you’ll get your first print order for a hoodie and you may start thinking “how am I going to do this?” Now you have a thicker garment to deal with, along with a hood and maybe even a zipper. At this point you may call your tech support member and get some tips on how to load it, but the print looks dull and, after it has been heat pressed, it looks even worse.
But sweatshirts and hoodies can most definitely be digitally printed with good results. You just need to follow a few tried-and-true practices to do the job right. Let’s take a look at the best practices to get the most out of printing on these types of garments.
The most important part of good printing starts with the garment itself. Right off the bat, this can give you problems. As you may well know, direct-to-garment printers have a harder time dealing with higher blends of polyester. The water based ink used in most printers prefers natural fibers in cotton garments. The higher percentage of polyester in a blend, the less vibrant your prints may be, and they may even show signs of ink bleeding.
There are some pre-treatment solutions on the market that can help. Still, it’s always best to go with what works from the beginning and stay as close to 100 percent cotton as you can. Finding high-cotton blends in sweatshirts is not the most common. The most popular blend is 50/50, but 80/20 exists and will offer the best print due to the higher cotton content. The rule of thumb is to try and stay under 50/50 whenever possible.
The next thing you should be aware of in terms of garments is the zipper. It’s a hard first-hand lesson to heat press a hoodie at 336 degrees for 90 seconds without thinking about the plastic zipper—I speak from experience. The moral of story: plastic zippers melt; metal zippers are much more heat press friendly.
Pre-treating a sweatshirt is going to be a little different than pre-treating a T-shirt because of both the poly content and also material thickness. It will require more pre-treatment than you are used to. But, don’t just over do it and soak the print area. If you do take this route, the pre-treat may stain or you may get poor wash results.
The best method is to pre-treat in the same way as with a T-shirt, let it dry, then do a second pass of pre-treatment. This allows the liquid to saturate into the garment first. Then, the second pass creates a nice, even print area. It is always good to have a test garment around to dial things in before you start printing on a different garment type. (You may have one lying around with a melted zipper.)
The fun begins here, when first figuring how to get the garment on the print platen nice and flat. Let’s use a hoodie for example because there are lots of issues to contend with, like a hood, a zipper, and sometimes even a big pocket.
The hood and the pocket are not as hard to deal with because, in most cases, you can tuck the hood and pocket down at each end of the platen. If the print platen is too large to get the pocket tucked down and out of the way, you may need to use a smaller platen, like a youth platen. The smaller platen allows more room and just enough print area. A good tip is to heat press the garment before you place it on the platen to help flatten everything down.
The hardest part of printing sweatshirts is the zipper going right down the middle of the print area. Even if you use the heat press to flatten the garment down, you will still have the zipper as a higher point on the surface, and the last thing you need is the print head to strike it. You may also want to see if a hoodie/zipper style print platen is available for your printer. If not, you will need to make a simple addition on top of your print platen to create a smooth print surface and to drop the zipper down.
The final steps: printing and curing. Check with the printer manufacturer to see what the suggested RIP settings and levels are for printing on thicker garments like sweatshirts. In some cases, you may need to print at a higher level of ink for good color saturation. Also, find out the suggested heat press settings. In most cases, it should be the same as a T-shirt (light or dark) setting.
Follow these steps and you should be printing sweatshirts like a pro!