Maintenance in direct-to-garment (D2) printing will either make or break your business. If you don’t do it, do it wrong, or at the wrong time/interval all revenue streams that come from your D2 Printer will shrivel up and die. The good news is that maintaining your D2 printer doesn’t cost a lot (in terms of dollars) but does deserve your time and attention.
The best and worst thing about D2 printing is white ink. White ink allows you to print incredibly vivid and detailed images on dark-colored garments, but it will also clog the tiny holes in your print head and ink tubes faster than you can say “nozzle check." White ink contains, among other things, Titanium Dioxide (TiO2). It is this insidious compound with which you must wage war. The best way to wage this war is to create a maintenance routine and stick to it religiously.
Depending on the D2 printer you're working with, some do a great job prompting you to execute daily, weekly, and monthly maintenance tasks right from the display on the printer. As soon as you power up the printer, it tells you to shake the white ink cartridges. Doing this on a daily basis will help prevent the TiO2 from separating from the rest of the compounds in the cartridge and reduce the chances of clogging up your print head. The cost of this is zero dollars and takes about 30 seconds.
We also do a nozzle check daily. Again, depending on the D2 printer you're working with, the nozzle check is printed directly on the platen and will tell you if the print heads are functioning properly. Do a nozzle clean if there are parts of the segments missing. In some cases, the printer will allow you to clean only the nozzles that need it which saves ink. Some printers also give you the option of light, medium, or heavy cleaning. We recommend doing a light cleaning and then another nozzle check. If the missing segments have not returned, do another light cleaning. This will also save on ink. The cost of this is pennies a day and takes around five minutes.
At the end of each day, we also wash the tubes of our printer. You do need to use a tube wash kit, which varies in price depending on the specific printer and brand, but you can typically spend around $19.95. This kit will last about a month and uses 10ml of cleaning solution per day.
We clean the suction cap weekly and replace the print head cleaning kit when the printer prompts us to. On average this is done every 1,000—1,500 prints.
The way we see it, you can schedule and execute these maintenance tasks for pennies a day, or you can budget as much as several thousand a year to replace the print head because if you don’t stick to your maintenance schedule that is what you will have to do. This expense along with the downtime while you are waiting for parts and the technician to show up will result in missed deadlines, angry customers, and lost revenue and customer confidence. Do you hear that? That’s the sound of your revenue stream shriveling.