Employing Digital

After careful consideration, you’ve welcomed a new employee into your decoration shop. This particular individual complements your business with specialty expertise, works at a reasonable pace for a reasonable price, and doesn’t require a lot of training to get going. Vibrant and detail oriented, you only have to be sure you’re providing a consistent work flow, the absence of which causes him to … clog up and dry out. That is, at least, when your hire happens to be a machine, literally. Clear some cube space for your new staff member: a digital direct-to-garment inkjet printer

“There are aton of reasons to incorporate direct-to-garmentprinting into your garment-embellishment operation,”remarksDonald Copeland, SWF East Inc.“For existing businesses it opens up a whole new potential incomestream from your current customer base.” Integrating this technology into an imaging business—no matter screen printing, embroideryor some other dedication—is a great way to expand product offering without a sizable learning curve or space commitment, Copeland adds. “Besides, ifsomeone is looking to grow their business, they are generally looking for something other than increasing theiroutput with their current methods. Direct-to-garmentoutput is generally a low-volume scenario which translates into higher margins.” While this type of machinery is considered among the simpler decoration disciplines, it’s not without special considerations, and like any business-development attempt, should not be taken lightly.

Before you buy

“First you have to be committed to looking at expansion paradigms of your existing business,” advises Barry Silevitch of Brother International Corporation. “Direct-to-garment printing is a good alternative to consider because it’s usually an easy adoption into someone’s environment.” As part of initial research, Silevitch recommends looking at your present customer base, what applications entail and the size of anticipated runs. “Short runs are certainly ideally suited for direct-to-garment printing technology,” he says. For homework help, Silevitch points embellishers towards ROI analysis tools that assist in creating a business model so prospective DTG decorators can see what it would take to generate the right profitability and revenue stream.

Prior to making a direct-to-garment commitment, Kornit Digital’s Yael Cooper suggests analyzing the production processes with regard to the type of garments and designs being printed. “If the business is dealing with graphic designs that require multiple colors or photorealistic images, digital DTG is the only way to achieve quality results,” Cooper claims. “Also, based on the average order quantity, one can establish the kind of DTG that is right for the business. When handling short runs—less than 1,000 prints—using digital DTG is the most cost-saving way,” Cooper continues.

Purchase ponderings

Based on thorough research into your customer base and their decoration needs, your necessity for color, speed and other variables can help determine not only which DTG machine is a fit, but also what other components are important to this equation. “A RIP [raster image processor] software package basically replaces the printer’s driver,” Copeland reports.“A RIP for a direct-to-garment printer performs several different features from color matching tocreation of white and colorlayers to figuring ink costs, toname a few,” he explains. “As the majorityofdirect-to-garment printer distributors private label their own inks, it is important that the RIP you use is profiled for your ink set, or has the ability for the end userto generate theirown profiles.As the marketfor digital garment printers matures and more non-machine specific inks become available, the marketplace for aftermarketRIP software will most likely increase.”

Whether it’s done internally or externally, RIP software is always important, says Silevitch. Being a “dumb device,” the printer relies on RIP software to translate vector files, such as Illustrator files, into dots it can comprehend and, in turn, output.

The value of purchasing and using an external RIP, according to Silevitch, is that it can offer improved color matching, PMS values, better gradation smoothing, and in some cases, improved image pop. “I think it’s dependant on the nature of the profile of the customers that the company wants to go after,” Silevitch comments. He gives the example of corporate accounts that frequently require logo color matching as an instance where a specialty RIP could be useful. “It may be important to look at the appropriate RIP that has a capability to provide better PMS value matching and control in terms of being able to hit a certain value within a range so that you can offer the right solution to the corporate client,” Silevitch reports. “If you’re dealing with some of the applications that need to get better image quality, more pop, more vibrancy, then look at certain algorithms that the RIP has available to accommodate that application.”

Even once the printer and RIP interpreter are in place, DTG options remain. “It’s a good idea to get at least a couple of additional platen sizes, if available, as well as an additional standard-size platen toincrease productivity,” Copeland offers.“As far as additional equipment, a heat press is a necessity.”

Where curing is concerned, Silevitch says that there are different methodologies, the most traditional of which are the clamshell-type heat presses. But conveyer dryers are also a solution, most practically in a production-oriented setting or where screen printing is married to DTG technology. In either case, Silevitch suggests to ensure the method is profiled correctly to meet the ink’s curing specifications. To the list of extras at a shop-owner’s disposal, Copeland also mentions: “If you want to add‘bling’ to your direct-to-garment prints, some type of rhinestone machine may also be in order.” 

Maintain, market and be merry

Like any good boss, you want your new employee to thrive, and in DTG terms that means implementing a solid maintenance routine. John Colman, SWF East Inc., admits that while DTG does entail a relatively small learning curve compared to screen printing, maintenance should never be overlooked. “People that go into it thinking they’re just going to turn it on, print, turn it off and come back a week later don’t understand when they have to do some head cleanings,” Colman cautions. The good news is that, while the nature of inkjet necessitates some upkeep, many machines are designed with self-cleaning options, automating cleaning and minimizing user involvement. With such capabilities, operators can worry less about clogging, dried-out heads, and head failure and replacement when machines are left idle. But whatever the level of auto upkeep, DTG embellishers should take maintenance matters seriously, being sure to heed all manufacturer recommendations.

Regarding maintenance of another kind, Colman discusses ways to best incorporate direct-to-garment while upholding existing applications. Balance between screen printing and DTG, for example, can be achieved by keeping the few large orders that bring in the most money separate from the several lower-profit, small orders. “You want to really separate the gap between what those two different types of clients want,” Colman advises. “You would definitely try and keep your pitch different between the two. The large orders, if you start selling them in the multi-colors, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.”

Kornit’s Cooper agrees: “Divide the jobs between the different techniques. You’ll save a lot of money and will be more productive.” Decorators should complete a 200-piece job with their digital DTG, while leaving an order for 20,000 to screen printing, she recommends.

Colman, however, says that with enough lead time, jobs of any size are achievable via DTG without inhibiting day-to-day workflow. “A lot of times, if there’s a high number of shirts being printed for an event, you’re talking maybe a couple of months in advance that you’re trying to put this together,” he says. He proposes handling such an order by printing a different shirt color each week with DTG. “Everybody wants to say ‘Oh yeah, sure, I can have it done next week,’ but that doesn’t mean that the customer needs it next week,” he points out. “Give them all the different colors they want and as long as you’re staying around fifty to seventy-five per color, and you’re giving yourself a day or two for each color, then you won’t kill yourself.” Tackling a manageable 20 shirts per day in your spare time while completing other shop tasks will not only get the job done, but will keep your DTG running rather than remaining idle.

Though many requests typical to a screen print or embroidery business—photographic detail, multiple colors and small orders—may be DTG oriented, making your new services known and selling this technique is an endeavor all its own. “Particularly, there’s almost always bosses, officers, board members, coaches, or parents that aren’t a part of the central masses that a shirt is being produced for,” Colman says of potential up-sale candidates. He describes a lawn-crew situation in which the boss has the same logo on a different-colored shirt, distinguishing himself from his employees. “That type of flexibility isn’t offered in screen printing because usually the colors have to be changed because the way the color of the shirt affects the color of the design,” Colman comments. “But with the RIP software, that’s already doing a good part of that adaptation of the work.” Along with additional shirt colors at virtually no extra work, he also advises up-selling customers on design colors, utilizing the equipment’s full potential with a four-color front and back.

Colman mentions another event scenario, within which a different direct-to-garment opportunity lies. Envision a concert for which you’ve screen printed a couple hundred attendee shirts; Colman advocates also setting your sights and sales to a secondary market—the event workers. “You have your event security, and then you have your event volunteers,” he states. “You have security wearing a black shirt; the volunteers might be wearing a real friendly-looking green shirt, and then you have your administrators who might all be wearing red shirts.” With this small tack-on order of a few different shirts per color for each event team, direct-to-garment can easily accommodate, and more money can seamlessly be made. “So now you get the big shirt order, everybody’s happy, you haven’t lost any business and are able to maybe charge a little bit more on that big shirt order because you’re throwing in these custom shirts for the different people in the event,” Coleman concludes.

Within embroidery shops, a DTG can assume another unique role. “One of the alliances you could look to establish is with a local screen printer,” Silevitch says. “And maybe with the short runs, which screen printers typically don’t make all that much profit on, you can work out some sort of mutually-beneficial business relationship.”

The best way to market this technology to existing and new clientele, according to Cooper, is by naturally answering most of the business and the market’s growing needs with digital DTG advantages. She underlines benefits such as no set-up time, high-quality prints with regard to resolution and colors, variable data applications, over-seam printing, and overall savings in operational, labor, space and ink costs.

And what better way to communicate benefits in an apparel-decorating shop than on a shirt? “It’sa fair guess that garment orders arebeing shipped, delivered or picked up almost daily. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to evangelize about your newest addition?” Copeland suggests.“Design an image that portrays the kinds ofjobs that you seeare a natural fit for yourgarment printer. Keep a stack of T-shirtsprinted with this design, your company info and some sort ofline touting your newdecoration method: No Screen Charges, No Setup, 1to 100, call XYZ Embroidery for yournext custom T-shirtneeds.”

Finally, one of the most important aspects of a healthy work environment is teamwork and camaraderie. Like immersing your latest staff member in a collaborative project, integrating your DTG printer with existing techniques allows you to capitalize on all strengths at once. “Don’t overlook the opportunityfor mixed-mediagarment decoration,” Copeland coaxes. “If youalready embroider, you cancreate designs that incorporate both digital and embroidery. If you screen print, name drops and customization can be handled with your direct-to-garment printer.”