mastering direct-to-garment printing

Mastering D2: Tips and Techniques Part II

Tom Rumbaugh, ColDesi, has 26 years experience in the decorated apparel industry. Having started as an on-site trainer and installer, he has trained and advised over 3,000 apparel startups. He has served in capacities of district sales manager and product manager for industry leaders as well as president and CEO of his own embroidery, direct-to-garment, and screen-printing facilities. Rumbaugh currently provides content, authorship, and promotion for ColDesi Inc. and other group related companies.

The Mastering D2: Tips and Techniques series continues with insights on minimizing mistakes, purchasing additional equipment, and maintaining your machines. 

Organize and expand work areas

An organized workflow is critical. Not so much for the equipment, but for the human mind. Disorganized work environments lead to stress, last minute changes, frustrations, and mistakes. Trying to move too fast, or having too many steps crammed into the same physical space leads to problems.

Make sure to set up your shop in a logical manner free of tripping hazards, and in a way, that minimizes steps (yes, literal steps with your feet!). You should organize the workflow such that the operator is required to move as little as possible. The quicker they can get the next run started the more they can produce and the easier it is for them.

Master tip: Buy additional carts, work tables, hangers, or clothing racks, and choose a workflow design that eliminates mistakes. Lay things out and come up with a method for your shop that lines things up well for the operator. They'll always grab the correct shirts in the proper sizes for each order.

Keeping the area clean and well-organized will make it easy to know how far into a job you are. Some extra work up front means there will be less chance to make a mistake. It also helps with faster maintenance.

Purchase additional equipment and learn placements

Machines that have removable platens can increase output by purchasing additional platens. These printers can be loaded with the next set of garments while the machine is printing.

Master tip: Having an additional heat press can also help facilitate quicker turnaround—it means less downtime.

Most beginners start out by using their measuring devices to determine placement. However, you'll want to develop a keen eye for alignment while the garment is still on the platen. The most effective and efficient D2 operators have mastered placement and positioning. At some point with lots of practice, the measurement devices become more of a hindrance than a help.

Maintenance, maintenance, maintenance...

Putting equipment away clean is critical. This means following your manufacturer's directions for cleaning at the end of EACH day the machine is in use. 

Master level operators have fewer problems because they understand this. Rigorous maintenance prevents print issues from developing in the first place. It gets you ahead of the game. It helps by not allowing the inks to dry on the face and edges of the print head. The capping and wiping assemblies get an extra cleaning as well, which extends the life of the print head.

Master tip: Savvy operators develop a sense of when they should do a quick five-minute cleaning cycle in the middle of production. This small step can prevent buildup on the head that may drip ink onto an otherwise good print.

Keeping on top of maintenance before long runs will help prevent ink starvation on large jobs with full coverage prints. The primary goal is to remove the ink from the day's printing operations. It makes sure that individual components in the machine do not build up with ink and cause more significant issues. 

Master tip: Make sure you test your machine(s) each day. Make sure to set up the job properly before hitting print. Keep a sharp watch out for banding or color issues so you can make any adjustments needed as the job progresses.

Don’t just “set it and forget it!" If the underlying components and settings are not right to start with, everything will print poorly. Stay in touch with your machine’s support staff and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Extend the life of your print head

Keeping the machine running consistently is the best way to keep your print head wet and make sure ink is flowing correctly. 

Master tip: Even on days when you don’t have any print jobs, it’s a good idea to have sample shirts for self-promotion on-hand to keep the ink flowing, prevent clogs, and advertise your business at the same time.

When it’s time to replace a head, make sure you’ve installed everything correctly, including the covers. And, always make sure you cap the head when it’s not in use. Especially for transportation.

Master tip: Following the daily maintenance procedures with a checklist will make sure the operator notices problems before they become a significant issue.

Editor's Note: Master tips were collected from industry experts Don Copeland and Heath Schumacker, also with ColDesi.

Continue these mastery level tips in Part III of the series.