mastering direct-to-garment printing

Mastering D2: Tips and Techniques Part III

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 the pretreatment process, maximizing efficiency, and working with good artwork. 

Master your pretreatment process

Getting the pretreatment process down to a science is where you can make some of the most noticeable gains in quality. D2 pretreatment is a “make it or break it” proposition.

Always make sure to prepress your garments before you begin the pretreatment process. It’s a key point that often gets overlooked. Prepressing dries the shirts and flattens the threads of the weave. But most importantly, it allows for better penetration of the pretreatment and removes any wrinkles that might cause inconsistencies in pretreatment laydown.

You'll also want to inspect the pretreated shirt after application. Make sure there are no fibers that are sticking up. If so, consider pressing again, or adding another light layer of pretreatment solution.

Master tip: When spraying, you’ll want a nice consistent finish to the garment without having a “shine.” A shine means you’ve sprayed on too much pretreatment or pressed the garment too hard.

Master tip: After you spray the shirt, take your finger and slide it across the pretreatment. If it leaves a smear, it is too wet press.

If the pretreatment has not absorbed a little first, the result is a shiny and stiff feel. On the other hand, if there is not enough pretreatment, the white ink will not congeal and may even shoot through the fabric to the back of the garment.

It’s best to develop a written set of procedures or a so-called "recipe" for each garment type you print on. Pretreatment can be entirely different from shirt to shirt.

Keep detailed notes of what works best, and what the settings are for your spray system. Make sure you clean the system and keep the mechanical parts well maintained in between jobs.

Master tip: Make any notes or observations that you find unusual for particular garments. Sometimes half the shirts you get for a job will have come from a different factory. Expect variations. Keep an eye out and a pen handy.

Master tip: It is always best to test several brands of shirts to see which ones work best. 

Maximize your efficiency

Before you start a job, spend a few extra minutes cleaning up and getting things ready. Make sure you have everything needed to complete the work before you start.

You can divide your pretreating and printing operations to eliminate all the back and forth and to prevent bottlenecks that slow the printer down.

Master tip: If time is a limiting factor for you or your operator, consider hiring someone to come in a day or two each week to do the pretreating and organize the items to be printed.

Having all the shirts for an order stacked and easily accessible with the side to be printed up and with all the garments facing the same way prevents mistakes. Don’t grab shirts directly from the supplier boxes and go straight to the printer. Unload all the boxes, break them down to make space, and organize the job first!

Master tip: As mentioned previously, having the right equipment for the job is a must. If more production is needed, having extra platens and more than one heat press will help.

Having two shirts in the machine printing while loading the next two can significantly accelerate production.

Master tip: Keep a job journal of issues you run into or bottlenecks you discover when producing your work. Refer to the journal at the end of each work week. Make improvements.

A word on artwork

Starting with good, quality art is essential. And, if you don’t have quality art, take time to learn how to correct lousy artwork. "Bad-in equals bad-out" as the saying goes. Keep in mind; the machine is not smart. It just sprays ink. It's the software and the artwork that control how the ink will look on the shirt.

Learn how to adjust exposure, saturation, vibrancy, color curves, sharpness, and other graphics enhancements. These filters allow you to turn low-grade artwork into prints that pop off the shirt.

Allow your employees and operators the time necessary to keep their skills sharp.

Master Tip: If you can afford additional software or machine training, it's often a good idea. There are lots of good YouTube videos put out by manufacturers, as well as some fantastic advanced-level Photoshop or CorelDRAW courses you can take. 

Mastering your software is the key to expert level results every time!

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 IV of the series.