White shirt print good color saturation

Tips for Wash-Fast Digital Prints

Paul Green has been in product development for direct-to-garment printers for almost two decades. After hours, he is a fine artist. His artwork can be seen in group art shows around Southern California.

Today’s method of direct-to-garment printing has made the process of applying an image to a garment quite simple. Sometimes, the learning curve of the process is quite short, yet some veterans of the process still run into washabillity issues from time to time.

There are many factors that play into why you may not be getting the best results from washing. In most cases, it is an easy fix. What follows are some main factors to stick to when it comes to getting the best wash-fast prints.

Heat Press

The most popular way to cure a print for the digital direct-to-garment process is by using a clam shell style heat press. The curing process is just as important as getting a nice print from your machine. If you do not cure properly, you will see a drastic decrease in the life of the print.

A common mistake users make is to turn up the temperature and lower the time from the requirements determined by the printer manufacturer. This time has been formulated by industry ink suppliers and should always be followed. A setting of 356 degrees for 35-40 seconds should be used when curing a print that has no white ink. When white ink is used, the temperature should be 330 degrees for 90 seconds.

Something that gets missed by most users is pressing the print a second time; this is actually part of the curing requirements from many ink manufactures. Although pressing one time seems to do the trick, you cannot go wrong by adding a second press into the mix to ensure proper cure.

Even distribution of heat is also a giant factor in curing a print, along with checking that the press is at really at the temperature it is reading. The best way to check this is by purchasing a temperature gauge from a local hardware store—these can be temperature strips or a laser infrared thermometer. Make sure that the heat that the temperature gauge reads for the press’s platen is the same or very close to the read out on your press. If you find that the press is 10 degrees cooler, for example, it can be adjusted by increasing the temperature on your control panel to put out the correct heat. Dead spots in the heat press can also cause major problems and not cure areas of the print. If you have dead spots, replace the heating element or the entire press itself.

Ink Saturation

The amount of ink that is put onto the garment while printing is also a crucial factor to good washing. When it comes to a light garment, make sure the fabric is being saturated enough. Most digital direct printers have the option to make adjustments to the ink drop size or resolution to control the amount of ink you print. Follow the suggested settings by the manufacturer.

With the right amount of ink saturation, the print should look a little bit darker than what is shown on the monitor. If your prints are coming out too light, then, as long as you don’t touch the shirt, you can print again on top of the first print.

When it comes to dark garments and using white ink, the image is much more susceptible to fading and washing out. Putting down a heavy amount of white ink may make the print look much more vibrant, but it will show a major shift after even just the first wash.

This is because the more ink you flood your garment with, the further away the ink is from the fabric and the less it has to grab on to. Use just the right amount of white ink—enough so the solid areas of white look solid, but no more. Using less white is not going to be as vibrant, but after the first wash and many more washes, there won’t be much noticeable fading in the print.


The life of the print should last that of the shirt. As the garment begins to fade, so will the graphic. If you notice that white ink begins to crack quite easily, the first thing you should check is the heat press. Make sure the temperature and press are both working optimally.

Cracking ink is a definite sign of the ink not being cured properly. If your RIP program allows you to print a white underbase in a content base or gray scale, you should use this setting for most of your printing. This style underbase will create just the right amount of ink. Another thing to keep in mind is your print will be less expensive in ink cost and get the best wash.


One of the biggest learning curves with direct-to-garment is the pre-treatment process for dark garments. It is easy to put on too little or too much, and in both cases, this will affect the washabillity of the print.

At first you may err on the side of too much pre-treatment. But even though the print looks good, the ink sits farther away from the fabric than it needs to be. A good example of too much pre-treatment is cracking or the print itself peeling up from the fabric. Too little pre-treatment and you will see most of the print disappear in the wash.

A good guideline for the application of pre-treatment is to apply it in a two-pass method, the first pass should look misty, and the second pass, milky. You do not want to put on so much that it drips from the bottom of the shirt or it soaks through to the back. Take your time to master this process and use as much training as you can from the supplier of your printer. One of the benefits of using a pre-treatment machine is that it can be set to the amount you want and stay consistent as opposed to doing it by hand.

Washing Instructions

Let’s be realistic. Most people are not going to pay attention to the washing instructions for a T-shirt, but it doesn’t hurt to include a tag or sheet with the shirts you deliver. The best way to wash a printed garment is in to turn it inside-out and wash it in cold water.

While the washing part of the process is controlled by the end-user, we can do as much as possible on our end to make the print last. Always stick to the guidelines provided by the manufacturer and don’t try to speed up the process. You want to keep that beautiful print on the shirt for the life of the garment and keep that customer coming back.