image of the DTG vs the T-Shirt Transfer Paper Printer

Mastering DTG, Tips and Techniques

image of the DTG vs the T-Shirt Transfer Paper Printer

Direct to Garment Printing (DTG) has become a red-hot manufacturing technique for creating brilliant custom T-shirts, custom printed kids clothing, canvas prints, and more.

The process is easy to understand but can be tricky to master.

So, what separates the newbies and typical DTG operators from the real Masters of the DTG process?

What do the Masters do differently?  How do they think and organize their shops differently than the typical users?

We’ve asked the tough questions, and collected research from some of the top experts in the DTG printing industry and their answers and approaches to DTG may surprise you.

There's so many variables

image of complex dtg printing
So many DTG variables can make Master Level printing tricky

There are literally thousands garment cuts and sizes as well as dozens of fabric types.

Add to that a nearly infinite combination of dyes, chemicals, and fabric weaves, and you have the makings of a nightmare of trial and error.

However, even though each operator will need to determine what looks best and washes best for their customers, The advice we give here will save you countless hours of back and forth.

We’ll show you what to look for, how to think through a problem and give you the essential tips to help up your game to the Master level.

First, Know your Limits!

The most helpful thing you can do to produce excellent quality garments is to limit the scope of the jobs you accept.

That’s Right.  We find that most newbies or average level users fall flat here.  They allow the customer to push them into production realms where they are not yet proficient.

The true DTG Masters give their clients a limited selection of garments they have extensive experience printing with.

Master Tip: “Since DTG inks are water based it is best to choose only natural fibers, cotton, bamboo, hemp, linen and other such fabrics.”

Experts keep good records of jobs and know which garments will print beautifully, stand up to rigorous wash testing, and will wear well.  They don’t allow the client to pick from some monster catalog.

Shirt suppliers have hundreds of types of garments to choose from in each style.  If you have never laid eyes on a specific model number, it’s best not to sell the job with a complicated print until you can test it.

Also, don’t allow customers to bring in their garments if you want consistent results.

Keep in that mind that if you allow your customer to choose a low quality (cheap) material, they will most likely get low quality print.

Master TIP: “The tighter the weave of the fabric, the better the ink will stay on top of the fabric and be more robust.

Organize and Expand Your Work Area to Minimize Mistakes

image of dtg printing workflow
Preplan your workflow for expansion and efficency

An organized work flow is critical.  Not so much for the equipment, -but for the human mind.  

Studies show that 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 that minimizes steps (literal steps with your feet!)

Workflow should always be organized so the operator can move as little as possible. The quicker they can get the next run started the more they can produce in each day.

Master Tip: “Buy extra carts, work tables, hangers, or clothing racks, and pre-decide on a standard workflow so that employees cannot make a mistake.  Always grabbing the correct shirts in the proper sizes for each order.”

By keeping the area clean and organized will make it easy to find thing, have less of a chance to damage product, and helps maintenance go quicker. 

Purchase Additional Equipment & Learn Placements

On machines with removable platens, such as the DTG brand M2, it greatly increases productivity by having an additional set of platens so that the printer can be reloaded with the next set of garments while the machine is printing.

Master Tip: “Having an additional heat press can also help to facilitate this quicker turnaround – less downtime.”

Most beginners need to start by using their measuring devices to determine placement.  However you’ll want to develop a good eye for placement ON THE PLATEN.  

The most effective/efficient operators of any type of apparel decoration equipment have mastered placement/positioning to the level that measurement devices actually are more of a hindrance than an help.

Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance...

Putting equipment away clean is critical – this means doing your maintenance at the end of a day when you have been using the machine.

This gets you out ahead of the game by not allowing inks to dry on the face and edges of the print head, capping and wiping assemblies as well as extending the life of the print head.

Master Tip: “Savvy operators have a sense for when they should do a quick 5 minute cleaning cycle in the middle of production. This can prevent buildup on the head that may drip ink onto an otherwise good print.”

Keeping on top of maintenance during long runs will help to stay ahead of ink starvation on large runs with heavy coverage.

Preventive maintenance effectively removes the ink from the day’s printing operations.  It makes sure certain components in the machine do not build up and later cause larger issues. 

Master Tip: “Make sure your machine(s) are tested each day, and  setup properly before beginning a job.  Keep a sharp watch out for banding or color issues to make any adjustments needed as the job progresses.”

If the basic components and settings are not right to start with everything will print poorly. Stay in touch with your support staff and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Extending The Life of Your Printhead...

Keeping the machine in consistent use, is the best way to keep your printhead wet and flowing properly. 

Master Tip: “Even if there aren’t jobs to print it’s a good idea to have sample prints on hand to keep ink flowing and prevent clogs.”

Also, make sure the head is installed correctly and always capped when not in use.

Following the daily maintenance procedures will make sure the operator catches anything before it becomes a major issue. Having operator that care about what they are doing and pay attention to the little things so things like head strikes don’t happen is important. A trained operator is a good operator.

Master Your Pretreatment Process

Getting your pretreatment process down to a science is where some of the biggest gains in quality can be made.  With DTG printing, pretreatment is a make it or break it proposition.

The master operators will always prepress their garments prior to pretreatment.  This dries the shirts and allows for better penetration of the pretreatment.

It also removes any wrinkles that might cause inconsistencies in pretreatment laydown.

You’ll also want to inspect the pretreated shirt after application, to make sure there are no fibers that are sticking up.  if so, consider pressing again, or adding another light layer.

Master Tip: “You’ll want to ensure a nice consistent finish to the garment that doesn’t have a “shine” on it from too much pretreatment or over-pressure.”

Develop a written set of procedures or a so-called “recipe” for each garment type you print on.  Pretreatment can be quite different from shirt to shirt. 

You’ll want to notice carefully the absorption of the pretreatment liquid, and the amount needed to get a quality looking print. Write it down!

Pretreatment: Tips and Tricks to Remember

There are a few proven techniques, and things to look for that can optimize the results.

Master Tip: “After you spray the shirt, take your finger and slide it across the pretreatment. If it leaves a wet spear, it is too wet press.”  The result would be a shiny & stiff feel to the garment.

On the other hand, if there is not enough treatment on the garment the white ink will look soupy and strike through to the back of the garment.

Master Tip: “It is always best to test several brands to see which ones work best.  Stick with the manufacturer’s shirt recommendations before striking out on your own.”

Always communicate with their support staff for advice and techniques. And most important go to training.

Maximize your Efficency

Spend a few minutes getting things set up and ready for the entire job before you start.  

This can also involve getting ahead on pretreating so that you don’t bottleneck at this point.

Having all of the shirts for an order stacked and easily accessible with the side to be printed up and all facing the same way.

Master Tip: “As mentioned above, 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 one or better yet two shirts in the machine printing while getting the next run ready to go accelerate production. The quicker you can get the run started the more you can produce in a given day. 

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

Lastly, start with good quality art, or at least get good at correcting bad artwork. “bad-in equals bad-out” as the saying goes.

Keep in mind, the machine is not smart and just sprays ink.  It’s the software and the artwork that control how the ink will look on the shirt.

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

Heat Pressing Tips

Practice using medium to light pressure for most things.  The harder you press the garment, and the more heat you use, increases the risk of texture issues, and color shift.

The ability to hover the press is necessary to get the pretreatment to absorb into the fabric. 

Certain shirts require more than others. Then when it comes to the final cure, You’ll need to look at the print and make sure the ink doesn’t look to heavy. If so, then try doing a hover before pressing so the ink does not smash into itself.

More About Selecting Jobs

Keeping a job journal will help you learn from mistakes and keep a record of the best techniques that work for your shop.  To improve quality, 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’s lots of good Youtube videos put out by the manufacturers, as well as some fantastic advanced level Photoshop or Corel Draw courses you can take”

Always keep in mind that water based inks do not easily adhere to poly or other man-made materials.

Get comfortable with saying “No” at times.   Educate your customer that you are just saying “No” to bad quality, and not to them.

Master Tip: “Any large job where the client is demanding you compete with screen printing probably should be done by screen printing.”

DTG has huge advantages over screen printing in many areas

  • seemingly unlimited colors
  • variability in design
  • Flexible size and content
  • no setup fees
  • quick turnaround for short runs

But it’s not always going to be the least expensive option when compared to screen printing.

Masters know better than to over-commit to huge runs of 1 or 2 color prints that have no variability in design and are low profit.

Things to Double-Check

Before hitting print, make sure your garments are properly loaded (print on the proper side of the garment, in the right orientation).

Master Tip: “Post a checklist nearby so that none of the steps get overlooked.  Make sure garments are centered and at the correct distance for collars, pockets, plackets, etc.”

Verify that the data being sent over to the printer is correct, this can mean viewing the RAW Data in the RIP or even offering up a sacrificial shirt.  Make sure that the prints are going to look as desired not just color-wise, but also size-wise and properly oriented.

Master Tip: “Maintaining a good nozzle check is first and foremost. Build a book of answers to common errors so that all the operators in the shop understand and learn what the masters in your shop know.”

Pre-plan exactly what your shop does in each situation that comes up.  Being able look at prints and understand why things happen.

Look for things like thin lines look doubled or blurry (could indicate there is an issue with platen height, gap settings or nozzle problems). 

Lastly, while doing production, look at the print to see if quality suffers from print to print.  Call your manufacturer’s support department or put in a ticket if you get stuck. 

What Winning Attitudes do the DTG Masters Have?

The Masters at DTG Printing (as in other walks of life) do not cut corners.  Ever!

They continue to educate themselves after their initial training and throughout their entire career.

They aren’t afraid to ask questions or call support for advice.  They keep up with the current techniques and socialize with industry leaders to pick up tips and tricks.

The experts keep a good job journal, examine it and write down ways to avoid problems or solve those that may develop. they understand cause and effect.

Lastly, they keep the printer printing. Even if they don’t have jobs, they use that time to continue their education and testing.

If you have the desire to build a successful business or a winning career and desire to be the top of your field in your area, then putting these attitudes in place in when printing DTG items will launch you into the master class of DTG operators.