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DTG TRUTH - Beautiful Article by Scott Fresener - The Godfather of DTG

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  • DTG TRUTH - Beautiful Article by Scott Fresener - The Godfather of DTG

    A DTG printer will print a beautiful full color print on light and dark shirts in just a few minutes. OK, if you are a screen printer a few minutes is like a lifetime. But, if you are doing short runs with no setups, no color separations, no tear down and you are getting more than wholesale for a shirt – you will love this process.

    But, you will have to take ownership of your investment. It is NOT plug and play. It likes TLC (tender loving care) and to be pampered a little. If you don’t want to accept the small responsibility of cleaning your machine before and at the end of the day – or don’t want to take the proper steps to keep the ink moving every day (even with a simple head cleaning or two), then don’t buy a DTG machine. Everyone will be happier.

    Five Minutes Per Day Is All I Ask
    Maintenance on a DTG machine is not hard – it just takes a little time every day. Here are the things you should do EVERY DAY (at least when you are using the machine).

    When you First Turn the Machine On Figure 1
    This one is easy. When you turn the machine on in the morning you should do two or three head cleaning cycles. This gets the ink moving and helps open up heads that might be partially clogged.

    The rest of these items should be done at the end of the day.

    Clean the Capping Station
    This is the biggie. The capping station is that magic little “tray” that comes up against the bottom of the head assembly and caps it or seals it so the head won’t clog. And, it caps the head from outside air when you are doing a head cleaning. (Click on illustrations on right to enlarge them.)

    The problem is the capping station can get ink chunks (especially the white) over a period of time. After all, when the machine does a head cleaning cycle the capping station caps the head and a vacuum draws ink out of the head and dumps it into the waste tank. There is a chance excess ink sitting on top of the foam that lines the capping station will start to build up and dry. Figure 2
    Guess what? If the capping station won’t cap tightly at night – what do you think will happen? The head will clog. If the clog is white ink, there may be ZERO way to salvage the $400 to $500 head. A lesson well learned. But, you will first call your supplier and blame them for selling you a faulty machine. They will say “did you read the manual about keeping the capping station clean?” and you will say – I never read a manual. Get my point?

    I do sound a little cynical but after paying my techs to repair thousands of machines and having at least that many come from customers who swore they kept the capping stations clean – I offer Figure 1 which is a very gunky capping station that was “clean” by a customer’s standards. I rest my case. Figure 2 shows the simple steps in cleaning it. A “foam tipped swap” works well (available from most drug stores, medical suppliers, or your DTG supplier). Simply soak it in head cleaning fluid, window cleaner or even water (yes). Figure 3
    Keep the Capping Station Moist at Night

    This is also a biggie. Since the capping station typically has a foam liner in the bed of it, there is a chance this foam will get crusty and full of ink. This ink can start to dry out. By simply putting a few drops of head cleaning fluid (or glass cleaner) on the capping station at night, you will keep the head “moist” and help prevent it from drying out.

    Clean the Wiper Blade
    All Epson based printers have a small wiper blade (it looks like a tiny windshield wiper). This blade is used to wipe the bottom of the head. As you print high speed and literally dump ink on a T-Shirt the bottom of the head can start to get ink build up. The wiper wipes the head. The problem is if you are printing with white ink, the wiper can start to get a buildup of white ink that will dry causing the wiper to not be effective. You must clean the wiper blade every day! Clean the wiper the same way as the capping station. Figure 3. Figure 4
    Clean the Bottom of the Print Head
    When you are printing with the head very low and close to the shirt (for the best quality) the head will start to pick up lint off the shirt. And, ink can simply start to build up from the amount of ink being pumped through it. The Wiper Blade is suppose to clean off the bottom of the head but as you know, some of these parts on Epson based printers are like a toy. They only work pretty good. And, ink will start to get around the edge of the head. Using your foam tipped swab, wipe down the bottom of the head and around the edges. Be careful not to scratch the bottom of the head. Figure 4.

    Check Your Ink Levels
    One of the problems with an “open ink system” is that there is a close relationship between the height of the ink bottles and the bottom of the head. If the bottles are too high, ink will siphon out of the head (you might wake up to find all the ink on the machine and the floor). If the ink bottles are too low, you will have ink starvation. On machines that use cartridges you have little control over the height of the ink. If you are using a bulk ink system or open cartridges, do NOT overfill the cartridges or bottles. The manufacturer will generally put an “ink level” mark on the bottle or cartrige. That might not always be correct. You are much better off not topping off the bottles or cartridges and keeping the ink level in them more of a constant and refill them more often. Figure 5. Figure 5
    Don’t Neglect a Nozzle Check Every Day
    If all the nozzles are firing and the print is weak, then something else is going on. If only 50% of the nozzles are firing then it is OBVIOUS why the print is weak and the reason you only have 50% nozzles is probably a clogged capping station, crusty wiper blade or the machine has been setting for a week without use. It tells a whole lot. Figure 6
    In order to see the white ink on a nozzle check, use clear film or something transparent. You can’t clearly see how well the white ink is printing on white paper. Figure 6.

    Should You Shut The Machine Down at Night?
    Some manufacturers say to NOT shut the machine down. Others claim that the head caps better during shut down. This is true.

    Shake the White Ink

    The CMYK colors are much more stable than the white ink. The TIO2 will settle over night. Some brands of white ink have “hard settling” where the ink turns to small chunks. This is not good. If you shake the ink a little you shake the chunks back into it. Head clogs!

    You should get in the habit of gently rotating and agitating the white ink bottles each morning before you print AND every night before you go home. Don’t shake the bottles so hard that you get air bubbles in the ink. Just rotate and agitate a little. Gentle.

    How much time does the above daily maintenance take? My guess… five minutes.

    Weekly Maintenance
    If you print a lot you will undoubtedly start to get lint from shirts on key parts. All Epson based printers have drive belts, encoder strips and other moving parts that can get lint and ink stuck to them.

    Clean the Encoder Strip Figure 7
    A lot of people suggest cleaning this daily and if you print 24/7 then that is OK. For most printers, this can be cleaned once a week.

    Encoder Strip has ink or lint on it. You have just confused “the brain.”

    Clean the Encoder Strip very carefully. You can remove it from the machine (remember which way it goes!), but you can actually clean it on the machine. Use a foam tipped swab or better yet a small pre-packaged pad soaked with Isopropyl Alcohol. Figure 7.

    OK, if you own a standard inkjet printer, you are saying you NEVER have to clean any of these items. When printing on T-Shirts the software driver is designed to literally open the flood gates and lay down 50 times more ink than for paper. This means you are creating a miniature “rain storm” inside your printer and this excess ink gets on everything. Figure 8
    Clean the Print Carriage Drive Belt Gear
    There is a drive belt that moves the print carriage on all Epson based printers. Use a small toothbrush (or foam swab), and clean any lint from the belt gear. Figure 8.

    All DTG machines don’t like dry conditions. The ink in the head is more prone to clog if the air is dry. If you are in a dry area with low humidity, OR, if you plan to put the machine in a room with very dry heat in the winter, consider using a humidifier. The ideal conditions are: 50 to 65% relative humidity, dust free, with no airflow over printer. Room temperature 68 to 85°F (20 to 29°C).

    If you are limited on space, try to find a way to NOT pretreat dark shirts near the machine. The mist of the pretreatment may bet around the head and clog it.

    Preheat Shirts
    Some shirts give off a lot of lint. If you simply place the shirt in a heat transfer press for a few seconds you matt down the fibers and you will have less lint, less fibers getting on the bottom of the print head, and much less problem with lint.

    Keep the Shirt Holders Level
    All DTG machines have the problem of quality vs making money for the manufacturer. The Shirt Holders are generally made of sheet metal which is not always flat. Make sure the board/holder is flat and if this means bending it, shimming, it or doing whatever it takes, then do it. You will have less head strikes and overall better prints.

    You can see that I have developed a slight “attitude” about DTG machine owners not taking true ownership of their expensive investment. By following some simple rules and taking five minutes per day you will have a happy machine, happy customers, good looking prints, replace less heads, and in general have a great experience and love your machine!

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