Ask the Expert: DTG Printing Q and A with Dave Lyman and Gabriel Torres
November 22, 2019
There are many ways to customize garments, but when it comes to printing there are two big ones: traditional screen printing and digital direct-to-garment printing. Here at RushOrderTees, we are known for our fast, high-quality screen printing, which makes up the vast majority of our production– but our DTG department is the fastest-growing.
The DTG printing industry was valued at $1.76 billion in 2018, and that number is expected to increase to $2.31 billion by 2023. This technology has allowed RushOrderTees to fulfill hundreds of small and even single-piece orders every day, with high-quality prints in vibrant full-color, even on the darkest of garments. Digital printing has come a long way.
It’s also allowed us to launch our hugely successful print-on-demand platform, DSGN TREE.
DTG is a much different process than screen printing. It’s considered digital because the image is sent directly from the computer to the printer, which is essentially an inkjet machine, similar to what you might have in your office. Except it’s giant and state-of-the-art and has computer interfaces and is designed to print directly onto garments (but other than that).
As simple as it might sound to send prints to a machine, there’s much more that goes into it than just pushing a button– and a lot that can go wrong before you get it right. High-quality DTG printing requires expertise, experience, and vigilance.
To find out more, I talked to our resident experts of direct-to-garment, Dave and Gabe. Below is a quick introduction of these guys, followed by my transcript of our in-depth conversation, slightly edited and trimmed down for your enjoyment.
Gabe is our DTG lead and joined RushOrderTees in August of 2018. He cut his teeth in the industry with a three-and-a-half-year stint as Director of Production at a sublimation print shop. Before that, our MVP of DTG spent five years as quality control for a parachute company that supplied the United States military and allied countries. He checked everything from the quality of the various raw materials that arrived in 400-yard rolls, and the different systems, from the lines to the canopies, to the deployment bags and the ripcords. Talk about having someone’s life in your hands! He learned how to pay attention to the smallest details and how to work under pressure. Perfect qualities to have for this job.
Dave is our DTG manager and joined RushOrderTees in November of 2014. Before that, Dave was a jack of many trades with an interesting work history– making him a perfect fit here, where every day is something new. He’s worked in inventory processing, rare coins, editing music videos and infomercials, music stores, book stores, and a bunch of other stuff. His first job was at an ice cream store where he was a “frozen dessert technician”. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but it sounds legit and I would definitely buy ice cream from him. He eventually became the manager. Here at RushOrderTees, he started off leading the vinyl department before being tapped to manage our all-important digital printing department.
Without further ado, here’s my interview with these two fine gentlemen, and digital printing experts.
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THE DTG PROCESS
M: Describe the DTG printing process and how it’s different than screen printing.
Dave: Oh, it’s wildly different than screen printing.
Gabe: Yeah. From the type of ink we use, to how we lay the ink on the garment. Everything is different. And different DTG processes use different pre-treatment or fixation. Our printers are all-in-one printers, so we have an all-in-one process.
M: And it’s all water-based, right? The pre-treatment as well?
Dave: The inks, yes. The pre-treatment, it’s close. It’s a chemical that’s very close to vinegar. So it’s essentially an acid that’s in the same family as vinegar. I can’t smell it anymore.
Gabe: No, we can’t smell it at all.
Dave: We always ask people when they come through: Can you smell that? Because I can’t.
Gabe: I can spend days outside of this department, and come back and still not smell it. But when I do laundry, it’s like a laundry full of vinegar.
M: It’s non-toxic?
Dave: I wouldn’t want to drink the ink or some of the chemicals. But most of it you could drink. Probably just have a tummy ache. I have drank the fixation, it’s fine. Put it on salad or whatever.
M: What are some misconceptions that people have about DTG printing?
Gabe: It’s just two buttons. [laughs]
Dave: Yeah. I think in our company, within our company, if you haven’t done the work and understand the process, people think it’s really easy. Like you just slap a shirt on there and hit the buttons and go. But there’s a ton of variables that go into this. There are things we can do to maximize the art. And that changes shirt per shirt, design for design.
So let’s say I’m printing on this shirt here, and printing the same shirt over here but the design is different, there are different things that I would do to those shirts. There’s just so much, there’s a lot you can do to maximize the design on the shirt.
Gabe: And sometimes you can do too much, literally kill the quality. You have to find a balance, with a good amount of ink for opacity but not enough so that you’re laying it on top, and it’s causing spidering issues and things like that. So while it looks on the surface like we’re just loading a palette and sending it to a printer, and the printer is handling everything… no.
Every single person in this room needs to know what settings to utilize for what garments, colors, art, all of that stuff. That’s an intensive training process. I’ve been here a year and a half, maybe more, and I learn something every single day.
I’ll do a print of the week; I print one and Dave will print one. I don’t tell him anything, he doesn’t tell me anything– until afterward. And we’re like hey, which one looks best? What did I do? What do you do with this? Oh, there you go. And I’m going to sort it out in my bank for later on.
M: So it’s ongoing adjustments.
Dave: Yeah. Almost, almost constantly. And it gets better all the time.
M: How many jobs does your department process on an average day?
Dave: We do between 300 and 400 jobs a day usually. Sometimes more than that, sometimes less, depending on the piece counts of the orders.
Gabe: Yeah. But it’s what the orders are too, what garments we’re actually printing on. Obviously, we’re spending more time printing on thicker garments and slowing down the print, things like that. So it depends.
We’re in hoodie season right now. So our order count might be lower than the norm, unlike our peak season when we’re just running T-shirts all day. Just going at it. It’s really dependent on the day’s production schedule. If we’re loaded with a bunch of sleeve prints for instance, it’s the same thing. It takes time to load those properly and make sure we have the right print area down and the right placement.
M: So it can fluctuate a lot.
Gabe: Right. But around 300 to 400 consistently. But there are some days we do over 500.
Dave: And also the vast majority of our jobs are one, two, three pieces, it’s not like we’re doing like all 10 pieces or more. I think the last time I looked at it, 75% of our jobs are one to three pieces. The rest is above that. Sometimes a lot.. we just did an 1800 piece order over the weekend. So we do get larger jobs. It’s just rarer.
M: So based on volume or the number of pieces, it’s a much smaller percentage than the number of pieces we screen print. But based on the number of orders or customers…
Dave: Yeah. It seems like it’s close to half. In terms of the number of orders, we ship every day. I can’t say exact, but in the times that I’ve looked at it, it’s probably pretty close.
M: How big is the team and how many print stations do we have?
Gabe: Right now we have eight printing stations. We have three QA stations, six expo stations, and four shipping. And that’s also divided into two shifts. Right now, our department consists of about thirty-two employees. That is actually growing again due to, you know, cyber week right around the corner and the holiday season. DTG has grown all year and ever since I’ve been here. The growth just this past year, oh my god.
M: Even though screen printing is our main thing, this is easily the fastest-growing department.
Dave: Yes. Certainly, and very technology-driven. I mean, I don’t know how our expediting works right now. I set up a system for them a couple months ago, and they are refining it so much and they have so much of development’s resources available to them right now that things change in there literally every day, several times a day, sometimes.
Gabe: Sometimes every hour. Last month, that operation has changed at least 10 times.
Dave: That went from a job that was like… I had a very clear idea of how it was done, too… honestly, right now I’d need training to go back there and do the job. It’s changed so much and this is just in a matter of weeks. We are fortunate enough to have a lot of the company’s resources behind this department right now, so that’s super useful.
M: Alright, that kind of answers the next question. What changes to the department have you seen during your time here?
Dave: When I started, we had two of the smaller Kornit machines, and a couple older machines that we barely used, and then a bunch of Epsons, which were not great to us. We’ve had the opportunity to use machines basically on loan from companies who want to sell them to us, which is great too, but we’ve settled on the Kornit system, which I’m happy about. I like it a lot. I think it’s probably the fastest proven DTG method that’s out there. And also sort of, in a lot of ways, the easiest to use. But also still is very complicated.
Gabe: Yeah, it does complicate things more, the way these things print. But at the same time, it makes it an easier process and a faster process. You’re getting rid of the pre-treatment process.
Dave: Yeah. When we had to do pre-treatment, you sometimes just have to guess, like ‘Oh wait, did they get the back of the shirt?’ You know, and then it’s essentially one more stop for the order to go through. And one more opportunity to mess things up. And so we’re better off… as soon as that order is ready it comes out here, these guys know it’s ready, they can just print it. With some minor exceptions, like if something weird happened in our process.
M: A lot of stuff got streamlined.
Dave: So much. Yeah. Like we’ve changed the way this department runs a lot.
Gabe: And we’re still, like, every single day, every three hours making improvements. We are always re-evaluating…
Dave: Any opportunity we can find to make things run smoother, we take it.
M: While all the jobs are running.
Gabe: Yeah, with all the rushes coming in, with all the orders going out, and actually even working ahead…
M: What’s that phrase, it’s like repairing an airplane while it’s in flight?
Gabe: Yeah. And it’s definitely part of my training regimen. You need to be adaptable and open to change. We are essentially the– like when something big changes in the operation whether it be screen printing or anything– I think most of the time we’re the guinea pigs and we’re gonna test that stuff out before it hits a 15,000 piece order. We’re gonna go at it all day with our one-piece, two-piece orders. So we can actually deal with the problems, squash those bugs and then roll it out to a major production like screen printing. So that way they have less hiccups.
M: Would you say that out of all the companies, Kornit is the most cutting edge of DTG?
Dave: There’s some other stuff out there. There’s some stuff that’s more expensive. There’s some stuff that’s really built for running larger piece orders. And it doesn’t really make sense for the work that we do. And then there’s some new stuff out there that’s just, for me personally, is sort of untested. I’d like to see people have machines for at least a year, before we even think about it.
Speaking back to the experience of testing some of those machines, we had a company’s first version of a new DTG machine. It was actually an old company that merged with another company. But after that experience, I was like, man, I want to see the second version. I don’t want to see someone’s first go at something. Because there’s obviously going to be improvements. And if they’re selling well– rapidly. If they’re not selling well, then I don’t really need to see it at all.
M: As a business, it doesn’t make sense to be an early adopter.
Dave: No, no. Not at all.
Gabe: You also want to see if the company is actually providing support for us, you know. Throughout the year if they find x amount of issues, did they provide solutions for those problems, for the software or the hardware, you know, things like that. And then version two of the printer comes out a year later and you’re like, oh well instead of doing an upgrade we could have just waited two years.
M: How how much support do we rely on from Kornit and how much do we do in-house?
Dave: Me and the tech in this room have a call with Kornit each week. And they’re pretty good with getting what we need from them. I mean, at this point, I feel like I know these machines very, very well. And again, I think it’s awesome that we have all of the same thing. So if I can solve a problem with one machine, I can do it on all of them.
Gabe is pretty well accustomed to these machines. Our tech is pretty well accustomed to these machines. I’ve been inside them and out, I’m taken every single piece off of them, and put it back on. Eric does tech and training in this room and is excellent. There’s some stuff in the tech that he hasn’t had to go through yet, but I’m confident that it would not be a problem for him.
Gabe: That’s a lot of this stuff in here. It’s when a problem arises, you’ll see all three of us just jump on the machine. Dave is the biggest expert on these things, let’s just start picking his brain when the problem arises. It’s hard to simulate. You don’t want to simulate any errors on these things, obviously, but when those things happen it’s like, it’s almost training time. But also re-assuring.
Like, this is the issue, this is how we fix it, right. And you do that and confirm that it’s actually the correct way to it, or we dissect the issue. It can just be something that arose, something variable that we didn’t know about at the time. We are always learning in this department, whether mechanically or how to actually print on a certain garment.
Dave: It is certainly a constant process. We have a machine that’s been the most popular Kornit machine, and there have a few instances [laughs] where a Kornit tech has gotten ahold of me to ask me questions about it because I am probably more familiar with this specific machine than most of the Kornit techs.
M: [laughs] How funny is that?
Gabe: The majority of repairs happen in-house, until it hits a certain ceiling and we’re like, OK, we need a tech to come out.
Dave: There are there are also situations where it’s kind of like, this is on them. This is not for us to mess with.
M: We touched on this a bit, so I might change the question slightly. The question was how has the technology or techniques advanced. But maybe we could turn that more into: How has the quality improved?
Dave: I would say the quality is improved drastically and we’re almost constantly improving. Just a couple weeks ago, we found a really good hoodie setting that we liked. The story goes: Gabe was here printing on a late-night one Friday, I think. So we’re just trying to get outa here. [laughs] It was like, man can you just run this one more thing?
Gabe: I was like yeah, I’ll run it, but you got to set it up. Because you know, your settings are the best, right? So he sets it up and we do the first print I’m like, holy crap. Look at this.
Dave: And so he ran the shirts that came back around and I saw them on the table. And I was like, if screenprint already did this design, why are we doing it? Because from like five feet away I couldn’t tell the difference. It was awesome.
Gabe: And I was like Dave what are you talking about? That’s your setting. [laughs] And that’s DTG.
Dave: From struggling with hoodies… to going to that. That’s pretty awesome.
Gabe: And that was on a tri-blend, too.
M: I know you don’t mess with the design, but how much ability do you have to improve the art file before printing?
Dave: There are instances where we don’t get the best art. A lot of times, we’ll get people’s old cell phone photos. And there’s only so much you can do with that. When we get really good, really solid art, it’s just the best. Then there really is a lot you can do to maximize that.
Gabe: But even then, anything we change is a global change– we won’t be able to pick one part of the design and change only that part.
Dave: That is another big misconception. It’s like, hey, bump up the reds on this. And that’s really not a function of our department.
Gabe: If I try to bump up that red, it’s also gonna bump up the yellow, the red, the black, every other color, everything. It’s a global saturation setting, not individual. Underbase? You’re just changing the white, the total white.
M: So spend a bit more time with DTG art files in the graphics programs. Boost up that individual red, the saturation, levels, and everything. That’s where you have the controls for that.
M: So what’s your favorite T-shirt to print on, or material in general?
Gabe: We both love the Bella+Canvas 3001c.
Dave: Any Bella+Canvas, or the vast majority of Bella+Canvas stuff.
M: That’s the 100% cotton, ring-spun, airloom, whatever whatever.
Dave: It just seems like it always prints really well. It just takes the ink super well.
Gabe: And it feels great. Yeah.
Dave: Yeah. They’re just… they’re great shirts. They run really well in here. Unlike the shirts that we would have problems with– other styles– they just seem to run fine in here. Yeah, just absolutely fine.
M: Wow. And are they comparable to the Next Level 3600?
Dave: Yeah, it’s comparable. The Next Level 3600 is right under it, for me. We don’t deal with a ton of other styles from them. I also don’t know if they have a ton of other styles.
Gabe: We do a lot of their tri-blends and things like that.
Dave: Yeah. And they seem to be fine.
Gabe: We were just talking about a Bella+Canvas tri-blend hoodie that we fell in love with not that long ago. I personally love printing on like hoodies and sweaters. I just find something very satisfying about a vibrant print on that kind of garment.
M: What are some of the typical daily challenges you have to deal with?
Dave: We see we see new styles of garment every day. We don’t, I mean as a company, we don’t say no to anything. We say yes and then we figure it out later. Which is awesome. But also that it presents a huge challenge for us.
Usually, we can find a way to work through it. It’s usually not that bad. Every once in awhile there’s some stuff that just doesn’t work. We get a lot of stuff with stain treatment on it, which doesn’t allow our fixation to work and our water-based ink just slides right off of it.
Gabe: Yeah, literally, as you pick it up it just falls off.
Dave: [laughs] Sometimes we’ll get stuff that’s just crazy for us to print on like crazy button-down shirts. Andy Vo [sales rep] really likes to test us. Almost, almost every day. It will be something I have to bring back to him, like dude, are you serious? [laughs] C’mon.
Gabe: Other things besides garment challenges, one of the most important things that me and Dave do across the room is spot checking quality. That is very important. It’s gonna look one way when it’s wet on wet on the board, and then one way when it comes down the dryer. So we’re constantly doing a walk around the room, doing quality checks, you know, DTG printer errors, ink floods, head strikes, channel dropouts.
One of the big things in this room is actually the temperature of the room and the humidity of the room. Recently, we had an issue where the temperature spiked and machines were overheating literally in a domino effect. So we had to open every door and throw fans in the doorways.
Dave: Yeah, it was– seriously– Lucas actually saved the day on that one. [Lucas was walking by and waves]
Gabe: He literally did, honestly, but it’s one of those things that we constantly need to be aware of. And everyone in the department, even people in expo were like, hey… it’s definitely a little bit too warm in here. And we were like, what’s going on? It’s an issue that we need to be aware of. And like I said, it causes a domino effect of errors across the room. And when that happened, the other day it was in the middle of our crunch time.
We took the windows off every one of these machines, had fans pumping throughout the room. It was it was intense.
Dave: The print systems on these machines and will overheat pretty easily if they get real hot real fast.
M: So you need a pretty controlled environment as far as temperature and humidity.
Dave: Yes. I mean, for best practices, sure. You could probably get away with less than what we have. I would always love more.
M: That’s interesting. I bet a lot of people don’t even think about that.
Dave: I mean with any printer, right? Like any printer you have, but what we’re talking about is a very expensive printer that we want to take care of as well as possible. You know, there are environments where the heads are just going to be the happiest. You know, like the free printer you get when you buy your computer. You’re probably just going to throw away when it doesn’t work because you get another one for 50 bucks or wherever. But these are not those.
M: What are the qualities you look for in a DTG employee?
Gabe: If we’re speaking about printers, yeah, operators of our Kornit machines. The ability to multitask is very important because we do a lot of one to three piece orders. It’s a matter of grabbing anywhere from seven to thirty jobs at a time and setting up that many at a time so you can have proper flow, an efficient flow.
Being computer literate. But mainly keyboard shortcuts and things like that. It helps with efficiency on a machine. You know, little basic control shortcuts go a long way with being efficient here.
M: What else?
Gabe: Other ones would probably be… communication is key. Not just here in this department, but like we have a lot of shared print methods where we do DTG back, screenprint fronts. Vinyl sleeve. And it’s a 57 piece order to get out the door efficiently and effectively and with the top quality, we need to make sure that communication is top of the line across the board and held across the building.
So communication is key and the ability to work on the pressure. We are RushOrderTees, we get orders in at 6 o’clock if you need to go out by 8. So you have to be able to hit your stride under pressure.
M: That’s a good question. How many jobs are same-day jobs?
Dave: A good chunk of them. Like, a bunch of the jobs that were running and getting out today came in this morning and last night. I mean, it’s hard for me to quantify that without going through the list.
M: But a decent amount, right? Of orders coming in the morning and shipping out at the end of the day?
Dave: Yeah. I mean, we have a production list for the day and we print out more than that almost every day. So we’ll print stuff that’s on for tomorrow, the next day, whatever is ready, whatever’s in front of us we’ll just try and get out, or get done. And then, I would assume the vast majority of stuff that we’re gonna get at 5 o’clock today needs to go is stuff that was placed this morning or last night.
M: Any memorable moments over the past year worth mentioning?
Gabe: I have one. It was not that long ago, we had a Kornit tech come out to help us do PM kits across the room and that took about two weeks.
M: What’s a PM kit?
Gabe: Preventative maintenance. So breaking down and de-rusting everything and upgrading.
Dave: Changing filters, stuff like that
Gabe: Lines. Preventative maintenance things, which we do a lot of in-house. But it’s good to have a Kornit technician really dive into each one of these machines. That’s their focus point, not the production, not anything else, just the machines themselves. And he came in, and when it was his last day here, we were wrapping up the last machine on the PM kit and we literally had four machines go down within ten minutes of each other. Dave walks in the door, and me, Eric, the Kornit tech, we’re just looking at each other like… [laughs]. Two ink floods, one major channel drop out and one skip. We pulled the Kornit tech off what he was doing like, hey man we need you. And we’re all just sitting here sweating’ and feeling the chaos.
M: [laughs] When it rains, it pours.
Gabe: Yeah. But honestly, we got all those machines back up within a couple hours. Back up an in production. So it was fun, but… [laughs]
M: A little roller coaster ride that day.
Gabe: Oh, yeah. [laughs] I was like, there ya go, there’s a little curve, a little pothole on the road.
RIVALRY: DTG vs SCREEN PRINTING
M: Do you feel there’s a rivalry with screen printing?
Dave: For me personally, not at all. [laughs] It’s just two different things. I don’t think like for me it’s like one is better than the other or anything like or just we’re good at different stuff. The feel is different. It just depends on what the customer wants. You know, it depends on what they’re looking for. No, not at all.
I mean, we work really well with our department. The guy who runs the department is like one of my best friends in the world. So I don’t feel that from them ever. There have only been a couple opportunities where we get to print the same wild print or something. And it’s just interesting to see how they’re different. To me, neither of them is better necessarily. It just depends on what you want.
Gabe: It just depends on what actually needs to be printed, the art itself. I don’t think there’s a rivalry at all. It’s just the world of DTG hasn’t been exposed to them, so there are just some misconceptions about what we do here. All departments have their strengths and their weaknesses.
M: One of the big Google searches about printing is: What’s better, screen printing or DTG? That’s why I wrote that one article. And then from an industry standpoint, a lot of people who are starting a company or whatever, they don’t know what to get, they’re like: Should I invest in an automatic press or should I get a couple DTG machines or…?
Dave: I think it depends on the kind of business you want to do. If you want to do a bunch of small piece orders like we do in this department, then DTG is the way to go but if you want to do large orders with lots of pieces, screen printing is the way to go. And it also depends on what kind of stuff you’re printing on and what kind of stuff you’re printing, right? There’s a lot of factors to think about.
M: And some of it is from the customers’ standpoint, and some of it is from the printer’s.
Dave: To me, again the quality is not really a thing. There are some things I like better in either, but then I hear from people that they wanted it the other way around. Or maybe they want a different method that I haven’t thought of.
Gabe: There’s also machines out there that utilize both. Screen printing the underbase and then DTG the colors on top. I’m sure that will be a more expanding technology in the next 10 years.
Dave: Oh yeah we’re going to see some crazy advancements. I definitely think we will.
Gabe: I can’t say for sure, but I think that’s where the industry’s R&D [research and development] is headed.
Dave: I think you’ll still see stuff in screen printing, but it’s like, what else can you do?
Gabe: Yeah, like how can you make an auto [automatic press] better?
Dave: I think you’ll see minor advancements in the technology, maybe in the inks themselves, you’ll see some stuff happen. But screen printing’s been around forever. At the core of it, its the same technology its always been. But this [DTG] is changing rapidly and constantly.
M: So as soon as it eclipsed screen printing, as far as what that can do, is it game over?
Dave: That’s the thing, though I feel like it’s always going to be different. In the same way, as a culture we got rid of vinyl and then brought it back. Now you see the same thing with tape. It’s just a different feel, right? You might like one thing for this and one thing for another. Even if it gets to the point where DTG is exactly like screen printing… a hand-printed shirt might be more valuable than a machine-printed shirt.
M: And then there’s all the specialty inks that DTG can never do. Glitter and puff and gel…
Dave: Well maybe someday. But even so, screen printing won’t go away. It will always be a huge part of this business.
M: A lot of people think of it as an art form too. You look at rock posters, fine art print-making…
Dave: Remind me to send you this thing, these amazing Italian rock posters.
M: So what advice would you give to someone who is setting up their artwork for a digital print?
Dave: For us in here with these machines, it’s always: Pump up the vibrancy a little bit and make sure that we have enough underbase.
Gabe: Don’t be afraid to pump up the saturation, we lose a little bit during the curing process.
Dave: Give us a little bit more so we have more to work with.
M: A little sharpening too, of the image?
Dave: Sharpening helps a lot too.
Gabe: High. Res. Images. [laughs]
Dave: [laughs] Well yeah [laughs] also that…
M: Yeah. [laughs] That’s like the number one thing.
Gabe: You know what they always say… sh*t in, sh*t out. [laughter]
M: So no crappy cellphone pictures?
Dave: Yeah I mean, if you give us gold then we can make gold. It really all starts with the art. If the art is good, we’ll be good.
Imri: What advice would you give to a printer looking to expand into digital?
Dave: I would just be open to ideas, do a lot of research. Definitely, buy a machine that is tested and know all the stuff that’s gonna go into it. Like if you’re getting an Epson system, know that you’re also going to set up a pre-treatment section, you’re going to need a heat press for that, you’re going to need all this extra stuff. Pay a lot of attention to the stuff outside of the machine as well.
Check your art, check your drying, the way that you’re dying, your drying times, all that stuff, your heat. It’s not just what’s happening in the machine, lots of stuff to think about when you’re getting into digital. Get a machine that fits your budget, maybe even less than that so that you have room to do all the stuff you have to do around the machine.
M: Right. So leave a budget for all of the things that are probably going to go wrong.
Dave: Also, I can’t stress enough the environment for the machine is super important. When you’re spending thousands of dollars on a printer, or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a printer, take care of that thing.
Gabe: And always know that the people that make the printers are not making their money off the hardware– it’s the ink, it’s the media, it’s things like that. So always put into the budget that the slower you print, the more ink you’re going to dump, the more you’re going to have to purchase.
Dave: I don’t know any of this for a fact but I would already guess that we’ve spent more money on ink than we have on the printers. Probably. If not, close to it.
M: That’s how it is with an inkjet from Staples too.
Dave: Oh yeah, totally.
Gabe: Across the board. Sublimation printing was like that. Epsons, Mimakis, Ricos, they’re not looking at the hardware as the money-making, they’re looking at the contract for the 5 years that you’re spending with them to purchase the ink the fixation, or whatever it is… the media, transfers.
M: What do you see happening with DTG in the next few years?
Gabe: In our department, I would say HD ink upgrade to our machines. More machines, more belts. In DTG as a whole? More coverage, and more speed. More coverage per pass.
Dave: Sort of a wider bandwidth in the printing itself. We’ve already looked at Kornit’s newest machine, which is just a monster. I watched a video of it and when the pallet comes back at you from the angle that they showed it, I jumped out of my seat. [laughter] Ridiculous! But, true. You know, I’ve stood behind these machines and when the pallet comes out and if you’re close enough, it’s gonna whack– not hard, but– that one would have knocked you out. That thing. It’s so fast.
Gabe: One of the things we always look for when looking at new printing technologies online and Youtube videos that they don’t show are how much of that color is dropping when it’s passing just once. How long is it going to take for a full front print, how many strokes is it going to need to do that. That’s one thing that they shy away from showing you.
M: Last question, what about your job do you feel most proud of?
Dave: I think we hav a very similar answer for this.
Dave: It’s definitely our team. Just in this past year I’ve really noticed a lot our team talking about printing itself, to each other. Going from like, B.S.ing about whatever’s going on, to being like “Hey man, look at this. Look what I figured out.”
Gabe: “Check out this poly-print I did in one pass.”
Dave: Yeah. “Look at these things I’m learning about doing.” And they’re sharing that experience with each other, I’m super proud of that. I could not be happier with our team.
Gabe: Seeing our team grow as fast as they have been growing and just being there for them and supporting them in that honestly makes every day a blessing.
M: And if they’re talking about these prints it means they’re concerned about the quality…
Dave: Oh, absolutely. I had a conversation with Jason Haft the other day about how, before I was even here, we used to set up our prints in such a way where we were saving money on ink. And he doesn’t want people to think like that. And I was like, man, no one is concerned about the ink cost, all they care bout is th quality. They just want to put out the best shirt possible.
And that’s awesome. A lot of these guys don’t treat it like a job, it’s a passion to them, and that’s just really cool. It’s really cool to come into a workplace where people are excited about the work they’re doing.
M: Totally. One hundred percent.
Dave: We have some printers that have been here for a little over a year now who, just, to me, have no right to be as good as they are. [laughs] It’s crazy. It just blows my mind how good and thorough these guys are, and how invested they are in the process, and just the print method itself. It’s awesome.
M: It’s probably a kind of a trial by fire working here, too, you’re just kind of thrown into it.
Gabe: Yeah, one hundred percent.
Dave: Absolutely, as much as we train people, there’s only so much you can learn in that time. You’re just learning the whole time. Like we said, we’re still learning, everyday. No one in here has mastered this print process.
Gabe: Just when you think you mastered it, there’s new garments that come rolling through that you have to figure out.
Dave: There’s always something new to figure out. You might be able to– even if you optimize something so that it’s just the smallest bit better, that’s awesome.
M: And with the volume that we do here, it gives people a chance to accelerate that learning process.
Dave: Absolutely. I suggest to my team, hey before you go on break if you have an idea that you want to try, just find a test shirt and do it. Take an opportunity of your time to mess around on the machine a little bit. Try some crazy setting that you have an idea for. Some of the best stuff has come out of that, it’s really awesome. A.. it’s awesome that they’ll take their own time to do it. And B… that they’re just thinking about it to that level, it’s incredible.
Gabe: To add onto that, and it’s just in addition to the team cause we’re all one team, one goal, one mindset in this building, whether you’re in screen printing, vinyl, embroidery, sales, customer care, dev, art wherever you’re in. My direct managers, as well as the production support teams across this building, do an amazing job, making me and Dave and all the leads in this building feel like we have the support to get the job done. The communication in the building is great, and that just speaks to the culture in this building. We’re all here for each other, just one team working together.
M: That’s great. And that’s it! Thanks, guys. Forty-five minutes. I have a lot of typing to do.
Dave & Gabe: Thanks, M.
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Hope you enjoyed the interview and got some value from it.
About the Author
A graduate of the Multimedia program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Imri Merritt is an industry veteran with over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry.