A Direct-to-Garment Deluge
The garment-inkjet floodgates are wide open, leaving many screen printers who want to boost revenues with complementary digital technology drowning in options. This article will help you wade through the crowded pool of printers.
Garment screen printers who are looking to digital technology to handle the short runs, one-offs, walk-in business, and other opportunities that might not be profitable on their presses now have more choices than ever. The market for direct-to-garment inkjet printers is now occupied by nearly five times more manufacturers than those mentioned in Screen Printing magazine’s first look at the technology (“Garment Printing Joins the Jet Set,” Sept. 2005, p. 66).
The past four years have ushered in a greater number of printers that offer the ability to print white ink as an underbase or highlight on dark garments, faster print speeds, more colors, solutions for tighter registration, controls for ink saturation and vibrancy, and more. Read on to find out more about the direct-to-garment inkjet printers available today and the models some manufacturers plan for launch in the near future. Contact information for each manufacturer is provided in the source list on page 24.
The FP-125 from AnaJet offers printers the ability to manage ink flow via a 15-level ink-volume control and five levels of fabric-dependent volume adjustment. The inkjet printer can image onto garments made of 100% cotton, poly-cotton blends, and certain types of 100% polyester. It’s designed to deliver full ink saturation in a single print pass. The FP-125 uses water-based, pigmented inks from AnaJet and features a closed-loop ink-delivery system with sealed ink cartridges, a feature engineered to prevent air pockets and foam formation. Users can switch between a CMYK and CMYK + White configurations. A 12.5 x 16-in. (318 x 406-mm) shuttling print table takes care of garment handling, and the printer supports a maximum garment thickness of 0.6 in. (15 mm) and imaging resolution of 720 dpi. AnaPrint software is for decorating white, pastel, and light colored garments. An optional software RIP is available for printing onto black apparel. The device’s three-step workflow includes image selection, printing, and setting the image in a heat press or conventional garment dryer. The FP-125 runs on Windows XP or Vista (32-bit version) or on a Mac running Boot Camp or emulation software.
The Arakis Orbital is a custom-built carousel inkjet system that uses interchangeable, off-the-shelf printing platens. At its core is the Arakis Universal Printengine (AUP), which uses four valve-jet heads for white underbasing without pretreatment, plus four or eight dedicated Spectra heads for CMYK or spot colors (optional 2 x CMYK is available). Orbital supports up to four platens, each offering a maximum print area of 24 x 30 in. (610 x 762 mm). It can image onto garments at 300 and 600 dpi, and according to Arakis, the printer can complete a 16 x 20-in. (406 x 508-mm) print at 600 dpi in two minutes. A-Tex high-viscosity inks, and a white ink formulated for printing without pretreatment, are available from Arakis. Arakis also offers the AK-78 and AK-SP1/AK-SP2 inkjet printers, all of which use interchangeable, off-the-shelf printing platens. The AK-78 supports a 24 x 30-in. maximum print area. It can image at resolutions of 360, 720, and 1440 dpi. The system uses AUP technology and prints A-Tex standard inks. The AK-SP1/AK-SP2 printers support up to four platens with maximum print areas of 24 x 30 in. They image at 300 or 600 dpi, use Spectra printheads and A-Tex high-viscosity inks, and feature AUP technology. All Arakis printers offer the Arakis Easy Flush system for maintenance.
According to Azon, the Tex Pro direct-to-garment inkjet printer offers faultless printing, even on seams, collars, pockets, and clefts. The system uses bi-directional printing to decorate 20-70 light shirts/hr and 12-15 shirts/hr when using white inks on dark garments. It supports imaging resolutions of 720, 1440, and 2880 dpi and uses water-based pigmented inks (CMYK + 4 x White) to print onto cotton, polyester, silk, and other materials. An available pretreatment enhances ink adhesion. Tex Pro supports a maximum print area of 15.75 x 23.4 in. (400 x 594 mm) and garment thickness of 1.9 in. (50 mm). Tex Pro has USB and parallel computer connections, and its driver is compatible with Windows 95/98/9000, NT 4.0, and Mac OS (USB).
The Flexi-Jet from BelQuette is an eight-color (2 x CMYK) inkjet printer that supports a maximum print size of 16 x 20 in. (406 x 508 mm), maximum media height of 3 in. (76 mm), and imaging resolutions of 360, 720, and 1440 dpi. BelQuette says the printer’s linear movement is repeatedly accurate to ±0.0003 in. (0.0076 mm), which allows for printing without banding at 360 dpi. Additionally, a set of rollers is positioned below the printhead level to help protect the printhead and act as a reference guide. The system prints water-soluble dye inks. A white-ink upgrade is available, and BelQuette notes that garment pretreatment is only necessary when printing onto colored or black apparel. The company also will build special attachments for the printer. The printer’s Flexi-Rip software runs on Windows XP/2000.
The GT-541 from Brother uses water-based, pigmented inks to print onto 100% cotton and 50/50 cotton/polyester apparel. It supports 600-dpi resolution and a maximum print area of 14 x 16 in. (355.6 x 406.4 mm). The GT-541 offers single and double print modes and manual platen-height adjustment up to 0.48 in (12 mm). The system is compatible with Windows 2000/XP/Vista and connects via USB 1.1/2.0 and CompactFlash. Among the optional accessories are a machine stand, as well as youth, baby, pocket, and sleeve platens. Brother’s new GT-782 (pictured), set for a spring 2009 rollout, is a dual-platen inkjet printer that comes standard with white ink for decorating dark garments. Its independently controlled platens allow for printing two garments with different designs simultaneously. The GT-782 uses water-based, pigmented inks (CMYK + 4 x White) and prints at resolutions up to 600 dpi. The printer also offers underbase white and highlight-white volume control, as well as controls for color saturation, contrast, and ink volume. Two 14 x 16-in. (356 x 406-mm) platens are standard. Optional platens include 16 x 18, 10 x 12, and 7 x 8 in. (406 x 457, 254 x 305, and 178 x 203 mm) for oversize prints, youth garments, and baby apparel, respectively. Brother says the GT-782 supports print speeds up to 50-60 pieces/hr, 50-60 pieces/hour for dark garments in Standard Mode, and 30-40 pieces/hr for dark garments in Highlight White Mode. The device’s Windows-compatible driver allows for printing directly from graphics software such as Adobe Photoshop and CorelDRAW without use of a software RIP. The GT-782 offers USB (1.1/2.0) and CompactFlash connectivity.
Digital Color Corp.
Digital Color Corp. equipped its Aurora with what it describes as an oversized, industrial printhead designed to print high-viscosity ink on a full 11 x 11-in. (279.4 x 279.4-mm) design in fewer than 40 seconds. The printer also features a pressurized ink system engineered to maximize ink flow by eliminating excess air in the ink-delivery chain. Aurora comes standard with 4.5-ml ink reservoirs built in its printhead. The device supports a 12 x 18-in. (305 x 457-mm) maximum print area, 2-in. (51-mm) platen-height adjustment, uni- and bi-directional printing, and imaging resolutions of 300, 600, and 1200 dpi. The printer is designed for use with 100% cotton, and 50/50 blends. Digital Color Aurora RIP drives the printer and is compatible with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista. The machine interfaces with computers via a USB 2.0 connection.
DTG Digital Garment Printers
DTG offers four solutions for digital garment decoration. The Kiosk II is a seven-color (CMYK + 3 x White) printer that supports a maximum image area of 20.8 x 12 in. (528 x 305 mm) and imaging resolutions from 360-2880 dpi. The HM-1 Kiosk (pictured) is an eight-color printer (CMYK + 4 x White) that supports a maximum image area of 21.2 x 12 in. (538.5 x 305 mm) and imaging resolutions from 720-2880 dpi. HM-1 features auto reflush cleaning cycles, built-in bulk ink system, fan-forced ink extraction, and Head Moving Technology for enhanced registration accuracy. The DTG Bullet is an eight-color system (2 x CMYK or CMYK + 4 x White) that prints on materials up to 24 x 60 in. (610 x 1524 mm) and 14 in. (356 mm) thick at resolutions of 360-1440 dpi. It can accommodate four large size or up to eight standard size T-shirts at once. It features a refillable pressurized ink cartridge system, and optional platen sizes and an 8-liter bulk ink system are available. The DTG Xpress is an eight-color (2 x CMYK) printer that supports a maximum image area of 44 x 98 in. (1118 x 2489 mm) and imaging resolutions from 360-2880 dpi. It’s designed to handle a dozen large prints at a time or standard, smaller images at 15-20 garments at a time. All printers use DTGTEX inks and have drivers for Windows 95/98ME/NT/4.x/2000/XP and Mac OS 8.6 to 10.1 or later. DTG RIP Pro software requires Windows 2000, XP, or later.
The Durager 650-TP from Durafos is a seven-color (CMY + Red + Blue + 2 x Black) printer that supports a maximum print size of 12.95 x 20.5 in. (329 x 520 mm), imaging resolutions up to 5760 x 1440 dpi, and a maximum media height of 5.9 in. (150 mm). Durafos says its Durager 650-TP can print an image at A3 size (11.7 × 16.5 in. or 297 × 420 mm) in less than two minutes at 1440 dpi and notes that no garment pretreatment is necessary. The device can print directly from CorelDRAW, Adobe Photoshop, and Illustrator.
Graphics One’s GO Tee Rex Jr. sports what the company describes as an industrial design for long-term use. Tee Rex Jr. is a 24-in.-wide (610-mm) printer that uses GO FabriColor (2 x CMYK) inks and supports imaging resolutions up to 1440 x 720 dpi with Epson Variable Sized Droplet Technology. It accepts materials up to 1.57 in. (40 mm) thick and offers bordlerless printing at a variety of widths. The printer’s driver is compatible with Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Mac OS 9.1 or later, and Mac OS X 10.2 or later. It’s bundled with Wasatch SoftRIP with optional variable data capability. The printer in-terface is via USB 2.0 (compatible with 1.1) and IEEE 1394, and the printer has an expansion slot for an optional 10/100 Base-T card.
Among the recent developments at Kornit Digital is the Kornit 933 (pictured), an add-on station for carousel screen presses. It’s designed to allow screen printers to combine screen and digital printing techniques on the same garments without additional handling of the apparel. The all-in-one printing module is fastened to the carousel. It uses Spectra Nova AAA printheads and pigmented solvent or water-based inks (CMYK + White) for printing on light and dark garments. The 933 supports maximum print size of 15 x 19 in. (390 x 480 mm) and imaging resolutions up to 636 x 363 dpi. Kornit says the printer can decorate up to 200 shirts per hour with image sizes of 5 x 11 in. (127 x 279 mm). The company suggests the use of Onyx and Wasatch RIPs designed for Kornit. The company’s other offerings include the 931, 931DS, 932D, and 932NDS. The 931 is a dual-platen printer that uses a CMYK inkset and supports a maximum image size of 16 x 20 in. (406 x 508 mm) and imaging resolutions up to 630 dpi. Kornit says the printer can decorate up to 300 shirts per hour with image sizes of 5 x 11 in. The 931DS is a dual-platen printer that uses a CMYK + White inkset and supports a maximum image size of 20 x 28 in. (508 x 711 mm) and imaging resolutions up to 630 dpi. Kornit says the printer can decorate up to 220 light shirts per hour or up to 100 dark shirts at A4 size (8.3 × 11.7 in. or 210 × 297 mm). The 932NDS, which also is available as the Kornit 932 model for light garments only, is a single-platen printer that uses a CMYK + White inkset and supports a maximum image size of 14 x 18 in. (356 x 457 mm) and imaging resolutions up to 630 dpi. Kornit says the printer can decorate up to 70 light shirts per hour or up to 25 dark shirts at A4 size. The 932D is a single-platen printer that uses a CMYK + White inkset and supports a maximum image size of 14 x 18 in. and imaging resolutions up to 630 dpi. Kornit says the printer can decorate up to 70 light shirts per hour or up to 25 dark shirts at A4 size. All printers use proprietary inks and are compatible with Windows XP.
Lawson Screen & Digital Products
Lawson plans to make its entry into di-gital apparel decoration in August 2009 with the Digi-Tex, a printer the company describes as an industrial, high-speed system designed for decorating ad-specialties and textiles. It will have a modular head configuration to support the use of up to six colors and will offer a maximum imaging resolution of 600 dpi. Other features slated for the Digi-Tex include ad-justable platen and head height, adjustable print speeds, bi-directional printing, custom platen sizes, and more. Lawson reports that Digi-Tex will print at speeds up to 70 ft/min (21.4 m/min) or faster in some applications and print T-shirts at speeds up to 300 garments/hr. It’ll use water-based inks formulated for adhesion to cotton, 50/50 blends, and other materials. According to Lawson, five printer models are in the works, each of which will have a 4-in. (102-mm) print-path width, be compatible with Windows XP, and allow users to print from any art-creation and RIP software they choose. The Digi-Tex 4301 will support a maximum image size of 8 x 30 in. (203 x 762 mm) and come with a standard platen size of 6 x 24 in. (152 x 610 mm). Model 4302 will support a maximum image size of 4 x 30 in. (102 x 762 mm) and come with a standard platen size of 6 x 24 in. Model 4303 will support a maximum image size of 8 x 30 in. and come with a standard platen size of 6 x 24 in. Model 4304 will support a maximum image size of 8 x 30 in. and come with a standard platen size of 10 x 24 in. (254 x 610 mm). Model 16304 will support a maximum image size of 16 x 30 in. (406 x 762 mm) and come with a standard platen size of 17 x 21 in. (432 x 533 mm).
The i-Dot from M&R offers a 16 x 20-in. maximum print area and an eight-color (CMYK + 4 x White) i-Pak inkset for printing on light and dark garments. It comes with a 14 x 20.5-in. (356 x 521-mm) platen, but M&R says the i-Dot can print images up to 16 x 20 in. (406 x 508 mm) on cotton, 50/50 blends, and some polyester materials. The printer features M&R’s Absolute Position Technology (APT) and i-Color RIP Software. APT uses M&R’s proprietary high-resolution servo encoder. M&R says its custom-designed firmware integrates flawlessly with i-Color RIP software. APT also includes a PLC controller, servo amplifier, and servomotor-driven linear actuator. The i-Color RIP software is engineered to recognize and preserve Adobe Photoshop channels for creating transparencies and highlights in garment graphics and calculate the need for white underbase when printing on black garments. The system comes with a PC that’s loaded with M&R’s i-Color RIP software and has been configured and tested by M&R. The printer also features laser-guided substrate placement to helps ensure correct image positioning. The start-up kit for the i-Dot printer includes eight 220-ml i-Pak ink cartridges (CMYL + 4 x White), eight i-Clean cartridges for printhead flushing, i-Prep fabric pre-treatment for dark and colored garments, i-Tack platen adhesive, and i-Clean solution for cleaning individual printheads. Additional platens are available in three sizes: 4 x 20.5, 10 x 20.5, and 16.5 x 20.5 in. (102 x 521, 254 x 521, 419 x 521 mm).
Mimaki currently offers two systems for digital direct-to-garment printing. The GP-604 uses a 2 x CMYK pigmented inkset and images onto light-colored 100% cotton apparel at resolutions up to 720 dpi. It features a platen heater—a device Mimaki says raises garment temperature before printing in order to brighten colors. Also standard is a backlit LCD panel display that shows printing configurations during operation. The GP-604 offers bi-directional printing and supports a maximum print area of 16.5 x 24 in. (419 x 610 mm) and maximum printhead height of 5.7 in. (145 mm). A laser dot measures the printing area, and an LED sensor adjusts printhead height. Mimaki’s Raster Link GP software is included. It provides on-screen preview, support for various image-file formats, zoom/rotate/mirror functions, print-position adjustment, and batch printing for layouts of multiple data items. Connectivity options include IEEE-1284 and IEEE-1394. The GP-604D (pictured) shares many of the 604’s features, such as print size and head height, imaging resolution, RIP software, and connectivity. The primary difference is its ability to image onto light and dark garments. The GP-604D uses CMYK inks and a discharge fluid that removes the color of an organ-ically dyed T-shirt. The discharged areas on the garment can then be imaged with a full-color design. Alternatively, the print on a dark garment can be made with the discharge fluid alone. Mimaki specifies a daily maintenance routine for the 604D that involves replacing the cleaning liquid and discharge liquid remaining in the printer at the beginning and end of the printer’s work day.
The TexJet from OmniPrint prints at sizes up to 16.4 x 24.2 in. (417 x 615 mm), and OmniPrint says the system can handle as many as 60 T-shirts/hr with graphics sized at 8.5 x11 in. (216 x 279 mm). It supports bi-directional printing and imaging resolutions up to 2880 dpi, and it uses bulk-supplied, water-based pigmented inks (CMYK + White). Head height is adjustable to 1 in. (25.4 mm). The printer comes with TexJet RIP, which offers an ink-cost calculator. The FreeJet 320TX prints at sizes up to 12 x 18 in. (305 x 457 mm). According to OmniPrint, the system can produce an image appro-ximately 10 x 10 in. (254 x 254 mm) in size in 45 seconds. It supports bi-directional printing and imaging resolutions up to 2880 dpi, and it uses bulk-supplied inks (CMYK + 4 x White or 2 x CMYK). Head height is automatically adjusted via optical sensor up to 2 in. (51 mm). On-board control functions include auto cleaning, step and repeat, printhead management, and more. The machine features OmniPrint’s WetCap integrated head-cleaning system and comes with OmniPrint DirectRip software. The FreeJet 700TX (pictured) prints at sizes up to 24 x 59 in. (610 x 1499 mm). It supports bi-directional printing and imaging resolutions up to 2880 dpi, and it uses bulk-supplied inks (CMYK + 4 x White or 2 x CMYK). Head height is automatically adjusted via optical sensor up to 5.9 in. (150 mm). On-board control functions include auto cleaning, step and repeat, printhead management, and more. The 700 TX features OmniPrint’s WetCap integrated head-cleaning system and comes with OmniPrint DirectRip software.
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