Last week, Ryonet held a webinar where expert Luke Ryerkerk highlighted the six questions you should ask when you buy a direct-to-garment printer. Special guest Snarky Cancer joined to share their experience of adding digital to their shop. In case you missed it, here are the specifics of what you need to look for in a DTG printer.
WHAT ARE THE TOTAL INK COSTS AND OPTIONS?
Very important to know all the hard and estimated ink costs with a printer.
What is the cost per ml of ink in the cartridge?
This will help determine average print cost and allow you to estimate running costs.
The cost per print that's given should be an average cost. Ask for a cost based on a 12x12” image. This takes care of overall average print sizes the majority of prints you run will be.
Look for a cost on black, color and white shirts.
Average cost per head cleaning?
You’ll typically do at least one head cleaning daily and more depending on how much or little you use the printer.
If the printer does “auto-maintenance” ask how often and at what cost.
Is there a bulk ink or refillable option?
This is very important, because typically you will save a good amount of money when switching to bulk ink.
I always recommend starting with a closed cartridge system with your first DTG and then graduate to bulk/refillable ink when you are printing daily for a couple hours each day.
Bulk ink can actually cause more issues than it will save in money if you’re not using the machine daily, so I recommend sticking with pre-filled cartridges until the time is right.
This is a big one that can commonly be misleading.
Ask for a list of these maintenance procedures:
Daily Startup Routine
Usually the routine is to shake the ink, turn the printer on, perform a nozzle check, and commonly do a head cleaning. It can be more depending on the printer and use of the machine.
The main task will be performing a head cleaning as needed.
Recommended best practices are also cleaning the capping station/wiper blade and under the printhead.
Some printers have a specific weekly maintenance.
It’s always recommended to dust off your printer and wipe down the encoder strip weekly for all, but some require the tubes to be flushed and additional costly processes.
Again look for things like tubes being flushed, bulk cartridge replacements and other “worst case scenario” options to be prepared.
HOW MUCH DOES A REPLACEMENT PRINTHEAD COST AND CAN I INSTALL IT MYSELF?
DTG printers are just like cars, parts wear out and need replacement overtime. The most costly of these parts is typically the printhead and you WILL have to replace it at some time.
Average printhead life is different from shop to shop and machine to machine, but there are some common factors.
They will typically wear out after the common one year warranty and within three years of owning the machine.
Many shops put a budget together to replace a printhead yearly or every 18 months.
Can I replace it myself? What’s the process like and warranty on the new part?
This is a big one! Can I replace the printhead myself and will it be under warranty if I do?
Some manufacturers require that they install the printhead and this is an additional charge on top of the actual cost of the printhead.
If you can install it yourself, get an idea on what the process looks like and if the new one will be covered under a one year warranty.
Are any additional parts recommended to replace when you replace a printhead?
This is typically a yes as the printhead if affected by other parts.
The ink system and capping station are key parts that are commonly recommended to also be replaced with a new printhead. This is not always needed, but your manufacturer or the person who you purchased the printer from should be able to recommend the best steps forward.
WHAT IS THE WARRANTY ON THE MACHINE?
Typically these are put into three sections.
Usually one year mfg warranty and they are commonly dependent on the correct use of the machine.
These are parts that are touched by ink like the ink system, capping station, tubes, maintenance tank, and dampers.
Typically they are worn parts and not covered under warranty since they simply wear out over time and should be relatively inexpensive to replace.
Existing Printer Parts
Things like the computer boards, motors and sensors on the machine.
WHAT RIP IS INCLUDED? IS THERE A PREMIUM OPTION?
The RIP is commonly missed when talking about a machine, but it’s what you’ll be working with just as much as the printer itself.
A RIP processes the image and tells the printer how to print that image based on the garment color and image you’re printing.
Commonly printers will include a basic RIP that will do a pretty good job, but I find myself recommending shops upgrade to a more premium one within the first year with some models.
Make sure to ask the costs of the premium RIP (commonly up to $1k or more)
WHAT TYPE OF TRAINING AND SUPPORT DO THEY PROVIDE?
Knowing that the person you’re purchasing the DTG from has your back is just as important as the machine itself...if not even more.
Getting into DTG is a new process for most printers and there is a bit of a learning curve. It’s extremely important to get feedback on what that looks like and how they’re going to help you.
Ask what the initial training/installation looks like and how the first 90 days typically goes with a new printer.
When a part wears out, what is the process to get a new one and how can I get help on replacing it?
If someone has to come out, what are the costs and is this commonly needed within the first year?