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5 Solutions to Tame Frustrating Digital Prints

5 Solutions to Tame Frustrating Digital Prints

Unraveling common challenges of DTG decoration.




WE ALL AGREE THAT apparel decoration methods have some challenges and limitations. New decoration processes rarely are — if ever — as easy as your salesperson promised when you bought your machine. Early on in the ever-evolving world of garment decoration, direct-to-garment (DTG) technology promised a revolution, simplifying production processes and minimizing labor with its seemingly effortless approach.

While it’s true, DTG printing has helped fuel the print-on-demand revolution, this printing process still has a few challenges. While mastering traditional methods like screen printing easily can demand two to three years of dedication, the main benefit of DTG suggests expertise can be attained in a fraction of that time — more like two to three months!

Here are five common production challenges to DTG printing and solutions to keep your production moving:

1. Dull Images after Heat Pressing

This is the most common issue decorators have with DTG printing. If you trust the Internet, the solution is to buy a conveyor dryer. And yes, a conveyor dryer is a perfectly good curing method for DTG. But I recommend a conveyor dryer when you buy that second or third DTG machine. Not because of dull images, but for the purpose of increasing production capacity. 

The real solution is a two-step process with your heat press. First, if you have large blocks of color in your image, lay the shirt aside and let it air dry for a couple of minutes. Some people choose to hover over the image instead, but that ties up your heat press and the same effect is achieved by just laying the shirt on a table.


Step two is to use the lightest pressure possible on your heat press. You only need to touch or “kiss” the garment with the heating element. Heat presses are contact heat sources, so just touching the garment is all that’s needed to cure the image. Following these two steps should resolve the dull image issue.

2. Getting Brighter Images on 50/50 Blends

100% ring-spun cotton is your best friend for DTG printing, followed by standard 100% cotton garments. The more polyester in the fabric, the more challenges you’ll face. 50% cotton/50% polyester fabric is near the limit for successful DTG printing. But sometimes your customer insists on a 50/50 red hoodie. You can make a salable garment with one simple trick.

Think about whatever amount of pretreat you commonly use on a fleece item and cut that amount in half. After pretreating, use your heat press to dry the solution on the shirt. Then repeat with the other half pretreat and dry with your heat press again. While the results will never be as bright as an image on a 100% cotton fleece or a 100% cotton outer fleece, you will get an acceptable image.

3. That Box Around the Image

Another reason DTG decorators jump to the conclusion that they need to buy a conveyor dryer is seeing a box (the outline of the heat press platen) around the image area. While there always is some appearance of heat press marks just like when you iron part of a garment, you can eliminate this on DTG shirts in two ways.

First, the most common cause of this box is from applying too much pretreat solution. Most decorators use too much pretreat. If the area around the image feels stiff, you’ve applied too much. Do some experimenting with using less pretreat while still maintaining a bright image.

Second, and I’ve discussed this before, is using too much heat press pressure. A simple method for finding the perfect pressure on a manual heat press is to load a shirt, place a piece of silicone-coated parchment paper on top, then clamp down your heat press. Back off on the pressure until you can pull the parchment paper from under the heating element. Then tighten slightly. That’s the perfect pressure.


If you’re still bothered by a slight box around the image, purchase an inexpensive steamer. With the shirt on a hanger, steam the box away before providing it to your customer. 

4. Some of the Design Fades After Washing

There’s usually only one culprit to partial fading of the image on a garment. It’s improper consistent curing. If you’re using a low-end heat press, that’s the reason for your issues. Cheap heat presses typically will not heat evenly nor recover temperature (get back up to heat quickly) during production. The solution? Buy a good quality heat press.

You’ve seen in this article I constantly go back to the heat press. Not only do you need to use it properly, but you need a good quality heat press to start with. Yes, they can be expensive in comparison, but a better heat press also will last years in your shop. It’s an investment well worth the money. No matter what type of decorator you are, a higher-end heat press will make a huge difference in your end products and in having return customers.

5. Prints are Different Between Yesterday and Today

So you’re doing a longer run, or you’ve started a job late in the day, with the intention of finishing in the morning. Today’s prints look perfect, just the way you want them. But in the morning, the print quality turns out to be not quite as good. Well, the problem is not the printer, and it’s not the heat press. It’s the pretreated shirt itself.

You’ve prepared the shirts properly, pretreated and dried them, and they’re stacked by the printer. But overnight or over the course of the day shirts can absorb moisture from the air, which in turn can impact the quality of the print.

The simple solution is to always heat press your shirts for just a few seconds before printing, whether they were just pretreated or you pretreated them yesterday. That simple 5-10 second step will assure there is no moisture in the shirt that can affect the water-based ink on the garment.

5 Solutions to Tame Frustrating Digital Prints

This dynamic design was printed on the Epson F2270 DTG/DTF printer using Garment Creator 2. The shirt was pretreated with Epson pretreatment using the SpeedTreater TX. The design was printed on the AWDis JTA001 100% cotton T-shirt. PHOTO COURTESY: WAYNE COMBS

5 Solutions to Tame Frustrating Digital Prints

Both DTG and DTF digital printing achieve great color and detail, although the processes are very different. Here, the New Era 39thirty hat has a heat-applied DTF transfer printed from the Epson F2270. The denim jeans were DTG and also printed on the Epson F2270. The machine can do both DTG and DTF printing so you’re able to offer both processes to your customer depending on his needs. PHOTO COURTESY: WAYNE COMBS

5 Solutions to Tame Frustrating Digital Prints



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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