By Olivia Cahoon
Part 2 of 2
Several methods are used to apply designs and patterns to textiles, including screen printing, dye-sublimation—direct or transfer, as well as direct digital printing. In direct to garment (DTG) printing, operators experience an easy-to-use system that yields high-quality apparel prints with detailed design and on demand fulfillment.
Trick of All Trades
Founded in 2016, the Print Refinery is a print shop and photo lab in Louisville, KY. The company originally operated as a MotoPhoto photo lab for 12 years in a 2,000 square foot workspace and offered digital and film printing as well as portrait photography. It started with seven employees, grew to 26, and now employs a staff of ten.
Today, the Print Refinery still offers photo lab services such as photo printing, film developing, photo restoration, and video transfer services. It also operates as a full print shop with digital printing, latex, sublimation, and DTG services in a 6,000 square foot space.
“We truly try to print anything on everything,” shares T.K. Broecker, owner, the Print Refinery Louisville East.
Its client base is well spread with customers ranging from soccer moms requesting photo prints to professional photographers in need of 20×30-inch aluminum chromolux prints. The same customers are also involved with their children’s sports and other personal groups who usually use the Print Refinery’s sublimation and DTG services.
Before DTG printing, the Print Refinery originally printed white shirts using sublimation and dark shirts with a white toner transfer system. To save cost and time, it purchased a RICOH Ri 3000 DTG printer from AnaJet, a Ricoh Company.
The RICOH Ri 3000 combines Ricoh design, manufacturing, and support with AnaJet innovations for a comprehensive DTG solution. Utilizing three MH2420 industrial-grade printheads, the DTG press has an average print speed of 51 seconds and 100 seconds for fine print.
According to Broecker, one of the biggest benefits of investing in the RICOH Ri 3000 is the savings per print on dark garments as well as only needing to run one heat press rather than two for different temperatures.
Adding DTG printing also strengthened the company’s wide format services by improving its one-stop shop reputation. “We try to be a one-stop shop for printing everything from large format signs, banners, vinyl graphics, shirts, shoes, and travel passports,” shares Broecker. “If we work hard to get a customer for vinyl graphics, it’s nice to be able to offer everything from the business cards to work shirts for the employees.”
With its RICOH Ri 3000, the print shop uses PowerBright PLUS ink from AnaJet. The Print Refinery prefers to use OEM inks to avoid challenges, especially if it is a new technology for the shop.
It also uses supplied AnaJet drivers for the press, which Broecker says works well with the shop’s current workflow. “If volume picks up we may have to consider a different option but this one works at this time.”
To prepare garments for printing, the Print Refinery applies Firebird Digital Inks’ non-staining DTG pretreatment FBX-100 for light and dark apparel. “We found that it gives a more consistent adherent to the garment than any other treatment,” offers Broecker.
For finishing, its DTG apparel requires a heat treatment. Currently, the shop uses two Geo Knight & Co., Inc. heat presses.
While the Print Refinery is confident in its DTG printing process and technology, it still experiences learning curves. At the moment, the biggest challenge is humidity.
According to Broecker, being in KY the shop is rarely in the right humidity range for DTG printing. As a solution, the company designated a room for DTG that is blocked off with plastic curtains and a humidifier operating 24/7. “Since doing so, we have noticed a much more consistent result from the printer.”
In 2019, repeat customer the Project Guild of LaGrange approached the Print Refinery for custom t-shirts. The Project Guild of LaGrange is an organization dedicated to making Oldham County, KY a better place to live.
The client needed custom t-shirts to sell at a fundraiser and create interest in its festival day. “They have done this for many years but recently got a new designer who wanted to do more than a single-color screen printed shirt,” says Broecker.
For the job, the Print Refinery selected AlStyle Shirts for the correct shade of yellow. The shop printed with white PowerBright PLUS ink using the RICOH Ri 3000 and finished the t-shirts with a Geo Knight heat press.
In two weeks, the Print Refinery printed 120 shirts ranging in size from youth medium to adult 3XL—totaling nearly 200 square feet. The t-shirts featured a single graphic displayed on the front.
The Project Guild of LaGrange t-shirts project was completed without any challenges. “This job did truly cover the entire color gamut and would have been impossible to do with a toner transfer due to the color gradients,” shares Broecker.
The Project Guild of LaGrange was pleased with its completed order. The printed t-shirts were one of the better received fundraising efforts yet. “They are gathering a second order, which will be the first time in ten years that they need to do that,” adds Broecker.
DTG printing complements the Print Refinery’s wide format services. As this technology continues to advance, clients take notice and opt for digital printing when given the choice.
“Designers are starting to know the difference between screen printing, toner transfer, and DTG. We are not explaining the reason we have to go with DTG and why it will be more expensive versus screen printing,” offers Broecker.
Click here to read part one of this exclusive online series, An Added Service.
Sep2019, Digital Output