You can wave goodbye to pretreatment and hello to the direct printing of cottons, polyesters, wood, glass, metal… with the new Direct Color Systems (DCS) 1800z F6T Edition printer and flexible F6T UV-curable inks, from Resolute DTG

Ask any DTG print shop to name its biggest bugbear with the DTG printing process and you’re likely to receive the same one-word answer: “pre-treatment”. For most, the day when they are able to cut out the pre-treatment step altogether – saving time, money and hassle – cannot come too soon.

If the latest innovation from US manufacturer Direct Color Systems (DCS) delivers on its early promise, then that day may have arrived sooner than expected: the company’s new 1800z F6T Edition printer and flexible F6T inks print directly on garments with no pretreatment required. Priced at £23,000 + VAT, the machine works on cotton, polyester, leather and other fabrics. What’s more, the same printer and inks can also be used to print on a wide range of hard and flexible substrates, including phone cases, water bottles, glass, wood, slate, pens and metal. And whatever the substrate used, prints exit the machine dry to touch.

UV LED curing

Michael Perrelli, marketing manager at Direct Color Systems, explains: “It is a UV printer that has DTG capabilities. This printer has both DTG and rigid capabilities, like cylindrical, texture [effects] and our patented ADA/Braille signage.

“When people think of DTG printers, they think water-based inks and the maintenance that is needed to keep the print heads firing properly. Our printers utilise UV LED curable ink and will not dry out due to oxygen. In fact, oxygen is an inhibitor for our inks. All of our inks cure with the UV LED lamp that travels with the print head. Water-based inks require the image to be set by a heat press or it will smudge once handled. You can run your hand over a UV LED printed product as soon as it is finished and the image will not smear or smudge.” Michael reports that the machine’s modest maintenance requirements involve a weekly inspection followed by cleaning and lubrication if required.

Rui Carvalho, director of sales and business development at DCS, with the new printer

The new system was exhibited at the Sign & Digital UK and Fespa shows earlier this year, where visitors could see the new machine printing designs on the 100% cotton Gildan Softstyle T-Shirt (64000), and the 100% polyester Men’s Cool Contrast Vest (JC008) and 100% polyester Contrast Cool T by Just Cool by AWDis. “The vibrancy is comparable to a good sublimation ink with a very similar hand,” says Colin Marsh, managing director of Resolute, UK distributors of the new machine. “Printing onto dark colours requires the use of harmless water mist; this partially floats the white ink particles on the surface of the garment during the light curing process that is performed in the printer automatically. The dark printed samples are again quite simply stunning compared to standard water-based DTG inks on polyester. On darks where white ink is used the prints do have a feel to them but no more than you would expect and nothing as heavy as a transfer. They do, however, have an amazing amount of stretch with no cracking and return back to the original shape quickly – this is one of the most unique features of these new inks.”

Odour is a problem with many inks and while the F6T inks are low-odour, Colin says the finished product does have a faint smell. He explains that as the ink is cured inside the printer, it has no chance to ‘breathe out’. There are two ways to rid the product of the smell: either place the garment in a heat press at 150ºC for 20-30 seconds or leave the prints in the open air – in sunlight if possible – for a couple of hours.

The new printer can even print onto leather

Washability is a potential area of concern with UV LED curable inks, but Colin is quick to counter this. “In over ten years experience of DTG printing I have never witnessed durability in the wash like the new F6T inks give,” he says. “Starting at 40ºC using a standard wash cycle, I began tests. After five washes the printed image had not changed at all – this really was quite amazing as it was covered in dense black, which is very hard to keep black with standard water-based DTG inks. I then increased the temperature to 60ºC and included a tumble dry. Again, five washes later, quite amazingly the image looked exactly the same as the original. Super bright colours and the black was still as dense with no sign of fibres or fading.”

A final point Colin raises is safety. “DCS has been working on the DTG process for over three years now. This recent development sees documentation presented for public download showing the inks are fully tested for the DTG process.”

The 1800z F6T Edition printers have six colours and eight ink channels: CMYK, two whites and two clears. “All of our printers are equipped with a complete white ink circulation system,” adds Michael. “White ink must remain in suspension to maintain optimal opacity and to ensure proper jetting through the print head. Our system will automatically circulate the white ink at a specified interval. Operators no longer need to shake white ink cartridges or perform large amounts of white ink flushes or cleans to keep their white ink in an optimal setting.”

The 1800z F6T can print on a wide variety of fabrics, including polyester

It’s too early to tell how this development will affect the direction of the DTG market, but judging by the conversations it generated both at Sign & Digital and at Fespa in Berlin in May, this new technology is being keenly observed by others in the industry. Michael believes that while traditional DTG-only water-based ink printers will remain a popular choice, DTG with UV will grow due to its wide range of capabilities. “Many customers are always looking for ways to expand their business, and the versatility of our equipment offers that to them,” he concludes.

Number crunching

It’s always difficult to quantify a printer’s maximum production rate, as many variables affect the number of shirts that it can print per hour – the choice of print mode and print size, in particular. As a guide, though, the 1800z F6T Edition printer is capable of the following, based on a 23cm by 23cm printable area: White shirts (colour-only print): Approximately 45 an hour with an ink cost as low as US$0.35 per shirt. Black shirts (white then colour): Approximately 12 an hour with an ink cost as low as US$1.24 per shirt.