Koi Fish Art
I’ve always loved drawing koi fish because of how they flow. They almost look otherworldly with their colors and shapes which allows me to get expressive with their patterns. I originally intended this drawing for screen printing which is why the artwork has very bold lines and defined separation between the splashing water and the koi fish. Screen printing is basically creating a stencil of an image using photosensitive chemicals on a mesh fabric. When done correctly an image is “burned” into the mesh using UV lights. When ink is pushed through the stencil and the little tiny holes in the mesh it creates a picture on the opposite side.
When you begin to add multiple colors to your project the process becomes exponentially difficult because each color requires its own screen and color separation. The benefits of screen printing is that simple prints are much cheaper to produce because ink and maintenance of the machine is minimal. The prints also have longevity and last as many washes the shirt can handle. The time to produce is also much faster compared to Direct to Garment Printing. After the initial set up which takes a couple hours, each shirt takes only a minute to print compared to the 6-10 minutes it takes for a DTG printer. The downside is you are very limited by the colors you can use and it is not cost effective to print less then 25 shirts.
Direct to Garment Printing
When we got our Direct to Garment printer (Omniprint FreeJet330tx Plus) I was very excited because this allowed me to take some of my old artwork and add deeper color to it. The DTG (Direct to Garment) printer works more like a desktop printer and can print full color photographs directly on fabric. This opened up huge doors in what I was able to do with my art. Now I can incorporate full color images and color gradients instead of being forced to very defined colors. In the video you can see exactly how the DTG works. On dark shirts it first prints a layer of white as a base for the second pass of color. Normally when printing on white shirts you don’t have to print a base coat of white which is why the prints cost less.
What I didn’t really factor into the whole process was something called the “Pre-treat” phase. Before shirts can be printed on they need to have a layer of chemical applied to it to give the DTG printer ink a consistent flat surface to adhere to. This step actually costs quite a bit of time and money because it is required if you want to have a clean vibrant print. Think of it like adding primer to a paint job before applying color. It helps the paint stick and show up better. I’ll go through the process more in depth in a future blog. I’m really happy with the quality of the prints and the fact that we can actually print one-offs instead of having to have a 25 shirt minimum with screen printing but there are a few more downsides to DTG.
Most DTG printers require daily maintenance, flushing lines, cleaning heads, etc which adds up to a lot of money at the end of the month to make sure your huge investment doesn’t explode. We purchased the FreeJet330tx Plus because of the minimal maintenance costs and we’re pretty happy with it. The cost of ink is also quite expensive. For screen printing I can buy a gallon of white ink for about $50-$70 while a gallons worth of cartridge of white from Epson would cost me $900. I know the conversion is screwy somewhere there but you get the point, ink is crazy expensive. Our DTG printer actually uses a bulk ink system where you fill bottles instead of the cartridge system so it saves us some money.
The biggest factor for me right now is time. Each DTG print requires a pretreat which takes about 2 minute including heat pressing, set up and print on the machine which takes between 4-5 minutes, and then another heat press curing which takes 3 minutes. Overall you’re looking at almost 10 minutes a shirt compared to 1-2 minutes for screen printing. It can really add up fast.
Overall I still think it’s a great system and we’re working on trying to improve our assembly line to make DTG more cost effective. I’m excited to try new designs and incorporate some cool pictures into my shirts!
Till next time!