DTG Maintenance January 13, 2020 – Posted in: dtg printer

DTG Maintenance

This is the most important thing you can do if you have a DTG digital printer. If you master this, the rest of the maintenance is easier, and you will be assured that the printer will continue functioning.

Let me start this section by immediately stating:

These DTG printers like to print a lot, and they like to print regularly.

If your printing shop does not handle a significant number of DTG printing, and the printer is unused for an extended period of time, you will immediately have a problem.

You have to address this either by promoting DTG prints to increase market demand or stop offering this printing style in your shop. You will be saving yourself plenty of headaches later.

I will discuss this subject in detail later in this article.

Having said this, I understand why people buy this printer even though they do not have a lot of DTG printing jobs. There are no setups, color separations, and tear downs needed right from the start; it is very convenient to use.

You need to use this printer regularly to prevent the white ink from settling in the printing lines and clogging the heads. These print heads are expensive, and will be the beginning of your problems over time.

You will not have issues with the CMYK inks.

White inks use titanium dioxide (TIO2) for pigment. TIO2 is heavy in weight and therefore is prone to settling. It needs to be moved regularly so that thi can be avoided.

I will now break down the maintenance tasks you will have to perform on a scheduled basis.

Daily DTG Maintenance

I will further break this down as to which are the tasks that you will perform to do at the start and end of the day.

You might this very interesting that all it takes is about 5 minutes of your time to perform all these daily tasks especially if you have mastered it.  Doing this regularly will make it quite easier for you and later become an essential component of your normal routines.

Start Of Day

Once you power on the DTG printer, you need to ensure that there will be at least two and up to three head cleaning cycles that will be completed.  

This will be a good start for you and the printer for this will guarantee that all the inks, especially the white ones, get moving.  You will clean up any head that might be clogged partially from previous days operations.

End Of Day

Aside from cleaning the exterior of the DTG printer with cleaning fluid and paper towels or rags to keep it pristine, you need to perform the following tasks.

Handling The Capping Station

The most important thing that you will do when you have finished the day’s operations is to clean the capping station of the DTG printer.  

This is the particular tray which goes against the head assembly and then caps it.  This action ensures that there will be no clogging happening in the head. It also seals this same head from outside sources every time you undertake this procedure.

Doing this task regularly prevents this same capping station from holding on to chunks of ink, especially white ones.  

The print head cleaning cycle also contributes here since the vacuum that gets these inks from the head and then flushes it to the waste tank has a part here.  There will be leftover ink remaining on the top part of the foam that is located at the of the capping station. It is just a matter time before these same inks will be accumulating and the will become dry.

And just to give you an incentive here to perform this task regularly.  

These capping stations that won’t handle capping will immediately result in clogging in the printing head and there’s no way that you can salvage this once it happens.  You will be spending about $500 to have this replaced.

To clean this device, I suggest that you do it with a foam-tipped swab that you can get from your printer supplier.  Do not use q-tips for they could leave cotton residue behind.

You can also get this swabs from medical supplies and drug stores.

Put some cleaning fluid such as Formula 409, window cleaner, or water to this swaps and apply to the capping station.  You can also use isopropyl alcohol.

Maintaining The Capping Station Moist

This is all about the foam that I have talked about in the previous section.  

There is a good chance that it will also become full of ink which will make it crisp and dry.  Keeping the capping station moist for the rest of the day will prevent this.

You need to put a couple of drops of this cleaning fluid before you leave for the day.

Handling The Wiper Blade

This wiper blade is the one which takes care of cleaning the bottom area of the print head.  

This is another part of the DTG printer that accumulates ink with regular usage because of the amount of ink being dumped here.

Since the wiper gets in contact with this part, it is only logical that there will also be a build-up of white ink happening here.  You will need to use the same cleaning liquid mentioned earlier.

Handling The Print Head’s Lower Part

It is known that to achieve the best DTG printing on dark shirts or any other shirts that you will to have the head at a very low position and close to the garment.  This will eventually result in the print head picking up the lint on these same garments which can also cause ink buildup.

You can think of this task as an added guarantee that this specific part will be clean for the wiper should be taking care of this.

Use the swabs soaked with cleaning fluid to wipe this lower part of the print head and around its edges. You have to ensure not to scrape the bottom part of the print head when you are doing this task.

Examining Your Ink Levels

This is an issue that is common with an open ink system.  

This is a system where a bigger reserve of ink can be tapped by your DTG printer so that it can continue printing.  Open ink systems address the concerns of printers such as low ink capacities and helps because it allows them to mix inks easily.  Its slide-out ink drawer setup also saves the operator plenty of time.

However, in this setup, there is an obvious close connection between the height of the ink bottles and the lower part of the print head.  If the bottles are quite high, ink will be siphoned later because of gravity. And if it is too low, you will get ink starvation.

The only way that you can work around this setup is ensuring that you don’t make the mistake of overfilling these ink cartridges and bottles.  Use your judgment here since it is common for manufacturers to overstate the ink level mark that they have set on these same bottles and cartridges.  You might just have to do a more constant ink refilling routine as a remedy.

Examining The Spit Tray

This is the particular part of the DTG printer located at the side farthest from the capping station.  

The printer, when it stops. constantly throws out ink to this part during printing operations.  The purpose of this process is to keep the ink flowing.

Since this is a constant occurrence, ink buildup is very much possible in these spit trays which can cause the head to eventually pick some up.  You will need to clean this spit tray the same method as you have cleaned the parts mentioned in this article. Don’t overflow it also.

Performing A Nozzle Check

If you are doing nozzle checks regularly, you will be taking positive action towards preventing DTG white ink problems in the future.

A nozzle check is a test print that shows how many nozzles are firing or working normally.  You will know that there is a problem immediately if all of them are working well and yet, you are getting a weak print.  And if they are now working to full capacity, then it is safe to say that you will be getting an expected weak print.

Also, instances of seeing jagged lines and a certain color line missing are potential problems that can go bigger if not addressed right away.

Causes of nozzles not performing to its 100% capability include a DTG printer that is inactive for quite some time, a clogged capping station, or a wiper blade that is crusted.

I suggest that you get a clear film or any transparent material so that you can verify if white ink is printing normally.  For obvious reasons, this will not hack it if you print on white paper.

Shaking The Inks Especially The White One

As mentioned earlier in this article, CMYK inks are relatively fine even if not used regularly but which is not applicable with white inks.  There will be parts of this ink (TIO2 pigment) that will settle overnight and if you are unlucky, even small chunks of it. And even if you shake these ink with chunks, you will just be shaking the chunks back in.

Newer ink brands have better ways of catching this TIO2 pigment which results in a “soft settling”.  When shaken, this thicker part of the ink will just merge seamlessly with ones that are not.

A way around this issue is to mildly rotate and agitate the white ink bottles.  

You should do this before you start printing in the morning and after the printing operations are done for each working day.  Be very careful not to shake these ink bottles very hard and violently for this will cause the unwanted formation of air bubbles.

Turning Off The DTG Digital Printer

I suggest that you shut off your DTG printer when you leave your printing shop.  This will conserve your print heads.

However, some DTG digital printers have wake-up functions integral to it.  You can set the software to perform head cleaning operations during the night so that there is ink flowing activity happening.  Doing this twice a night would be even better and it should not cost much in terms of ink expended.

Weekly DTG Maintenance

For print shops with regular operations especially DTG printing on dark shirts, you will need to complete this task.  

I recommend you create a printed checklist placed near the printer so that you can really make sure that these tasks are being handled.  

And if you are a very conscientious user, you might as well have a daily checklist printed.  These checklists would help you greatly come the time that you are selling this printer, the prospective buyer will know that you are maintaining it properly.

Handling The Encoder Strip

Immediately, I will suggest that you make this a part of your daily checklist if you are running 24/7 operations.

This encoder strip is the brains of this printer.

This device is a little plastic strip which runs across at the back of the printer.  You will notice the presence of little marks on it. The print head reads these marks as an indicator of where is the rightful start point or home location.  

If this is not working properly, you will get prints in locations where they do not belong or even images that are not even part of your own design.  This is an indicator that this strip has ink or lint in it.

You need to be very careful in cleaning this strip.  

You can choose to either remove this strip from the printer or clean it while it is inside.  It is up to you as to which method is more convenient.

Use the foam-tipped swab mentioned before or consider a pre-packaged pad that has been soaked with alcohol in this cleaning process.

Cleaning The Print Carriage Drive Belt Gear

This is the belt that is responsible for moving the print carriage and which is prone to getting lint during operations.

You can use a toothbrush in cleaning this part aside from the swabs.

Replacing The Waste Pads

These pads are located on the side opposite the print head and they absorb excess inks that will no doubt, spread all over the printer if not handled properly.  

You will need to keep your eyes on these pads on a weekly basis and replace them immediately when you notice that they have also accumulated a large ink build up.

Lubricating The Carriage

This refers to the rails and the rod that are moving the print head around and just like the belt gear can get lint accumulation.  It will also become very dirty over time.

I advise you to wipe this weekly and get a lubricant to make its operations smoother.  Sewing oil fluids would work well here.

Examining The Waste Tank Level

This serves as the repository for all the inks used during head cleaning actions.

This tank would definitely overflow once it gets full.  It will even clog the particular hose that goes from the capping station to this tank.  This will cause the capping station to overflow also when you do further head cleanings.

You will also need to switch off this valve to shut down what goes into the waste tank when the day ends.  

It is important more so if you are cleaning this capping station every night with a cleaning fluid.  This will get ink from the print head and start siphoning which immediately leads right into the waste and then to your shop floor.

Detach these tanks from the DTG printer when they are full and dispose of your ink properly.  Check with your local regulations regarding ink disposal. You may click on this link to my article on ink storage and disposal for further information.

What To Do If Your DTG Printer Is Inactive

Well, let’s face it that there are lean seasons when it comes to DTG printing demands from your customers.

I will use this slack season to print several t-shirt samples.  DTG printing on dark shirts will be emphasized here.  

I will also test direct to garment printing durability on several kinds of t-shirts in terms of their fabric composition for consideration later on what I will use to broaden my catalog.

All the finished products will be displayed prominently in my shop or sent to a possible customer as part of my sales and marketing efforts.

If there’s really nothing that is needed to be printed, I would definitely flush out all the inks inside the DTG printer and replace it with cleaning cartridges instead.  I will still run the printer ensuring that it is still running consistently.

DTG white ink can also be replaced with distilled water or cleaning fluid if your current printing job does not need it.  This will prevent the issue of ink settling and eventually causing clogs. You just have to remove these fluids with white ink come the time you are resuming your printing.

Getting External Help

There will be problems that even expert DTG users should not handle because it may just do further damage and even void the printer warranty.  You are wise to call for technical assistance instead.

This refers to electronic parts of this DTG printer.  Don’t mess with the circuit board by tampering with it or using a soldering iron.

I would also have the technical people perform general printer maintenance such as tune-ups.  

Check your warranty and consider the option of having extended one added if you can afford it.

DTG Digital Printer Location

This is a major thing that people who purchase this type of printer totally underestimate.  They think that they can just stick it to any part of their printing shop and it would work just fine.

Definitely, you should locate this printer in the part of your printing shop that is sterile and temperature-controlled.  Ideally, this temperature should remain between 65 – 80F. These printers are very sensitive to heat and dust particles.

DTG printers also don’t like airflow moving above it.  Keep it away from air conditioning units, heaters, and electric fans.

You also have to locate it far away from your screen printing equipment if you have some since these devices emit lint which is very harmful to your DTG printer.

Also, don’t perform your pretreatment work near this printer because the mist coming from it will surely affect it also.

Invest in a high-quality surge protector where you will plug this DTG printer into.  This is to protect it from electrical jolts which is caused by lightning and others.

Aside from the heat, this machine is also easily affected by humidity.  The humidity level should be maintained at a range of 40% to 80%. You can read this by using a hygrometer which is humidity gauge.

To maintain it at this desired humidity level, purchase a humidifier and a dehumidifier.  Use the former when the outside temperature is very cold and the latter during summer or periods when the weather is extremely hot.