T-Jet The Dawn Of Direct To Garment Printing

The Dawn of Direct To T-Shirt Printing
By Deborah Sexton

Fast T-Jet users tell their success stories and share their tips for making money from Scott Fresener's direct-to-garment technology.

Connie Meserve didn't like using digital technology to print T-shirts-until she purchased a Fast T-Jet, a machine she now raves about and calls "a printer on steroids."

Meserve, whose company sells T-shirts and vinyl graphics to niche markets like race cars and police departments, had been wanting to apply photorealistic graphics to shirts for customers. However, she'd had terrible luck with other companies' digital printing technology, even after struggling with it for more than a year.

"I had problems with their inks," recalls Meserve, owner, R&C Enterprises, Maine. "The inks ran, and they weren't vivid. The bulk systems dried up, too, and we spent a lot of time repairing the machines. It just wasn't worth it."

Then late last year, she saw an advertisement for U.S. Screen Printing Institute's brand- new T-Jet Standard. She was so impressed by the machine's capabilities that she purchased one-the company's first one off the production line, she says-without a live demonstration.

"I unpacked it, plugged it in, and started using it. It's that easy to use," Meserve says. "And the prints are as soft as can be; there's no heavy hand."

Rave Reviews
Many other T-Jet users are finding that the machine offers a perfect blend of cost, performance, and versatility.

"It has helped me open markets that I couldn't pursue because of screen printing's limitations," says Eric Auckerman, owner, Summerfield Screen Printing, Lihue, Hawaii. "And it has raised the bar in terms of quality and unlimited colors."

Auckerman was so impressed with the T-Jet that he plans to phase out screen printing completely, and he purchased two more machines so he could do bigger orders. "With all three T-Jet machines, we'll be able to do 5,000 shirts a month, no problem" he says.

Girly Chic, a Los Angeles retail store, uses the T-Jet to put a new twist on the old transfer stores from the '70s: Customers create their own designs using graphics software, and the store outputs the designs using the T-Jet. "We're on the cutting edge, and people are blown away," says Cherlynne Casabonne, owner. "Everybody is really impressed."

The store promotes the unique service with a sign that reads: "Design Lab. Make your own custom tee, print it, and wear it."

"They can bring in pictures, and we can add clip art, or text, anything they want," Casabonne says. "Once they save the design, it takes about six minutes to print. We run it through the T-Jet twice for better, more vibrant color. Then we heat press it for 36 seconds, and it's done."

Mark Francis, owner, Creative Concepts, Jonesboro, Ark., bought his first T-Jet in February after being turned off by the high cost of digital transfer systems. The company, which also does embroidery, is so pleased that it plans to buy another T-Jet within a few months.

"With digital transfers, it costs about $3 to $4 per shirt to decorate, and the Fast T-Jet costs about 70 cents," he says. "T-Jet products are the most profitable products we sell. The machine has already paid for itself."

T-Jet Features
The direct-to-garment Fast T-Jet machines come in several models, including Standard, Jumbo, Giant, and the new Pro HV, with the chief difference for each machine being the maximum print size and production rate. All of the models deliver brilliant color and prints, excellent washability, vivid detail, and ink costs of 15 to 40 cents per print. The machines work with any graphics program and can print on 100% cotton and 50% cotton/50% polyester T-shirts, towels, caps and many other items.

The T-Jet series' ease-of-entry means that screen printers, embroiderers, retailers, trophy dealers, promotional products distributors and other companies can print high-color, personalized designs on light-colored textiles quickly, and on small runs. The speedy machines can produce vibrant designs in less than two minutes.

T-Jet users say there are lots of other benefits the machines offer:

Ease of use. Direct-to-garment printing is a great alternative for businesses that don't want to invest in expensive equipment, don't have the room to accommodate it, or just don't want to be bothered with the mess. "Chemicals don't sit well with me, and I don't have time to do screens for small orders," Meserve says. "I can do one to 100 shirts at a time."

Girly Chic had a few technical issues when it first started using the machine, but now its staff-mostly teenagers-has no trouble using it. "We can't get them to go home. They love this technology," Casabonne says. "They bring their friends in to see it."

Soft hand. "I love the way the shirt feels when it comes out," Casabonne says. "It's better than screen printing."

Small or large orders. Meserve's orders are usually about three dozen, the kind of job where screen printing would be cost-prohibitive because of set-up costs.

Typical order size for Summerfield, which purchased its T-Jet in February, is about four-dozen shirts.

Girly Chic, which lets customers jazz up their custom designs with rhinestones, gets orders for print jobs where screen printing isn't economical. "For low volume, it's difficult for screen printers to take the job. So we do designs up to 400 pieces," she says. "People get shirts for cheer conventions or their daughter's volleyball team."

"We did 10,000 shirts within a few months of buying the machine," says Francis, who gets about 25 shirts per hour from the T-Jet. "We've done orders as large as 1,500."

Versatility. Users have found that many types and brands of T-shirts print well in the T-Jet machines. Girly Chic prints on 6.1-ounce T-shirts, tank tops, baby-doll shirts, crew-neck T-shirts and more.

Meserve prints mostly T-shirts and sweat shirts on her T-Jet Standard. "It depends on the season," she says. "This past winter, I did towels for the fire department, and I've done infant items."

Auckerman has printed on tan, natural and ash shirts, and has also had good luck with blues, oranges, and yellows. "The only shirt that didn't print well was pink," he says. "Everything else was wonderful."

Profitability. Inks costs are less than they expected, T-Jet users say. "I'm totally amazed at how far the ink goes with it," Meserve says. "Now I don't use my embroidery machine much. The T-Jet is so much more profitable."

New customers and services. Meserve says that she has attracted new customers using her T-Jet without even trying. "I haven't gone out looking for new business," she says. "What I get is people coming in or calling and asking questions about it."

Summerfield Screen Printing, which serves restaurants and resorts, weddings, and special events has found that the T-Jet lets it offer a wider array of products. "I've come up with a bunch of new ideas because of the T-Jet," Auckerman says. "We take photos and put designs around them, add some text, and the wedding coordinator can provide a commemorative T-shirt."

Personalization. "A T-shirt with a cat on it is nice. A T-shirt with your cat is even better," says Meserve, who attends races and takes digital pictures of the cars, then adds a name or logo and clip art, and outputs the designs onto T-shirts.

"People appreciate a good, clear image of their pets, relatives, and friends. T-Jet was the natural choice because it's on demand and immediate," Auckerman says.

T-Jet Tips
Determine your prices. Auckerman says that each shirt costs about $2 to $3 to produce, so his price to customers is about $1 to $2 higher than screen printed T-shirts. He says he gets some objections but easily justifies the price. "I'm focusing more on the value and overall quality, which is better than screen printing because there are no graduated tones. It's photorealistic," he says.

Meserve charges at least $10 per shirt, depending on the customer and market. "I've charged up to $14 for T-shirts, and sweat shirts are around $20," she says.

Girly Chic charges $20 for its custom T-shirts. "At 900 shirts, the machine will have paid for herself," Casabonne says.

Experiment. "I'd recommend that when you get the machine, you take two days and print a bunch of inexpensive shirts, and get it perfected," says Casabonne, who has put marks on her T-Jet shirt holders to help with proper placement. "You'll save yourself hundreds of dollars in wrecked shirts."

Try double prints. Double prints are a great way to get vivid colors by increasing ink saturation, as long as you don't remove the shirt before the second layer prints, which could cause a registration problem. "I printed a shirt, started to take it out, and hit the print button again," Meserve says. "If you do one print and then a second print without taking out the shirt, you're fine."

Know when to use it. Most users say that the T-Jet machines won't replace standard screen printing, but that's not what they're intended to do. They're designed as a complimentary technology that works when screen printing makes less sense.

"This is a complete, happy little system that does really nice stuff, "Meserve says. "My advice: Go ahead, try it."

According to Eric Auckerman, pictured, owner, Summerfield Screen Printing, Lihue, Hawaii, he couldn't be happier with his T-Jet purchase. "It has helped me open markets that I couldn't pursue because of screen printing's limitations," he says.

Although the T-Jet Standard is ideal for profitably doing small orders, Mark Frances, owner, Creative Concepts, Jonesboro, Ark., also has successfully done large orders too. "We did 10,000 shirts within a few months of buying the machine," says Francis. "We've done orders as large as 1,500."

A big plus of the T-Jet Standard is it takes up only a fraction of the space a manual printing press would. Everything needed to produce finished shirts at Creative Concepts sits on one table. Owner Mark Frances estimates his shop averages 25 shirts an hour.

One of the biggest reasons Connie Meserve, owner, R&C Enterprises, Maine, bought a T-Jet was because she wanted to offer decorated apparel, such as this shirt shown, but didn't want the hassle of screen printing. "Direct-to-garment printing is a great alternative for businesses that don't want to invest in expensive equipment, don't have the room to accommodate it, or just don't want to be bothered with the mess," she says.

For Connie Meserve, whose company sells vinyl graphics to the race car market, being able to offer decorated apparel as well will help her dramatically improve sales and profits.

At Girly Chic, Los Angeles, customers can walk up to any computer station situated in the retail store and design their own shirt. Clip art, photos, and type are available or can be brought in. Once the design is completed, it is printed out on the T-Jet and heat applied to a shirt.

Although the original target market for Girly Chic, a retail store in Los Angeles was pre-teen and teenage girls, owner Cherlynne Casabonne has found customers of all ages are coming in and creating custom shirts for themselves and loved ones using the T-Jet.

At Girly Chic, girls can pick from two shirt styles: a tank top or a baby doll in three colors, white, pink and teal. There also are basic T-shirts for men, boys, and even a few styles for infants. Once the T-Jet is done printing, sparkle can be added with glitter and rhinestones.

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