5 Important steps in direct-to-garment printer maintenance
It is critical to your business that your printer be routinely maintained to assure its productive life and longevity. Direct-to-garment printers have evolved in just a few short years from a category of machines that were un-proven, to being recognized as very productive printers which require minor regular maintenance.
Regular maintenance will pay you dividends
Direct-to-Garment Printer Maintenance
With digital direct-to-garment printers rapidly becoming common place in the printing industry, it is important that we educate ourselves on the proper maintenance of these machines. It is critical to your business that your printer be routinely maintained to assure its productive life and longevity. Direct-to-garment printers have evolved in just a few short years from a category of machines that were un-proven, to being recognized as very productive printers which require minor regular maintenance. Ahead are 5 important steps in direct-to-garment maintenance to assure that your printer continues to be a money-making machine.
Without nozzle checks, you have no visual indication whether or not all nozzles are firing. A solid pattern will indicate that your print head health and performance is optimal. A fragmented or broken pattern or even a missing pattern will indicate nozzles that are not firing. Make performing a nozzle check part of your daily routine, even if you do not have print jobs scheduled. If you discover that you do have misfiring nozzles, this must be addressed immediately with a print head clean. Missing nozzles will not get better as time passes so you must be proactive and perform print head cleanings at the first sign of missing nozzles. If daily nozzle checks continue with poor results, the issues outlined below may be of concern.
The two environmental conditions that must be monitored are humidity, and temperature. Because your printer uses water based ink, there are optimal levels that must be achieved in order to get the best ink flow and print quality. Humidity levels must be above 45 percent. Gauging these levels can be done by using a hygrometer that you can purchase at any home improvement store, or even a pet store. This device should be mounted on, or close to your printer. Regardless of the humidity in your region, the indoor environment is much different due to many factors. Air conditioners and heaters will dry out the air indoors. In order to counteract this and control the humidity you may need to purchase a humidifier and place it near your printer. Temperatures should be 61° F to 90° F. Higher temperatures can make your ink thin and runny, where cold temperatures can make your ink thick and sluggish. Also consider that controlling the environmental conditions in larger rooms will be much more difficult than in smaller enclosed environments.
Your printer is much like your own body. Just as your body has blood flowing through your veins to keep you alive, your printer must have ink flowing through it to keep it working. If ink is not flowing, it will become stagnant and eventually clog your system. Clogging can happen within only a few days of non use. One of the best ways to keep the ink flowing through you printer is by simply printing a few sample shirts on a daily basis. The sample shirts will not only keep the ink flowing through your system, but they can also help you promote and generate business leads as you show off the capabilities of your direct-to-garment printer.
The maintenance/capping station performs two jobs in maintaining the health of your print head. First, it creates a vacuum seal around the print head nozzle plate to pull ink through using the pump inside the station. The pressure from this vacuum helps keep nozzles clear from drying ink. The second job of the station is to clean the print head via its wiper blade. The wiper blade swipes across the print head nozzle plate to keep it clean. On a weekly basis you will need to clean the area where the print head rests while not in use. Over time you will see a buildup of dried ink that will cause the vacuum seal to become less effective. An unwanted consequence of a broken seal is that it is now exposing the maintenance station to air, which will eventually dry out the nozzle plate. The loss of the seal can also make the function of the pump during print head cleanings less effective. Also, make sure to clean the wiper blade on a regular basis. A clean wiper blade assures a clean wipe of the nozzle plate during print head cleans. A dirty wiper blade will leave streaks and unclean areas on your nozzle plate. A simple clue to recognizing a dirty wiper blade is its appearance. A shiny wiper blade indicates that it needs to be cleaned as that shine is actually a skin of dried up ink that needs to be peeled off. Once cleaned, it will take on a dull rubber appearance.
Flushing with Cleaning Fluid
Cleaning fluid is needed to flush the entire ink delivery system on a monthly basis and to prevent clogging when not in use. This is especially true if white ink has been loaded into your printer. How long ink can sit inside your printer without needing to be flushed out is dependent on manufacturer specifications. Generally it is recommended that a users flush ink out from their system if the printer is to be left idle for more than 3 days. Please read your user manuals on this procedure as each manufacturer's suggested maintenance will be different. To verify that the ink has been flushed out completely, perform a print purge or nozzle check and look for any visible ink. Perform purges until you see only clear fluid. Flushing your printer on a monthly basis can break-up small amounts of ink that may have accumulated in your ink tubes and print head. Flush the ink and let the cleaning fluid sit over night.
Following these 5 important steps will keep your printer in optimum condition. It is important to get into the habit of performing these basic maintenance procedures. Maintenance is critical to ensure success of your business, and the well being of your direct-to-garment printer. Depending on how often you maintain your printer, print head life can vary from as little as a few days to well over a year. These steps take very little time, effort, and money. This will assure a happy printer, and a happy printer owner.