In 2004 when I first developed the T-Jet printer I was convinced it would be easy for the garment decorating industry to add this process to their bag of tricks. After all, other than the large Kornit printer (at that time), most machines were simply an Epson base inkjet paper printer that was torn apart and re-configured or “repurposed” to print onto other materials. I was often asked “why doesn’t Epson make their own machine?” and the flip reply at that time was – “this is a small pin prick in the grand scale of printers for Epson – Epson would have no interest.”
Fast forward to October 2013 when Epson introduced what they say is the first “purpose built” DTG printer that took three years in the making. There were certainly a lot of gasps at that time. “Epson? Really? They are making a DTG printer?” In fact, after I heard some of the Epson claims at that time (I had yet to get my hands on a machine), I wrote a web article and my headline was “Epson DTG – A Game Changer?”
Note: Click on images for enlarged view.
Epson seemed to have addressed almost all of the complaints with other “repurposed” printers and even those that were close to being purpose built. White ink clogs? They recirculate the ink (not a new concept). Head clogs? They warranty the head for one year (in the US – this warranty may be different in different countries). In fact they claim the head is designed specifically for the rigors of the abrasive white ink. Machine service? They offer one-year ON-SITE FREE service (again, in the US and ONLY if you follow their very specific maintenance routines and ink “tube wash” every month). Replacing hard to get to items like the capping station? They designed key parts to be plug-and-play. The key parts pop right out.
Fast forward to April of 2014. Epson provided me a printer to use in my Printers Boot Camp classes and for evaluation. I have had one of these printers now for ten months and have a very strong opinion on this printer. In three words. I LIKE IT – and here is why.
Keep in mind I am NOT a typical user and I don’t work for Epson and I don’t sell these printers. In fact I like a lot of the machines on the market and some are faster than the Epson. I don’t print every day and that was and is a problem with almost all DTG printers. Most DTG printers can’t sit for more than a few days without getting serious head clogs because the white ink will settle and clog the ink lines. Once this white ink dried in a line or head it is almost impossible to clear it out.
I have let the Epson printer sit for as long as two weeks without being turned on. OK, they claim a week would be about maximum. I can turn it on after that long a time and by simply pulling out the ink cartridges (very convenient to use) and giving them a shake and then doing a quick head cleaning I can get a PERFECT nozzle check. Yes, you read it right.
Their menu is very easy to use and it prompts you to shake the cartridges
and other maintenance items. Of all the printers I have used in the past, this is the easiest and most intuitive to use.
They offer three different size shirt holders and they have a simple height adjustment and height sensor so it is almost impossible to have a head strike. If your garment is too high the printer tells you and you can simply lower the shirt holder one notch and try again. No drama!
This machine is BIG. That is somewhat of a downside. And, they claim you should not tip it more than about 20% to move it. WRONG. At that angle it won’t fit through a standard door. I think they are saying 20% to be safe.
Epson claims this is their own ink and I don’t know whether that is why it has less clogs or not. But, the prints are very bright and the washability is excellent.
I got involved with a local charity last summer and I decided to see how the printer worked at an on-site event. At 200 pounds – and bulky – we strapped the printer to a dolly, turned it on its side, loaded it into a U-Haul truck, unloaded it, printed for two days at the event, loaded it back up, etc., etc., and it worked GREAT. In fact, when we take the printer to our Printers Boot Camp, we have to move it that way also. It seems to not care if you bounce it around AND you can leave the ink cartridges in it to move it!
Their Garment Creator software is also very intuitive. Having developed software for my T-Jet I was always aware that many users are not good with computers. Their software lets you select a light or dark shirt and you can choose the quality you want (a lot of ink or a little ink). There is even an ink cost calculator in it so you can get a log of what it costs to print each shirt. There is now third party software for this printer from companies like CadLINK and they claim to make the printer print faster and better. I am a dealer for the Digital Apparel Factory and you can read more about it at my T-RIP page HERE.
I think ALL manufactures hedge on their print time claims. I was guilty of that. In the beginning Epson was bragging printing a black shirt in a couple of minutes. They have since softened that claim because to print a black shirt in a couple of minutes means using less ink saturation and smaller prints. In my experience with this printer it still takes about two minutes for a full size white shirt print using the maximum ink saturation and it can take over four minutes for a black shirt – again with heavy white (plastisol like) ink deposit and vibrant colors. You can print it faster but the prints will be weaker.
If there is a flaw in their thinking it could be that the printer does not do a white/color print in one pass – a number of manufacturers now offer machines that print the white ink and immediately follow it with the colors – for a great speed increase. The Epson printer prints the white in one pass and then rewinds and prints the colors.
In my opinion this is a well-built printer that has been thoroughly tested and well thought out. It is easy to operate and use. They have been very open about the ink costs and the “rules” on how to keep this printer happy. One items that seems to not set well with users is Epson recommends (demands for the warranty) that you do a full ink “tube wash” almost every month (the printers tells you when to do this), and this can use up to $150USD worth of ink. OK, I can hear the groans. But, this is how they can warranty the head, provide on-site service and keep the printer running like a champ. It is simply the rules of the game.
Fast forward to February 2015. Has it been a game changer and did they get it right? As for it being a game changer I am not sure. Their initial dealer network in the US was mainly companies who built their own printer. It seemed odd they would be setup as Epson dealers – but that was their approach. Has it hurt sales of competing machines? I don’t really know other than some of the key US players are still making their own machines AND rolling out bigger and better machines. Is there a little “bait and switch” using the Epson brand. I think so.
Are they selling as many units as they thought? I don’t have any numbers but over the summer of 2014 Epson was VERY aggressive with $2,000 USD rebates coupled with $1,000 rebates on leases and $1,500 worth of FREE ink. The suggested list price in the US is $19,995 but there are still deals out there and prices seem to be around $17,000USD. That might mean sales could be more sluggish than they thought. As of this writing, February 1, 2015, some dealers are offering huge incentives and I have seen prices now as low as $14,995.
One thing is for sure. There appears to now be “validation” for the DTG process now that a major player is making a machine. I wrote a revised website article a month ago about the printer and my observations and the same day one of my long time screen print customers called told me “I think it is time.” That blew me away. For years my screen print friends had been asking “when will it be the time?” In fact, I know of one local printer who was on the fence for a long time and he now has two of these machines because he does a lot of online business and it fits perfectly.
This article addresses my opinion on this printer. But, it is not designed to sway you to buy into DTG. If you have been following this topic at all you know that some people love it and some hate it. You have to know the place for it. My feeling – and that of a lot of people who have bought into it – is that DTG is like Embroidery, Vinyl, Sublimation, and other decoration methods. You need them all to compete and this is just one more “department” that is now accepted and necessary in this industry – for the small runs, rush orders and web business.