DarkJET: Affordable Dark Garment T-Shirt Printing

Fig 1. ChromaBlast ink can be used to create vivid T-shirt decals on dark fabric

ChromaBlast ink can be used to create vivid T-shirt decals on dark fabric

A lot of our customers enjoy the ease and affordability of printing T-shirt transfers with the Virtuoso ChromaBlast systems from Sawgrass. While these provide wonderfully soft and durable color imprints, they do have one drawback. ChromaBlast works only on 100% cotton shirts and only on white or very light pastel apparel. Transfers on black, dark gray, red, etc. wont’ look right and transfers on blended garments don’t last well in the wash. For full color prints on dark and colored – and blended garments – we have another option.
Sure, you can go buy a direct-to-garment printer, if you have $15,000 or more to spend. but there’s a more affordable option. To get the full range of T-shirt printing with your Sawgrass solution, you might want to add DarkJET: the affordable dark garment T-shirt printing solution.  Although not quite as soft as sublimation or ChromaBlast, DarkJET is a very thin, soft, heat applied inkjet printable adhesive backed film. DarkJET provides the white under-base that makes process color work. Because it’s heat applied to the garment, it provides a substrate for the application of full color images on garments of any color. To help you get started creating affordable imprints on dark shirts, here are some tips on printing, cutting, and applying DarkJET.

  • Printing: Use printer settings for high quality matte photo paper. If you have a profile or imaging configuration for ColorJETTM, this will work too. If you’re loading a stack of sheets, fan them to eliminate static electricity before feeding through the printer. You may find that feeding single sheets is required. The initial print will have a muted look with little color saturation. Don’t be alarmed. The color will become more vibrant after the transfer is heat applied to the garment. If you want to tweak your software or printer drivers to optimize color, do so based on the heat applied result, not the initial print.
  • Print & Cut Essentials: For contour-cut decals, you will need to print the image with registration marks which can be read by a vinyl cutter equipped with an optical registration mark sensor. Don’t assume the right cutter is all you need. Such a cutter will be useless without the right software. The software must send the raster information to your inkjet printer, send the vector path to the cutter, and direct the cutter to find the printed registration marks before contour cutting the printed graphic.  Our LXI Master Plus 12 software accomplishes all of this with the Contour Cut Mark feature. For a pictorial guide on how it works,  you are welcome to view our tutorial on the SignWarehouse Tech support blog.
  • Let’s return to the subject of getting the right cutter.  SignWarehouse offers several affordable cutters that can be used to contour cut printed garment sized graphics. These include the Vinyl Express Qe6000, EnduraCUT 3, Graphtec CE6000-40, CE6000-60, or Roland GS24. The CE6000-40 is a 15” desktop model. The others listed here are 24” cutters. Since it’s so thin and soft, cutting DarkJET film is easy. Set the cutter for approximately 70 grams of force. If you’re using a Vinyl EXPRESS, Qe6000, Q Series, Graphtec CE 6000, set the force to 11. Perform a test cut to make sure you are scoring the surface, but not penetrating the release liner, just as you would with adhesive backed vinyl.
  • Masking and Transfer: Once you’ve printed and contour-cut your image, it will have to be weeded and transferred to the garment.  A quick and easy way to begin the weeding process is to tear a corner of the sheet. Then just grab the face film and peel. The adhesive is heat activated, so once you get a handle on it, removing the excess face film is quite easy. DarkJET can be applied to the garment by hand, or by using application tape. If your decal is small and simple shape, you may choose to apply it by hand. Just peel it from the liner and lay the appliqué smoothly on the garment. Then cover with a Teflon sheet and press. Larger or more complex shapes will be easier to transfer smoothly using application tape.  I recommend Siser TTD EasyMask or UniMask ATT 450. High tack paper tapes will work, but they don’t remove the film from the liner consistently, and they tend to leave visible adhesive residue on the shirt after removal. EasyMask is a clear tape designed specifically for thermal transfer applications. It’s very effective at removing the printed decal from the liner, and leaves no adhesive residue on the garment.  EasyMASK comes with its own polyester liner that must be removed before masking the graphic. Cut off an appropriately sized piece of EasyMASK, peel the liner to expose its adhesive, and apply it to the decal with a squeegee, taking care not to create bubbles. If you do get a few bubbles, these can be popped with an air release tool before pressing.  Once the mask is smoothly applied, peel the DarkJET liner, and transfer the masked graphic to the garment. The same process works with ATT 450.
  • Pressing Contour Cut Graphics: Pre-press the shirt for a few seconds @ 350° F to eliminate wrinkles and remove excess moisture. Cover the masked graphic with a Teflon sheet and press @ 350° F for 20 seconds with medium pressure. After pressing, immediately remove the Teflon sheet. Allow the shirt to cool to room temperature. Slowly remove the tape, peeling it back along the surface at a 180° angle.
  • Laundering and Washfastness: As with any custom garment, proper care and laundering are important. DarkJET imprints should last through 15 – 20 wash cycles with proper care. (This is comparable to the average durability of a direct to garment imprint with white ink).  It is recommended that you wait at least 24 hours after the initial imprint to launder the garment. For the initial wash, turn the garment inside out and wash separately in cool water. Immediately remove from washing machine and put in dryer on warm setting. Leaving the garment in the washing machine wet for extended periods of time may cause ink to bleed. Never use bleach. Do not iron the transfer.

If you’re considering ChromaBlast cotton decoration, but need to be able to decorate colored, dark, and/or blended garments to your product offering, we’ve got just what you need. Order up an SG800 or SG400 Equipment Package. Both you and your customers will be glad you did.