If you have not yet heard, Epson plans to enter the direct to garment market place with their own garment printers in 2014. The Epson garment printers, according to Epson, has been designed from the ground up and is fully supported and warranted by Epson. It seems they are definitely creating some buzz in our industry. They recently showed both machines for the first time at the Print 13 expo in Chicago, IL and I got a chance to go see them in action. I also sat down with them and got more details about the Epson garment printers. To follow are some of my thoughts and details about the Pros and Cons I see with this new technology.
- The printers will be called the Epson SureColor F2000 and F2000W.
- Both units are priced at $19,995 it appears and are really the same unit, one just comes with carts that include white ink carts. The unit without white ink can be set to print faster since you wont be printing white ink.
- The Epson Garment Printers will print up to 16 x 20 in size, but only come standard with the 14″ x 16″ platen.
- There will be free software with it that is compatible with either a PC or a MAC that also allows you to RIP jobs to a USB memory stick and run the printer from a USB memory device.
- Has specifically designed Epson inks called Ultrachrome DG ink in cartridges. The largest cartridge size is 600ml.
Pro – Here are the things that excite me about this new technology and why I think they are worth investing in them.
- The biggest factor to me is the reliability. After spending many year in the D2 marketplace then getting out of it, looking back the issues were always related to the fact that almost all of the machines were just hacks of other machines trying to get them to do something they were not made to do. These Epson units ave been designed specifically to print shirts and it looks like Epson took many of those factors into consideration when designing the machine around the ink system for garments.
- According to Epson, you can extend the warranty on the machine for up to 5 years and the print head is covered under warranty. That is huge because blown print heads just seem to be the norm in the current D2 market place so this should revolutionize that part of the market.
- These Epson garment printers definitely seem to be designed with easy user maintenance in mind. They designed the main issue points of the machines (head wiping system, parking cap, and flushing pad) to be easy click and remove components. They will be selling a maintenance kits for around $100 that includes all of these parts where you just click them out and in.
- The free software that comes with the Epson garment printers is available for both PC and MAC. This will open up these units to those creative types that wont touch anything but a MAC. No more parallels or PC RIP stations.
Cons – Here are some of the area of concern that I had and hope that Epson will look at addressing these items in the near future. I certainly went into this meeting with a very skeptical eye on things, so these cons below are part of that skepticism. I don’t see these being major issues, but I would love to see these issues addressed to really move the technology forward.
- I was a bit concerned with the samples I saw in their booth and how they create their underbase layers. They said they can do halftone underbases, but none of the samples I saw looked to be done that way. The prints definitely had a heavy hand compared to prints I had made from my old T-Jet days. They said that most of the major RIP companies will work with the machine so I think to really do well you will need to invest in a secondary RIP software.
- I also had some concern about their thoughts on the pretreatment process. When I asked what the plan was on the pretreatment, they seemed to blow that part of it off and say you could really use anyone’s pretreatment. (They will sell a pretreatment and my guess is that it is the 3M product). They also said you could use a spray bottle or whatever. They were using a paint roller for the shirts they were printing. I think this stance is a big mistake as the pretreatment seemed to be the most critical element of success in dark shirt printing. Maybe their ink is better, but if rolling the shirts in the answer I don’t want to be the guy responsible for pretreating 1,000s of shirts.
- The Epson garment printer seems to be priced right in the middle of the D2 market place and the inks seem to fall into that same line. It is a cartridge system and the large cartridges are 600 ml and are priced at $230 per cartridge. That comes out to about $350 per liter of ink which is lower than their direct competition but also higher than the bulk DuPont ink systems on the market place. Those systems are priced between $180 to $240 per liter. Since Epson controls this ink manufacturing I figured they would just come out and crush the market on price, but they have not. Hopefully the ink pricing will come down quickly as the per shirt costs are still very high with this machine compared to other decorating methods.
- One of the Pros was the ease of maintenance and that is definitely a big one. On the con side of that, there is still maintenance involved and the machine will not just work like a car where you change the oil ever once in a while and add some gas. Daily the white cartridge has to be pulled out and shaken up. Regularly the permanent cleaning cap must be cleaned and after ever 1,000 shirts you have to replace at least 3 consumable parts. This is still not the machine that you bring into your shop and print as needed so beware that you still have to maintain these machines regularly.
- My last concern is that they seem to be missing the real sweet spot in our market place and I don’t feel like they have any interest in going there any time soon. I really think they (or someone) need to develop a reliable garment printer in the below $10,000 range. It doesn’t have to print white ink at that price, but at that price it opens up the market to a lot more people and makes other decoration method stop and thing about their place. At Epson’s current price I think industries like screen printing, vinyl transfers and others still have very little to be concerned about.
In summary, I am very excited to see how this new printer will change the D2 portion of our industry. Since Epson controls the print head market on the smaller Epson rebuilt printer side I would image print head costs are going to go up if they are even made available any longer. This should also push DuPont to step up its game on the ink side if in fact Epson is now directly competing with them for this business. Also I’m interested to see what Brother, Kornit and Anajet do to combat this new entry.
After seeing what I saw in the early days of direct to garment, honestly I was happy to get out of it when U.S. Screen went out of business. Unfortunately that left a lot of people in a bad spot with machines that didn’t work, bills that were not paid and a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths about D2 printing. Some soldiered on, worked to bridge the gap and mend the wounds. My friend Terry is a great example of that. So since that day I have been telling everyone that asks, D2 just is not ready for the main stream market place yet. You had to have a specific business model, jobs already in place and a good way to make money on the shirts to keep the machine running and to pay for the maintenance costs.
After seeing what I saw last Tuesday from the Epson Garment Printers, I definitely feel as if we are one step closer to the machine being ready for the main stream market and now it is up to Epson and the other player to make those last final steps.
What are your thoughts on this new entry to the market and what do you thing those already in place are going to do about it?