Is Direct to Garment Printing Dead?
[I’m not sure when we got obsessed with “dead” technology articles, but this is a follow up on our Is Screen Printing Dead article…]
Direct to Garment Printers (or DTG Printers) have been the backbone of the mass customization movement in custom t shirts and other apparel since it began some 10 years ago. The advent of or improvement in t shirt transfer technologies with similar results and lower price tags is causing us to ask:
Is Direct to Garment Printing Dead?
The answer isn’t what you’d expect, so you’ll have to read all the way to the end!
Direct to garment (DTG) printers arrived on the scene about 10 years ago with the promise of being able to print small quantities of high resolution, beautiful prints on demand without any set time or expense. This was at a time when the most common way to produce any custom printed shirt was screen printing or silk screening.
Screen printing required you to create multiple screens for multiple colors through a multi-step process, accumulating expenses along the way, before you print your first shirt.
DTG is means what is says; you basically load a blank shirt into the machine and print directly onto it using a water based ink in an ink-jet process.
If you order a single custom shirt online from a company like Zazzle or Café Press, it was probably printed on a DTG Printer. Until recently though, there wasn’t much reasonable competition in producing full color short run graphics onto garments. .but here is the “new” competition:
OKI 920WT White Toner Printer
OKI Data has been around for a generation, but their white toner printer technology is bringing them into the custom t shirt market for the first time. Known for its commercial laser printers, industrial printers and color LED, you’ll find office managers and graphics print houses all over the country with an OKI brand in their printing stables, and they’ve brought that quality and workhorse reputation into this new market.
Instead of CMYK toner to make a color image it uses CMYW. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and BLACK vs. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and WHITE.
Why is that important? Because you can make a color t shirt transfer with any color printer, but you can only apply it onto a light colored garment. Without the white layer, if you put a red design on a black t shirt, the color will look pink, for example.
It uses Toner instead of Ink. When you list out any of the drawbacks of garment printing with DTG, the fact that it uses liquid ink is rarely brought up.. mostly because that’s what all DTG printer use, as does screen printing. Liquid inks travel through tubes and squirt out through the ink jets onto the t shirt.
Why is that important? Because ink system require daily maintenance, weekly maintenance and monthly maintenance. They have filters and lines that can clog and print heads that can clog. If the maintenance is ignored at all, then those clogs become costly.. thousands of dollars costly.
You Make MORE Things. The primary limitation of direct to garment printing has always been that the ink needs a natural fiber to adhere to. It needs something to bond with so the print lasts through washes and over time. Not so with the t shirt transfers made by the OKI 920WT White Toner Printer!
Why is that important? Because you can now sell customized polyester shirts, customized sportswear, jerseys, nylon jackets and a lot more promotional products than with direct to garment.
It’s Cheap. Compared to Direct to Garment printers at $15-$25K, the Digital HeatFX system, which is based on the OKI 920WT White Toner Printer, can be had for as little as $8,000 ( with shipping) and usually tops out at under $11K including a top of the line heat press
Why Use Direct to Garment Printing?
So IS direct to garment printing really DEAD?
No. Of course not. There are a few differences that make direct to garment printers the obvious choice for some businesses.
- Print Size – If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of XL, XXL, XXXL and even larger t shirts, hoodies and other apparel items out there. The M2 direct to garment printer from ColDesi is one of the best dtg printers on the market and has one of the largest printing fields on the market as well at almost 18”x24” as compared to the suddenly small sounding 10”x16” printable area on a white toner printer. That’s 160 square inches vs 432 square inches of print! If you want to print big, direct to garment is the way to go. Learn more about DTG ROI here: http://www.dtgprintermachine.com/dtg-printer-roi
- “Hand” – That’s what people in the business call how the garment feels to the touch. On a light colored shirt, like a white cotton tee, it is virtually impossible to feel a good direct to garment print. On a dark shirt you can feel it more because of the white underbase, but it’s still much software to the touch than a t shirt transfer made with the OKI or the Digital HeatFX system.
- Cost per Print – One of the drawbacks AND advantages to using a t shirt transfer system is that you are using a single sheet of “paper”, so the cost of doing a print of a certain size is exactly the same every time. Easy to quote and track your profits. The down side is that is someone just wants a single 4×6” print you’ll need to charge them for an entire page, and your cost is the same for a light or a dark shirt. With direct to garment you have much more control; since you’re printing directly onto the shirt if you print a 4×6” graphic that’s no problem. AND if you print it on a light colored garment you use no white ink so your cost is about ½ of what it would be on a dark one. In this case, DTG Printers clearly win.
- Pretty, pretty prints – you can get some good looking prints with the OKI printer, especially using the combo that Digital HeatFX offers, but there’s nothing that will reproduce the quality, resolution and just plain beauty of a good direct to garment print. Fade to nothing, gradient colors and tones, it all looks superb on direct to garment.
Here’s a great video showing the quality of DTG Prints
Direct to Garment is alive and well. In fact, if you read the trade magazines and attend the trade shows, it’s just getting better! Direct to Garment is coming down in price and up in capabilities. At a recent show they were demonstrating printing on dark colored 100% polyester shirts, which would add a whole dimension to the DTG business for small shops. For larger ones, DTG Digital has announced the new M3 model direct to garment printer which will let you print up to SIX shirts at once (even 6 different designs) or one HUUUUUGGGEEEEE print. AND the M2 is coming out with a network modular approach where you can run more than one printer from a single computer – great for production.
The Good News? As t shirt transfer technology improves, so does direct to garment printing – and so do our options as apparel decorators!