Tag Archives: direct to garment printing

OKI920WT T Shirt Transfer

Is Direct to Garment Printing Dead?

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.

The OKI 920WT (part of this Digital HeatFX System) is a color LED (like a laser) printer that uses toners instead of ink. The magic for custom t shirt businesses is in several different areas:

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.

OKI920WT T Shirt Transfer

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.

Read this article about printing black with the OKI920WT White Toner Printer

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.

Direct to Garment Hoodie Print XXL

  1. 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
  2. “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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

Printing on Canvas | Direct to Garment Printers from ColDesi from ColDesi, Inc. on Vimeo.



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!


DTG T-Shirt Printer

DTG Printer Quality: 4 Questions to Ask

The choice of a DTG printer for your t-shirt business should not be difficult, you just have to ask the right questions.

This demonstration of the M2 Direct to Garment Printer at a trade show will give you a quick idea of the parts you’ll be asking questions about.

Your DTG printer will be the heart of your direct to garment custom tee shirt printing business. Take your time with selecting the right one and use the guidelines below.

More than anything else, the best DTG printer systems features a design specifically for digital garment printing. At a minimum, printers should include: good white ink management (such as the “DTG” printer brand with the WIMS White Ink Management System), pressurized CMYK ink feed re-circulation system, extended print areas, automated head cleaning, and ink mist removal.

DTG T-Shirt Printer


Direct to garment printers, also called DTG printers must be engineered specifically to print on garments and fully address the shortcomings of first and second generation machines or inkjet printers repurposed for textile printing.

4 Questions about DTG Printer Specifications

When shopping for a DTG printer for your direct to garment business, you will find yourself facing a huge variety of technical specifications. Four essential things you should ask when comparing printers:

  1. Does the DTG printer have a re-purposed inkjet printing system, or is it designed for garment printing from the ground up?
  2. What are per t-shirt printing costs: ink, pretreatment, other supplies and maintenance?
  3. What are reasonable estimates of print times and productivity? If the RIP software of a DTG printer requires constant tweaking to get a customer’s face ready for printing, you must remember that in estimating turnaround times.
  4. Can it do high quality dark garment printing? or Will it print on black tees?

Knowing the Needs of Your Business

Deciding on a DTG printer can be complicated, but asking the right questions can make the process a lot easier. The four questions above are non-negotiable, but your search for a DTG printer should also start by answering a few things about your own business goals:

  • Who are your target customers?
  • What do you want to be your daily amount of prints?
  • Will you be using the printer for “while-you-wait” clients or will you be taking orders for delivery?
  • Which is more urgent, speed or equipment cost?
  • Are you looking for a niche market, such as oversize prints, beach towels, collared or sleeve prints, artwork on canvas, and so on?
  • How often will you be using the DTG printer?

If your feel your direct to garment business will be primarily one-offs or single runs, with the occasional multiple quantity, you may want to consider DTG printers like the DTG Viper or the M-Series DTG Printers which are suitable for fast production of 1-8 garments at a time.

A business model geared toward larger production needs a DTG printer that is engineered exclusively for high volume production.

DTG Printer Features Important To Garment Decorators

Quantity is a significant concern when deciding on a DTG printer, but it is not the only one. There are some features that all garment decorators should look at:

  • Features that are for the specific challenges of printing on garments with textile inks (like white ink management systems, RIP software and flexibility of the platen systems).
  • Support and training provided by the distributor or retailer. Will they remain available to respond to your questions, give advice or troubleshoot if problems occur?
  • Performance of the DTG printer. This is the bottom line for your direct to garment printing business; do the prints that come from the DTG printer look good, wash well and last long.

Welcome to the “Dark” Side of Garment Printing

In a competitive marketplace, direct to garment printers have to meet the needs of today’s customer. To have the best products available means you will be printing on all types of shirts, in a variety of styles and colors. This means your DTG printer should be ready for all garments, including dark t-shirts.

Direct to Garment Printer Black T-shirt

There are certain challenges to dark garment printing, which can limit the products a shop can ultimately provide. Your success on darks rests on white ink; a base coat of white is what makes images stand out on dark garments, without wading.

Many machines (like Brother Brand Printers) have difficulty printing the white ink needed for direct to garment printing on darks. Businesses with the right DTG printer to handle white ink and can master the art of dark garment printing may reach up to three-quarters of their orders on darks. That is a lot of traffic to turn down, just because you don’t have the proper equipment!

DTG Brand printers are designed with WIMS, to deliver the best results on both light and dark garments.

With The Right Help, Your Decision Can Be Easy!

Like any significant business decision, the search for the right DTG printer might take some time. You will also need to budget a period to learn to use the printer you finally get. Not surprisingly, the best DTG printers are often the easiest to master, sometimes only taking a day or two to learn. With the right information and advice, purchasing the right printer can be a decision that you will never regret.

The specific DTG Printers we used as examples, and our favorites, are made by ColDesi Inc. They have everything you need to get a direct to garment printing company started, from DTG printers and accessories and tools like heat presses and pretreatment machines.