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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.

 

Conclusion

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!

 

Is Screen Printing Dead?

Do Direct to Garment Printing and T Shirt Transfer Systems Spell the End of the Screen Printer?

Recently I’ve seen a couple of product demonstrations that made me give some real thought to whether screen printing, or silk screen, for making custom t shirts might be on its last legs. Or at the very least no longer a real, viable option for the entrepreneur or especially the home based business that wants to print t shirts – or bags, or pillow cases or jackets, you get the idea.

Here is my thinking about Screen Printing and Custom T Shirt Business

If you are starting from scratch and looking into what you want to use to make custom t shirts you’re probably going to start small. After work, weekends or if you’re jumping in with both feet you might just quit what you’re doing now to pursue it full time. BUT a very small percentage of custom apparel businesses start out in retail shops or in office space, so it’s very likely you’re going to be in a bedroom, dining room, 2 car garage or maybe an outbuilding.

One of the demonstrations I watched recently was a webinar by Don Copeland at ColDesi that walked through the steps and requirements of screen printing with the same process for DTG (usually called “garment printing or direct to garment). There were pictures, examples of each step and he did a good job talking about costs and some of the other attendees were actual screen printers and it sounded like his estimates were, even though they sell DTG Printers / Direct to Garment Printers mostly underestimates of how much time and money screen printing cost.

Screen Printing vs. DTG Printing | Whats the Best Way to Make Custom T Shirts from ColDesi, Inc. on Vimeo.

The other presentation was one that Pantograms, also in Tampa, FL put on about their t shirt transfer system called DigitalHeatFX, which is based on the OKI920 White Toner Printer. A COMPLETELY different process that direct to garment printing, but you still end up with a full color custom shirt in the end. Lots of pros and cons there with DTG that we’ll get to as well.

More about the history of screen printing

With these 2 systems in mind, let’s take the Viper2 DTG Printer from ColDesi and the DigitalHeatFX T Shirt Transfer system from Pantograms – is screen printing dead for startups? Why would anyone buy a screen printing setup?

If you’ve never looked at screen printing equipment as the best way to start a custom t shirt business, let me layout the problems with it for the typical startup.

Problem #1:

Wow it’s BIG – by big I mean that it takes a lot of space to house everything you need to run a screen printing operation (I’m using a 4 color setup as an example). Not only is the Press itself big but you need a Dryer, FLASH Cure unit and a place to Wash out your screens – with a hose. Your bedroom, small office space will definitely not work just because of the size.

Problem #2:

It’s a MESS – back to someone starting small and doing it somewhere around your home or retail space – it’s a no. Buckets of ink, washing screens, squeegeeing the ink into the screens. If you’re the kind of person that likes to get your hands dirty, this the way you’re going to want to print custom t-shirts, if not, then no.

screen printing example

Problem #3:

No small orders – by small I mean under 12 for sure, but many screen printers won’t take orders under 44 or so. You can watch the webinar recoding on the whole DTG Printer vs Screen Printing from this video below, but here is the gist:

In order to screen print a single t shirt you need to make one or more “screens”. A screen is kind of like a transparency that has been printed on. If you want one color, you print and make one screen, if you want 4 colors you need to make 4. These are about $25 each your cost and each one takes about an hour to make.

Just IMAGINE how much you need to charge to make a profit on printing 10 4-color shirts when just setting up takes 4 hours and costs you a hundred bucks!

So now if I’m a small businessperson and will be creating custom shirts for the local market and the VAST majority of my orders are going to be ONE (Like a Happy Birthday Grandad shirt) or 6 ( Bridesmaids Party shirts) or 25 (Smith Family Reunion shirts), and I want to do that from home – is Screen Printing really an option?

Let’s take a look at what’s BETTER.

What is better than Screen Printing about Direct to Garment Printing?

Direct to Garment Printing is better than screen printing in several pretty obvious ways, especially if you’re comparing to the DTG Viper2 machine from ColDesi

  1. It fits through a door I know it seems like a small thing (get it?) but even with other DTG Printers it’s a hassle to get it inside a home office or any regular sized doorway. The rest of them you have to turn then on their sides – don’t spill the ink please – so this makes it perfect for custom t shirt business startups.
  2. Ink CARTRIDGES = no mess – remember that whole “messy” problem with screen printing? Well, there’s still a very small amount – you have to empty a waste ink bottle occasionally – but it’s pristine clean compared to screen printing equipment. Oh – and those 2 things also make it VERY PORTABLE so you can take it to a show or a mall shop. Can’t do that with screens!
  3. Size matters – the printer is sized right, yes, but so is the rest of the equipment you’re going to use – a heat press and a pretreat machine. Everything you need fits in a 10×10 space easily.
Direct to Garment Printing Set Up

Picture links to dtg printer website

What makes the whole process of direct to garment printing better than screen printing for a start up especially? That’s pretty simple to point out:

  • Print as many colors as your customer wants – if you’re a screen printer the number of colors someone wants REALLY impacts how long it will take you to do and how complicated the job will be. With garment printing you just open up the image and print it – # of colors makes no difference.
  • Zero setup time – okay, maybe not ZERO, but you don’t have to make screens, develop them, clean them out after. You have to pretreat a shirt if it’s dark colored which takes a minute or 2 – and then you’re ready to go.
  • Make money on 1 shirt, 20 shirts, 50 shirts! You can sell 50 full color custom shirts for at least $20 (depending of course), and you can probably sell a one-off order for upwards of $30. You don’t have to talk to them about set up fees, reorder fees – none of that.
  • Print while you wait! – this was so impressive when it happened from me a few years ago. I went in to get a new logo printed on a polo shirt – just 2 shirts I could wear to business mixers, etc. I gave the vendor the logo and he printed the shirts. Walked out happy in about 20 minutes and back then I was happy to bay $25 each.

You can get a Viper2 DTG Printer a pretreat machine and a heat press for under or around $20K when this is being written. Not too bad considering you’re not renting warehouse or garage space for your screen print shop AND your clean up at the end of the day is about 10 minutes.

But direct to garment printing isn’t the only thing I think is putting the nail in the coffin of screen printing. There is also T Shirt Transfer Printing

The OTHER Thing that might be making Screen Printing Obsolete

T Shirt transfers have been around for a long time. You could buy a special paper for your home color inkjet printer and iron it right on to a t shirt way back in the ‘90s, but just like DTG, it’s come a LONG WAY and makes it a great option for people starting a custom t shirt business.

2 or 3 years ago Okidata came out with this idea of creating a printer ( like a laser printer style) that used CYMW instead of CYMK. The latter is what most color laser printers use – one toner for each color of Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black. That CYMK set works well for printing on a white t-shirt but when you try to make a full color t shirt transfer for a black shirt you get subpar results – whites look gray, colors don’t pop – meh. So OKI substituted White toner for the Black and now it puts a layer of white down first and that makes all the difference. Now you can print on just about anything!

 

BUT – the paper you use is a BIG deal, which is why I mentioned Pantograms and DigitalHeatFX. Normally you need a special paper to make your transfers for different things; one for light shirts, one for darks, one for this, one for that – but DigitalHeat FX paper is one for all, and the shirts look great! (I’ve got my sample right here)

Here’s why you might want the Digital HeatFX system instead of screen printing:

  • The cleanest one yet – no ink at all, just like a big laser printer.
  • Small footprint – it’s a LOT heavier than the Viper2 DTG Printer, so not portable at all, but you don’t need all that stuff that you need for screen printing; no spray booth, no belt dryer (just a heat press), no darkroom, etc.
  • Print on Anything – this system is AWESOME for making custom t shirt transfers, but those same transfers using the same papers can be used to put images on coolers, bags, umbrellas, hats, wood and tons of other things. Take that screen printing!
  • All the other advantages that direct to garment printing has over screen printing, printing t shirt transfers does too – no setup time, full digital color, small runs are profitable, the whole thing.

Best of all you can get one of these complete systems for under $10K. Pretty great for startups right?

Watch this video then if you want to learn more about it go to their website: http://pantograms.com/t-shirt-printing/

The downside to the Oki system vs. DTG is that the full color t shirt transfer when it’s applied to a t shirt has a little bit of a “plasticky” feel an is a little heavier than DTG – which you can sometimes not even tell wasn’t originally part of the shirt.  

Conclusion: Is Screen Printing DEAD?

No, of course not. The advantage of screen printing t shirts is that once you get it set up and running it is ridiculously fast and cheap on a per shirt basis. Doing 500 or 1,000 custom printed t shirts with direct to garment printing or using a white toner printer based t shirt transfer system would take a lot more hours and, while it would still be profitable it would not be as profitable as screen printing.

BUT – is Screen Printing DEAD for Startups? I think so. Unless you’re starting with clients that will be ordering a few hundred shirts at a time and have some spare industrial space available there is just no reason to buy screen printing equipment.

Both direct to garment printing and the Digital Heat FX OKI920WT combo system produce great quality custom t shirts, are appropriate for home, office or retail environments, are cleaner, take up less space and give you LOTS of opportunity to be just incredibly profitable!