I understand that the high cost of R&D necessitates recovery by higher prices for the machines and peripherals. What I want to know is why the necessary supplies, specifically direct-to-garment ink, are priced so exorbitantly that if you added it up, it comes to well over $800 per gallon (white ink). Screen printing inks generally run $50 to $70 per gallon vs. $600 and up for a gallon (sold in 470 ml cartridges) of ink used in DTG printers. How can this be justified?
This question is considering two completely different processes at two different stages in a product cycle. Screen printing is a very mature decorating process that has been around for a long time. Thus, there are several quality manufacturers of screen printing ink and easily a hundred companies that make quality screen printing equipment. In addition, the science behind applying plastisol ink to a garment is really not that complicated.
On the other side of the spectrum, direct-to-substrate printing is a very new process with only a handful of companies that have the ability to manufacturer a quality DTG printer (i.e. hardware component) and even fewer companies that can manufacturer an ink that has the same characteristics over time. Since both the development of the hardware components and the ink are very young in a product cycle, the cost of these items is significantly higher.
This is also assuming that the R&D costs on the inks and hardware components are no longer incurring. This is incorrect. Approximately two years ago, Dupont changed both its white ink and pretreatment formulas, which had already changed since it was released in 2006. Kornit switched from a solvent-based ink to a water-based ink. The ink chemistry for all the DTG printers is constantly being tested and redeveloped in order to make it look better on garments that are constantly changing themselves (i.e. different dyes, weaving techniques and post-treatment chemicals). DTG manufacturers that use an Epson-based printer have to continually change their firmware to match the new models of Epson printers.
In the end, the easiest way that I can explain the costs associated with DTG printing is to look back seven to eight years at the cost of a plasma TV and compare them to what you see today. There are probably several hundreds of thousands or millions of plasma TVs that have been produced. With mass production, the cost of any product will be decreased. Based on the numbers I have been told, there are less than 20,000 DTG printers out there. Unfortunately, these printers have not reached the stage of mass production and will not, in my opinion, until someone makes it much easier to apply the white ink pretreat fluid.
Mark E. Bagley, Esq., Digital Marketing Solutions LLC