Direct-to-garment (DTG) printers represent a special segment of the garment industry. Here, inkjet printheads are no stencils or screens. About the only things DTG printers have in common with screen printing is the use of inks and platens.
Changes abound in the DTG market. In many instances, companies have dropped out of the industry, even since our article on the subject last year. Some are now in the process of phasing out their DTG products. Meanwhile, others are becoming more visible. Growth in direct-to-garment printing is attributable mostly to screen printers who implement the technology to handle the low-volume work that would be unprofitable to produce on their automatic presses and to specialty decorators who use the digital printers to produce one-off apparel, including personalized products on demand.
The following roundtable discussion introduces the latest equipment from some DTG manufacturers and examines market trends.
What’s your Latest DTG equipment and how has it Been upgraded?
green: Our latest DTG printer is the SPRINT. In comparison with our previous model, the FP125, it has several enhanced capabilities—key among them are speed and lower maintenance requirements. It can print a T-shirt in 60 seconds or less.
goljevacki: The TexPro uses the A2+ print format with low ink consumption and comes bundled with professional, easy-to-use RIP software. Our printers use magnetic, interchangeable tables, so many different types of garments can be printed on them. We also use only one type of ink for all garments.
Rhome: Brother currently offers two DTG printers—the GT-541 and the GT-782. The Brother GT-541 allows the user to print directly from their computer or from a flash card. It’s as simple to operate as a desktop printer and consistently delivers high-resolution print quality. This machine is for small- to medium-sized shops or those who just want to dip a toe into digital garment printing. The Brother G-782 is for high volume shops. Production is increased as a result of reduced cycle times and its ability to print multiples simultaneously. It has extra-large dual platens, both CMYK and white ink capability, and eight inkjet heads.
Copeland: The DTG Viper is our latest. It offers a large print area (16.5 x 29 in.) and a belt-feed system that allows for an efficient workflow in large-volume operations. It also incorporates the White Ink Management System (WIMS), which minimizes the settling of white ink, thereby eliminating many clogging issues.
Borucki: The Avalanche 951 is the newest machine. It has a twin Y axis compared to a single Y axis on the Storm 931. This gives it two independent printhead arrays, one white and one CMYK. This allows the white ink to be printed independently of the CMYK while being in action simultaneously. Print times can be cut in half because the white print array can print on one platen while the CMYK prints on the opposite platen. We doubled the number of CMYK printheads on the Avalanche to further increase its speed.
Landesman: The Lawson Express-Jet T2020 now has a larger print area (20 x 20 in.) and has interchangeable platens to suit specific printing needs. It is designed to be a robust, industrial-floormodel machine.Baxter: The most recent additions are the i-Dot 4100, which prints on both light and dark garments with equal ease of operation, and the i-Dot 2100, which prints only on light and pastel garments, using a dual CMYK ink supply for faster print speeds. Both offer an improved, user-friendly operator interface.
Schierkolk: The Melco G2 Direct to Garment Printer is the latest solution distributed by Melco. This is a new machine, not an upgrade. Importantly, G2 is not a MelcoJet. The G2 stands on its own. It can print on both light and dark garments at speeds that help businesses maintain profit margins.
Victor Peña: The FreeJet 330TX is now in its sixth series and is equipped with our WetCap maintenance system designed to maintain and preserve the printhead. It shields the printhead from the elements and safeguards it against clogging. It creates an air-tight protective enclosure for the printhead. It also comes with an interchangeable platen system for printing a variety of soft goods. The FreeJet 330TX has a four-lift system to automatically raise and lower the print bed, keeping it level. It has an upgraded bed size of 13 x 22.7 in. It has an upgraded print engine, new firmware, and technical upgrades for faster printing speeds.
Will most garment Screen Printers Switch to DTG?
green: No. Most garment printers who are running significant production levels will add a digital garment printer or two. If it’s a short run, digital garment printers are cheaper to run by orders of magnitude. Garment decorators who seek to innovate and watch out for threats will add a digital apparel printer to their business. The pie isn’t shrinking; it’s the most adaptable businesses that will thrive.
goljevacki: The market has a place for DTG printers, but also for screen printing and other methods. Today, however, there is a noticeable shift toward smaller and customized print runs, where DTG printers are the best option.
Rhome: Without question, that is the direction we’re going. DTG is faster and less expensive to operate than traditional screen printing machines because there is minimal set up, tear-down, clean-up, screens, squeegees, or platen adhesive. DTG printing allows for small runs, which is a huge benefit for custom shirt operations ad smaller shops.
Copeland: I don’t know that I would use the word switch. I would definitely use the word add. More garment printers are recognizing that DTG printing is simply another decoration tool. It’s not going to replace traditional screen printing for the majority of jobs, and it can actually be used to complement screen printing by offering an inexpensive option for reorders, samples, and add-ons.Borucki: Because the printers can now achieve digital output of up to 300 prints per hour, this will make it financially attractive to a larger share of traditional screen printers. Landesman: Our estimates are that within 10 years, the industry will be 50% DTG. Screen printing is not going away. There will remain a strong need for screen printing as certain materials are not easy to inkjet; furthermore, specialty inks like glitters, foils, glowin-the-dark inks, are not jettable at this time.
Baxter: While screen printing will always have an important role in the garment-embellishment process, DTG printing will have an ever-increasing place.
Schierkolk: DTG printers are an enhancement to a printing business. This printing technology enables any apparel-decoration or promotionalproduct business to enjoy profits never before possible. Screen printers can make a decent profit on a one-off shirt that was out of range in years past.
Peña: DTG equipment is a great supplement to traditional garment-decorating methods, such as screen printing and embroidery. We’re witnessing an increased combination of DTG and traditional printing in most production lines, and we anticipate a steady growth in this trend. With the ability to print full-color graphics instantly with fast turnaround and no setup, we definitely foresee most garment printers using DTG technology in their shops.
How Large is the Direct-to-garment Business in the U.S.?
green: It was $370 million in 2006, or just 1% of the apparel-decoration market’s share at that time. Lacking an independent market analyst in this space makes it difficult to estimate. It could be in the $500 million to $1 billion range by now.
Copeland: I would estimate the DTG market to be roughly $40-$50 million annually for equipment sales in the U.S. This excludes residual sales for heat presses and consumables sales, which altogether could double the market size.
Baxter: It’s difficult to say, but DTG printing remains a small percentage of all garments printed in the U.S.
Schierkolk: Decorated apparel is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S.
Peña: DTG is ever expanding, for certain.
What types of ink Does your equipment use for Direct to Garment T-Shirt Printing?
green: Our printer uses two general types of water-based pigment inks—one that works best on organic fabric, AnaBright, and another for synthetics called PolyBright. Our white ink looks fantastic on dark fabrics. We have a closed-loop ink-delivery process that enables precise application while reducing the evaporative process that leads to ink clogging.
goljevacki: One set of CMYK and one set of White cartridges. The ink is a water-based pigmented formulation.
Rhome: It is a water-based ink developed especially by our firm for printing on garments. We have done extensive wash testing and have found that the ink is durable.
Copeland: It uses aqueous pigmented textile inks with binders offered in five colors—cyan, magenta, yellow, black, and white.
Borucki: We are a vertical company that develops and manufactures our own digital CMYK and White inks for our line of equipment. Our ink is a pigmented water-based ink that is the greenest ink in the DTG market today, being phthalate- and formaldehyde-free.
Landesman: We have our own pigmented water-based ink.
Baxter: The i-Dot uses our own i-Pak water-based ink i-Pak water-based ink system, either in cartridges or bulk feed. These inks are PBC- and phthalate-free, making them environmentally friendly.
Schierkolk: One type of ink is used for optimal quality and durability—MelcoInk. This specialty textile ink is engineered to work smoothly with our DTG printer and MelcoRIP printing software. These inks are water-based, environmentally friendly, clean, and easy to apply. The ink comes in 220-ml sealed cartridges that keep air out and ink in.
Peña: The FreeJet DTG printers use an advanced, water-based pigmented ink formulated by DuPont for optimum output.
What’s the future for Direct-to-garment Printing?
green: We see the future of this market expanding at an exponential rate. The key gap that separates the greater garment-decoration market from adopting digital garment technology is converting them from perceiving it as a threat to embracing it as a new weapon in a power arsenal of product offerings. What DTG printing will do is expand the possibilities for creativity and agility for the larger companies, while making rapid-turnaround, shortrun, and million-color print orders even more profitable.
goljevacki: As technology continues to develop, DTG printers will continue to evolve and get easier to use. The market will expand as DTG printers become more enticing.
Rhome: Increased productivity and quality. Future machines will print a better product faster.
Copeland: The short-term future is probably more of the same as we have now, though we will see smaller players falling by the wayside as it becomes harder to re-purpose the Epson printers that the majority of DTG printers are based on. It has been more difficult for non-Epson-authorized developers to get parts for their machines (most notably printheads). Currently Impressions Technology and Mastermind are the developers in the marketplace with contracts with Epson to purchase their print engines for re-purposing into the DTG marketplace. Long-term, we will begin to see the larger DTG manufacturers releasing printers that are not re-purposed Epsons, and instead have units developed on the Ricoh heads or modifications of existing large-format printers, much like those used by the sign industry. We have only really started to scratch the surface of DTG potential.
Borucki: The best way to describe the future for DTG is with a single word: unlimited. We are always developing new equipment. As technology advances with printheads capable of unbelievable firing rates, coupled with the mechanical accuracy of the linear drives available today, you will see an unprecedented surge in technology soon.
Landesman: The future is tremendous. As inkjet printers become faster and more agile, as systems improve, we will continue to see dramatic growth in this emerging market. Consumers are more demanding and want their products faster.
Baxter: We feel that the many Advantages of DTG printing will promote continued growth and allow DTG printers to take an increasingly significant role in the industry.
Schierkolk: DTG printing will continue to grow as consumer demand for personalized and custom products increases. With no minimum quantity requirements and photo-quality print capabilities, profit potential for businesses of any size remains strong.
Peña: We’re looking forward to largeformat DTG models, smaller-sized tabletop units, as well as ink-technology advancements. We are witnessing a DTG shift from an emerging to an established technology, widely used and coupled with traditional forms of garment decorating. With the on-demand customer base expanding, the personalization and mass-customization market multiplying, and traditional printers recognizing the countless benefits of DTG technology, we anticipate a continued rise in DTG demand.
Who We taLkeD to:
Applications manager, Anajet, Inc.
Sales and marketing manager, Azon
National accounts manager, Brother Int’l
Digital products manager,
ColDesi, Inc./DTG Digital Garment Printers
VP, N. American operations, Kornit Digital
Co-president, Lawson Screen
& Digital Products, Inc.
Director, Digital Products Div., M&R
Marketing manager, Melco
President, OmniPrint Int’l