Is DTG Printing Really "Direct to Garment" Printing? The Truth About DTG Printing

On the surface, many people who do not take the time to fully research fall into the trap believing that Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing is incredibly rewarding. The reasons for the misconception is that many printers are told about supposed advantages over traditional screen printing.  Early in the process, it is extremely important that you augment production capabilities, comparing screen printing to DTG before you make that commitment. While appealing on the surface, its important to note DTG printing isn't for everyone, and due to the challenges it creates, you will need to be prepared to commit yourself and your staff to understanding each and every facet to enjoy a trouble-free experience. 
Is DTG Printing Really "Direct to Garment" Printing? Let's Analyze the Truth About DTG Printing

Assuming you already understand the screen printing process, lets talk about why so many new printing companies are being lured into DTG printing because of all the claims about how it benefits small-business and established shops. In order to understand the complexities involved with Direct to Garment" printing, the easiest way would be to simply take you on a journey through the entire multi-step printing process. Despite the name direct to garment, this labor intensive multi-step process takes a tremendous amount of time and skill to master.

Let's assume you have the steamer, photo and graphics editing software, heat press, garment pre-treater, conveyor dryer, and direct to garment printer.

The Intensive DTG Printing Process

Step 1: Preparing the Artwork
(Time: 2 hours to 3 days)
The DTG printing process begins with creating a raster or vector file for the artwork. With direct to garment printing, these files must be carefully checked for color profiling, compression artifacts, and color correction specific to the blank bulk shirts color. Once all file adjustments are made, an .arp file is created that is interpreted by the garment printer. (Note: this process becomes more complicated and time consuming when printing on dark blank t-shirts.)

Step 2: Preparing the Garments
(Time: 0 to 35 minutes)
When working with white or light colored garments, this process is just slightly easier. When working with linens or dark garments, proper care must be taken at this stage or the work will be a complete fail. Steaming the shirts first can help to reduce smearing. The garment must be placed on the DTG platen with adhesives and all seams must be strightend so the print surface is flush. Before printing any dark garments, pretreating is absolutely required. Garments must be sprayed with a mist of a specially-formulated pre-treating liquid. White ink on dark garments requires a second heat pressing because the white ink needs help standing up to the porous garments.

Step 3: DTG Printing
(Time: 1 to 5 minutes)
This is where the appeal and confusion of DTG printing lies. The printing process can be very quite if not for all the preparation involved to ensure each bulk lot shirt is perfect. Although the manual labor part is done, the printer is going to lay up to three different ink layers in a uniform, consistent manner with zero room for error. The only work involved here for the shop personnel is preparing the next shirt to be printed.

Step 4: Drying & Quality Inspection
(Time: 5 to 10 minutes)
When working with white ink on a dark garment, things are further complicated because the ink needs to cure at 365 degrees for a minimum five minutes each garment.

The Purchase Cost of a Typical DTG Machine
When it comes to DTG printing, not only is the cost of the equipment quite expensive, the cost of consumables is too. Getting involved with DTG printing represents an enormous financial risk for any small business; with most DTG printers costing in the $20,000 range. Now include things like the printer, a pre-treatment machine, the heat press, numerous supplies, equipment shipping, and even training, and this little package just set the print shop back around $29,000 on average. Now once the DTG machine arrives, the costs continue to pile up. There are ongoing costs of ink and supplies; usually in the $1-3 range for a standard size print on dark garments plus cost of pre-treat fluid of another .30-.80 per print.

Compared to a nickle for the ink for screen printing, you can see how your profits are being eaten away each DTG shirt you print. To make matters worse, the cost of your ink doesn't come down in bulk quantities, unlike the screen printing prices on large quantity orders.

When it comes to garment printing, a print shop needs to produce printed apparel quickly and at minimal cost per garment to make maximum profits. The opposite is in play with the complicated and consuming multi-stage DTG printing process. The screen printers have a huge advantage when it comes to set-up, printing, and tear-down. The dark garments are the bane of the DTG industry because even a good operator can only make an average of 8 shirts an hour, and that is without any mistakes. The learning curve needed to print shirts with a DTG machine is extensive, and even pressman with years experience still make preparation and printing mistakes with DTG printing. The more extreme the order, the less blank wholesale shirts per hour, and the higher the stress level because each mistakes takes a huge chunk out of any potential profits.

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