The markets for DTG printers are growing, thanks to changes in apparel retailing, new inks, better RIPs, easier-to-use printers, and ready-to-print DTG garments.
Screen printing will play a role in the garment decorating business for years to come. But the scope of that role may change over the next decade due to market forces that favor the environmental friendliness and inventory-reduction possibilities of print-on-demand direct-to-garment (DTG) printing.
The performance of DTG printers has improved in recent years, thanks to industrial printheads, better RIP software, enhanced pretreatments, reduced maintenance requirements, and steadily improving textile inks. This article highlights recent improvements in DTG inks, but also suggests why the robustness, versatility, and affordability of today’s screen-printing inks will perhaps never be supplanted.
High-volume screen printers currently regard DTG printing as a complementary process, not one that could someday replace their existing analog presses. DTG works especially well for short runs of cotton and cotton/poly garments – particularly for designs that include full-color photorealistic art. But screen printing is still a more cost-effective option for creating 1- and 2-color graphics on many different fabric types. It is also more cost-effective for printing thousands of garments that have the same design.
Over the past year, DTG printers have become easier to use and maintain, more versatile, and more affordable. Some advancements make DTG printers easier to use at sites where screen printing is the primary method used to decorate high volumes of garments. Other improvements attract solopreneurs and well-financed startup companies that have no interest in learning about screen printing.
Entry-level DTG printers are popular with home-based businesses, embroidery firms, sign shops, and commercial printing firms that want to print T-shirts and related products on demand. Higher-speed industrial-grade DTG printers have been purchased by Amazon and other e-commerce-focused companies that fulfill short to medium runs of orders for licensed apparel and custom T-shirts from independent artists.
As David Landesman, co-president of Lawson Screen and Digital Products, points out, DTG printing is an easier process to learn than screen printing – particularly for people who have used digital imaging software and inkjet photo printers for years. DTG printing appeals to startup companies because it doesn’t involve the messiness of mixing inks or the facility modifications for cleaning and storing screens and powering presses and dryers.
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