As mentioned earlier, in “tutorial” 1, the two basic forms of t-shirt printing are screen printing and digital printing.
Within digital printing, there are two basic methods: heat transfers and direct printing, also referred to as direct to garment (DTG) printing. To learn more about Heat Transfers and methods, refer to page 4.
Direct to Garment Printing (DTG):
DTG is a relatively new fabric printing method that prints an image directly onto a garment or fabric through what is essentially a modified version of a traditional inkjet printer. Think of a regular inkjet printer which has been modified to “accept” garments instead of paper. The ink is printed directly onto fabric which results in exceptional “hand” (common term in the industry referring to how a garment feels once the image or design has been printed on it), and offers more flexibility than screenprinting in terms of color variation and turn-around time (especially for smaller orders).
Originally it was best suited for light garments as white ink was not available. As the technology continues to advance, however, major DTG printing providers are adding dark garments to their lists.
Since the technology is relatively new it is more likely that small to medium-sized businesses will be able to incorporate a DTG printer into their operation as they are quite expensive. To give you an idea, I was at a trade show in Atlantic City marveling at a DTG printer in the process of printing a t-shirt when I was told the machine would cost upwards of US$10,000. For me, the discussion stopped right there…
Long story short, DTG printing is not for everyone-at least not at this point. It suffers from mixed reviews. Determining if its right for your business will depend on your own judgement and research. How “good” or “bad” it is seems to vary depending on the type of business, its client base, and individual experiences. It is important to remember, however, that it is a relatively new technology and once perfected could change the lives of many a t-shirt printer due to its flexibility.
The DTG Process
…Direct-to-garment (DTG), also known as inkjet-to-garment printing, involves using a printer to print ink directly onto a cotton garment and curing the ink with a heat press. There is very little set-up time, which usually involves little more than sizing the image correctly in Adobe Photoshop or CorelDraw. There is one limitation — I can print only light shirts via DTG because I have not yet found a printer with a “white ink solution” to inkjet print on darks that I think could work in my production environment.
Since my shop prints about 275 to 350 shirts a day using DTG, I shopped for a printer that could produce that volume without much maintenance or down time. I chose the Brother GT-541 and have found it to be a reliable and fast four-color (CMYK) printer that works for my needs.
I looked at printers with 8-color printheads that can produce a larger color gamut and finer detail, but the speed was more important to me.
Inkjet printing directly to a shirt obviously cannot yield the same image quality as inkjet printing to paper — just as printing on copy paper can’t compare to printing on high-quality photo paper. The substrate dictates the limits of your image quality.
Knowing that, I shop for blank garments that are closer to “photo” paper than “copy” paper. I look for thread count and a fine, dense weave that will provide a better print surface. I avoid garments with too much fluff, or pile, because that inhibits the inkjet process. Ring-spun cotton is softer and more expensive, but that soft hand comes from all the tiny fibers that stick up off the fabric.
These tiny fibers block some of the sprayed ink from making a solid bond with the shirt and little bits of the image wash away as the fibers wear off. These tiny fibers also can lift up immediately after being printed, exposing areas that did not get full ink absorption. Avoid both problems by using shirts woven from open-ended yarn, or yarn that is card spun.
To read the complete article, click here.
For a visual example of a DTG printer, refer to www.myt-jet.com.
Innovation and thinking outside the box will go a long way for the independent or budding t-shirt enthusiast. Check out this post on www.web2wear.com about a guy who made his own DTG printer out of an older inkjet printer.