Once considered by many to be a passing fad by those in the screen printing industry, direct to garment digital printing (which is not quite 20 years old) has proven to be a popular method of printing colorful, accurate graphics. This modern approach to garment printing goes by several names, including digital apparel printing, digital garment printing, inkjet to garment printing, and DTG. It is known for the durability of the final image, the almost unlimited number of colors that can be reproduced, and its cost effectiveness for short production runs.
The Process of Direct to Garment Digital Printing
The direct to garment printing process prints graphics directly onto the garment, which could be a t-shirt, sweatshirt, hoodie, pillow case, ball cap, tote bag, or apron. Printing is accomplished by what is essentially a digital inkjet printer for garments. A digital image is provided to the printer. The fabric is held in position as a print head applies a single layer of garment ink to the fabric. The fabric is spooled through the printer not unlike a piece of paper in an office printer. The water-based ink used in this process becomes a permanent part of the fabric itself as it is absorbed into the material’s fibers. This means there is no stiff area where the graphics are as is often seen with more traditional methods.
Once the garment has been printed, the ink will need to cure. Curing takes place through the use of a heat press or tunnel dryer. Note that if the fabric is dark, a layer of pre-treatment may be added to ensure the vibrancy of the final colors against such a dark background. The pre-treatment consists of a layer added to the material as an “underbase” upon which the final image is printed. In some instances, the underbase may be detectable even after printing, but this is not a problem when a skilled digital printing company is used.
Setup and Processing Time
The setup time for direct to garment printing is much shorter compared to more traditional methods such as screen printing. Setup involves selecting the graphic to be printed and placing the garment in the printer. Then all colors are printed on the garment in just one pass, regardless of the number of colors that may be involved. The actual printing process may take longer than screen printing, but the overall time for direct to garment printing is much less because of the minimal setup time.
Benefits of Direct to Garment Digital Printing
Because of its speed, direct to garment digital printing is very amenable to smaller orders. Because the ink is absorbed into the fabric, it will not peel, crack, or wash away. Inkjet technology makes direct to garment digital printing perfect for printing digital photographs or designs with many different colors. In fact, if you need to accurately reproduce a full color photograph, then this is the best approach as it creates the most accurate reproduction of an image. There are no limitations to the number of colors you can use, either.
Direct to garment printing does not require that the digital image be in a vector format, nor does the image need to be separated into different layers by color. Finally, it is excellent for short production runs or for instances where the customer can only keep a limited number in stock. It is not uncommon for direct to garment printing to be used for printing just a single shirt or for producing a prototype.
Limitations of Direct to Garment Printing
One of the limitations involved with direct to garment printing is that the material to be printed on must be a cotton textile, so fabric choices are limited. The placement of the design is also limited, and the graphics may not stand out as well on darker fabrics – however, this depends in part on the digital printing company you choose. Some experts feel that while this method provides for a much wider variety of colors, they tend to look faded compared to screen printing. While setup times are very short, the printing time for each garment is not short. Finally, direct to garment printing may not be cost effective for large production runs (over 100).
Direct to garment printing is an excellent method for reproducing color photographs or detailed designs with practically unlimited colors. It uses inkjet technology to dye the fabric with inks that produce vibrant colors that won’t crack or peel. This method works best on fabrics that are at least 80% cotton and provide a light colored background for the image. While the actual processing time for the printing may take a while, the setup time is short and lends itself to short production runs. In fact, this process seems to be the most economical for production runs under 100 garments.
At A.I.R. Conway, we do direct to garment printing that provides vibrant, long-lasting graphics on both light and dark backgrounds. Our minimum order requirements are low, and there are no art charges, screen charges, or separation charges. We offer an economical solution to customers with small production runs that still want high quality, colorful results. Contact us today to see what we can do for you and to get a quote!