DTG or Direct To Garment, is digitally printing onto blank garments, namely t-shirts, with an inkjet system. Another way to describe DTG would be printing directly from your computer to a tshirt instead of paper. DTG utilizes four process colors, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black), or CMYK. These four colors have a capability of creating 100,000,000 (One Hundred Million) colors and have been used in the printing industry for years. On fabric, it’s difficult to distinguish between most of these colors, but with millions of colors to choose from, it’s easy to understand how DTG can have an advantage over traditional screen printing.
DTG systems use water-based ink specifically designed to jet through a digital print head and maintain vibrant colors even after the garments are washed. DTG inks perform best on 100% cotton fabrics and are heat set for curing, most often with a heat press. Other fabrics and materials are capable of being printed on but may require a pretreatment or IRC (Inkjet Receptive Coating). Water-based inks tend also to have a more translucent appearance to them when printed. On light fabrics, this isn’t a problem and the prints can have a vibrant appearance. When printing on garments other than white where you need to maintain the integrity of your print colors, or on darker colors where the print would not be visible, a white ink layer is printed prior to your color layer.
DTG is an excellent investment for selling to niche markets. A niche market is defined as relating to or aimed at a small specialized group or market. In the t-shirt industry, printing a single shirt is called a one-off and would be considered a niche market. Screen printing requires a screen to be created for every color used. A four color design for a single screen printed shirt would have, on average, around $100 in setup costs, and could be as much as $150 for a single printed shirt, obviously not very cost effective. When using DTG, the cost would average $5-$6 for the finished product and is typically sold for $25-$30, making DTG much more desirable.
The weakness in using DTG is large volume printing. Although DTG can produce high quality prints at a great cost, when printing larger quantities, it can be a slower process than traditional methods. DTG yields, on average, 45-60 shirts an hour on light garments and 12-18 shirts an hour on dark garments requiring white ink. The DTG printing systems are capable of doing large volumes of any given design, but with a slower printing process, many companies look to more traditional methods, such as screen printing. Companies that do not have screen printing capabilities, often will contract work out to screen print shops in order to fulfill their larger orders while printing the smaller quantities with their DTG systems.