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What is Direct To Garment Printing? Pros & Cons (Full Guide)

by Boris Hodakel  • September 22, 2019 • 13 min read

What is Direct to Garment Pringing?

DTG printing is the process of using a modified inkjet printer to apply digital designs directly to fabric.

Black and white image of stacked T-shirts

Direct-to-garment printing, also known as DTG printing or digital printing, has only been around for about 20 years. In that short amount of time, however, this printing technique has revolutionized the fashion world in ways that nobody expected.

The first time that anyone ever heard of DTG printing was when a little-known company named DIS from Bradenton, Florida unveiled a printing machine called "Revolution". At the time, the only printing options that were popular for mass-production were heat transfer, sublimation, and screen printing, but "Revolution" flipped the industry on its head by introducing a way to transfer images directly to garments without any silk screens or transfer paper.

Within a few short years on the market, it was clear that DTG printers produced higher-resolution images than any existing fabric printing method, and the market quickly learned that this printing method is much cleaner and easier to set up than screen printing. While other garment printing techniques are still around, DTG has become the preferred printing method for thousands of professional apparel printers all over the world.

So, you want to produce garments with printed designs. What are the best ways to put designs on clothing, and what are screen printing, digital printing, heat transfer printing, and DTG printing? In this guide, we'll introduce you to the different printing processes that are available, and we'll explain how much garment printing costs and how long it takes. Read on to learn everything you need to know to launch a new line of high-quality custom apparel that features your favorite full-color prints.

As a designer, there are many processes you can use to take your idea from an initial conception to a final product. If you plan to print a design onto your garments, there are a few different printing options you should consider before you make a decision. Whether you're looking for incredible detail, bulk volume capability, or a soft-touch print finish, there is an option out there that's perfect for your needs, and you can find your ideal partner right here on Sewport.

Seashell design printed on black and white fabric

How Do You Print onto Fabric?

People have been putting designs onto fabric since the dawn of the fashion design industry. Back in the olden days, people used plant-based dyes to put designs onto clothes, and embroidery was also a popular method for putting images onto shirts, jackets, and pants.

These days, clothing manufacturers use high-tech devices like industrial screen printers and modified inkjet technologies to transfer incredibly vivid images onto T-shirts, hoodies, and all kinds of other garments. The different printing methods on the market today all deliver certain types of results, and consumers have learned how to recognize the good methods from the bad.

Picking the Right Technology

If you want to impress your customers with custom t-shirts or promotional products, you'll need to use the best fabric printing methods on the market. You won't be able to get away with using consumer-tier printing methods for long; whether you're doing a short-run project or you'll need promotional items for years to come, you'll need to find a printing company that has access to a DTG printer or high-tech sublimation or screen printing technologies.

Picking a printing company is only half the battle. Whether you're interested in printing simple one-color designs or you plan to make T-shirts with multiple colors, you'll need to come up with a beautiful design and format it in a way that your printing company can use. As we progress through this guide, we'll give you all the information you need to find a printing company and make the perfect design for your project.

Learn all about the advantages and disadvantages of different printing methods before you decide which method you should use for all your apparel.

Large-format printer printing images from popular kids movies

How Does Direct-to-Garment Printing Work?

DTG printers operate on the same basic principles as inkjet printers. These printers use specialized print heads to apply water-based ink to fabrics. Since this type of ink only applies well to natural fibers, DTG printing is perfectly matched with fabrics like bamboo, cotton, and hemp.

Before using this type of modified inkjet printer to print a design on your garment, your printing company will use a process called pre-treatment. To pre-treat your garment, the printing company will apply a heated press that compresses the fiber. Fibers such as cotton and bamboo generally stick up and away from garments, and this pressing process flattens the fibers, which makes the printing process more effective.

While pre-treatment may not be necessary for every garment, this process is essential when you're applying light-colored or white ink to dark garments. Once the piece of apparel has been pre-treated, your printing company will transfer the garment to a special type of table that holds the item in place during the printing process. Then, the print head will apply the exact design that the printing company has loaded into the connected computer.

Magenta, cyan, yellow, and black ink cartridges in an inkjet printer printhead

Top DTG Printing Technologies

nce the ink used in DTG printing doesn't leave the printhead until it moves to the garment, this printing process is highly efficient and practically mess-free. However, DTG printing generally takes a long time compared to other printing methods, and like all other inkjet printers, DTG printers are subject to issues like clogged ink nozzles and print head errors.

At this point, the Epson F2000 printer is the most popular DTG printer on the market. The design of this printer has solved many of the issues that plagued earlier DTG printer models, and the F2000 is more efficient and cost-effective than any other DTG printer.

Printing companies are faced with a serious bar to entry when it comes to DTG printing. These printers are expensive, and they can be costly to maintain. However, the results that DTG printers deliver aren't to be trifled with. DTG-printed apparel designs are higher-resolution and more color-rich than any other designs on the market.

While the F2000 is still one of the most popular DTG printers, Epson just came out with an upgrade: the F2100. Learn more about this brand-new printing technology on Epson's website.

How Much Does Direct-to-Garment Printing Cost?

Before we explain how much DTG printing will cost you per garment, it's important to understand the costs that printing companies take on to offer this type of service. There's no way around it: DTG printing simply costs more than other types of fabric printing services, and even the most successful printing companies will need to make sacrifices to offer DTG printing.

The best DTG printers cost more than $15,000. For instance, the brand-new Epson F2100 costs around $16,000-$17,000 new, and the older F2000 still costs around $12,000 to $14,000. Even when you're taking in millions of dollars a month, $17,000 is no drop in the bucket, and smaller printing companies won't be able to justify the expense of this high-tech equipment.

DTG printer ink isn't cheap either. Printing companies can buy this specialized type of ink in bulk and save money, but companies that print high volumes of DTG garments will end up spending thousands of dollars per month on ink.

There's no way around the high cost of DTG printing, but the more that a printing company prints per month, the more their prices drop. Look for an established DTG printing company to get the best price.

The price to print a design on a garment with DTG printing varies based on several factors:

1. First, you'll have to keep in mind the company's volume. Higher-volume companies charge lower prices, and lower-volume companies charge higher prices.

2. Next, you'll need to consider the DTG printing technology each company uses to print garments. The Epson F2000 and F2100 are considered to be the gold standard when it comes to direct-to-garment printers. Companies that use other printers might charge lower prices, but their results may not be as impressive.

3. Keep in mind that printing companies can save money on DTG printing even though this garment printing method is more expensive overall. Since this type of printing doesn't require much setup, printing companies can save on labor when they use DTG printers.

4. Lastly, the volume of your order changes the cost to print designs on your garments. Most companies will offer bulk discounts that get bigger the more you order.

Printing companies will charge between $3 and $7 per garment for DTG printing. This price varies based on the size of the print area, the size of the minimum order, and the overall volume that the company moves through per month.

Large-scale foil printer printing iridescent sheet of foil

How Long Does Direct-to-Garment Printing Take?

Printing a single garment with DTG takes about three minutes. This print time varies depending on the printer model your printing company uses and the complexity of the design. Some DTG printers can print multiple shirts or other garments in succession, but a technician may need to remove the printed garment and replace it with a blank piece of apparel to continue the printing process.

Keep the Company’s Size in Mind

The amount of time until your order is complete depends on the capabilities of the printing company. For example, imagine that you have an order of 100 hoodies that have designs on both their front and back sides.

If the printing company you choose only has one DTG printer, your project may take multiple days to complete. Your order may take even longer if your printing company has other clients lined up ahead of you.

When you work with a bigger printing company, however, you can expect better print times. In some cases, it might be possible to receive your order of 100 hoodies back the day that you order them, but you should expect 24-48-hour return times for orders of this size when you work with established printing companies.

Wait until you have a big order to submit your first DTG printing project. While DTG isn’t the most cost-effective technology for bigger printing jobs, you’ll still receive a bulk discount if you submit bigger orders.

High-tech screen printer in a printing shop with other related equipment

DTG Printing vs. Screen Printing

Before DTG printing came into town, screen printing was the biggest, baddest printing process on the block. That's not to say that there's any bad blood between these two apparel printing technologies, but DTG printing has certainly stolen thunder from silk screen printing.

The history of screen printing is super interesting. Learn more.

These two types of apparel printing are similar in many ways. Just like DTG printing, screen printing involves applying ink directly to a garment. This type of printing doesn't leave behind any films or residues, and screen-printed designs usually last a long time.

Printing multi-color designs with screen printing is, however, quite difficult. If you want a design with photo-realistic quality, for instance, screen printing probably isn't the right method for you. DTG printing, on the other hand, applies designs directly to your garments that can look incredibly realistic. Therefore, it serves as an alternative to heat-transfer and sublimation printing, which were previously the best options if you wanted truly realistic prints.

Stack of different-colored T-shirts on a table in a factory

What's the Best Method for T-Shirt Printing?

The answer to this question will be different for each apparel manufacturer. Each garment printer technology has its pros and cons, and no single technology has emerged as the clear winner of the garment printing race. With that said, there are several reasons why you might prefer DTG printing over other kinds of garment printing.

1. Print Quality

The print quality of DTG printers is insane. Compared to heat transfer printing, the way that garments printed with DTG technology look is in a completely different league. With DTG printing, you'll never have to worry about your designs peeling off after a year or two, and this type of printing doesn't leave behind any sign that a garment printer was used. While most types of garment printing leave behind a particular texture on each design, DTG printing is similar to silk screen printing in that it looks completely natural.

2. Cutting-Edge Technology

There's no denying that DTG printing is the newest technology on the block. Newer technologies are always more efficient, and supporting new technologies helps push the history of human innovation forward. The high-quality designs that DTG printing produces are perfect for graphic tees that display complex images.

3. Durable Designs

The designs you print using DTG printers will last as long as screen-printed designs. These designs won't peel off or fade, which means that you can print high-definition images that will last the life of the garment.

Pros and Cons of Different Garment Printer Technologies

Before you make any long-term decisions, you should review the different types of garment printing methods available to make sure you select the best technique for your brand. Let's take a look at some of the garment printing options available from our partners on Sewport:

1. Screen Printing

Also known as silk screen printing, screen printing is one of the most popular and common techniques that garment manufacturers use to print designs on apparel. The method involves applying ink directly onto the fabric through a silk mesh screen, and printers use a different screen for each color in the design. Screen printing is the best method for very large volumes, and since you can achieve the exact Pantone color you desire, it is ideal for promotional merchandise or prints involving branding.

Pros

  • Excellent for large volumes
  • Perfect Pantone color match
  • Versatile: works on almost all fabrics
  • Very professional finish

Cons

  • Expensive for smaller order quantities
  • Expensive for very simple designs

Sublimation printing panels with red, green, and yellow panels

2. Sublimation Printing

Sublimation is a transfer printing technique that is hugely used in the fashion industry, and it is most commonly used for T-shirt printing. This process involves adding the design to transfer paper and heat pressing the paper onto the fabric. Sublimation printing is a fantastically quick way to transfer a full photographic image onto a garment.

Pros

  • Perfect for full-cover printing
  • Can be produced very quickly and for small quantities
  • Great for creativity; photo-quality designs

Cons

  • Only works on 100% white polyester fabric
  • True blacks cannot be achieved

3. Heat Transfer Printing

While heat transfer printing and sublimation printing are very similar, these two garment printing processes use different chemical reactions to apply designs to apparel. With sublimation printing, the ink is transformed into a gas with heat, and when it transfers to the garment, it turns back into a solid. This process doesn't leave another layer on top of the garment, which means that sublimation prints usually last longer.

Heat transfer printing, on the other hand, uses a heat press to push the solid or liquid ink onto the garment. This process leaves an additional layer on top of the garment that can wear off over time.

Pros

  • Cheaper than sublimation printing
  • Great for high-volume jobs

Cons

  • Designs can be short-lived

4. Direct-to-Garment Printing (DTG)

As its name suggests, this technique involves printing directly onto a garment with a printing machine. DTG printing is a relatively new technology, and it results in the best print quality out of any of the methods we've mentioned. However, DTG printing is not a cost-effective method for bulk orders.

Pros

  • Excellent, high-quality results
  • Perfect for small batches
  • Huge range of color options with the maximum possible detail

Cons

  • Not cost-effective for large volumes
  • Limited placement options for your design

Man with white T-shirt looking down with dark background

5. CAD Vinyl Printing

This printing method involves cutting your design out from a sheet of vinyl and heat pressing it onto a garment. This technique can only be used for designs that incorporate a maximum of one or two colors. CAD vinyl printing is a great option for printing the same design onto multiple garment types.

Pros

  • Excellent results for simple designs and lettering
  • No setup costs and great for short, speedy runs
  • Can be used on almost all garments and fabrics

Cons

  • Restrictive to designs with one or two colors
  • Not the best option for mass volume orders

Two professionals with watches reviewing a contract over coffee

What To Prepare Before You Contact A Garment Printing Company

Just having an idea of the design you'd like to have on your garments isn't enough to get started with your new print job. Learn more about the things you'll need to bring when you're ready to have a professional garment printing company make some quality prints.

Relevant Files

nsure that you have the print design in the correct format you will need for your chosen technique. For example, does your printing company need .ai, .eps, or .png files? Also, ensure you have the relevant information on your maximum printing area and minimum DPI (digital pixels per inch). Don't make guesses on these details; contact your printing company ahead of time.

Expected Result

Be clear about the final results you are expecting. When you have chosen your printing method and supplier, discuss your overall vision with them to keep everybody's expectations manageable. Be sure to check out this helpful article on how to talk to clothing manufacturers since it will definitely help you seal the deal.

Man in T-shirt printing shop using a tool with printed shirts in the background

Getting Ready for DTG Printing: The Bottom Line

Whether you're looking for incredible detail, bulk volume capability, or a soft-touch print finish, there is an option out there that's perfect for your needs, and you can find your ideal partner right here on Sewport. In this guide, we introduced you to the different printing processes that are available, and we explained how much DTG garment printing costs and how long it takes. You learn everything you need to know to launch a new line of high-quality custom apparel that features your favorite full-color prints.

There are many options available for garment printing (even more than we’ve been able to list here), so the most important tip for success in garment printing is to do your research before beginning. Ensure you are clear about your expectations and keep the quantities you need in mind since this factor can affect your production company’s MOQ. Take a look through our comprehensive list of printing professionals on Sewport to find the right company to help you with all your garment printing requirements.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.