Direct to Garment Printing

Textile printing is the process of applying color to fabric in definite patterns or designs.  In properly printed fabrics the color is bonded with the fiber, so as to resist against washing and friction when being worn.  Textile printing is related to dyeing but in dyeing properly the whole fabric is uniformly covered with one color, whereas in printing one or more colors are applied to it in certain parts only, and in sharply defined patterns.

There are basically seven distinct methods presently used to impress colored patterns onto cloth:

  1. Hand block printing

  2. Perrotine printing (block-printing machine invented by Perrot of Rouen in 1834)

  3. Engraved copperplate printing

  4. Roller, cylinder, or machine printing

  5. Stencil printing

  6. Screen printing

  7. Digital textile printing

Direct to Garment Printing is often referenced as Digital Textile Printing.

In printing, wooden blocks, stencils, engraved plates, rollers, or silkscreens can be used to place colors on the fabric.  Colorants used in printing contain dyes thickened to prevent the color from spreading by capillary attraction beyond the limits of the pattern or design.

The typical printing process does involve several stages in order to prepare the fabric and printing paste, and to fix the impression permanently on the fabric.  The various processes include, pre-treatment of fabric, preparation of colors, preparation of printing paste, impression of paste on fabric using printing methods, drying of fabric, fixing the printing with steam or hot air (for pigments), after process treatments.

Some textile printing machines are for printing on rolled fabric and others are set to print onto cut pieces of fabric or directly onto clothing.   Direct to garment printing, also known as DTG printing, digital direct to garment printing, digital apparel printing, and inkjet to garment printing, is a process of printing on textiles and garments using specialized or modified inkjet technology.  DTG Printing outputs a high resolution compared to silk-screen printing.  The two key requirements of a DTG printer are a transport mechanism for the garment and specialty inks (inkjet textile inks) that are applied to the textile directly and are absorbed by the fibers.  With "Direct-to-Garment" printing, a photo or graphic is printed on fabric with particular type of printer.  

All direct to garment printers are descendants of the desktop inkjet printer.  The resolution and speed of direct-to-garment inkjet printers have been increased greatly over the last several years (the direct to garment era is generally recognized as beginning in the last quarter of 2004 when Mimaki & U.S. Screen introduced their printers at the SGIA show in Minneapolis

Direct to garment (DTG) printing is most commonly implemented on garments that are made of cotton or cotton blends, although recent developments in technology have allowed for superior performance on light colored polyester and cotton/poly blends.  DTG printing on dark garments is now being accomplished by a number of different manufacturers.  The dark garments printing process has taken longer to master.   First a pre-treatment occurs on the fabric location to be printed.  Not exactly like and underbase & flash that is done on screen printing projects, but similar in some respects.

The majority of DTG printers are driven from a computer by the use of software known as a RIP (Raster Image Processor). The RIP software allows the printer to print with larger volumes of ink, generate white ink underbases for dark shirts and also provides for more precision color management through color profiles. More advanced RIP software allows for driving multiple printers from one computer, advanced job queuing, ink cost calculation as well as a real time preview of the file prior to printing.

DTG was seen as a viable solution for low-quantity orders previously not possible because of the expensive setup process of screen printers. This opened a new market of quantity-one consumer driven purchasing of digitally printed direct to garment goods and a surge of large online fulfillment operations to meet this growing demand.  These large fulfillment centers dominated the market until 2007 when 'design your own' online designer solutions entered the market and allowed smaller fulfillment centers to afford similar technology for their own websites.

Direct-to-Garment Printing Machine Suppliers: Anajet Sprint, BelQuette, DTG Digital, Oprintjet, Brother, Kornit and Mimaki.  If you would like to learn more about Kornit, you can read our fashion blog post about Kornit direct to garment printing.

If you wish to learn more about printing and the process you can contact machine & equipment manufacturers in the industry.  Another good resource is to attend one of the garment printing trade shows.  You can contact companies such as SGIA, ISS Show, and NBM.

A primary advantage of DTG printing is the lack of set-up costs and instant turnaround time not associated with traditional garment printing methods such as screen printing. The comparative disadvantage of DTG is equipment maintenance and ink cost. Ink technology developments have significantly improved ink performance and lowered ink cost. Digital printing technologies are non-contact, meaning that media is printed on without hand contact, allowing for a more precise image. This prevents the image distortion that takes place in screen printing.

What is the primary difference between screen printing and direct to garment printing?

Simply put, digital printing is less expensive for small production runs and screen printing is generally less expensive larger volume production.

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You may also have interest in learning about e-ink & e-paper.  Electronic Ink and Electronic Paper are completely different than digital printing, but certainly something that you may want to learn about.

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