What is DTG Printing, and Why is it So Awesome?

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The days of simplifying your artwork to meet your budget are over!  No longer do the general masses have to settle for “dumbed down” versions of their incredibly crafted designs, and no longer do they need to order a hundred shirts (or more) to be taken seriously!  DTG printing arrived on the scene in its infant stages over 6 years ago, and has spent the last several years being tweaked, prodded and modified until it was finally manifested in a form that offered top level competitive quality, excellent durability and reliable manufacturing practices.

If you thought you knew all about DTG printing, check again!  There have been plenty of advances and improvements that have made the process not only viable, but also highly sought after by major clothing brands and online retailers all across the globe.

DTG printing stands for “Direct To Garment” printing, which refers to the process of jetting water based ink directly onto the surface of a printable substrate, rather than printing a transfer which would then be heat pressed onto the substrate.  DTG printing equipment is similar in many ways to the type of desktop ink jet printers which can be found in most homes and offices; utilizing a small selection on ink colors (typically Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and White), the printer is able to dynamically mix the process inks “on the fly” as it prints, recreating a myriad of colors and effects as it goes!

The printers are generally much larger than most home or office printing systems, and the drive mechanism has been modified to feed blank t-shirts rather than paper or other flat substrates.  By eliminating the need for expensive and time consuming screen setup, as well as the mess and the costs that go along with the traditional screen printing process used by most print shops, we are able to use the process of DTG printing to create beautiful, full color designs with almost no setup, allowing us to offer full color custom garment printing with NO MINIMUM ORDERS and NO SETUP FEES!  Essentially, if you can create it on the computer, we can reproduce it on a t-shirt.

When compared to traditional decoration techniques, such as screen printing, the quality of a DTG printed garment is unrivaled – the print details, gradients and print accuracy will beat out almost any other garment decoration technique available (sublimation is another “digitally printed” option which offers a fairly competitive option for decorating garments with beautiful full color designs, however sublimation is limited to polyester garments and there is no white ink, meaning it can only be used on white or light colored garments – it cannot really compete with DTG printing when dark garments or 100% cotton is concerned).

 

The process of DTG printing involves several steps, which can be loosely summed up as follows:

  1. PREPARING THE GARMENT FOR PRINTING: 
    Before any ink can actually be printed on the garment, the fabric must be prepared with a liquid pre-treatment chemical, designed to create a bond between the ink and the garment itself.  Without this pre-treatment fluid, the ink would simply absorb into the porous cotton material and appear very poorly (if at all).  Pre-treatment is absolutely required for any dark garment printing (any time white ink is involved, either as an under base or a highlight layer), although it is entirely optional when printing on light colored garments.  If pre-treatment fluid is applied to the light garment prior to printing, the ink will remain on top of the fabric (rather than soaking in) and will appear more vibrant, while providing superior wash-fastness over the life of the garment.  If no pre-treatment is used on light colored garments, the print will still look good but you will notice that it simply doesn’t “POP” like it would have with the pre-treatment.  The pre-treatment is applied either manually or via an automated pre-treatment unit, depending on the situation – after the spray is applied, the garment is then brushed with a fine Wooster brush to press the fibers down (reducing the effects of fibrillation, especially on non-ringspun garments) and then heat pressed to seal the pre-treatment to the garment – once this is completed, the garment is ready for printing!
  2. PREPARING THE ARTWORK FOR PRINTING: Although we can certainly load up any artwork file and press the print button, it is important to understand that proper artwork preparation is vital to the successful recreation of complex DTG prints – there is no magic involved in the printing process that will turn “adequate” artwork into “amazing” artwork…. The better the initial artwork file is in terms of quality, color saturation and vibrancy, the better the final printed t-shirt is going to look.  You can read more about artwork prep and file format options by visiting our Artwork Information page.
  3. LOADING THE GARMENT ON THE DTG PRINTER: While this may seem like one of the easiest steps, it can actually become quite tricky when trying to reproduce complex specialty prints that cross over seams or collars, as well as when trying to print odd shaped or odd sized garments (such as onesies, or printing on sleeves and whatnot).  We use a series of “loading boards” called Platens to keep the garments pulled flat and smooth for the printing process, and we will often set up custom spacers to allow us to print on a variety of alternative substrates and print locations.
  4. PRINT THE GARMENT:
    Once everything is prepped and ready to go, we simply load up the artwork file in the specialized RIP software we use (RIP stands for Raster Image Processor, by the way) and press the print button!  The printer will travel the entire length of the garment print area, spraying ink as it goes – when it is done we are left with an incredibly detailed, vibrant print that will impress even the toughest critics.  For dark colored garments, the machine will first print a full pass of white ink (as an under base to the colors), then it will return for a second pass that will complete the image with the color layer.
  5. CURE THE INK: Since water based inks remain “water soluble” until they are permanently heat-set, it is important to press the garments after printing to ensure that the design does not come off in the wash!  For light garments, this generally involves direct exposure to high pressure and heat for around 90 seconds, while dark garments get the same treatment for at least 180 seconds; it is important to select garments for printing that are able to withstand the arduous manufacturing conditions involved with DTG printing water based inks.

While this may seem like a lot of steps, most people would be blown away to find out everything that goes into the process of traditional screen printing – relatively speaking, DTG printing involves far fewer steps.  In addition to taking less time for the overall setup / print cycle when compared to traditional decoration methods, DTG printing also involves far fewer chemicals and consumables, none of which contain the level of harsh and abrasive chemicals found in many screen printing products.

DTG printing is perfect for short run or full color printing – with a little creativity, you can recreate some incredible effects that will leave most screen printers in the dust, without breaking the bank in the process!  Contact us today to find out what we can do for you, or browse our website for even more information before you get started.

 

Fine Detail even with Gradient Screens.

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