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Best of Both Worlds: Digital Hybrid and Variable Data Printing

(April/May 2019) posted on Fri May 24, 2019

Combining digital and analog garment printing techniques opens up a plethora of possibilities.

click an image below to view slideshow

By Michelle Moxley

First, consider run sizes. What are the complexity and lengths of your regular orders, whether screen or DTG? Hybrid fits well into a print model of 50 to 400 pieces – slightly longer runs than DTG, up to minimum cost effectiveness for screen print. Each technology has a sweet spot in cost effectiveness in which it will be the most advantageous to use for an order, although variable data could be a reason to disrupt this model because it makes each garment inherently more valuable. This means print runs longer than 400 pieces are achievable with hybrid, with the cost savings of screen printing balancing the higher costs of the digital. Using hybrid technology with long print runs is possible, with characteristics like variable data, high-resolution definition, screen reduction, and exact replication making longer runs not only possible, but also desirable.

Second, give some thought to how you’ll attract clients. Hybrid technology offers an unparalleled range of application possibilities, so thinking outside of the box is important. Special effects can be a great way to enhance and really promote this technology.

Third, plan to educate your existing clients about your new capabilities. Hybrid print resolution is high and sometimes this can mean a difference in image quality between screen print and hybrid output. This is a good issue to discuss with customers in advance. Making samples of a wide range of work is important for helping them understand the technology and its applications.

Fourth, consider workflow. With more digital application methods being used in our production facilities, automation, friction, and handling the data are key issues to address. 

Creating metrics and using analytics internally gives you the best guide for streamlining your process. Hybrid will likely introduce a new data workflow that is more complex than traditional screen printing because it removes an analog workflow and replaces it with a digital one. Color calibration, for example, will be different. On the plus side, it involves less time mixing inks and making screens, yet there is definitely a learning curve for a traditional screen printer to adapt a digital workflow. 

Finally, think about productivity. Hybrid is faster than DTG, but not as fast as screen printing: Like a true hybrid, it falls in the middle. It offers unique qualities that neither screen nor DTG can offer. Capitalizing on these aspects is the key to ultimately driving the success of hybrid printing in your shop.

Prepare for Change

The garment decoration industry is in the midst of a digital revolution. With more customization and data harnessing, digital is easily the answer for a fast-changing market. Hybrid technology brings the best of two worlds together, enhancing screen printing with variable data, reducing setups, and creating inventory control while improving DTG with special effects, precise color matching, and faster production speeds. 

Michelle Moxley is a career research, development, and innovation expert, skilled in screen printing, special-effects printing, color separation, graphics, prepress, digital printing, and textiles. She is currently director of innovation at M&R. Follow her on Instagram @notoriousrandd.

See an example of digital hybrid printing here. Read more from the April/May 2019 issue.


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