With higher productivity solutions hitting the market, how will the industry respond?
Much has happened in direct-to-garment (DTG) inkjet printing since we last examined the technology two years ago. Newer inks provide better color gamut, improved washability, and adhesion to a growing range of pretreated fabrics. Big inkjet players have jumped in, first with Epson (left) and then Ricoh (through its recent acquisition of Anajet, right) marketing DTG systems. Online decorated apparel mavericks continue to use DTG technology to disrupt existing supply channels, with an intriguing announcement from Amazon in January that it was working with Kornit on the online retailer’s Merch program. And, perhaps most importantly, machines with significantly higher throughput are hitting the market, giving volume screen printers more to consider as they plot their future capital investments.
The more productive DTG systems available today are a far cry from the ones that hit the market about 15 years ago. Those early units, much like the first inkjet poster-printing systems that had come a decade before, were essentially desktop printers that had been jury-rigged to print directly onto white, 100-percent cotton shirts. About five years later, we began to see printers that had been built specifically for the application. White inks emerged. They weren’t nearly as opaque as a screen-printed underbase, requiring multiple passes and/or additional heads to get acceptable results, and initially they were prone to clogging in the head – by far the biggest frustration of early DTG adopters. But gradually, they opened the door to dark garment printing. Later, units that could print discharge inks appeared, as well as systems that touted the ability to image a wider range of pretreated synthetic and blended textiles.
Print speeds, in part due to the wider use of current-generation printheads, have risen in the latest printers. (See the specs for all currently available models here.) Productivity features such as bulk ink supply and automatic printhead height adjustment have become common. A wide range of easily changed specialty platens are available to accommodate unusual placement areas such as pockets or cumbersome garment types such as hoodies. And the print quality, particularly for photographic images, remains impressive.
Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to the magazine.