With higher productivity solutions hitting the market, how will the industry respond?
“What’s really scary about digital is how good the prints look,” offers consultant Marshall Atkinson. “You can do so much more with a digital press than you could ever do with screen printing because you don’t have to use halftones or print through a mesh, so you don’t have all that interference.”
Still, despite a decade of steady technology progress and a proven demand for personalized and niche apparel that is being well-exploited by e-commerce apparel sites like CustomInk and CafePress, DTG’s share of the decorated apparel market is modest today. Most industry observers place it at 3 to 4 percent by volume of goods printed.
Printer OEMs hope to change that dynamic and are employing two strategies for attacking larger production runs. One is to add DTG stations to automatic screen-printing presses, in effect creating hybrid production lines where both processes can be employed on the same jobs. The other is to better approximate an automatic screen line through much larger DTG units with additional platens and print stations that use dramatically larger (and more numerous) printhead arrays. The hybrid model debuted with Kornit’s Paradigm II unit, which has since been demonstrated at industry shows by several leading manufacturers of screen-printing equipment and is compatible with both manual and automatic presses. Currently, two manufacturers – Aeoon Technologies with the Kyo Series (left) and Kornit with several models, including the recently announced Vulcan (right) – are pursuing high-production DTG lines.
While the quoted print speeds for these high-volume units may not yet rival a well-operated screen press, they are certainly enough to warrant the attention of a shop owner or production manager. Still, print speed isn’t the only obstacle for DTG in tackling larger print runs.
“Even as the DTG units get faster and faster, the biggest issue that I see is the cost of the ink,” says consultant Charlie Taublieb. “You’re looking at about $1.50 to $2.50 of ink per garment, and that just puts it out of range for most of the work that involves long runs. Screen printers are getting muscled for pennies [per print], and with DTG, it’s a difference of dollars.”
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