With higher productivity solutions hitting the market, how will the industry respond?
Polyprint offers a variation on the hybrid production model with its Easy Table Series platen system for the Texjet Plus Advanced DTG printers (right). The Easy Table Series allows users to take platens from a manual screen printer to the DTG unit and back again while keeping the job in register. Such an approach could facilitate test prints and lower volume orders that shops might not want to send to an automatic line.
Atkinson believes that we’re just seeing the infancy of hybrid lines that use both screen and DTG technology. “We’re going to see more of the DTG printheads being adapted to go onto screen-printing presses,” he says. “The efficiency and lowering of the cost is what’s going to drive this. Being able to use discharge or regular white ink as the underbase and then printing digitally on top allows room on the press to add other embellishments, spot colors, or whatever you want to do.”
Of course, a hybrid production environment requires you to be in screen printing already or to be willing to add that type of manufacturing capability to your company. For companies that aren’t already in the printing business, that may not be an appealing proposition. Just as embroidery companies, storefront sign and quick-printing establishments, and other DTG adopters have found, you can do a lot of garment decoration without building a traditional printing plant today.
Most of these current users aren’t doing work that would lend itself to longer runs, but as the internet-based model of creating and promoting decorated apparel continues to grow, this could change as well. A number of online garment businesses have grown to multimillion dollar organizations; they may not print orders of 1000 or more identical pieces, but they are printing hundreds of thousands of shirts, and in a DTG workflow it doesn’t matter how often the artwork on those garments changes.
Cahill believes that traditional printing businesses will be more likely to adopt hybrid printing, while the e-commerce entrepreneurs will look at the emerging high-productivity DTG lines. “A lot of these [e-commerce companies] are IT folks,” he says. “If you’re running an internet business and you don’t like getting your hands dirty, digital is a fantastic solution. If you basically want to send a file to a printer, press a button, and have it print, DTG is going to be a much easier world for you.”
Whether in a hybrid or pure inkjet setting, it remains to be seen how faster DTG technology will change the dynamic in terms of the volume of goods printed by each process. None of the consultants who weighed in on the topic felt there would be a sizable shift over the next five years, mostly because they believe that cost factors will keep volume orders in an analog environment for the foreseeable future. But things can change quickly, as Atkinson observes. “This technology is super exciting and it’s going to evolve in ways we can’t even predict yet.”
Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to the magazine.