Early technology problems have been largely solved, making DTG an attractive and reliable decoration option for many shops.
By Terry Combs
Current State of the Industry
Although many machines on the market still use repurposed printheads, others use heads created specifically for printing fabric with water-based textile ink systems. After multiple generations of inks, the uptime of these machines has increased dramatically. If clogging occurs, and it certainly can, the likely cause is improper maintenance of the machine or simply lack of use. Blaming the ink system today is probably misdirected. In the past, companies that focused on DTG and possessed a little technical knowhow could usually keep their machines up and running. DTG as a sideline business was more difficult because sporadic use of the printer invariably led to clogged printheads. That’s not as true today, and incorporating the technology successfully is now much simpler.
Controlling the environment is still critical. You cannot efficiently operate your DTG machine on a production floor that is hot, cold, arid, dusty, etc. This is still a somewhat delicate and sophisticated printing device and the conditions that work for your other equipment often won’t suffice. Maintaining a comfortable room temperature and approximately 50 percent relative humidity 24 hours a day will keep your machine functioning properly and efficiently. Working outside these parameters will be inviting problems, sooner rather than later.
There were utopian dreams early on that DTG would replace all existing garment printing methods, but that was never true. DTG still has some limitations. Even with the fastest models, production speeds don’t come close to screen printing. As the print speed of DTG increases over time, it will gradually take market share from screen printing. But specialty inks such as puffs, metallics, glitters, and gels will likely remain specific to screen printing.
Still, DTG has filled a void in the market. Its niche today is handling very short runs, personalized prints, and full-color photographic images. In reality, the bulk of screen printing is spot color work. Printing a high-quality photographic image is outside the repertoire of most screen shops, as a matter of either limited skill set or choice. DTG allows these screen printers to take on photographic work without acquiring additional skills or fundamentally changing their production methods. And they can produce these prints with virtually no preparation time or expense.
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