The markets for DTG printers are growing, thanks to changes in apparel retailing, new inks, better RIPs, easier-to-use printers, and ready-to-print DTG garments.
Image Armor makes inks for many DTG printer models as well as pretreatments designed to lessen ink consumption, speed production, and enhance washability. Recently, Image Armor announced a Light Shirt pretreatment that can be used to print CMYK DTG prints on white and some light-colored polyester fabrics. Depending on the fabric and design, the company reports that some white ink printing can be attained on light-colored polyester with commercially acceptable results.
Image Armor has also introduced RTP Apparel, a growing collection of pretreated T-shirts made specifically for DTG printing. The apparel reduces the risks of unevenly sprayed coatings or the need to purchase an additional pretreatment device. Users can print anywhere on the pretreated garment and achieve vivid colors and clear images, particularly on white T-shirts.
Laying the Groundwork for Mass Customization
To grow the market for both DTG printing and mass customization, printer manufacturers are actively seeking ways to help current printer owners become more profitable while encouraging more artists and designers to launch and develop their own brands of decorated apparel.
A lot of R&D has been geared toward making CMYK + white DTG inks more vibrant and durable while developing better workflow software. Efforts to expand the color gamuts are happening primarily on roll-to-roll textile printing systems for the potentially enormous markets for cut-and-sew fashion apparel and home textiles.
According to Peña, the major manufacturers of textile inks are taking a wait-and-see approach before developing formulations for a wider variety of DTG inks. He predicts more ink innovations will emerge after more textile manufacturers and apparel brands start developing products specifically geared for DTG printing.
Epson won’t discuss the possibility of expanding the range of its DTG inks beyond CMYK + white. But for roll-to-roll textile printing, Epson and its For.Tex subsidiary have developed a combination of pretreatments and inks that enable Epson’s Monna Lisa textile printing machines to use eight colors of pigment textile inks (CMYK + blue, orange, red, and gray) to print on a variety of fabrics including cotton, silk, nylon, and polyester.
Kornit has introduced fluorescent yellow and fluorescent pink inks for its Allegro roll-to-roll textile printing systems. The pigment inks can be used in three new print modes: Neon Spot Color; Neon Process for a wider color gamut; and CMYK Go Neon for realistic images with brighter yellows and pinks.
As processes for managing ink colors on garments become more automated, it’s possible that Kornit Digital might someday offer fluorescent inks as an option for their Avalanche Hexa industrial direct-to-garment printers. Many fulfillment centers for short runs of on-demand printed apparel already use more than one Kornit printer. So, it’s conceivable that a DTG printing center could run both a fast Avalanche HD with two sets of CMYK + white inks alongside an Avalanche HD6 that runs CMYKRG inks. In the future, perhaps an Avalanche unit might run CMYK + neon pink and neon yellow.
Epson and Kornit are both actively educating designers and brands about the creative uses of digitally printed textiles in the fashion industry. As more creative professionals learn how easy it is to have their designs converted into apparel, they are learning more about both screen printing and DTG printing.
Printing and fulfillment companies that use both screen and DTG printing educate customers about which process works best with which types of garments and inks. Scalable Press, a company that produces garments for independent artists and designers, has an online catalog that makes it clear to designers which garments work best with which process. Jakprints lets customers choose between screen printing, embroidery, dye sublimation, and DTG printing. Their website cautions visitors that DTG printing has not yet achieved the same level of quality as screen printing, nor does it allow designers to choose special-effect inks such as metallics, glow-in-the-dark, puff, high-density, and glitter.
Landesman believes screen printing for garment decoration will be around for a long time. Some companies that start out with DTG printers will add screen-printing equipment, just as screen printers have added DTG printers. He believes DTG printing is simply expanding the market for garment decorating. When you consider all the variables involved, both printing methods still require a certain level of craftsmanship. While almost anyone can print custom T-shirts today, top-quality garment decoration will always be both a science and an art.
Read more from the June/July 2018 issue.
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