Top 10 Reasons NOT to Get Into DTG Printing

Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing can be incredibly rewarding, and offers many advantages over traditional screen printing.  Whether you are a new startup company or an established print shop looking to augment your production capabilities, DTG is definitely worth a second look.  However, it is important to note that DTG printing is not for everybody; due to the particular challenges that it creates, you must be prepared to commit yourself to understanding every facet before you can hope to have a relatively trouble-free experience.  Here are 10 good reasons to consider avoiding DTG printing, for the moment:

1. Printing Environment Must be Carefully Controlled

The physical properties of the water-based inks are incredibly sensitive, changing drastically based on the external environmental conditions.  For instance if the air in your print room is too hot or dry, the ink will quickly dry in the print head causing nozzle blockage and other related issues; this can manifest in moderate to severe banding (missing or rough lines in the printed image) or even entire nozzles dropping out.  Especially in areas with more extreme weather (for instance, Southern California tends to be very hot and dry), steps must be taken to keep the environment cool, humid and comfortable.  An ideal operating environment would have the temperature somewhere in the general range of 75-80 degrees and a relative humidity level of somewhere between 30-60% – depending on where you are located and what kind of building you are in, you’re going to have to look into various humidification systems, air conditioning, swamp coolers, etc.  This is not the type of equipment you can randomly add to your warehouse work space without seriously considering whether or not it will be protected from the extreme elements.

2. Equipment / Consumables are Expensive

Getting into DTG printing can represent a huge financial risk for a small business on the edge; with many DTG printers averaging around $20,000, you can easily wind up spending $25-$30,000 for an entire package (complete with printer, pre-treatment machine, heat press, supplies, shipping, training, etc).  If you are confident that this is the route for you, try going to a few trade shows and keep your eyes out for a great deal – trade shows are the best place to save money on the initial equipment purchase.  However, once your machine arrives, there isn’t much you can currently do about the ongoing costs of the ink and supplies; on many machines the cost of ink “per print” can easily be in the $1-3 range for a standard size print on dark shirts and the cost of pre-treat fluid can easily cost another .30-.80 per print – compare that to the cost of plastisol ink, which often ranges from .05-.15 per print!  On machines that accommodate larger print areas, the cost of ink alone can actually get up to $4-8 depending on size and coverage.  Unfortunately, the cost of ink does not come down in larger quantities, so there isn’t much we can do (as DTG print shop owners) to compete with screen printing prices on larger quantity orders – there is almost always a break-even point where screen printing still makes more sense than DTG, and it is important to recognize this distinction and not try to make a decoration technique work for an order that does not call for it (for example, 50 black t-shirts with a white ink print on the front would be better suited for screen printing rather than DTG).

3. The Process is Painfully SLOW

While we are able to skip the majority of the setup and tear-down process, screen printers have a huge advantage when the ink actually hits the t-shirt; screen printing presses (even the manual variety) are considerably quicker when it comes to actually printing, whereas the process on a DTG printer can take quite some time.  Although white shirts are relatively quick (its not uncommon to knock out 20-50 white shirts per hour, depending on your particular equipment, setup and print resolution), dark shirt printing can be the bane of any DTG print business – realistically, expect to print about 8-15 black shirts per hour under normal circumstances.  The number of prints you get per hour is directly related to the specific print resolution you operate at, so the higher quality you are looking for, the fewer prints per hour you will be able to achieve; printing at the highest resolution on the Neoflex, there are times when oversize images (15″ x 20″ dimensions) are coming off the machine at a rate of about 3 prints per hour….  You need to enter into this business with a practical, realistic view of how long it is going to take you to print some of the more extreme orders – without this realistic understanding, you might price yourself out of business before you even get started (Need help understanding how to properly price DTG printing services?  Learn about our free tools, here).

4. No Minimum Orders

Wait a minute…. Didn’t this same point make an appearance on our list of top 10 reasons to get involved with DTG printing??  Why then, would it also show up on a list of reasons why NOT to get involved with DTG printing?  The answer, while simple, is often overlooked; although it is great to have the ability to print “on demand” for your customers with no minimum order quantity, it is also overwhelming to take the time out of your busy day to educate a client, find out what they are looking for, then hold their hand throughout the entire process for them to only order a single custom shirt – the harsh reality that many small business owners run into is that it can be very difficult to maintain profitability when you are spending an average of 45 minutes per client and each person is only ordering one or two shirts!  The best way to avoid this unfortunate situation is to streamline your ordering process as much as possible, through the use of online design software and other technology to minimize the amount of time spent processing each order – also, try providing as much detailed information as possible for your clients, allowing them to seek out answers on their own either through your website or other provided documentation.  The fewer times you have to repeat answers to simple questions, the more profitable your business will be!

5. Garment Selection is More Critical than Most Other Processes

DTG printing is not intended to be used on all garment types; in fact, the inks tend to work best when applied to 100% cotton, so it is best to avoid 50/50 blends and other non-cotton fabrics as much as possible.  On top of that, it is important to remember that not all cotton is created equal – you will experience better print quality and more consistent wash fastness when you select garments that are woven from higher quality ring spun cotton (30/1 weave is ideal).  All individual brands, styles and colors can potentially produce varying results of quality and wash-fastness, therefore it becomes critical that you thoroughly evaluate any potential blank garments that you want to print on.  It can get even more confusing when you begin tracking where each batch of shirts was manufactured, as different countries of origin can produce drastically different results, even when the brand / style / color are identical!  Once you’ve found blank garments that print well and are consistently meeting your quality expectations, try to stick with them and encourage your clients to do the same; even if you warn a client that 50/50 blends won’t print as well, they will still insist that you do it and then become indignant when the results are sub-par.  As a DTG printer, it is recommended that you think long and hard about a company policy that indemnifies you of all responsibility for client-supplied blanks (if your company even accepts client-supplies blanks), since you cannot properly vet products that you have not thoroughly evaluated.  Or, even better, simply avoid accepting client garments altogether and focus on blanks that provide the highest possible quality – this is the only way to properly protect your reputation down the road.


145 thoughts on “Top 10 Reasons NOT to Get Into DTG Printing

  1. Just to inform you, we bought an anajet which was $25,000, we constantly had all the problems your talking about. But we ended up Buying a Kornit DTG Printer, which was $100,000 and i will say from experience. we dont have the problems your talking about. The Kornit printer pre treats the garments for you and is very cost effective for pretreatment and inks. So if your going to do DTG dont get a cheep printer cause you get what you pay for. Ex. we had an order of 30 dark sweatshirts, we went through $260 of pretreat, and several hundred dollars of ink, with the anajet. and they turned out like crap. once we got the Kornit, we redid that order. preteat only cost us less than $4 and the ink was about $45. Plus Kornit sent out a couple people to get us started and going making sure we know how to get going. Didn’t get that service from anajet. so right now the Anajet is collecting dust and is used as a paper weight. I agree with you if you get a “cheep printer”. I disagree with you on the Higher quality brands of printers.

    1. captnsparky, I am currently looking into either an Anajet or a Kornit, and it would be great if I could get more information from you, since you have experience with both. How could I contact you?

        1. Quite a bit has changed in recent years! For one, the ink chemistry has improved dramatically to where it is not nearly as fickle as before – while it still requires careful daily maintenance, the chances of a catastrophic clog are now greatly reduced. Improvements in printer hardware have increased production times somewhat, but the print speeds are still at a point where you really need multiple printers to compete in a serious way. Having a backup on hand really helps, and the cost of ink has come down, so the industry is really entering a brand new era!

          The key is being prepared for the inevitable trouble and ensuring you always have proper tools, spares and assorted backups on hand at all times.

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  3. Hey guyz i am writing from Zambia,Africa. so does it mean that this machine will NOT function properly in AFRICA? I was hoping to get one, in fact Iam already working on the business plan…….. please advise.

  4. Most interesting article that we have read about DTG, thank you !

    We were interested by DTG printing for our customers but thanks to you we are not anymore and will keep printing Tshirts the classic way, it costs only $3 per Tshirt in Thailand !

    Thanks again.

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