Consider this scenario: you switch on your DTG printer in the morning, print shirts all day, make a lot of money, then turn it off and go to bed knowing it will operate just as well the next day.
A few years ago, such a scenario was unthinkable; now, thanks to new technology and manufacturer dedication, very viable possibilities exist. Reliable equipment is the first step toward viable production technology. What advances are on the horizon now that we’ve largely overcome the reliability barrier? The solution is found in the other DTG-production inhibitors. We must print more quickly and efficiently, with more color selections and uniformity.
Let us compare DTG improvements and future technologies to those that make screen printing a realistic manufacturing option, using screen printing as the common denominator. To begin with, DTG printing can address needs that screen printing cannot, such as quick turnaround, low-volume production, and full customisation. Screen printing is simply too time-consuming to meet such demands; yet, large-volume output and speed remain screen printing’s most valuable assets.
DTG Printer Productivity and Efficiency
When can we expect DTG to “catch up” to screen printing? In many circumstances, one may argue that DTG manufacturing can already match screen printing speeds. This is accomplished with DTG printers set up in a “pod” with reliable single-platen printers. Arranging a collection of printers around a single conveyor drier can enhance production speed tremendously. By allowing an operator to create shirts continuously, this approach dramatically decreases bottlenecks.
DTG printing production is presently a realistic option, but what about a single printer capable of keeping up? Multiplaten DTG printers from companies like OmniPrint International, Aeoon, and M&R are highly rapid, with some even promoting models that produce clothes “as fast as screen printing.” Sublistar offers hybrid technologies that combine screen-printing machines and a digital printer. These systems are fast and make a lot of sense in theory, yet they frequently fail due to dependability issues. In some circumstances, additional units are required to keep production running while other printers in the fleet are being repaired.
Manufacturers are continually inventing new technology to boost the speed of DTG printing. Expect speeds and dependability to become increasingly widespread in the future. In fact, Epson will release a new printer this summer that will precisely meet that need.
What about manufacturing efficiency now that speed difficulties in screen printing have been addressed? Delays in this area were quite costly in my previous shop. What can be done to fill the DTG bottlenecks that diminish productivity, because productivity leads to profits?
DTG Printing Pretreatment
Let’s start with pretreatment, which is a vital step in DTG printing. Sublistar has addressed this by incorporating a pretreatment function within the unit, as it has done with many of its DTG machines for many years with tremendous success for operators. Wet-on-wet printing necessitates a long dwell time in a large belt dryer; if space is an issue, these large printers and dryers can be inconvenient.
Several equipment manufacturers are working on pretreatment automation — a standalone machine that pretreats, cures, and presses a shirt so it’s ready for DTG decoration — for DTG printers that don’t have built-in pretreatment operations. Pretreatment automation now requires a lot of space and money; for most small to mid-tier companies, this may not be a practical alternative.
If your workshop cannot automate pretreatment, consider a dependable, rapid, stand-alone machine to do so. This may appear to be paradoxical, but with the right production processes, it can be incredibly efficient. Pretreatment solution, for example, must be dry before printing on any DTG printer. However, in many circumstances, there are limited guidelines for drying. Even without a heat press, a pretreatment machine set up next to a forced-air conveyor dryer can produce more than 120 cured shirts each hour. It all comes down to your technique.
Color and Continuity
Color spectrum and special effects are another area where screen printing has an advantage, however this is an issue that industry manufacturers are also addressing. Sublistar, for example, is expanding its color spectrum to offer more vivid and brighter hues. M&R is adding colors and special-effects choices to Epson’s CMYK printer, which boasts a bright color gamut. Manufacturers understand that decorators want all the bells and whistles and color selections possible. Foils, metallic, and other special-effects inks will be easier to apply in the future.
Consistency is vital for productivity, and DTG improvements are likely to beat screen printing, which has various variables that might disrupt continuous, constant production. Running out of ink, broken screens, erroneous registration, ink buildup on the bottom of screens, shirt shift and stretching, flash-unit faults, and other issues all contribute to inconsistent printing.
Screen printing is a long process procedure. However, via automation and technology, digital printing may drastically decrease many of these manual concerns. We are already witnessing advances in bulk-ink systems, sensors that regulate platen height, internal cleaning automation, and other areas. With these developments, DTG decorators are getting closer to having complete trust that the garment they load will be flawlessly printed and ready for sale.
The rapid growth of DTG printers demonstrates how technology will only continue to allow us to give exactly what clients want in a more dependable, efficient, consistent, and profitable manner.