If you are currently in the DTG printing industry (or are considering a change of career), you may be interested in the concept of digital printing as it uses a variety of alternatives to easily bring full-color printed garment production to any shop. Digital design is also the best solution for small-batch printing and print-on-demand as it is fast and simple to set up and generate.
To get a better idea of the benefits of e-printing, we will look at two of the most popular forms of garment design: ready-to-wear (DTG) printing and color sublimation (or simply sublimation). Although similar in some areas, they are very different in others.
In most cases, DTG printing machines print the image directly onto the surface area of the garment using a horizontally moving inkjet print head mounted on a platen that gradually feeds the garment directly into the device below the print head. Special fast-drying inks – usually 100% cotton – are used to print the fabric.
Unlike screen printing, the ink tones are constantly applied to a single surface rather than being sequentially layered. Although the inks dry out during use, they must be cured using some kind of post-print home heating tool (such as a heat press or clothes dryer).
Sublimation, by contrast, is a digital color process for printing visual effects and photographic images on polymer and polyester surfaces. The ink used in the DTG process applies the color to the top of the substrate surface, while the sublimation dye penetrates the surface to recolor it from the inside out. The chemistry of the two processes is therefore completely different, with sublimation depending on molecular bonds and DTG on surface area bonds.
The DTG print sublimation procedure uses an inkjet printer equipped with sublimation dyes to print the image onto sublimation transfer paper. The printed transfer paper is followed by a blank substrate using a warm press.
A mixture of heat and pressure converts the sublimation ink into a gas, obtained from the open polymer of the substrate. As the product cools, the sublimation dye is wrapped around the inside of the surface (rather than the top). In the case of the garment, sublimation does not fade and this is also true after repeated washing.
The limitation of sublimation is that it only applies to polymer-based surfaces, which when it comes to clothing, indicates some form of polyester. However, with the increased demand for polyester efficient garments, sublimation is the perfect process for this product.
This is a general summary of these two electronic processes, but how do DTG and sublimation actually measure up? Let’s go deeper.
Both technologies use inkjet print heads to produce printed photographs or graphics. With DTG, the printer is either built from scratch for a specific surface area print target or produced by modifying an existing printer system. It is important to note that the printers used for sublimation have not been modified in any way; they are ready to use out of the box.
Inkjet printing systems create photo shadows by mixing base colors created by solutions developed by graphic software. Unlike screen printing and needlework using pre-colored decorative products (inks and lines), e-printing allows you to develop hundreds of custom shade mixtures without the limitations of the printing terminal or the needle.
Heat sublimation printers are available in four, six, and eight color designs, which describe the number of primary colors available for mixing, rather than the variety of shades that can be output. More primary colors produce more precise color detail, such as reasonable facial skin tones when controlling the image. DTG printers are four-color units and these features are also suitable for most graphic applications – especially apparel.
The other bottom line with electronic printing is that inks and dyes will only bond to the surface they are developed on. DTG is generally a cotton application, while sublimation is limited to polyester. Both are suitable for mixed textiles, but colors may be discolored, soft, or discolored.
For all electronic printing, it is difficult to provide a consistent color effect on the final product. Both DTG and sublimation procedures rely on digital artwork developed using traditional software applications such as CorelDRAW or Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. More importantly, however, enhancements are required to properly deliver accurate color results in the print head.
DTG printing relies on a raster Photo Cpu (HOLE) program that may not be included when the tool is first purchased. Sublimation systems rely on customized printer vehicle drivers, shade combinations, and configuration data usually provided by the manufacturer.
What about white ink?
This brings us to another key point: the effect of garment colour on the shading of the picture. Of course, the most effective dress shade for any print is white. Once you get into anything else, the image color may drop off. As a result, there are obstacles to printing on colored garments, especially dark ones. In DTG printing, one solution is to use chemically produced inks that are only considered “white inks”.
White ink has 2 uses in garment printing. It can be used as a primer for colored garment pictures or to reproduce white on colored garments.
Digital shades are created by combining different percentages of the base shades (blending). However, the blending of any one color does not produce white; therefore, it is necessary to make the white ink into different individual inks.
Given that there are no white plates, graphics programs will usually ‘open’ any type of white areas in the style, assuming that they will definitely be applied to white surface areas. With a white ink system, a command is sent to the printer telling it to use white ink (from different cartridges) as required so that it can print white.
The second element of white ink is to produce a guide. With electronic printing, you are using a thin layer of ink or dye – this indicates that the hue of the ink will definitely correlate with the hue of the fibers, which can affect the color of the image. To counteract this effect, you can use a base layer of white ink to block out the background shade to ensure that the image is actually applied to a white background, rather than directly against the color of the garment.
The white ink should be thick enough to provide a good touch, yet thin enough to pass through the inkjet nozzles. Most importantly, it needs to be processed quickly to ensure that other inks can be correlated with it without any top-quality issues. Chemically, it must begin to “dry completely” as soon as it comes into contact with the surface of the garment.
Firstly the white ink itself should be developed to heal quickly. When the white ink comes into contact with the pre-treatment agent, the curing time is accelerated and production is not interrupted.
Early white ink systems were considered to be clogged and dried out print heads, which led to expensive fixing. Innovative new advances have greatly improved the process and – in most cases – if you fully understand how the system works and follow the guidelines provided by the manufacturer, you will not encounter major problems.
Before you insist on having white ink attributes, make sure you stabilize your desires with your needs. White ink does present difficulties, one of which is that the artwork must be prepared in a different way to suit the white ink.
What’s wrong with white ink for sublimation? You start with a white t-shirt and then recolor it in one step (on each side) as you add the graphics.
While DTG printing is superior to sublimation for shaded surface printing, sublimation dominates the range of products that can be enhanced. Sublimatable items include plaques, awards, advertising products, photo panels, celebratory products, signs, mugs, flip-flops, Koozies, banners, tiles, iPhone cases, laptop cases, stadium seating, acrylics, household pet products and much more. One unit can embellish a multitude of items!
Guidance costs, both systems produce comparable quantities, with the median cost of a huge full-color photo averaging around $1. There is, however, a considerable difference in the start-up price. A DTG printer starts at around $16,000 and goes up from there. In comparison, an entry-level desktop PC sublimation system starts at around US$ 575, excluding the heat press, and tops out at around US$ 2,500.
Is one system much better than the other? Take the time to determine the return on investment for each piece of equipment – this far outweighs the price of the equipment – as you also want to take into account convenience. Which process will provide you with the widest range of decorative solutions and projects based on your company’s needs?