The DTG Printing Process
Many things have changed since the early days of converted desktop inkjet paper printers to today’s purpose-built DTG machines, but the method has stayed nearly unchanged. The best substrate is still 100% cotton shirts. We’re still using an inkjet print head to print water-based ink. And we’re still using DTG machines pretreatment solution on the garment before printing white ink.
Some of the most significant changes and developments:
- Better pretreatment options
- improved pretreat application methods
- Better print head technology and ink chemistry
- Increased manufacturing rates
- Pre-pretreated shirts are available.
- The application of conveyor dryers for curing
DTG Machines Pretreatment Solution
In recent years, the DTG machines pretreatment solution has evolved from a stiff, sometimes yellow chemical on the garment to a thinner, more clear solution. There are pretreatment options for color shirts (white underbase) as well as white and light color shirts (no white ink). The goal of the pretreat is to get the ink to start curing on the shirt surface before it absorbs into the fabric. This is analogous to how a screen printer may print a white underbase and flash the ink before adding the other colors. Pretreatment causes the ink to “flash” on the garment’s surface.
When printing with CMYK inks exclusively, you can pretreat a white or pastel shirt, although it’s not necessary. Pretreating these textiles will result in a brighter, more sharper image as well as improved washability.
Most DTG suppliers now see an automatic pretreat equipment as equally critical as a printer and a heat press or conveyor drier. The majority of today’s decorators have abandoned the pump bottle, paint roller, and power sprayer in favor of an automatic pretreat system. The fundamental reason is uniformity of application, not to mention cleanliness.
Pretreating shirts with any approach that results in inconsistent product laydown on the fabric’s surface will result in inconsistent prints. In other words, the amount of pretreat used and its consistency across the entire picture area will have an effect on the final print.
Early DTG print heads were designed for printing on paper and employed a separate ink chemistry. This was the source of several clogging troubles, and it is still an issue with machines that are still made as converted paper printers. However, there are machines available today that include print heads designed expressly for use with DTG water-based textile inks.
Ink advancements, particularly in white inks, have increased the dependability of these printers. Today’s titanium dioxide used as a pigment in white ink is better suspended in the ink, resulting in less solid settling and, as a result, less print head clogging.
DTG printing is becoming more competitive in the marketplace due to faster manufacturing times. The usage of several printers to boost productivity is also becoming more frequent.
Purchasing pretreated clothes is becoming increasingly frequent and accessible. These shirts did not print properly in the past, but now they print as if you have prepped the garment yourself.
Heat presses were the industry standard for curing DTG printed garments for many years, and the majority of decorators still use heat presses for curing. Conveyor dryers, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly popular among decorators, particularly if you have more than one DTG printer. When a decorator installs a fourth or fifth printer, it is usual to simultaneously add a conveyor drier.
Next on the horizon comes speed, speed, speed. Shirts that took 10 minutes or more to print in the beginning are now printed in under a minute. On even the most basic printers, a 10″x12″ image on a color shirt takes about two minutes to print, while a white shirt takes less than a minute.
The availability of pretreated clothing from garment makers will only enhance the demand for them. Will you be able to stop prepping your own clothes? Most likely not, because our customers sometimes tell us which garments they want you to decorate. And distinctive styles and colors (Texas Orange, North Carolina Blue) will necessitate the capacity to pretreat clothing outside of the manufacturer’s offers.
Hybrid DTG Printing
Since the early days of DTG research, combining screen printing and DTG printing has been a fantasy. This is becoming more of a reality nowadays. One recent advancement has been the use of plastisol inks on the screen press prior to the application of the DTG print. Only water-based inks were previously effective in this hybrid method.
The art of laying down full-color photographic images on displays may be dying. While many screen print decorators can create stunning photographic pictures on color clothes, advances in DTG printing in conjunction with screen printing may render this method obsolete.
We are living and working in a new environment for practically all garment decorators. A world where the consumer wants everything personalized, one-of-a-kind, and now! Even professional customers are approaching their garment decorators and requesting many smaller production runs rather than larger production runs. Professional buyers today want you to become more of their storehouse of goods, rather than carrying enormous stockpiles of decorated garments. That means that for some of these consumers, you’ll need to be able to manufacture on-demand.