Overcoming the Challenges
There is no denying that adding any new element to your shop will come with a unique set of challenges, and digital garment printing is no exception. But that doesn’t mean you have to start from ground zero — SGIA Expo is the perfect time to learn from experts in every aspect of this type of work, so you know where the potential pitfalls might lie, and you can plan ahead so they don’t trip you up.
First and foremost, says Reuben Quesus, Director of Business Development, Racad Tech, Inc. (Booth 2610), don’t go into it with the idea that you can produce every single type of garment, on every single type of material, in your own shop. “I think that the manufacturers are trying to do everything, and print on pieces of all sizes — and are professing to — but they don’t. Therefore, I think alliances/partnerships and trade relationships is key to mutual growth.”
That said, once you identify the specific type of garment printing niche you are going to target, one of the first things you should do, says Ken Siecinski, Program Manager Activewear & Outerwear, Top Value Fabrics (Booth 2155), is then identify your substrate partners as well. “Identify consistently manufactured and available quality fabrics across a wide range of offerings in the apparel fabric industry. This is an important area where print service providers need to develop and have a great relationship with your fabric vendors and their partner mills.”
Once your partnerships are all set, then, “One challenge is the learning curve involved when incorporating a new process into the existing workflow,” notes Lily Hunter, Product Manager, Textiles and Consumables, Roland DGA (Booth 601). “The printer will need to get familiar with the technology, as well as the workflow for printing and fixing inks into fabrics. Those adding this segment to a print business will also need to purchase finishing equipment. In addition, there will be start-up costs and space requirements.”
“Historically, the biggest barrier to entry in garment printing has been the cost and space required for equipment,” says Matt Davies, National Sales Director, New Business Development, Oki Data Americas (Booth 2233). “And for businesses that are already in the garment printing business, one of the biggest challenges is the paradigm shift required to move from legacy printing technologies to digital technologies, particularly if a printer’s prior investment in legacy equipment is still being capitalized. To analogize, some traditional printers are having to decide whether to stick with that bulky, hard-wired telephone hanging on their wall or ditch their traditional landline and go with a cell phone that includes a camera, the ability to surf the Internet and unlock a myriad of other innovative applications. The good news is that there are cost-effective options to move into digital garment/transfer printing, which, for most, will make the migration easy and a smart business decision. These printers are much more compact than the traditional methods, are faster and cleaner and offer so many more creative customization options for the business and its customers that the barriers to entry have really come down.”
It isn’t just the equipment that is evolving either, presenting yet another challenge that will need to be accounted for. “The quality of substrates continues to evolve,” notes Evan Lyons, Regional Sales Manager for INX International Ink Co. (Booth 1919). “Polyester/polyester-blend fabrics continue to undergo development. I expect there will be an expanding array of these fabrics that more closely mimic the look and feel of organic fabrics. PSPs that think ‘outside the box’ will succeed with the right combination of textile printer, ink, design and substrates. It will afford them new revenue channels and gaining new clientele.”
Finally, don’t overlook the fact that this is a new technology, which means that while some of your printing knowledge will carry over, there are also going to be new processes that will have to be learned if your pressmen are going to produce the highest quality work.
“You need to know the differences between ink types, fabrics, pre- and post-treatment and color management,” stresses David Conrad, Director of Sales and Marketing, Mutoh America, Inc. (Booth 2545). “You also need to have the proper equipment to support the application(s). Printer, RIP, material, ink, heat press, calendar, steamers — there is a lot involved in providing quality finished products, but it all starts with education.”