What Are You Wearing? Digital Garment Printing at the SGIA Expo
One of the major topics at this year’s SGIA Expo — as it has been at the past several Expos — is textile printing, and as you walk the show floor, you will find no shortage of textile printing solutions that run the gamut from entry-level dye-sublimation machines for short-run prototyping, all the way up to industrial machines that pump out yards upon yards of printed fabric.
Most of the conversations about textile printing these days surround transfer-based vs. direct-to-fabric dye-sublimation, but there is another growing class of printer that opens up new opportunities in the short-run apparel space: direct-to-garment (DTG) printers. DTG machines shouldn’t be confused with dye-sublimation direct-to-fabric printers; DTG printers use a water-based non-sublimation ink to print directly on garments such as T-shirts, hoodies, tote bags, hats and more.
DTG devices can print on light and dark fabrics, although the latter often require a pre-treatment, which can often just be a layer of white ink. In contrast to dye-sub and its requirement for polyester-based fibers, DTG works best on 100 percent cotton or other natural fibers, although they can print on up to a 50/50 cotton/polyester blend. Depending on the nature of the ink and what is specifically bring printed, you may even be able to go up to 100 percent polyester. (It’s always best to do a test print, even if you’re printing on 100 percent cotton, but especially if you’re using a blend that is more than 50 percent polyester.
As with dye-sub, DTG-printed textiles require time in a heat press to fix the colors to the fabric. The image is durable, washfast and will last for the life of the garment. Even better, you can print on materials other than garments, such as wood, metal and other rigid materials you wouldn’t be able to get through a roll-fed device, adding to the versatility of these printers. (Outré substrates may require a pre-treatment of some kind, though.)
Three vendors have carved out a niche in this space.
AnaJet (now part of Ricoh; Booth 3419) is showing the new Ricoh Ri 3000 and Ri 6000 Direct to Garment Printers. Both are CMYK plus White machines, and the Ri 6000 can print full-color 12 x 10-inch graphics on light garments in just 27 seconds, the Ri 3000 in 51 seconds. Both can use the new RICOH Garment Ink, which was developed to surpass the color output and performance of its PowerBright PLUS inks.
Epson (Booth 1301) offers the SureColor F2000, a CMYK DTG device that can print up to 16 x 20 inches at 1440 x 720 dpi on garments up to 0.98 inches thick.
Mutoh (Booth 2545) has the ValueJet 405G, a CMYK plus White DTG printer that can print up to 16.5 x 22.7 inches.
DTG units have several niches, from screen printers who want to add the ability to print short-run or one-off products, to individuals looking to start a customized garment business.