Direct to Garment printing (also known as DTG printing or digital apparel printing) is a method of printing designs directly onto t-shirts and textiles using a modified ink printer.
Direct to Garment printing is a direct descendant of ink jet printing. That means no screens, no mess, no thick plastisol ink–yet great detail and stunning color possibilities. How it works is a t-shirt is loaded onto the machine, and your design is printed directly onto the shirt using specially formulated water-based inks. The design is then heat set using either a heat press or a tunnel dryer. In the same way that your inkjet printer can print extremely detailed image, a DTG printer is able to produce photo-quality images on shirts that still have a soft feel.
Sounds great, right? Well, Direct to Garment printing can does have it’s limitations. Specialized ink means it’ll end up costing a little more. It’s also a lot slower than screen printing (think of standing in front of an ink jet printer and waiting for a piece of paper to come out), so labor costs are higher as well. And the printable area is a little smaller, too.
So with so many factors to consider, the real question is when to use Direct to Garment and when to screen print. The basic formula is if you’re printing a multi-colored and detailed design with less than 50 shirts, Direct to Garment is the more efficient and cost effective choice. Once you start hitting quantities over 50, then screen printing becomes the faster and cheaper option. DTG is also the go-to option if you’re looking to print a photo-realistic image.
When printing DTG, the fabric content of the garment is by far going to be the main factor to consider when choosing which shirts to use. Lots of printers insist on going with only 100% cotton (like the Cotton Heritage MC1040 and the gildan 5000 ). We recommend going a step further and and choosing ringspun cotton (like the Next Level 3600 or 11600 Delta Apparel), which is much softer and smoother–and thus prints better. You could also choose an organic cotton shirt, which is great for marketing.
In general, screen printing is going to be a better choice for blended t-shirts if you’re looking for vibrant colors. This is because DTG Inks are best absorbed by 100% cotton, and the color won’t take as well to man made fibers. However if you’re looking for more of a subdued print with vintage-style faded colors, DTG could be the perfect choice for your design. White blended shirts print very well, but if you’re using anything other than that we suggest consulting with one of our print reps to be sure there won’t be any issues.