The Top 5 T-Shirt Printing Machines of 2020 [w/ Comparison Table]
Your choices for garment decoration are ever-expanding. Today’s options include traditional screen prints, embroidery, applique, transfers and the increasingly popular digital direct-to-garment (DTG) printing.
Since its inception, the number of manufacturers and models in the DTG market space has been in constant flux. Many well-marketed machines, once prevalent in discussions and trade show halls, have now nearly vanished.
However, over the last several years there have consistently been a handful of manufacturers leading the pack. Below, we’ve compared 2019’s top five DTG t-shirt printing machine models:
- Epson F2100
- Brother GTX
- Col-Desi (DTG Digital) M2
- Kornit Breeze
- M&R M-Link-X
At roughly 3’ by 5’, the Epson F2100’s footprint is more rectangular than the GTX from Brother. And at just over 1.5’ high, it’s certainly smaller. This is a table or bench top design and is not free standing, so you’ll need to plan on where it will be setup. Overall, the F2100 is a very quiet operating machine with a polished, put-together profile that works as easily in a home-based business as it does in a full production environment.
- MSRP: $17,995
- Est. Street Price: $15,995
At 4.5’ by 4.25,’ the GTX is a little boxier and immediately conveys an industrial look with its predominately metal exterior. The GTX is a table or bench top unit, but with a custom stand available. This stand is recommended, as it allows users to take advantage of the open bottom design of the printer for humidification, which is often necessary for consistent operation.
- MSRP: $22,500
- Est. Street Price: $22,500
Col-Desi (DTG Digital) M2
Being the only dual platen printer of this group — meaning there are two platens to load t-shirts instead of just one — the natural thought would be that it has a much larger footprint. At about 4’ x 3,’ it occupies a similar space as the Brother, but with a much larger shadow as it’s nearly a complete rectangle.
A tabletop/bench top unit as well, the M2 will require proper arrangements. Quieter than the Brother GTX but not to the level of the Epson F2100, this unit can be an option for users that need an extra-large imaging area.
- MSRP: $19,995
- Est. Street Price: $19,995
As the introductory machine from Kornit, the Breeze is the smallest in their line-up but one of the largest in this group. The 4’ x 5’ framework is the most modern looking by far. As the only machine in the group with an integrated pre-treatment system, the overall footprint may be smaller. Kornit’s inks are typically cured with a gas dryer, which can serve as the base table for this printer.
- MSRP: $65,000
- Est. Street Price: $62,000
As the only free-standing unit in this group, the M-Link-X also has the distinction of being the largest at 4.5’ x 5.5.’ With a rugged steel frame and squared-off edging, the M-Link has the most industrial look and feel. Not the best option for home-based businesses, this unit is better suited for a production environment.
- MSRP: $74,995
- Est. Street Price: $70,995
See all pricing in the printer comparison table below
In comparing these models, it’s best to start with their intended target audience.
M&R and Kornit’s focus has always been toward production shops while Epson, Brother and Col-Desi have tried to broaden their audiences to include smaller garment shops and even sign and graphics shops, where t-shirts are often a complementary workflow.
In the cases of Epson and Brother, they’ve taken that a step further by targeting home-based businesses with their ease of use as well. That’s not to say that the F2100 and GTX can’t handle production, because they are both capable of running regular shifts in production shops. (Note the production volumes in the chart below.)
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Maintenance is usually one of the first questions from potential users of t-shirt printing machines. In this regard, the Epson and Brother receive the highest marks with their low costs (~$30 a month) and minimal manual maintenance time <5 minutes – especially when compared to the outputs. Both units feature daily automated cleaning capabilities that reduces hands-on time for the operator.
Col-Desi’s M2 uses older Epson photo print heads. And even though it doesn’t purge ink in the line to the extent of the Kornit, the maintenance cost is still a factor — both in time and material. Kornit’s Breeze pre-treats (binding agent) garments inside the t-shirt printing machine, which will add to the manual cleaning times that typically run well over an hour or two per week for maintenance.
Service & Training
For t-shirt printing machines, service and training typically fall in line right after maintenance questions. We always encourage on-site installation/training by a professional service technician. This way, you will know that your machine is functioning properly and you’re operating it correctly.
In this area, Col-Desi receives a poor grade since they only offer remote training or on-site training at their corporate offices in Florida. When it comes to getting a technician on-site, Epson and Brother come out the winners, as they have national networks of service technicians. Epson also has a 48-hour on-site guarantee built right into their warranty.
Service when you need it is always important for any DTG printer, and it’s going to start with your distributor. Some are going to be much more adept than others when it comes to addressing smaller service questions and getting you back up and running quickly.
There is always extensive discussion on ink costs and t-shirt costs. Far more important is the actual operation costs of any particular t-shirt printer. This is going to give you real-world costs on what producing an actual garment is, not just the cost of the ink on the shirt. Shirt cost analysis done with only the ink cost on a shirt is misleading at best and often includes numbers that get flaunted by manufacturers to one up a competitor.
Every shop is going to have different operation costs so an individual analysis should be done with your distributor to understand your overall costs. But from an equipment standpoint, Epson and Brother are the most transparent in their operation costs with easy-to-calculate shirt costs as well as expected maintenance material and time costs. Ink cost alone can be a small fraction of the overall operation, so don’t be lured in by this figure alone.
T-shirt Printer Comparison Chart
We’ve created the chart below for a side-by-side comparison of these leading printer models.
However, if you’re in the market for a DTG printer, we always recommend a consultative analysis and to demo the equipment you’re looking to bring in-house.
Trade show demonstrations can be a good step in initial review but spending some hands-on time thoroughly testing the entire workflow and production is the best way to understand all the caveats of operation.
|Model||F2100||GTX||M2||Breeze||M link X|
|MSRP||Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price.||$17,995||$22,500||$19,995||$65,000||$74,995|
|Est. Street Price||Actual retail price.||$16,995||$22,500||$19,995||$65,000||$70,995|
|Ink Configuration||Compatible ink colors.||cmykwwCl||cmykwwCl||cmykw||cmykww||cmykw|
|Ink Delivery||The size of the cartridges/bottles.||600ml Cart||200cc/500cc/700cc||250cc||150cc / 1500cc||1 L Bulk|
|Ink Cost||The price for the cartridges/bottle size listed in ink delivery.||$207||$103/$183/$218||$42||$180 / $280||W – $262; Color – $241|
|Ink Cost Per CC||The cost of ink per cubic centimeter.||$0.34||$0.52/$0.37/$0.32||$0.17||$0.83 / $0.19||$0.26 / $0.24|
|Ink Circulation System||The internal system that circulates the white ink inside the machine.|| |
|OEKO-TEX® 100 Certified||An independent testing and certification system for finished textile products.|| |
|AATCC Wash Test Rating||American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC). On a scale of 1-5, this test determines wash fastness and durability of the ink.|| |
|Max Print Area||Dimensions of appropriate media size.|| |
16″x18″ with White 16″x21″ Color Only
|Production Volume on Dark||How many prints you can produce when printing with white ink.|| |
|Production Volume on Light||How many prints you can produce when printing with color ink.|| |
|Print Head||The number of and type of print head included.||1- Epson TFP||2-brother||1-Epson DXS||6-Spectra||2- Ricoh Gen 5|
|Max Print Head Resolution||Measured in DPI (dots per inch).||14400||1200||2880||1200||1200|
|Software||Image processing software included with purchase.|| |
|Warranty||Type and length of warranty and coverage with purchase.|| |
1 Yr – Full
1Yr Full – 2nd Yr Limited
2 Yr Parts & Labor
1 Yr Full Warranty
|Training||Type of product training included with purchase.||On-Site||On-Site||Remote||On-Site||On-Site|
|Daily Maintenance||Is maintenance required?||Automated||Automated||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Pre-Treatment||Type of pre-treatment necessary.||Offline||Offline||Offline||Integrated||Offline|
Pre-Treatment Machines & Heat Presses
Your t-shirt printing machine may require some additional pieces of equipment.
Printing with white ink requires preparation. Pre-treatment machines prepare your garments by applying a consistent amount of solution before you print. They can also apply anti-migrants for printing on synthetic and wicking garments.
The Kornit model has an integrated pre-treatment process but the others require offline treatment.
As an integral part of the garment decorating process, a heat press is often necessary for some DTG and dye sublimation workflows — it will depend on the type of ink you’re using. Additionally, with a heat press, you can also easily transfer custom, unique designs to various substrates via transfer papers, heat applied films, digital transfers, screen printed transfers and more.
If you have any questions about the best t-shirt printing machine for your needs, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team for advice!
ABOUT THE AUTHORMike Terlizzi
Since 2001, Mike has been involved in every aspect of ITNH — from business development and marketing to sales and equipment acquisition. As a partner, Mike uses his unparalleled knowledge and expertise to continually expand ITNH’s offerings and help customers across every industry find the printing equipment and consumables they need to be profitable.
So You Want to Buy A DTG Machine? Read This First
Learn whether you should buy a DTG printer here with this updated article. Otherwise, read on...
You have been to the trade show.
Watched the videos.
Seen the machines run.
They gather crowds.
The possibilities are endless!
You could print anything.
Then you see the price tag. Uh oh.
Welcome to Direct-to-Garment Printing. Arguably, one of the decoration methods that will transform and potentially eliminate screenprinting forever. Still, the technology needs to advance heavily in the next decade to completely eliminate your screen rooms and the need to haul around heavy gallons of messy ink.
DTG printing may be a great solution for your business. If you have intricate designs, and low quantities that need to be printed, DTG printing may free up some of that press time.
Although, you should remember there is a large learning curve, a heavy investment and quite a bit of maintenance that needs to be done once you buy a machine.
Be careful of those low-end machines that have an appealing price tag. They may have several limiting factors and the quality may hurt your business if you are not careful. Be sure that you have researched the machines thoroughly, and that you have seen or learned about another shop using one before you pull the trigger. The last thing you want to be is a guinea pig for a machine you know nothing about.
Before you reach out to make the investment, be sure that there is a need for it.
How do you ensure if there is a need for it?
In today's printing network, you can offer DTG printing before you even own a machine! How?
Contract DTG printers!
There are several print shops from coast to coast that offer DTG printing. There are even shops that can offer 1-day and 3-day turnarounds like Same Day Tees in Illinois. You can offer DTG printing as a premium to your customers and develop a relationship with a contract printer and still be profitable.
Sometimes you can even be more profitable if you are not experienced in setting up a multi-color job because of press time.
Yes, controlling your own product, quality, and printing on demand is a great asset to your business, but you might find that you are investing in a completely different industry that brings on more problems.
DTG printing for customers usually comes in lower quantities, so don't think you're going to get that 1000 piece DTG order. Plus, it would take forever and DTG printing is not made for that. Since machines need to constantly bleed/purge ink, there is a fixed overhead to keeping them running.
When you are ready to buy your first piece of equipment reach out to your sales reps and ask them about other shops that have them. Aside from going to the show and seeing all the machinery in perfect working order, get in touch with real shops that use them and ask about their experience. Be careful about buying used, because a machine that was not properly maintained could bring you years of headaches.
Most importantly, ensure that your DTG investment is calculated. Don't take away from what you are already good at!
Image source: Los Angeles Print Design
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Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.
4 Things You Might Not Know About Genuine DTG Inks.
It is important to know that using Genuine DTG Inks make a difference.
Your customers depend on you. They have events to run, parties to host and they need t shirts! When placing an order they expect you to provide a quality product at a fair price. It seems simple, but isn’t that what we all want? Your customers are just like you, they want good products. Genuine DTG Inks will bring you the consistent results and quality prints your customers demand.
Direct to Garment Printers are fantastic machines; they give you the ability to produce t-shirts with thousands of colors in moments. Yet, there is one very important thing to note; your machine depends on quality ink to be reliable and produce the fantastic prints your customers need.
Your DTG Printer is similar to a professional race car. That sounds a little farfetched at first, but consider the idea for a moment. A professional race crew invests a lot of money in a great car, a strong engine and then spends countless hours tuning it. Do they go out and put regular 87-octane fuel on race day? Of course not! They know that the fuel is what drives the engine; the most efficient race engine in the world won’t win races without the proper fuel. The same goes for your DTG Printer; you need great ink.
Genuine DTG products are tested regularly. Colman and Company prints with DTG inks and DTG Pretreat every day; monitoring for consistent results and any variance in the products quality.
2. Quality Control
Genuine DTG Inks and pretreatment are maintained in an environment that is under strict quality control. Maintaining consistent climate control is important to ensure your ink arrives to you in perfect condition. White ink need to be tumbled before decanting to ensure proper pigment and binding distribution. Lastly, ink stock must be rotated over time to make this effective.
Colman and Company is the world’s largest distributor of direct to garment ink. Successful business owners trust that our Genuine DTG inks and pretreatment are the best. This means that our inventory is always circulating and you will never receive old, stale ink. Inks and Pretreatments do have a shelf life and you don’t want to use expired ink in your DTG printer.
4. Superior Color Quality
One of the reasons you invested in a DTG Printer is because of its versatility in colors. You can print a t-shirt with hundreds of colors in under a minute. You will always get fantastic looking prints because Genuine DTG inks are consistent, have a strict quality control and don’t get stale on our shelves. Your customers will get the same beautiful colors every time they re-order, which will keep them coming back for more.
Selling Genuine DTG inks and Pretreatments means we talk to hundreds of customers a day. Too often we hear the horror stories of bad prints, clogged print heads or someone being ripped off by a poor quality imitator. The stories range from inks with clumped particles to colors that are different each time a new bottle arrives. When you use Genuine DTG inks and Pretreatments you will have your Direct to Garment printer running at peak performance every day. Just like other successful apparel decorators, your machine and your customers will be happy you chose the right ink. Visit Colman and Company to supply your DTG Printer Machine with Genuine DTG Inks.
DTG / T-Shirt Printing (Patent Pending)
DTG Printing (Patent Pending)
Innovating the Custom Apparel DTG Printing Industry
Direct-to-Garment and Direct-to-Substrate printing is now available in one printer through Direct Color Systems. The versatile Direct Jet 1800z printers (F6T Editions) can now be used to create durable and fade resistant prints. Our DTG printer uses the best digital printing methods to produce high-quality garment designs with strength and durability. Gone are the days of heat press machines and screen printing, this advance digital machine produces professional garment prints on light and dark colored t-shirts utilizing the Multisolve F6T white ink and IRF6 (CMYK+Cl) UV inks*.
Why our DTG Printer is an Awesome T-Shirt Printer
This innovation in custom apparel printing methods marks the first ever DTG (Direct-to-Garment) printer for cotton, cotton blends, 100% polyester and other synthetic materials. Officially, eliminating the need for harsh chemical pretreatments in the custom t-shirt business.
The direct to garment printing market has long struggled with the process of stiff heat transfer press designs, screen printer errors, and harsh chemicals pretreatments for polyester and synthetic blend garments. The ability for DTG transfer machines to quickly and easily print to both natural and synthetic fabrics, without the need to heat press a chemical pretreatment, combined with the ability for the printed image to stretch with any fabric, can radically increase product offerings and profits for those in the DTG market.
SureColor DTG T-Shirt Printers
Learn about upcoming SureColor® events!
EXPLORE SURECOLOR® EVENTS! Sign up for upcoming virtual events, webinars, trainings and more.
The #1 Shipping DTG Printing*
In many ways, the Epson SureColor F2100 was developed from the feedback we've received from our customers. The result? A DTG printer designed to increase overall production, while dramatically reducing maintenance.
Quality that Speaks for Itself
See the quality and versatility live at one of Epson's Dealers.
Crystal Clear Prints
Epson PrecisionCore® Printhead Technology
Considered a benchmark for print quality, garments printed using our latest printhead technology are simply stunning. And, with print resolutions up to 1440 dpi, text and line art is extremely sharp and clear.
Faster Garment Printing
Produce more, with up to twice the speed of our previous direct-to-garment printer.
Simultaneous Highlight White
This new technology prints both high-quality highlight white and color image information simultaneously – dramatically reducing overall print times.
Quicker Garment Loading
Reduce the time it takes to load garments by using the quick-load grip pad instead of traditional platen hoops.
More than Just T-Shirts
Optional platens and other accessories enable all kinds of applications.
- T-Shirts & Sweatshirts
- Button & Zippered Garments
- Pants & Leggings
Automatic, In-Line Cleaning System
Utilizing a highly effective method for printer maintenance, Epson developed a unique cleaning cartridge dedicated to the Automatic Maintenance System. This not only can help reduce the overall maintenance expense, but also save time with automation.
Advanced Ink Technology
Oeko-Tex ECO PASSPORT and Global Organic Textile Standard Certified Inks
When applied to fabric and appropriately fixed, garments have been determined safe for use by adults, children, and babies1.
AATCC Verified Garment Durability
Independently tested by a third-party, the final AATCC testing resulted in an score of 5 out of 5 – making the SureColor F2100 prints one of the most durable printed garments in the industry.
Advanced White Ink Circulation & Filtration System
System automatically ensures the white ink technology stays ready when you are, while virtually eliminating clogging typically associated with white inks.
Safe for Operators
Even before curing, Epson inks are safe for everyone from adults to infants and children. Epson UltraChrome DG inks are even ECO PASSPORT certified by OEKO-TEX® .
Explore Epson's Dye-Sub Printer Lineup
Looking to create high-quality customized items like clothing, coffee mugs, phone cases, and more?
* Only applies to the SureColor F2100. 15 months ending March 2020, U.S. units, IDC Quarterly Industrial Printer Tracker 2020Q1 Historical Release.
1 When applied to fabric and appropriately fixed Epson DS ink has passed the standards set by GOTS-ECOCERT (08-01219) and OEKO-TEX® ECO PASSPORT. For further details on these standards please visit www.ecocert.com and www.oeko-tex.com/ecopass.
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process of printing on textiles
Direct-to-garment printing (DTG) is a process of printing on textiles using specialized aqueous ink jet technology. DTG printers typically have a platen designed to hold the garment in a fixed position, and the printer inks are jetted or sprayed onto the textile by the print head. DTG typically requires that the garment be pre-treated with a PTM or Pre-treatment machine allowing for the following:
- Stronger bond between garment fibers and the pigmented inks
- Lays down loose fibers to provide for a smoother substrate
- Chemically reacts with the inks to promote drying and curing
Since this is a digital process the print is sharper and has a higher resolution, or DPI, than traditional printing methods such as screen printing. However, unlike screen printing, there is no long setup or clean-up process, and DTG has the ability to print just one single shirt for minimal cost.
DTG printers use aqueous textile inks (water-based chemistry) that require a unique curing process. Since D2 inks are water-based, they work best for printing on natural fibers such as cotton, bamboo, hemp, and linen. In addition, pre-treatment is typically applied to the garment before printing. The pre-treatment is heat-pressed into the custom t-shirt causing the fibers of the shirt to lay down. The pre-treatment also allows the water-based inks to bond more fully to the garment. This is especially important when using white ink on dark garments.
Once the custom garment -for instance a t-shirt- has been properly pre-treated, the shirt (or garment) is then positioned onto a platten system designed to hold the shirt in place. The shirt is then digitally printed according to the design in the printer queue.
Direct-to-garment printing in the United States began in 1996 with the introduction of the first commercially available DTG printer named "Revolution", developed by DIS of Bradenton, Florida, and based on an invention of Matthew Rhome. Rhome had been working on the DTG project for some years and applied for a patent in July 1996. This patent was granted by the US patent office in August 2000 making it the first DTG patent.
The Revolution printer was offered for sale until 1998 when Rhome left the company to start development of the first Brother DTG printer, which came to market in 2005.
After the release of the Revolution printer, there was a lot of development but not much sales activity in the market until 2004 when Mimaki introduced their printer at the ISS show in Chicago, Illinois and, later that year, when Kornit and US Screen displayed their offerings at the SGIA show in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 2005, at the ISS Atlantic City show, Brother International introduced the GT-541 Garment Printer to the market making it the first “ground up” DTG printer offered. This printer had print heads, ink, and electronics developed specifically for DTG printing.
At the Chicago PRINT 2013 show Epson introduced the F2000 printer. The release of this printer was notable as it addressed many of the issues prevalent in DTG printing at the time. One of the most important features of the Epson F2000 was its ink set as it had a two-year shelf life and did not have the settling or clogging issues of previously introduced DTG inks.
By May 2019, the North American DTG market was currently valued at over $2.5 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 10.5% through 2021.
- ^Cahill, Vince (1998). "Introduction to Digital Printing Technology"(PDF). SGIA Journal. Screenprinting & Graphic Imaging Association International. Archived from the original(PDF) on February 15, 2017. Retrieved May 15, 2017 – via Techexchange.com.
- ^"How To Print A Custom T-Shirt". dtgprintermachine.com. Retrieved 2019-02-26.
- ^Fresener, Scott (2016-08-10). "The Death of Screen Printing - written in 1996". T-Biz Network International. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
- ^US 6095628, Rhome, Matthew, "Apparatus for ink jet printing", issued August 1, 2000
- ^Sepaniak, Sandra (2016). "Back to the Future: A Brief History and Evolution of D2 Printing". The Digital Direct Report. Retrieved 2017-08-11 – via read.uberflip.com.
- ^"Brother GT 541Press Release"(PDF). Retrieved August 11, 2017.[dead link]
- ^"GP-604 Series". mimaki.com. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
- ^"SGIA '04 Recap: The Microcosm Meets the Macrocosm". www.signindustry.com. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
- ^"Direct-to-Garment Printers". epson.com. Retrieved 2017-08-11.
- ^"Direct-to-Garment Printing Landscape Grows Across Commercial and Industrial Sectors". whattheythink.com. Retrieved 2019-12-18.
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DTG vs. Screen Printing | Pros, Cons, How Much It Costs
Screen printing and DTG (direct-to-garment) printing are two of the most common ways to print custom t-shirts.
Both printing methods have pros and cons.
So how do you choose between screen printing and DTG printing?
Steven Farag from Campus Ink in Champaign, IL showed us the difference between DTG and screen printing:
Let's start with the absolute basics.
What's the difference between DTG and screen printing?
Screen printing is the affordable way to print hundreds of shirts. DTG printing is the affordable way to print a few shirts.
A tried-and-true method for printing ink on textiles, garments, and a variety of substrates, screen printing is a labor intensive process designed to quickly produce hundreds (if not thousands) of prints very quickly.
The screen printing process starts with a nylon mesh screen with light-sensitive emulsion applied to it.
A negative image is printed (typically onto transparent film), then "burned" into the emulsion with a powerful light. The emulsion cures (or hardens), but the negative image remains as a water-soluble paste. This creates a hardened stencil. A screen printing technician then washes out the negative image, leaving openings in the mesh for ink to pass through.
The screen is placed on a screen printing press and registered so it will properly align on the printing surface (typically, a t-shirt). Ink is pressed through the openings in the stencil with a squeegee, directly applying ink onto the printing surface.
Then, the print is typically cured in a heated dryer – for plastisol, the most common screen printing ink, it's heated to 320 degrees F (though there are dozens of other types of screen printing inks). This curing process makes the ink extremely durable.
Direct-to-garment printing (DTG)
A newer method that utilizes a digital print head to print designs directly onto different surfaces, DTG printing is in a rapid growth phase.
DTG printers are functionally similar to the typical inkjet printer you'd find in a home or office. The process is fundamentally the same: an image is digitized by the printer and then printed directly onto the t-shirt or garment. Ink is sprayed onto the surface by carefully controlled print heads.
DTG printing inks also require curing (like screen printing inks) to permanently adhere. Most DTG printing shops use a curing dryer or heat press to cure their products.
DTG printers range from small desktop sized models to units that require large climate-controlled garages.
Many envision a future where customers order online and a DTG printer automatically prints the shirt. While many businesses have attempted this, the technical and labor challenges have proven tremendous (even for Amazon). DTG printing is not as simple as pushing a button – there are many variables and factors to consider.
Why use DTG instead of screen printing?
Screen printing presses can print shirts quickly – sometimes up to 1,080 pieces an hour!
However, a screen printer's setup time limits what's possible. Screen printers can print one design at high volume quickly. But if they need to print multiple designs, or do just a few prints, screen printing can be prohibitively expensive compared to DTG printing.
Here's why: the extensive labor required to create, separate, coat, expose, and register screens makes the screen printing process inefficient for small quantity orders with lots of colors.
Let's say you want 20 t-shirts. A 4-color design usually requires 5 different screens to print (since you need an underbase screen).
It takes much more time to create those 5 screens and set them up on the screen printing press than it does to actually print the 20 shirts!
For small (12 pieces or less) orders with lots of colors, DTG printing is a great fit.
IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE: Screens and setup make screen printing too expensive for low-quantity custom orders.
What are the cons of DTG printing?
Answer: It may sound like DTG is a futuristic answer for printing everything under the sun. Should you buy a DTG printer? The answer isn't so simple.
DTG technology improves by leaps and bounds with each passing year. Regardless, DTG has several important downsides to consider.
DTG printing is not cheap.
The ink is expensive. The actual equipment is expensive. Maintenance and R&D are expensive.
It can cost $4 (or more!) in ink and pre-treat alone to do a colorful print on a dark shirt.
Additionally, DTG printing is labor intensive.
"We hire screen printers to run our DTG machines, since it takes a certain set of skills," says Stoked On Printing's Kevin Oakley.
You must meticulously maintain your DTG printers. They are not maintenance-free machines – and DTG printing is NOT a "push button" printing style.
Another problem? There are no "mid-level" DTG printers. The market is essentially low-end DTG printers and extremely high-end DTG printers. (Manufacturers, take note!)
DTG printers cannot keep pace with screen printers. They print line-by-line – just like a printer at your house.
With most DTG printers, you can print roughly one shirt every two minutes.
Amazon tried to overcome this speed issue via scaling – they bought thousands of Kornit DTG printers – but their Merch by Amazon fulfillment business is still not fully operational after more than three years of development.
This is why screen printing is still a strong option for custom garments: it's simply much faster than DTG printing once you overcome setup time.
By 72 prints, screen printing absolutely blows away DTG printing for efficiency.
The print won't last as long
Yes, it's true, DTG prints typically aren't as durable as screen prints.
Because of the ink that DTG printers use and the way that the ink is applied, the end customer will eventually see the print fade significantly from repeated washing and drying.
Some industry estimates say that DTG prints on garments last anywhere from 25% to 50% as long as screen prints.
This doesn't mean DTG printing is inferior. After all, screen prints can survive hundreds of wash cycles if they're cured and applied correctly. DTG prints can still survive 50+ washes and be acceptable to the customer – certainly "good enough" for most customers!
The bottom line about quality: DTG prints are typically made for customers that have different demands than customers that place high-volume screen print orders. DTG prints aren't ideal for something like uniforms – but they're perfect for a unique souvenir.
Garments require pretreating
Want to use DTG to get vibrant colors, to print with white ink, or to print on a dark t-shirt? You'll need to pre-treat your shirts.
Pre-treating adds another minute of time to each garment you print.
Most shops apply pre-treat with a roller or pre-treat machine. Pre-treat chemicals cost slightly less than DTG ink but are still a considerable expense.
Unfortunately, it's not recommended to pre-treat large numbers of garments ahead of time. Over time, the pre-treat may degrade – meaning the ink won't adhere to the garment. This means most shops pre-treat each shirt individually just before it's printed.
A rule of thumb: if you're printing white inks with a DTG printer, you must pre-treat your garments.
The exception here is a hybrid printing system like the M&R Digital Squeegee or one of ROQ’s ROQhybrid systems.
Why would a print shop do DTG printing?
DTG printing lets screen print shops take smaller, more complex orders that they would normally turn away.
Print shops use DTG printers for specific applications – but the most common is simply printing 1 to 12 shirts for customers that only need a handful of shirts. However, there are still multiple contexts where DTG printing makes a lot of sense.
Complex (or...bad) artwork
DTG printing is often ideal for art that isn't great for screen printing.
Since you don't have to separate or burn screens, screen printers are able to use DTG printing on art that simply doesn't translate well to the screen printing press.
You can print full-color photographs and other challenging high-color-count art with DTG printing easily.
Since screen printing typically isn't profitable at small volumes, DTG printing offers a reasonable alternative for customers that want fewer than 12 pieces.
The most frequent orders in many print shops are fewer than 72 pieces! Every print shop has had someone walk in and get frustrated that they can't simply order one t-shirt.
If you build a business model that can accommodate small orders, DTG printing can be highly profitable and effective.
But if you only have a handful of small orders, you may be better off utilizing contract printing instead of investing in DTG printing. There are multiple print shops that specialize in small orders – it's their bread-and-butter.
Rush orders and reprints
Rush orders – such as someone needing a few shirts within 24 hours – are a great use for DTG printing. You can fire up the printer, pre-treat shirts, and send them off after printing & curing very quickly in a pinch.
Other rush orders could be replacements or reprints. Perhaps a single shirt is missing from an order, a print was botched, or some other error occurred. You can simply fire off a shirt and send it out without remaking screens.
Another use? Maybe a customer ordered 100 shirts last year, but now they just want 5 of the same design. DTG printing is perfect for that kind of small order.
This kind of DTG printing is a premium service – so charge appropriately for rush orders, replacements, and reprints.
Should you use DTG or screen printing? How do you decide?
Choosing between DTG printing and screen printing isn't so difficult if you know the specifications of the order.
There's a simple way to determine whether you should screen print or use DTG for an order!
No, you don't need to create a checklist for each order – you can simply look at the artwork and your shop's capabilities.
Is the artwork better for DTG or screen printing?
First, consider what it will take to screen print the artwork that the customer has.
If you see that artwork can easily be separated, lean toward screen printing. It’s still the first and best way to print a shirt.
If the art is a photograph, lean toward DTG printing.
While many printers are totally adept at CMYK full-color printing, setting up and executing a CMYK print may not be your strong suit. You may need to print many test prints to achieve the look you want. And many customers will not accept the variance that CMYK prints have.
Unless you specialize in printing complex art, lean toward DTG for things like photographs (unless the customer is requesting a large quantity).
Can you subcontract the job?
There is always a print shop that has more experience than you do. Many print shops specialize in small run DTG printing, complex art for screen printing, and making difficult prints come to life.
Remember, the goal is to add value by meeting your customer's needs! Don't use a customer's order to learn a new way to print.
If the customer wants a high-quantity print with complex art, you don't want to sacrifice quality. Consider using a contract printer the job to a print shop that specializes in complex simulated process screen printing (or trying to separate and print it yourself).
Note: if you're a customer looking to purchase custom t-shirts and are looking for more information, you should trust your local print shop's judgment about how to print your t-shirts. They're the experts!
What is "pre-treating" for DTG printing?
99% of DTG printed t-shirts need to be pre-treated – so don't forget about pre-treating!
You will virtually always need to pre-treat garments that:
- Are a dark color like black or navy
- Will have white ink printed on them
Think of pre-treatment for DTG like primer for painting a house.
This coat acts like an underbase so that the ink is vibrant and longer-lasting. Without pre-treating garments, DTG prints appear dull and faded – or worse, don't adhere to the garment at all.
In most shops, a DTG pre-treat machine applies a special coating to the shirt – though many use rollers to apply pre-treat by hand.
Pre-treatment adds considerable time and cost to DTG printing. This is often a "blind spot" that screen printers encounter when they make the leap to DTG printing.
Pre-treating can take a minute or more. Pre-treat can be expensive (Ryonet sells a 20 liter supply of Epson's pre-treat for just under $700) – but it's necessary for professional-quality prints.
How much does it cost to print a shirt with a DTG printer?
There is a major upside to DTG printing.
You can accurately calculate your costs. This makes it much easier to price DTG prints.
Epson and other DTG printing manufacturers offer a robust and accurate cost calculator tool for DTG printers.
So why is it easier to price DTG prints, and how do you do it?
Your DTG printer applies a given amount of ink over a pre-determined area on a garment. You can actually calculate the exact cost of the ink over the area.
A DTG pricing formula is typically simple: cost of labor + cost of ink and pre-treat over the area printed + cost of garment = total cost.
A large DTG print with 7+ colors on a dark garment can easily cost $8 in ink and pre-treat alone.
So when you’re starting to price your own DTG prints, you should consider the cost of pre-treating, the cost of ink, and how large the image actually is. Luckily, these are all known quantities – which means pricing your DTG prints can be a lot easier than pricing your screen prints.
Some awesome resources to estimate DTG pricing:
How much does a DTG printer cost?
We will be blunt: DTG printers cost tens of thousands of dollars.
It costs a minimum of $20,000 to $30,000 for a complete and professional DTG printing setup. The most expensive DTG printing setups can easily exceed $250,000 – though higher-end models often include a comprehensive warranty and maintenance package as well.
Because of the high price, we advise print shops to consider purchasing their first DTG printer after they've contracted thousands of dollars of DTG prints out of their business.
Put another way: DTG printers – and any custom printing equipment – do not generate demand.
DTG printer, pre-treat machine, and a heat press
At the absolute minimum, you will need a DTG printer, a pre-treat machine, and a heat press to start DTG printing.
Most shops start with a lower-range DTG printer. Expect to spend between $10,000 and $30,000 for a starter DTG machine. Used DTG machines are widely considered a bad idea – you won't know if the maintenance and upkeep has been performed properly.
A pre-treatment machine typically costs between $3,000 and $4,000. Don’t underestimate the importance of your pre-treatment machine! It’s one of the most important parts of your DTG setup. Lawson, Equipment Zone and M&R all make pre-treatment machines for DTG printing (along with numerous other manufacturers).
Finally, you’ll need a heat press. They can cost $1,000 to $2,000 for a high-end model. However, you can use the heat press for innumerable things in most print shops. Used heat presses are fine – they can be had for hundreds of dollars (if not less).
Low cost: $20,000 and up
Typical Brother or Epson DTG printers start around $10,000. Most models range between $15,000 and $30,000. These are the "desktop" DTG printers that the overwhelming majority of print shops use.
Interestingly, there are currently no "mid-range" DTG printers.
In other words, the DTG market has a robust niche from $10k-$30k – then jumps all the way up to $100k and more. There simply isn't a mid-range price-point for DTG printers yet. To go up to the next level, you must spend significantly more.
High-end: $100k and up
M&R's Maverick exemplifies the high-end DTG printer market. Priced around $250,000, the Maverick is part of the growing market for large-scale, industrial DTG applications.
Israel-based Kornit competes in this space, backed by a sizable investment from Amazon's print-on-demand division. Despite pouring hundreds of millions into the print-on-demand space, Amazon is still not the dominant player in the market. Regardless, Kornit has significantly advanced the entire DTG printing industry from a technological standpoint.
These expensive machines are designed specifically for industrial applications – they can run almost 24/7. But they require carefully controlled temperatures and humidity levels to operate. It's important to note that it's unrealistic for most screen printing shops to put a high-end DTG machine in their shop without robust climate control.
What is the best DTG printer on the market?
This is a difficult question to answer. No DTG printer is perfect for every application.
We coach shops to consider their business model when purchasing a DTG machine. If they have built a consistent flow of low-volume orders, DTG printing can be a valuable investment. If they do not have an infrastructure to handle the order intake, printing, and shipping – then DTG can be a bank-breaking headache.
However, the most trusted brands for DTG printing are Brother and Epson for desktop-style DTG printers. For high-end DTG printers, Kornit, ROQ and M&R are considered top-of-the-line.
A word to the wise: buy something nice, or buy something twice.
All of these brands put out high-quality DTG printers – if they're purchased new. You may find a deal on used DTG equipment, but remember that DTG printers do not hold their resale value like screen printing presses do.
Most experts don't recommend purchasing used DTG equipment since the maintenance and upkeep are so important (and you have no way to verify if it was done correctly).
Be prepared for additional repairs, costs, maintenance, and troubleshooting if you buy used DTG printers – and beware that you likely won't benefit from the manufacturer's warranty!
How much does DTG printing ink cost?
The cost for DTG ink is much higher than the cost for screen printing ink.
While there are a lot of ways to save money on screen printing ink, DTG inks are typically crafted for one specific manufacturer's printers.
So how much does DTG ink cost? Each DTG ink cartridge costs around $200. For a typical CMYK DTG printer (with two white inks), there may be $1,200 worth of ink in the printer at any given time.
This is known as the "razor and razor blade" model, and it's the backbone of DTG printing manufacturer's business model. The DTG printers are not where manufacturers make their profit: the consumables they sell you to support the machine are how these companies turn a profit.
As a kicker, DTG ink has a shelf life. You can’t buy it on sale and save it for later like you can with Plastisol screen printing ink.
Ink alone can cost more than $400 a month to run a DTG machine.
Who makes DTG printers?
There are a handful of major DTG printing manufacturers – with many more waiting in the wings.
An important note: virtually every DTG printing manufacturer utilizes the "razor-razor blade" model – meaning they make the bulk of their income from selling DTG ink, not selling DTG machines – so check ink pricing as well as machine pricing. A higher-cost machine may have lower-cost ink (and vice-versa).
Kornit is based in Israel and has been a longtime leader in development and research for direct to garment printing.
Their large DTG printers are priced at a premium but are known for excellent service, warranties, and generally high build quality.
They are focused on developing industrial DTG technology that can scale to meet the needs of print-on-demand companies.
Brother has made a name for itself in the DTG space with their versatile and powerful GTX line of printers. The GTX printers are notorious for their ability to print on a wide range of textiles.
While Brother focuses primarily on the desktop DTG printing market, some print shops "chain" Brother's DTG machines together and use them to print large volumes. One shop in Las Vegas purchased nearly a dozen Brother GTX printers to meet their DTG printing needs.
M&R made the M-LINK line of DTG printers and currently manufactures the EZPREP Pretreatment system. They also have invested heavily into hybrid screen printing, which mixes DTG applications with a screen printed underbase.
Based just outside of Chicago, M&R believes the industry will move toward a print-on-demand model. "The same number of t-shirts will be sold, but how they're sold and printed will change," said M&R's CEO Danny Sweem.
Epson is famous for their large-format printers, and is a common household name with decades of experience in inkjet printing.
They make an extensive line of DTG printers for a variety of industrial applications. Epson competes with Brother for the lion's share of the desktop DTG market in the United States. Their products compare favorably to others on the market and are widely considered a top-tier manufacturer.
AnaJet by RICOH is Ricoh's DTG division. Ricoh is multinational corporation focused on providing digital solutions to businesses. Their print and embroidery division is just one example.
With decades of experience in embroidery technology, Ricoh has begun its acquisition and expansion phase. AnaJet invested heavily in consumer education and ongoing support for their DTG users, making it a good fit for Ricoh's solutions-oriented business model.
Omniprint is a leader in the DTG space. Their Freejet printers are a desktop option, while they also offer the Cheetah – a large, industrial DTG printer.
Omniprint also offers turnkey business kits for DTG printing – a unique offering in the industry. Their online store makes ordering supplies simple.
Col-Desi manufactures a variety of DTG printers, including one of the earliest two-platen DTG printers. This allows print shops to print two designs on one printer simultaneously.
They have a litany of offerings and services that span beyond DTG printing – and a formidable support staff armed with lots of educational resources.
A number of Chinese manufacturers are also beginning to bring their DTG offerings to market, either directly or by partnering with major brands. These DTG machines are high quality, and many DTG manufacturers source many of their parts from China (then assemble the machines in the US).
We expect that there will be dozens more manufacturers and suppliers for DTG printing in the next 5 years. Chinese manufacturers have a formidable head-start since they have taken the lead in the actual manufacture of DTG printing components.
But no company owns the DTG market yet. There is still tremendous opportunity for a manufacturer to control broad swaths of the custom printing market with the right product – we're looking forward to mid-range (less than $100k) DTG printers emerging as a viable option.
Remember the software you use to manage your DTG printing business is just as important as your printer. Screen printing management software like Printavo can be used for DTG printing too.
How does DTG feel compared to screen printing?
You can achieve extremely soft screen printed t-shirts with the right tips. Certain screen printing inks and techniques (like discharge inks) create a print that is actually part of the fabric – so you can't feel it at all.
However, we can generally assume that:
- DTG printed t-shirts may have a softer hand feel than plastisol screen prints
- DTG ink is much thinner than plastisol ink
- DTG printed t-shirts may not have a softer hand feel than water based screen prints
- Water based inks can have zero hand feel
A DTG print will typically be softer than a screen print.
But that isn't always the case – and DTG printing isn't always the best way to achieve softer prints.
Remember: DTG prints may not be as durable as screen prints, and may not be appropriate for every type of garment or print. Some customers want "bulletproof" plastisol prints, where there's a thick layer of ink – while others want zero hand-feel.
How much does DTG printing cost compared to screen printing?
For small orders (less than 24 pieces) DTG printing typically costs less than screen printing.
For large orders (more than 24 pieces) screen printing typically costs less than DTG printing.
Why is this the case?
Screen printing has a lot of setup and breakdown involved. To overcome the cost of creating screens and then setting up those screens on press (as well as breaking down and reclaiming the screens), screen printers need to print a lot of shirts to make the job profitable. This "break-even point" varies, but a common industry minimum is 24 t-shirts. However, screen printing is incredibly efficient at high volumes.
DTG printing is inefficient at high volumes. DTG printing is profitable and easy for 1 to 12 garments. There's almost no question that a DTG printer will be faster for printing just one shirt. However, once you need more than 24 garments, screen printing becomes exponentially faster and more profitable – while DTG printing stays at the same level of production and profitability.
The graph below shows screen printing prices in red, while DTG prices are in blue. As you can see, screen printing prices are very high – at least initially. However, as the quantity increases, the time and cost to DTG printing increases...while screen printing gets more affordable.
One way to get around this is to do a "pod printing" setup.
Shops that do a lot of DTG printing will daisy-chain their pre-treat machines, DTG machines, and curing dryers to create a "pod." This means they can print multiple designs at once, or raise their overall capacity to print larger orders. This is what Amazon attempted to do with Kornit (mentioned above), though on a much larger scale.
Learn more about pod DTG printing in our guide to DTG printing with Luke Ryerkerk.
Is DTG printing better than screen printing?
DTG printing and screen printing are both great ways to print t-shirts and other custom garments. So which is better?
Yes, you'll hear screen printers trash DTG as "direct to garbage" and hear DTG lovers call screen printers old-fashioned. There is definitely some animosity here!
So let's start with something most people can agree on: screen printing is still the most durable, time-tested, and familiar printing method for custom t-shirts and garments.
DTG printing is another tool for a print shop to meet the needs of their customers. Very few shops are throwing out their screen printing squeegees for inkjet printers!
You could evaluate DTG vs. screen printing according to print quality, speed of production, price, and so on. Different shops have different competencies.
Ultimately, each shop is different.
There are large contract DTG businesses that never do screen prints – and multimillion-dollar screen print shops that would never think of using DTG. Different businesses have different models – some do online store sales, while others make their money on 30,000 piece runs that DTG printers could never keep up with.
For small orders, DTG printing is a great fit. For large orders, screen printing blows DTG printing away. Both methods are a tool for serving customers!
Conclusion: DTG vs. screen printing
Ultimately, there's no clear winner between DTG and screen printing. There are simply too many variables in the custom apparel industry to say that one decoration style is the best or only way to accomplish the ultimate goal. And what is that ultimate goal? To make your customer's idea come to life.
We urge anyone considering a new decoration method – whether that's considering if you should buy a DTG printer or try out screen printing – to worry less about the exact decoration method they use and more about whether they're printing exactly what the customer wants.
The number one priority is fulfilling your customer's vision – or connecting them with someone that can.
In screen printing and custom apparel decoration, you are more like a barber than a mass manufacturer. You are responsible for creating a custom experience that reflects the customer's needs. Become the expert and guide your customers toward decorations and customizations that they'll love – and that help you turn a profit.
Printavo is simple shop management software. We help you streamline your business, keep jobs moving forward and your team on the same page.
Scheduling, quoting, approvals, payments, customer communication, automation and more. With Printavo, you’ll work smarter–not harder.