QP: How large is the digital garment printing market and what drives it?
Longtin: In the United States, digital garment printing is carving a small but growing slice out of the multi-billion domestic garment printing market. The global garment decoration market in 2007 was estimated to be over $44 billion, part of the $2.5 trillion global clothing and textile market.
What drives the industry is a pervasive, endless demand for custom imprinted clothing and promotional products. All apparel has a lifespan and custom garments often have a finite range of use—think uniforms, events, and corporate promotional attire. If you wear something that bears an image, embroidery stitches, a dye pattern, or even an embossed logo, you consume decorated apparel.
Direct-to-garment is competitive with, and complementary to, screen printing. As DTG technology becomes more refined, the area of overlap between these technologies grows.
QP: What are the main reasons why a print provider should get involved in digital garment printing?
Longtin: A print provider should look at the business case for digital garment printing just as they would for any product line: Do I have a ready market? Can I design a cost and pricing model that will enable greater profit? Can I learn or train on the technology? What will it cost to own and operate it for a number of years?
The main reasons why they are coming off the fence is that the cost to acquire is low, the technology is increasingly easy to operate, and the latent market is huge. In a commodotized environment, offering corporate and non-profit customers digital apparel products—being the one-stop shop—can help lock in accounts. Storefront shops pick up extra traffic from putting a sample shirt in the window. It may even open the door to other commercial printing accounts.
QP: What types of customers are the best prospects for digital garment printing services?
Longtin: The easiest targets for marketing digital direct-to-garment printing are all local businesses with promotional budgets, retail stores of all types, non-profit and charitable organizations, schools, and private individuals. Sincerely, wherever your business’ sweet spot is, that’s probably where the money is. It’s harder, but not impossible, to land large corporate accounts because they tend to favor mass production using screen printing—which is probably more economical to outsource. However, even major businesses occasionally need short runs and reorders that are not cost-effective using anything but direct to garment.
QP: Describe the learning curve for adding digital garment printing services. Do most printers already have the necessary skills, or is significant training needed?
Longtin: Amongst our customers, we find that garage owners—mom and pops—require the most training and have the greatest learning curve. Commercial printers and sign shops have the shortest learning curve—a month or less of working with the printer.
Metaphorically, if you are filling up a jar with rocks, pebbles, sand, then water, the three big rocks are: operating the printer, knowing design, and marketing the offering with discipline. Start-ups often have a lot of motivation and time, but they often lack one or even all three of the big rocks.
Existing commercial printing enterprises likely already understand the care and feeding of an inkjet machine, they have one or more staff with design expertise, and they have a customer base from which to build. It’s usually just a matter of “adding water”, which, in this case, is the ability to make customers happy time after time.
The new skill to be learned is proper pre-treatment of black or colored shirts. It’s not necessary for white or light garments. Pre-treatment requires a well-ventilated area, a box or other device to catch overspray, and, ideally, clothesline space or a tool for drying.