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Leveraging Ongoing Advances, Direct to Garment is on the Growth Path

While direct-to-garment is in its infancy, the technology continues to improve and the number of players entering the market continues to expand, with embroidery shops, print-on-demand operations, E-commerce fulfillment sites, and small entrepreneurial businesses joining the more typical screen printer within the market.

Previous technology issues are being addressed, and advances in white ink systems are also helping to propel the market’s growth. Conquering the white ink issue has made direct-to-garment technology attractive to larger companies, who are adding multiple DTG printing units to their storefronts and fulfillment centers.

Direct-to-garment offers the ability to personalize a garment with extreme quality using a cost effective one-off basis, noted Larry Kaufman, product manager, Professional Imaging, Epson America, Inc.

“In addition, it offers new opportunities to print photographic content and complex graphics that either requires too many screens to be cost effective, or reproduces with poor image quality due to the typical low resolution half-toning used in screen printing.”

The printed textiles industry is a $1 trillion worldwide market, of which $165 billion of sales were achieved utilizing direct-to-garment technology, reported Ulrike André, director of marketing, Kornit Digital North America, Inc. The market segment consists of 7 billion customers generating $10 billion in revenue for direct-to-garment printers.

The technology offers the perfect solution for today’s demand for instantaneous gratification: no matter how small or large the production run, it allows the flexibility to produce either with shorter turnaround times, utilizing a robust and flexible process,” said André.

It taps into the comfort levels of suppliers and end users across industries, now accustomed to using digital technology to personalize and accelerate their work and lives.

“With electronic programs and applications that customize nearly every aspect of a person’s life to their individual desires, the new normal for consumers is to expect fully personalized items, and to expect them immediately,” said Paul Crocker, Anajet’s director of marketing. “The direct-to-garment technology is keeping up with the new expectations that consumers have by enabling companies of all types to provide custom printed apparel and other items on-demand and in-house.”

Consumers can provide their own graphic and have their finished shirt in their hand in just minutes.

“We’ve seen more and more of our AnaJet owners take their printers on-site to an event to provide custom shirts to attendees, where they’re able to charge upwards of $35 to $45 for one shirt,” said Crocker.

According to Kaufman, DTG has a bit of a checkered past, brought about mostly because of unreliable technology. Epson addressed this concern with the introduction of the SureColor F2000, designing a print mechanism from the ground up and leveraging the Epson PrecisonCore TFP print head and UltraChrome DG inks exclusively optimized for the direct-to-garment printing process.

In addition, explains Kaufman, the three highest possible points of failure are now easily replaced maintenance components, removing the worry and inconsistent performance concerns of the past. Delivering consistent sellable results is necessary in any business model, as is making sure the final garment is safe for the consumer.  Also, the five color pigment inks used in the Epson SureColor F2000 series printers passed the OKEO-Tex Standard 100 for human ecological requirements of class 1 products for adults, children and babies up to 36 month

Anajet’s release of the mPower i-series represented a shift in the direct-to-garment market, noted Crocker. Originally, the few first direct-to-garment printer models produced in the industry mostly used plastic print heads, which were prone to clogging and didn’t last more than a few years of consistent usage. The mPower i-series uses stainless steel Ricoh print heads that have industrial strength and durability, he says. “This change is the difference between a hobby-level printer and an industrial machine. Now that AnaJet offers stainless steel print heads, larger retailers and fulfillment centers have adopted direct to garment technology to produce thousands of shirts per month.”

Quality, productivity and speed and are the most important components when discussing direct-to-garment printers, said André.

The recently launched Avalanche Hexa and Avalanche 1000 have far surpassed the expectations of the market and far exceeded other systems available today, he added. “Industrial Polaris print heads, an integrated humidifier, a backup battery ensuring the self-cleaning system operates throughout the night or during power outages are all part of our carefully engineered direct-to-garment printers.” Commented André.  “Our certified NeoPigment inks were developed to work in perfect synergy with these machines and are suited to print onto virtually any textile, ensuring the brilliant color reproduction of any hue.”

Kornit’s NeoPigment inks are Oko-Tex Standard 100 and GOTS certified, ensuring the user that the process is environmentally safe and sound. 

Addressing the White Ink Challenge

Speaking of ink, a persistent problem for the direct-to-garment industry is white ink printing technology, essential to the sector’s growth. Digital apparel printers need to be able to provide dark shirt options for their customers, which require white ink with titanium dioxide (TO2). TO2 is a heavy mineral often found in white paint. It starts to dry immediately when it comes into contact with air, which creates a potential ink-clogging problem if the white ink touches air within the ink channels in the printer.

AnaJet’s patented Closed-Loop Ink Delivery System ensures that white ink does not come into contact with the air until it is released from the print head. “The stainless steel Ricoh print heads used in the mPower i-series models are strong and durable to allow for print head cleaning and maintenance to blow out any potential clogs without damaging the print head,” said Crocker.

Many years ago ink manufacturers produced solvent inks that were rarely a true white but tended to have a gray hue, said André. Today’s NeoPigment inks are water based and able to set the stage for a brilliant, opaque white, providing the perfect elasticity to ensure its mechanical durability.

“All of Kornit’s direct-to-garment printers are equipped with white ink, having realized from the onset that printing without it could never have resulted in the complete solution we offer—and that our customers expect from us,” André stated.

Printing with white ink on cotton fiber in the direct-to-garment process requires the garment to be pre-treated, and this holds true for all manufacturers today. Current white ink by itself will not bond to cotton fibers. “Epson chemical engineers looked to improve on the process by creating a new pre-treatment formulation that works in tandem with the Epson UltraChrome DG white ink,” explained Kaufman. “The result is a pre-treatment chemistry that is easy to apply via roller or spray, has no smell, and once printed, offers a print with a very light hand, great ink flexibility. and best-in-class wash durability.”