Direct to garment printing, also known as DTG printing, digital direct to garment printing, digital apparel printing, and inkjet to garment printing, is a process of printing on textiles and garments using specialized or modified inkjet technology. The two key requirements of a DTG printer are a transport mechanism for the garment and specialty inks (inkjet textile inks) that are applied to the textile directly and are absorbed by the fibers.
All direct to garment printers are descendants of the desktop inkjet printer, therefore many DTG printers, utilize some parts from preexisting printers. Some companies have printers which utilize similar technology, but are manufactured without the exact parts from any other brand machine.
Some DTG printers have been built using lower-resolution industrial inkjet print heads like those found in large-format printers used to print signs and banners. While no direct to garment manufacturer currently possesses the technology to create their own print heads, some possess exclusive rights to certain heads, which are manufactured for them. Some inkjet technology manufacturers offer products designed for direct textile printing, providing heads, printers and inks. The resolution and speed of direct-to-garment inkjet printers have been increased greatly over the last 8 years (the direct to garment era is generally recognized as beginning in the last quarter of 2004 when Mimaki & U.S. Screen introduced their printers at the SGIA show in Minneapolis).
Direct to garment (DTG) printing is most commonly implemented on garments that are made of cotton or cotton blends, although recent developments in technology have allowed for superior performance on light colored polyester and cotton/poly blends. As of this writing digitally imaging directly to dark garments is not commercially viable, though a number of companies are working on developing this technology.
The majority of DTG printers are driven from a computer by the use of software known as a RIP (Raster Image Processor). The RIP software allows the printer to print with larger volumes of ink, generate white ink underbases for dark shirts and also provides for more precision color management through color profiles. More advanced RIP software allows for driving multiple printers from one computer, advanced job queuing, ink cost calculation as well as a real time preview of the file prior to printing.
DTG was seen as a viable solution for low-quantity orders previously not possible because of the expensive setup process of screen printers. This opened a new market of quantity-one consumer driven purchasing of digitally printed direct to garment goods and a surge of large online fulfillment operations to meet this growing demand such as Big Frog Custom T-Shirts, DirectGarmentPrinting.com, Cafe Press, Zazzle, Skreened, RedBubble and Custom Ink.
These large fulfillment centers dominated the market until 2007 when 'design your own' online designer solutions entered the market and allowed smaller fulfillment centers to afford similar technology for their own websites.
With the continued growth of the industry, informative resources have become available. Forums, where users of direct to garment products can discuss help topics and get candid answers from industry experts and other users, are one example. Examples of trade show organizations that have welcomed the technology include, SGIA, ISS, and NBM .
Direct to garment printers can cost from under $10,000 to nearly $300,000 depending on their print size, production capability, ability to print dark garments as well as make and model.
A primary advantage of DTG printing is the lack of set-up costs and instant turnaround time not associated with traditional garment printing methods such as screen printing. The comparative disadvantage of DTG is equipment maintenance and ink cost. Ink technology developments have significantly improved ink performance and lowered ink cost. Digital printing technologies are non-contact, meaning that media is printed on without hand contact, allowing for a more precise image. This prevents the image distortion that takes place in screen printing.