Five Things to Know Before Jumping into Digital Printing
This article is very PRO direct-to-garment or DTG. While some of the comments may sound negative – it is very important to think about where you are going to spend $5,000 to $20,000 on a DTG printer. Frankly, I still love the process and it has matured and found a great niche in this industry. DTG is like embroidery, vinyl cutting, heat transfers, rhinestones and more – it is one more process a printer MUST have to be competitive in this industry.
It is pretty common knowledge that I was the first to bring an affordable desktop DTG printer to market. At the Minneapolis SGIA trade show in October of 2004 there were only two companies showing DTG for the first time – my company U.S. Screen was showing the T-Jet for around $11,000 and Kornit was showing a huge printer for about $180,000.
There were lots of mistakes made and in 2006 when I developed the first white ink with Dupont we thought we had found the “Golden Ticket” when in fact we didn’t know we had a tiger by the tail.
A lot of people bought machines. Some of them loved being on the new cutting edge technology. Others had nothing but problems with white ink clogging and keeping up with machine maintenance and most manufacturers faced a blood bath on internet forums.
Fast forward to today. I follow all of the Facebook DTG Groups. Some of them are General for all brands of DTG Machines and others are machine specific. These are the new internet Forums and frankly, not a lot has changed with people’s attitude. You will find uses who are in tears over issues and you will find people bragging of just printing 100 T-Shirts and working night and day and loving the process. AND, you have screen printers still saying “why didn’t you screen the job” and users replying “because my customer wants full-color with lots of detail and a softer print.”
The point of the above comments is that DTG has matured and has a firm place in the industry but there is still confusion in the marketplace. There are very important items to consider when buying your first DTG machine and you often can’t rely on industry Forums, Facebook Groups and manufacturers claims to give you a clear-cut answer about what machine to buy.
Here are things to consider and know:
- Be careful when buying a used machine.
I get at least a dozen calls per month from people who have bought a used machine off Craigs List, eBay or elsewhere and the question is always the same “do you sell software to run the machine?” DTG machines need special RIP software that control the ink deposit, creates an underbase for white shirts, allows you to re-print an image over again (for more brightness), and a lot more. Specialized RIP software is normally secured (for no bootlegging) with a dongle. Many used machines are sold “as is” and often don’t have a dongle. You can pay up to $1,000 more for software to run the machine and without the dongle it can cost more. Research RIP software for any machine you are going to buy.
After years of DTG manufacturers buying and selling a LOT of print heads for heads that were clogged – Epson and other manufacturers tightened up the head market. It is not uncommon to pay $800 to $1000 – or more for a print head – and if the machine is more than a few years old you may not be able to get print heads. Always confirm that you can get print heads and the price if you buy a used machine.
Be careful of the claim “it worked when I last turned it off” or “it has been in storage for a couple of years but works great.” Machines that are in storage often have ink in the lines that is clogged, heads that are clogged and will need a total “replumbing” of all the hoses. What you really want is to see the machine work and make a real print – not a promise that “it works.”
- Know where it fits in your business
A lot of DTG machines are sold to startup printers who feel the business is easy and they can build a website and sell shirts – and life will be good. These machines want to run – every day if possible – and you need to have a way to at least print a few shirts per day (even if just your own images or rags). There is a great place for DTG with short run, full color, quick turnaround (same day!) business and you need to know how this fits with your business model. If you are a screen printer you may not want this business but when you are getting $15 to $20 per shirt for an order of two dozen with NO screens, NO separations, NO setups – it doesn’t take long to say “I kind of like this!”
- Be careful of low cost machines
This may not set well with machine manufacturers but when a company sells a new machine for less than $5,000 you need to be aware that there is not much margin for support, infrastructure to keep up with R&D on the next generation, etc., etc. Be careful of shopping on price and buying a low cost machine. Profit is not a dirty word for a manufacturer and they need profit to maintain personnel, parts, inventory, and more. Ask the hard questions. “How many machines have you sold?” “Can I get names of owners?” “What is the warranty?” “How long have you been in business?”
- Be prepared for high ink costs
DTG inks are still not cheap. Buy into it. It is what it is. Don’t let this stop you. And, there is what is called “the digital lie” – meaning manufacturers do not always tell you the true cost of a print. OK, yes – the ink might sell for $400 per liter and they might tell you that equates to $.50 per print on a light shirt and $3.00 per print on a dark shirt. BUT…… they don’t tell you that the machine will do a lot of head cleanings that wastes ink, or that you might have to flush out all the ink and replace it every month to maintain the warranty. These are all ink costs that often are NOT figured into the “price per print” they quote. Get used to it. Don’t let it stop you. This is not screen printing where you are charging $4.00 for a printed shirt. You are charging a lot more for DTG prints and you can make good money with it if you know your costs.
- Do Your Homework
As mentioned earlier there are a lot of Facebook Groups dealing with DTG. In fact, they are the most active Groups I follow on Facebook. DTG owners love to brag, complain, share ideas, help others and more. Join these groups and follow the other online Forums that have DTG sections. Talk to owners. Go to trade shows. Keep an open mind. One user may hate the brand he has and another might love it. Consider the source. Does the person who hates it have too high of expectations, not like the high ink costs, not want to do the simple maintenance required to the keep the machine happy? Does the person who loves their machine “get it” – run it every day, know what markets to go after for this process, factors in high ink costs, doesn’t mind maintaining the machine? You get the idea.
Now Just Do It
I told you – I still love the process and how it has matured and become a stable part of this industry. DTG is not for everyone and MANY DTG owners are NOT screen printers, embroiderers or already in the industry but are often internet marketers who know you can charge more money for short runs, quick turnaround and detailed vibrant prints.