Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing markets have been under a significant pressure over the recent several years. Dmitry Sarbaev, general director at Fluxmall, examines why it’s important for various printing methods to coexist…
The season of the signature tradeshows, which included not only FESPA 2023 Munich in May, but also ITMA 2023 Milan in June, is now over, and it is time to analyse where the garment decoration industry in its printing segment is heading. By all means, the industry continues to evolve in the ways that opens up many new opportunities for decorators but also enables them to tackle current challenges on the market.
Direct-to-Garment (DTG) printing markets have been under a significant pressure over the recent several years with the Direct-to-Film print application taking some of the market niches by a storm. The reasons behind are:
- significantly more affordable “entrance ticket” to kick-off own printing business from scratch due to a vast majority of machinery coming from China
- ability to do the heat transfer applications on a variety of substrates, including polyester, which traditionally is hard to work with using direct inkjet firing onto the synthetic fibers
- most importantly, significant savings on the cost per print with the attractive consumables pricing and the way the roll film printing machines operate
Nevertheless, whereas DTF is attracting a lot of smaller enterprises, it not only gives space for both decoration methods to co-exist, but also leaves a lot of market niches for DTG to continue to thrive and dominate in sectors where DTF has not matured enough. Among them are:
DTG printing can reproduce a wider range of colours, gradients, and shades more precisely, ensuring that the printed design closely matches the original artwork that fashion designers create. The ink is directly absorbed into the fabric fibers, thus blends into the substrate fabric look more eye-pleasing and leave a nicer handfeel.
Handfeel refers to the tactile sensation or texture of a fabric or print when touched or felt by hand. DTG tends to have a softer handfeel because the ink is absorbed into the fabric, resulting in a more seamless and flexible print. The print becomes a part of the fabric, allowing it to stretch and move with the garment. This is one of the main reasons why the fashion industry sticks to Direct-To-Garment printing – ability to have a seamless and more flexible print with excellent color accuracy.
Furthermore, some large well-known global fashion brands are actively working on bringing DTG printing into the retail space, leveraging the technology for the benefit of the visual look of the garment and it tactile feel. For this reason, the technologies of roll-to-roll pretreatment application on the fabric manufacturing stage, and the R&D towards inventing white ink that doesn’t require any pretreatment develop full-on.
Large automated facilities
It’s remarkable that some of the biggest DTG OEMs have recently made significant steps towards workflow automation of DTG print production that reduces the human factor impact and leaves an operator only a function of control over the fully automated line of garments printing. Such setups are not new to big industrial players, but the bar for the level of automation continues to be raised.
Automation reduces the need for print operators to perform physically demanding and repetitive tasks, minimizing the risk of injuries and improving overall workplace safety and efficiency. What seemed to be seemingly impossible for DTG-specific standard operational procedures even 4-5 years ago, now becomes a reality in printing T-shirts, hoodies, long sleeves and other garments.
DTF is failing forward
Direct-to-Film (DTF) printing is taking steps further to mature, yet is well-known for major drawbacks that will continue to challenge manufacturers in years to come.
What was initially meant to be a “China thing” – a technology that had its roots from COVID times for the domestic Chinese market – is now a global trend worldwide. However recent tradeshows exposed that the established western and Japanese OEMs struggle to launch solutions that will beat up Chinese manufacturers. A lot of R&D is yet to be accomplished, whereas only the prototypes were demonstrated, or else the solutions were behind Chinese OEMs on important factors like speed or cost per print.
Sustainability is yet another concern, when it comes not only to the manufacturing of powders and films, but also the ways to dispose films after the heat transfers are applied, resulting in a significant amount of unused or discarded film. This waste contributes to the overall environmental impact and requires proper disposal to prevent further harm.
Yet, taking two steps back, and one step forward, DTF continues to remain one of the drivers for growth of SMEs in garment decoration. It’s no doubt that the known challenges will be resolved by more innovations in years to come.
Hybrid printing – a true highlight
Hybrid printing – a combination of screen printing and digital DTG printing methods – not only remains strong, but also continues to gain its market share in various ways over the industrial sector. By combining the two methods, hybrid printing allows for the best of both worlds. Screen printing can be used for the base colors, or top coatings or special applications like glitter or glow-in-the-dark, and DTG can be used for detailed full-color designs printing. This allows for cost-effective production while maintaining quality results of the print output. Additionally, hybrid printing can be used on a variety of materials, including cotton, polyester, and blends, which opens up a lot of market niches for the machine owners.
The machinery engineering develops in two different dimensions:
All-in-one hybrid printers are a complete solution with both the screen printing stations (single or multiple) inside the printer and the digital printing carriage to print the colour layer. Such printer is easy to operate thanks to the user-friendly machine’s software that allows to manage all stations and movements from a single monitor. Important to note that the alignment between layers of white and color are also controlled digitally, so there is less chance for any misregistration to happen. Overall, these machines cater the needs of garment decorators that require high-quality and large-volume printing output of the same designs, but also flexible enough to keep the production runs short, and change designs and screens fast enough to reduce the downtime.
Oval-based Hybrid is a solution which is essentially based on the oval screen-printing machine. It provides a larger printing area and allows for larger designs to be printed. One of the stations would have a DTG printer module on top of the pallet that would print the colour layer digitally before the pallet is moved for flash curing, and further for top coating. Those printers normally have six colors: CMYK + Red and Green, in order to expand the color gamut. This would allow to achieve vibrant digital prints with high color accuracy at the speed of screen-printing production. Next to it, the availability of large number of stations for the oval machine enables decorators to use various combinations of layers like clear coatings or migration blockers, to improve the quality and hit the high wash fastness standards of the global fashion brands.
In the world of garment decoration, different techniques and technologies are used to achieve a range of effects. DTG (Direct-to-Garment) printing, DTF (Direct-to-Film) printing and Hybrid (screen and digital DTG) printing are popular methods that are often compared or even pitted against each other. However, it’s important to realise that the complexity of print production is the reason that these techniques can co-exist and even complement each other, to allow for a broader range of creative possibilities.