When it comes to custom t-shirt printing, the only thing that hasn’t changed dramatically this decade is the t-shirt itself. Other than that, most everything in the industry has evolved and advanced - printing and production processes; new ink technologies; and, of course, the advent of computerization and digitization. Interestingly, its not just the technology that has driven change, its also the various players in the industry: the creative crowd, the designers, the printers, and all of us consumers – because we want custom logos, with 5 colors, and next day delivery.
As with everything around us, custom t-shirt printing has become super-automated – from the moment a client uploads a graphic or photo, to the immediacy of getting a proof, to the fast production turnaround. And it applies equally to multi-thousand production runs with a corporate logo, and short-run projects that celebrate a family reunion. Indeed, there is an exceeding demand for very customized, even personalized product – especially when the unit cost has become so affordable. Clearly the days of silk screens, stinky inks and drying racks are behind us.
The latest printing technologies offer advanced features, compact equipment, and cost-efficient production, all of which translate into better customer prices and virtually instant finished product. Along with eco-friendly inks, and a capacity to print a thousand t-shirts or one, custom t-shirt printing has grown to include “direct-to-garment” printing processes, where practically any garment can be printed. And with an ever-demanding customer base (especially with customized needs), a modern and streamlined production operation is both cost effective and operationally sound.
Probably the most dramatic development in custom t-shirt printing has been DTG - “direct to garment” printing, sometimes known as “digital apparel” printing, or “inkjet to garment” printing. Using the latest in ink-jet technologies, and with specially modified equipment for garment printing, DTG makes use of textile inks that are absorbed directly into textile fiber. Industry experts describe DTG as completely different from the silk-screen and heat-transfer techniques of old, with much better image quality, and a capability of printing photo quality images that will not crack or peel.
The truth is, no equipment and no technology can transform poor quality graphic images into high quality images – but with high-resolution graphics, DTG can do wonders, printing on almost any colour garment, even printing white images on dark textile. On a custom t-shirt printing job, the DTG inks actually penetrate into the fabric, so that washing and rewashing does not affect the printed image. And for low volume projects, nothing comes close in terms of quality and business profitability. The market and the industry have space for all methods of screen-printing, but there has been a definite shift toward smaller, more customized runs, and that’s where DTG fills a need.
That’s the direction we’re headed in with custom t-shirt printing – much faster production turnarounds; less expensive overall operational cost; and less setup, teardown, and cleanup. As for the future, industry insiders are forecasting that 50% of the industry will be using Direct to Garment production methodologies within the decade.