What Is DTG Printing and How Does It Work?

Screenprinting is an ancient technique that’s capable of replicating exact images and patterns on textiles. It’s used to embellish everything from opulent garments and tapestries to t-shirts and tote bags. It’s an involved, technical process that creates a picture via stenciled layers of a single color.

Even though screenprinting is a fantastic technique, it’s time-consuming and is only good at creating simple designs. Today there’s a newer, more efficient way to put detailed graphics on garments: DTG printing.

What is DTG printing, how does it work, and is it something your business should take advantage of? For a deep dive into the DTG process, keep reading.

What Is DTG Printing?

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is a modern method of transferring designs to fabrics. DTG printers do not use the same method as vinyl heat transfers, which tend to warp, crack, and peel off after only a few washes and wears.

Instead, they use aqueous (water-based) ink and an inkjet printing machine that’s similar to the kind you might have hooked up to your computer at home. These inks bind directly to textile fibers, meaning they’ll last longer than heat transfers and won’t feel any different than the surrounding fabric.

One of the biggest benefits of DTG in comparison to traditional printing methods is the lack of setup and teardown. There are no messy inks and screens to set up or clean after printing. In fact, the only interaction a human has with the printer is placing the fabric, sending the print job, and removing the fabric after it’s done.

How Does a DTG Printing Machine Work?

Printing a design on a t-shirt, for example, starts by coating the fabric with a pre-treatment solution and heat-pressing it in. This mixture helps the fibers in the fabric lay flat and smooth, giving the water-based inks a better chance to permanently adhere. A DTG shop may carry pre-treated garments that are ready for immediate printing.

The actual printing process starts with affixing the shirt in place. The area to be printed must be stretched out flat on a hard surface under the inkjet so the design can be printed evenly. You have to take great care to position the fabric correctly or the design will appear lopsided when the garment is worn.

Next, your design gets uploaded to a computer where you can edit last-minute details like size and placement. Once you’re happy with it, you can send it straight to the printer. The DTG machine uses inkjets to spray colored ink onto the fabric just like a standard inkjet printer does on paper.

After the design is done printing, you’ll have to wait for it to dry before moving the garment or you risk muddling the image. Thankfully, the pre-treatment solution helps to speed up this process quite a bit. As soon as the ink is cured, you’ll be able to wear and wash your new shirt as you would any other garment.

DTG vs. Screenprinting: Which Is Better for You?

Both screenprinting and DTG printing have their pros and cons. Is one technique better than the other? Not necessarily—it all depends on the number and type of designs you’re trying to print.

Pros and Cons of Screenprinting

Screenprints are a more traditional method and carry with them a long artistic tradition. They’re ideal if you’re printing a small batch of simple designs and want to market a 100% handmade product. If you’re ordering a large batch of garments, screenprints can be a cost-effective option.

You can screenprint a design anywhere on a garment or piece of fabric—front, back, side, sleeve, or even wrapping around a seam. There’s no limit to the color of fabric you can use, though you’ll have to make sure the color of your design stands out enough to be noticeable.

Even so, screenprints take far longer, are more labor-intensive, and are harder to achieve exact replication with than DTG prints. Because of the single-color layering required, you’ll pay a lot more for complicated, multicolored designs.

Pros and Cons of DTG Printing

Direct-to-garment printers bring a computer’s precision to the fashion industry. They can render incredibly detailed illustrations and photographs with an extreme accuracy far beyond the capabilities of screenprints.

Because they can combine black, white, and CYMK cartridges, there’s no limit to the number of colors you can include in a single design. You can print on any color material as well, but excessively dark or saturated fabrics may alter the image’s coloration.

Perhaps the largest benefit of this method is that you can use DTG printing to create hundreds of shirts in only a few hours. This makes it ideal for any shop that needs to produce rush orders for clients.

On the other hand, it’s also perfect for businesses that only need to place an order for a small number of garments. The non-existent setup process means you can print orders as small as a single t-shirt without incurring extra fees.

The one major downside of DTG printing is that, because the inks are water-based, it doesn’t work as well on synthetic materials. Most DTG printers will recommend sticking to natural fabrics like linen, cotton, hemp, and bamboo.

You’re also a bit more limited when it comes to design placement. More advanced machines might be able to do a side or sleeve design, but a cheap DTG printer will only be able to print within a pre-defined rectangle on the front and back of a shirt.

The Sky’s the Limit With Direct to Garment Prints

So, what is DTG printing? If you’re a business owner or artist, it could be your best opportunity to get your designs onto wearables of all sorts. After all, garments are one of the best advertising methods around.

Now that you know how to take advantage of DTG technology, it’s time to figure out what to print. For more advice on how to use images to promote your business, keep reading through the other articles on our site.