Direct to Garment printing has finally arrived and it is the best thing since “sliced bread” for the t shirt designer. Finally you can have just about any design you want printed onto any colour of t-shirt. The process can print across seams, zips, plackets and sleeves.

There is a difference in the process between printing light colour designs onto dark or black coloured t-shirts, to printing onto white or light coloured t-shirts. This is because the process is very similar in technology to your average domestic desktop printer. If you print onto white paper, you will generally get an accurate representation of your design. If you put a dark coloured piece of paper into the same printer and print the same design, the result will be muddy with no highlight or white areas.

example of white t shirt printing
So this means you have to have an extra process for printing onto dark colours whereby the printer puts down a white layer first and then prints the colours onto that. This works quite well, but due to the need for the white layer having to be very opaque, you can feel a slight texture on the surface on the t-shirt, which you do not get when you print onto white t-shirts.

example of black t shirt printing
To get more detailed information on DTG go to our printing guide for further information or click here to place an order

A few years ago in the early days of the DTG printing you could only print onto white T-shirts. It soon became apparent that the marketplace wanted more than that, they wanted their designs printed onto coloured and black T-shirts as well. The next step was the development of DTG printing machines that had not only the three main colour inks to print colour images but also a white ink. The white ink was printed first, and needed to dry before the other colour inks could be printed on top.

So the total number of printing passes, to print a colour image onto a dark or black coloured T-shirts had now become three, pre-treatment, the white layer and finally the three primary colours. As you can imagine this process takes a long time, especially as both the pre-treatment and the white layer need to be at least partially dry before the next process could be applied.

I have not seen the latest DTG printing machine from Yes Limited, but the company claims that their machine is now capable of printing both the white ink and the coloured inks at the same time.

I have to say that I’m sceptical about the reliability of the Viper from Yes Limited, as my experience of their previous machine showed it to be quite unreliable compared to a Brother DTG printer of the same genre. The white ink has to be opaque and quick drying, which causes great problems when trying to pass the ink through the printing heads of the DTG machine. This often causes blockages and often results in the need for a replacement printing head. These printing heads are very expensive items and are not covered by the warranty or maintenance contract that you get from the supplier or manufacturer, when you purchase the DTG machine.

If your business has a large and consistent demand for colour printing onto dark or black coloured T-shirts, the chances are you will not get too much trouble with clogged printer heads, but if like most businesses the demand for this service is patchy and the machine will not be used everyday, the chances are traces of the white ink will remain in the printer head, it will then harden and eventually build up and cause blockage.

If you put this problem to the manufacturers they will argue that they have developed different methods which they have built-in to the DTG printing machines to prevent the blockages from happening. These processes usually involve a print head purging routine and also circulation system where the ink never stops moving. The theory behind these solutions sounds very good, but my experience with the actual day-to-day running of the machine, was that no matter how conscientious you are with your maintenance procedures, which are daily and quite time-consuming, you will still end up with blocked printer heads. When you go back to the manufacturer and say that there solutions have not worked, they say that you have not followed the procedures correctly, this is very hard to argue, so you end up paying lots of money for a new printer head. If this happens as often as once a month, there is very little profit margin to be made from the printing. The inks used in these machines are very expensive, and the labour needed to run the machines, with the three processes taking such a long time to print each T-shirt, it’s hard to see how the process can be viable