Where will DTG be in five years’ time…

shutterstock_352936658Resolute DTG’s managing director, Colin Marsh, talks about the past, present and the future of direct to garment printing.

If you grew up in the late 80s you will probably remember the burst of colour that became available on the high street. Hail the dawn of the colour copier, no longer did you need to be ordering 5,000+ in order to afford glorious colour printing. Short run colour was now available to the masses and it was affordable. Of course it met with a lot of resistance from the printing industry with plenty of derogatory comments and the technology was limited until recently.

At around the same time as the millennium textile printing took a similar path. Garments were starting to be produced digitally with a mass of resistance from the hard core screen printing industry. With expensive setup costs and high minimum run lengths needed to get a decent unit price, the industry was desperate for another process to balance the scales. The jump between unit cost and run length was about to be bridged with the dawn of DTG. With dark garments and white ink just around the corner the many enthusiastic developers worked hard and fast to get the DTG process working. The direct to garment industry was off to a flying start and was about to change the textile industry forever.

Ink technology was a key factor for the DTG process, to my knowledge DuPont developed the first commercially viable white textile ink for use in the popular Epson piezo heads. With this followed a wide range of DTG systems ranging from small A3 entry level up to twin platen high end production systems. Starting from a zero foothold in the textile market 16 years ago DTG now accounts for approximately 30% of decorated fabrics. Reel to reel systems, sublimation and direct to finished garment is still one of the fastest growing industries for decoration.

So where will DTG be in five years from now?

For sure the foothold in the market will have increased, with faster systems and lower ink prices more and more people will become involved with selling, maintaining and using the process. A general increase globally will have an effect on the products available to people involved in sourcing printed garments and promotional items like cushions, cakes and cookies. Yes cakes and cookies, the direct to process does not end at garments, food printing is currently on a massive increase and working its way into the corporate event complementing the DTG process. Brand awareness is massive, the more that can be decorated for an event the better.

Already we are seeing a change in the DTG market and the machines available, the split between high and low end is getting greater as are the prices of the equipment. Refining a process for speed naturally increases the printers manufacture cost, or does it?

Four years ago Epson boarded the DTG train with a textile printer added to the SureColor range. Proof it was time to wake up and take notice as DTG is not going away. Building with current technology for tomorrow sees hybrid DTG technology emerging. My own involvement with the R-Jet 5 hybrid two years ago developed a stable building block which others will follow. Proving the concept of hybrid printing is now done, it works very well but needs some fine tuning. Hybrid DTG printing is not designed to take over from screen printing completely. It should be used to bridge the 50 to 500 runs where setup costs are still considered high.

My five year conclusion

2017 will for sure see new DTG systems launched. Over the next five years it will be quite normal for the majority of screen printers to utilise DTG and DTS technology together. Direct to screen, with recent developments is now affordable and carries a sub £10k price tag. These flatbed systems will soon emerge as hybrids with DTG capability bridging the middle market run lengths and bringing production costs down.

Why buy two systems when one can do it all?

DTG printing without pre-treatment, costing less, getting quicker and with a soft zero feel hand is the holy grail of textile printing. I am pretty certain we will see this in less than five years and convinced we will see market leaders make this commercially viable before 2020.

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