Entry-Level DTG Printer Buying Guide 2020

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Entry-level DTG printers are Epson consumer desktop printers converted to DTG Printers. Hence, they are also known as Repurposed DTG Printers. The DTG converter/seller usually buys these printers off Amazon and turns them into DTG Printers. To get the printer to emulate one-pass/two-pass white, they use third-party RIP software to trick the printer into printing white on specific print head channels.

Brands such as Fast Jet/Text Jet DTG printers do not invest heavily in expensive tooling to manufacture a printer from the ground up. That is why they are ridiculously cheaper than Brother/Epson DTG printers.

This guide will be a deep dive into entry-level DTG Printers. We will not look into specific brands since their running cost and cost of ownership are pretty much the same.

Perks of owning Entry-Level DTG printers

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  • Budget-Friendly
    • Suitable for starting an apparel decoration business on a budget
  • Cheap Ink Cost
    • You can use any Dupont ink, third-party ink, and it will print just fine. Don’t let their marketing fool you, the print head they use is either Epson DX5/DX7 or Precision Core TP Print heads.
  • Easy Self-Repair
    • You can always buy an extra Epson P400 Printer off Amazon for $530 and swap out the parts yourselves. However, parts will be an issue when the original printer is no longer available (Epson usually has a 1-year cycle for their consumer desktop printers). It’s always better to check when the original printer was released. If it’s a new model, you are golden for 1-2 years.

The Downsides

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  • Problematic Parts Sourcing
    • The major problem with these printers is parts sourcing. The consumer printer product cycle changes every 2-5 years. If you have any issues, sourcing parts will be quite a headache when the printer is no longer available. For instance, Katana DTG P400 was built from Epson SureColor P400 Printer, which is retired from the market. 
    • There are Chinese/Taiwan manufacturers that built entry-level DTG from the ground up, and they do offer customers different printhead options to equip the printer. However, only two brands, Spectra and Ricoh are selling their OEM Printheads to these DTG converters.
    • Given that a Ricoh Printhead is about $1,000 at wholesale, most entry-level DTG converters will equip their DTG with salvaged Epson consumer printheads.
  • Reliability Issues
    • Since the consumer printer has a short cycle and frequently“retires from the market”, most repurposed DTG Printers will always try to build their DTG machines off the latest consumer printer. Due to a lack of testing and understanding of the new printer models, this results in printer reliability issues. 
  • Self-Repair Headache
    • Being able to set up and repair your own DTG machine is great and cost-saving. But it can quickly get to a point where you are spending more time on maintaining your DTG machine than growing your business. In addition to the previously mentioned reliability issues, the life cycle of an entry-level DTG printer is relatively short. It is only a matter of time where your printer becomes a liability rather than an asset.
  • Printer Hardware/Software Unexpected Gotchas
    • Now we got the work, HArdware check, alignment check, …. Bom, the printer stopped working.
    • Once you fixed up your DTG printer and checked that everything is fine and dandy, your printer suddenly shuts down. And the worst part is that you have no idea why.
    • It is a common Digital Rights Management (DRM) issue that you will face. It could be an ink software reset, print count reset and so on. This is to prevent people from modifying the original manufacturer’s machines.

So should you get one?

These printers are for you if…

  • You are testing the water with DTG, and this is your first garment apparel business.
  • You have the technical skills, time, and willingness to maintain the machines yourself. 
  • Your print shop is outside the European/North American continent, where the price is everything to your customer, and quality is secondary.

However, if you are looking to grow your business fast, and eventually do contract printing with brands, or run your printer for 12 hours straight, we suggest that you should stay away from entry-level DTG printers.