DTG Ink Cost: An In-Depth Analysis

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If you own a printing business, you may have read a lot about the differences between screen printing and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing from many different sources. We found out that a lot of these sources provide estimated figures to show the cost differences between these two types of printing. While helpful, it does not paint an accurate picture of the differences because it did not factor ink costs, design complexity, ink consumption, and so on.

That is why we have conducted an in-depth analysis of the ink cost difference for this article. We are sharing with you our review based on actual data extracted from our own observations between screen printing and DTG.  

Our analysis factors in the two most popular DTG printers that consume various amounts of ink, namely Brother GTX and Epson F2100. DTG manufacturers produce their own ink to protect their ink proprietorship, and this makes DTG ink expensive for these 2 brands. Fortunately, the Epson F2100 is known to be compatible with a wide range of third-party inks that is cheaper, so we will include Epson-compatible ink costs into our experiment as well. 

In our experiment, we calculated the ink cost of printing the following THREE different designs with screen printing ink and DTG ink for increased data accuracy. 

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We will look at the ink costs in terms of:

  1. How much it costs to print the design
  2. How profitable it is to print a certain amount of shirts in that design
  3. How screen printing and the different DTG printers measure up against each other

Then we will discuss which type of printing is suitable for you based on your business model and how fast you can achieve ROI with both screen printing and DTG.

What we have found can be summarized as follows:

  1. Screen printing costs reduce dramatically as the quantity increases for all three designs, while DTG ink costs increase linearly with quantity.
  2. The order of DTG ink cost from highest to lowest is Epson F2100 with genuine ink, Brother GTX and Epson F2100 with compatible ink
  3. Brother GTX has a faster print speed than Epson F2100
  4. With the ink cost saved by using Epson-compatible inks, you can finance your second DTG printer within a year.
  5. Both DTG and screen printing can be suitable for you, depending on your business model

Here is the ink cost of screen printing and DTG in summary:

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Now, we will dive in deeper on the highest amount shirts each DTG printer can print using the three different inks before screen printing overtakes it. 

DTG Ink Cost with 3 different designs

Design 1 is a 2-color design on a white shirt. The cost is less for both screen printing and DTG when compared with other designs. To make a profit, the Epson F2100 with genuine ink can print an order size of 61 shirts max before screen printing overtakes it. For Brother GTX, the order size is 66. If Epson F2100 uses compatible ink, the order size goes up to 96 shirts.

This tells us that regardless of DTG or screen printing, you can make a profit because the ink cost is cheap, though DTG will be less profitable than screen printing beyond 96 shirts. 

Design 2 is also a 2-color design similar to Design 1 on a black shirt. The maximum order size for Brother GTX and Epson F2100 with genuine ink is 21 shirts, while the Epson-compatible ink order size overtakes slightly with 26 shirts.

For DTG printers, the cost to print a black shirt is almost triple the cost of printing a white shirt, while for screen printing, there is a negligible increase in cost when you print on a black/colored shirt. This is because with DTG, you need to print a white base on colored/non-white shirts to bring out the colors. The extra layer of ink will increase the overall cost. Hence, for designs like this (simple and fewer colors), DTG could hardly compete with screen printing.

Design 3 is a more complex design with more colors involved, which affects the setup costs for screen printing while the cost increased slightly for DTG. The maximum order size for Epson F2100 with genuine ink is 46 shirts, while Brother GTX is 56 shirts while the Epson-compatible ink is 71 shirts. 

This is where DTG can really shine. DTG can print intricate, customized designs for low-volume orders that put screen printing at a disadvantage in terms of ink cost.  

Print Speed with 3 different designs

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For design 1, a Brother GTX can print 116 shirts in 81.2 minutes max before screen printing overtakes it in terms of print speed. An Epson F2100 is slower, 71 shirts in 62.48 minutes.

For design 2, a Brother GTX prints can print 51 shirts in 56.1 minutes, which is about 1 shirt per minute. An Epson can only print 21 shirts in 44 minutes. That is about 2 minutes per shirt. 

For design 3, a Brother GTX can print 56 shirts in 100.8 minutes while an Epson F2100 prints 36 shirts in 86.4 minutes. 

So what does all this data tell us?

If you are using an Epson F2100 DTG printer, your compatible inks will help you save a lot on ink costs. The difference between using Epson ink and its compatible ink is almost $1! If you print 50 shirts a day, you can save up to $18,000 a year. With the money saved, you could be financing your second DTG printer within a year. 

But if you find that you are getting more contract printing with higher volumes, you should scale with a screen printer instead. A manual press can be as cheap as a few thousand dollars for a 4-color-4-screen press and can print between 66-150 shirts per hour; an auto press can print up to thousands in the same amount of time, which is a lot more than two DTG printers combined!

Is DTG suitable for my business?

  • Your orders are low-volume
  • You offer print-on-demand services
  • You have many different brands as your customers
  • Your customers request customized, complex artwork on their shirts
  • You can sell your shirts at retail price
  • You do not have a lot of stock that ties up your capital

Is Screen Printing suitable for my business?

It is if…

  • You have fewer customers that orders in high volume
  • You frequently accept contract printing/fulfillment printing
  • Your customers’ artwork are simple and uses fewer colors
  • You can afford to sell your shirts at wholesale price
  • You cannot afford to pay the high initial cost of buying a DTG printer

The Better Approach: Run DTG with Screen Printing

You can first start out with DTG to fulfill low-volume orders and then scale with screen printing as your business grows, and you receive more contract printing or fulfillment orders.

To sum it up, ink cost matters. If you already have an Epson F2100, you can use compatible ink to bring down the cost. However, using the right business model is also important, else your business might not be able to profit as much as it should.