DTG Ink Cost: An In-Depth Analysis

DTG Ink Cost: An In-Depth Analysis

If you own a printing business, you may have read about the differences between screen printing and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing from various sources. Many of these sources provided estimates to illustrate the cost differences between these two types of printing. While helpful, it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the differences because they didn’t factor ink costs, design complexity, ink consumption, and other points that influence the overall DTG ink cost scenario.

We’re here to fill in that gap with an in-depth analysis of ink cost differences. In this article, we’ll share our review of ink costs based on actual data gained from our own observations in both screen printing and DTG printing.

Points of Analysis

Our analysis factors in the two of the most popular DTG printers on the market: the Brother GTXpro and the Epson SureColor F2100, both of which are mid-ranged DTG printers.

The major DTG manufacturers like Brother and Epson produce their own proprietary inks, and this makes DTG ink expensive (printer inks are already a costly affair). Fortunately, the Epson SureColor F2100 is known to be compatible with a wide range of third-party inks that are cheaper, so we will include Epson-compatible ink costs (henceforth referred to as compatible inks) into our experiment as well.

For the purposes of our analysis, we calculated the ink cost of printing the following THREE different designs with screen printing ink and DTG ink.

T-shirt designs

We will look at the ink costs in terms of:

  • How much it costs to print the design
  • How profitable it is to print a certain amount of shirts with that design
  • How screen printing and the different DTG printers measure up against each other

Then we’ll 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 printing.

What we have found can be summarized as follows:

  • Screen printing costs reduce dramatically as the quantity increases for all three designs, while DTG ink costs increase linearly with quantity
  • The order of DTG ink cost from highest to lowest is Epson F2100 with genuine Epson ink, Brother GTXpro and Brother’s proprietary ink, and Epson F2100 using compatible ink
  • The Brother GTXpro has a faster print speed than Epson F2100, which can influence the overall ROI calculation: the faster you can print, the sooner you can deliver customer orders and get paid
  • With the ink cost saved by using Epson-compatible inks, you can finance your second DTG printer within a year

Both DTG and screen printing can be suitable for you, depending on your business model. Here’s the ink cost of screen printing and DTG printing in summary:

Screen printing costs per design
Ink costs per shirt for DTG printing

DTG Ink Costs for 3 Different Designs

Design 1: Plain and Simple

Design 1 is a simple 2-color design on a white shirt. The cost is less for both screen printing and DTG printing when compared to the 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 in terms of cost efficiency. For the Brother GTXpro, the order size is 66. If the Epson F2100 uses compatible ink, the order size goes up to 96 shirts.

This tells us that, whether you’re using DTG or screen printing, you can still make a healthy profit because the ink costs are low, mainly due to the simple design and low color requirement. However, DTG will still be the less profitable option compared to screen printing once you go beyond 96 shirts with compatible inks.

Design 2: Using a Black Shirt

Design 2 is also a 2-color design similar to Design 1, but is printed on a black shirt instead. The maximum order size (before screen printing becomes more cost efficient than DTG) for both the Brother GTXpro and Epson F2100 with genuine ink is 21 shirts, while the Epson-compatible ink order size is slightly better at 26 shirts.

For DTG printers, the cost to print a black shirt is almost triple the cost of printing a white shirt. This is because DTG printing requires a white underbase to be printed on colored/non-white shirts in order to let the colors stand out. That extra layer of white ink will increase the overall cost. Hence, for designs like this (simple and with fewer colors), DTG can hardly compete with screen printing, which doesn’t need a white underbase.

Design 3: Printing Complexity

Design 3 is a more complex design with more colors involved, which has a more profound effect for screen printing costs than it does for DTG printing. The maximum order size (before screen printing becomes more cost efficient than DTG) for Epson F2100 with genuine ink is 46 shirts, while the Brother GTXpro 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. Screen printing requires each color to be applied separately. With each additional ink that needs to be added, that’s an additional cost not just for each color that’s applied, but also in terms of the overall print time.

Print Speed for DTG Printers

What about printing speeds? How fast can a DTG printer print each of these designs? Let the infographic below help illustrate this.

DTG printer print speeds

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

With design 2, a Brother GTXpro prints can print 51 shirts in 56.1 minutes, which is about 1 shirt per minute. The Epson F2100 can only print 21 shirts in 44 minutes: that is about 2 minutes per shirt.

Lastly, a Brother GTXpro can print 56 shirts of design 3 in 100.8 minutes, while an Epson F2100 takes 86.4 minutes to print 36 shirts with that design

What Does The Data Say?

dtg service

If you’re using an Epson F2100 printer, the use of compatible inks will help you save a lot on your ink costs. The difference between using Epson’s proprietary ink and compatible inks is almost $1, if not more! If you print 50 shirts a day, you can save at least $18,000 a year. With the money saved, you could be financing your second DTG printer within a year!

Ultimately, DTG printing is still a better choice if you’re taking on low volume custom orders that require complex art with many colors. If you’re getting more contract printing with higher volumes, you should scale with screen printing 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!

To sum it up, ink costs matter a lot in the long-term. If you already have an Epson F2100, you can use compatible ink to help keep your costs manageable. However, using the right business model is also important, else your business might not be able to profit as much as it should.

Visualizing ink cost difference between DTG and screen printing
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Is DTG For Me?

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

It’s still possible to take on larger volumes of DTG orders, but that requires a heavy investment into industrial-grade DTG printers, like those offered by Kornit or M&R. Those will easily set you back a few hundred thousand dollars for the machine alone!

Is Screen Printing For Me, Then?

It is, if:

  • Your customers’ artwork are simple and uses a small color palette
  • You have fewer customers that place high-volume orders
  • You frequently accept contract printing/fulfillment printing
  • You can afford to sell your shirts at wholesale price
  • You can’t afford to pay the high initial cost of buying a DTG printer (they can get very pricey)

The Hybrid Approach

You can first start out with DTG printing to fulfill low-volume orders and then scale with screen printing as your business grows, and you receive more contract printing or fulfillment orders. If you’re already an established print shop, you could add DTG printing as an additional service for interested customers, but make sure you have a healthy demand for it that can help with covering your overall costs, including the added DTG expenses.