You may have heard how easy direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is, how DTG is the future, and how you can earn as much as $1,000,000 a year from DTG printing alone. However, the advent of direct-to-film (DTF) printing – where you print designs onto a transfer film, then transfer it to the garment by heat press – has largely overtaken DTG printing because of how easy and affordable it is to start with DTF printing compared to DTG printing.
You could still think about jumping onto the DTG bandwagon since it still has a lot of advantages to offer, but before you get to buying a DTG printer of your own, here are five reasons why you should not get a DTG printer.
1. High Upfront Cost
First, let’s talk about the setup costs.
A DTG printer can cost at least $20,000 for a reliable mid-range printer. Industrial-grade printers, such as those sold by Kornit, can cost at least $200,000, depending on the scale of your business. You can keep costs down by looking for printer starter packages, which come with a printer and some consumables, but these usually apply to some entry-level or mid-range printers only.
DTG requires pre-treatment; therefore you’ll also need a pre-treatment machine ($3,000-$4,000) and pre-treatment solution ($50 – $100 a gallon). You would also need to buy a heat press ($500-$1,500, depending on your needs), a computer and the RIP software for your DTG printer to work (about $500 or more).
Then you have the DTG inks. 20 oz of DTG ink costs around $220 per cartridge, while you can get 5 gallons of plastisol ink for the same price. This will significantly affect your pricing, as DTG printing inks is much more expensive than screen printing inks.
Altogether, if you’re going for a mid-range DTG setup, you may need an initial investment of approximately $26,500 in equipment and consumables – and that is before your business has even been set up! When you finally get your printing business up and running, you still have other things to take into consideration.
2. Maintenance, Maintenance, Maintenance
What your DTG salesman may not tell you is that your DTG machine needs to run cleaning cycles daily, even when your machine is not running. No exceptions. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of an ink clog happening more frequently than they should. There are other daily maintenance tasks you may also need to do to prevent long downtimes when your machine breaks down.
For example, if you don’t clean the print head(s) daily, the inks can end up clogging it up, and you will have to spend hundreds of dollars on replacing them altogether.
Another thing to note is that the white ink bottles need to be shaken before usage. This is because white ink contains titanium dioxide that doesn’t stay emulsified for long, and the solids will sink to the bottom of the bottle. If you don’t shake them well, the solids will be pulled through the print heads, and it will cost you a lot more than just ruined print heads. We’re talking about wasted shirts with streaky or muddy prints, inevitably costing you time and money.
The waste tank is where all the ink goes from print head cleaning. The tank fills up pretty quickly throughout the day, and given that ink is expensive, you can spend up to $1,000 of wasted ink per month.
Make sure that you read the included manual on troubleshooting common printer problems, or contact your printer’s manufacturer for live customer support where needed.
3. Slow Production Speed
While DTG’s “no setup required” perk is great for small orders, it has diminishing returns when you use DTG for larger orders. DTG printing is actually much slower than traditional screen printing. Setting up for a screen printing job can be quite time-consuming, considering the screens, emulsions, and other equipment you’ll need to prepare before the job even begins. However, once you’re ready to start printing, screen printing can quickly output up to a hundred garments in a few hours.
With DTG printing, you still have to think about pre-pressing garments and pre-treatment. With the right equipment and an ideal setup for a team of two, you can pre-treat and print a shirt within 6 to 8 minutes. Assuming it takes 8 minutes, you’ll have seven shirts ready in an hour. Note that it’s only seven shirts, compared to the hundreds you could have printed through screen printing.
Combined with the high ink costs, doing larger print runs is not an economically viable plan for your print shop. You’ll find that the more orders you take, the lower your profit margins will be. The only way to overcome this is to invest in larger, more expensive industrial printers with better outputs – but if you’re a fledgling print shop, this is obviously not a worthwhile investment. This strongly limits DTG to print-on-demand, retail, and for low-volume customers – which leads us to our next point.
4. Different Customer Needs
DTG and screen printing customers are fundamentally different. Screen printing customers generally have high-volume orders, simpler designs, and a few colors for the design. DTG customers lean towards orders that are print-on-demand, retail, and low-volume, excelling in its ability to print out complex, multi-color designs.
If you own a DTG and have more high-volume customers looking for screen printing prices, you will end up losing more money than earning due to the slow production speed and high operations cost. You have to consider the type of customers you have and decide which printing method is more suitable.
Most DTG customers are looking for a unique, custom-made garment that they can order for a small group of friends or even for their family. Given the lower output speed and high-quality prints, DTG printing is meant to provide this niche with options for small custom runs. After all, DTG was originally conceived as an additional method to supplement the high-volume production of screen printing with something capable of efficiently handling short print runs.
5. Hard To Scale Business
With the high cost of equipment, consumables, labor, and customer acquisition, it does become tricky to scale your DTG business. It can be a huge financial risk for a fledgling business to take on, especially if there’s uncertainty in your future customer base and the expectations from the services your shop provides (among other things).
DTG’s slow production time means that labor will be a significant factor in determining how much revenue you can generate with your first DTG machine. To increase production speed, you may consider buying another DTG machine or hiring more employees to help you work around the clock to keep up with demand. Purchasing new equipment is the most logical way to boost productivity, but it does come with a hefty price tag. You’ll need to make sure your financials are in a strong position before you can actively think about expanding.
Customer acquisition will also be difficult. Unless you already have your own brand and have a wide customer base with sufficient demand to cover your costs, you are going to find yourself split between generating sales outside and running your DTG business while also staying competitive.
Plus, your production distribution will be uneven throughout the year. There are weeks where you will not have any orders coming in, and then suddenly you have eight high-volume jobs that need to be done by the end of the week. It’s just how business works in this fast-moving industry.
If you are just starting a print shop and think that DTG is a surefire way to make an easy profit, we’ll have to disappoint you. The biggest obstacle to running a new DTG printing business is the high entry cost ceiling, compared to something like screen printing that only needs at least $1,000 for an entry-level setup. Add to the fact that DTG requires more maintenance than even screen printing, and its inability to take on large print runs, and you can see that it’s a real challenge to successfully start with DTG printing.
However, if you already have an established print-on-demand business, with a low volume of customers needing small print runs which can cover your overall costs, or if you’re looking for a DTG machine to supplement your existing printing/design business, you can reap the benefits of owning a DTG machine. It’ll still take time to get it right, but you’re in a much better position to work with DTG printing than if you were just starting.