Finding Footing for DTG
As in-plants look for innovative ways to expand business, garment printing is increasingly piquing their interest. According to In-plant Impressions’ latest research report, “Equipment Installations and Applications at In-plants,” 5% of respondents added a direct-to-garment (DTG) printer in the past two years, and 8% plan to add one in the next two years.
Though venturing into DTG printing seems like an obvious way to expand services, open the door to new clients, and make your in-plant even more of a one-stop-shop, DTG comes with its share of ups and downs. For Shocker Printing and Promo Solutions at Wichita State University, which installed a Ricoh Ri 2000 DTG printer in late 2022, the DTG journey has been bumpy.
“My boss and I are always trying to think of how we can expand our services,” says Leah Lipke, manager of operations. “I was just scrolling Instagram reels the one day and saw a small shop — similar to us because we only have three full-time employees here — that had just installed a DTG machine, and it looked like something we could do.”
Lipke says the appeal of DTG versus screen printing was the fact that Shocker Printing is limited on space, so it made sense to get a more compact piece of equipment. Since the installation, however, garment business has not boomed for the in-plant the way Lipke hoped it would. After a few test runs on the machine, it became apparent that it was intended for smaller orders rather than, for example, large runs from the university athletics department.
“There’s no way we can do 1,000 shirts in the turnaround time they’d need, so we put our limit at less than 50 shirts per order,” Lipke says. “But we’ve printed some yard signs letting people know we do shirts, and we’re hopeful that as word gets out smaller students orgs will want to work with us to get their shirts made.”
University of California - Davis Repro Graphics is also restricting its garment printing to smaller quantities with the Brother GTXpro DTG printer it installed in the spring.
“We’re really looking forward to being able to get more printed garments out to the campus — to the sororities, the fraternities, the intramural sports — and just being able to do all kinds of things for the different campus groups,” says Christy Pearce, Production, Business Office and Campus Copier Program manager.
Another point of frustration for Lipke is the lack of training her team received on the DTG device. Video tutorials and FaceTime calls have not been sufficient, she says. She also didn’t realize the amount of maintenance the machine would require.
“You have to stay on top of all of the maintenance, specifically for the white cartridges,” Lipke says. “The white print heads clog so easy, and we’ve already had to replace the whole carriage unit twice.
“My advice to people considering DTG is to do their due diligence and research, ask questions about service, ask costs of consumables,” she continues. “These were things that I did not think of, and I should have.”
Pearce echoes this sentiment. “Just do your research and know what you’re getting into,” she advises. “With printing white ink you’re having to pretreat shirts or buy pretreated shirts. And if you’re not printing with white ink, it’s limiting what you can print.”
Related story: From the Editor: Garments: Opportunity or Albatross?