The process of screen printing has remained virtually unchanged for many many years. Sure, there have been advances like computer-to-screen imaging and automation for the process of setting up and breaking down screen, but the nuts and bolts of the process are the same.
Since the mid-90s, there’s been a new kid on the block: Direct to Garment printing (DTG). The attention on this technique stems from the steady progress made to improve DTG’s speed, quality and cost, making it more viable for commercial use, with the ability to scale.
One critical aspect of DTG that is still a rather imperfect process, is the pre-treat process. In most cases, garments need to have pre-treat that’s properly mixed and applied evenly to the surface of the fabric so the decoration can bond to the fabric. It is during this process that things can go wrong. Too much pretreat, too little pretreat, bad mixture, wrong pretreat for the fabric and a host of other issues can turn a hopeful plan into a poor print.
To boost your chance of success, many are trying out the idea of inserting a DTG printer into the screen printing process. At first glance, this looks like it may be an enormous undertaking, since the engineering and synchronization with existing equipment would need to be perfectly dialed in.
Market leaders such as M&R, ROQ and MHM are some of the first to emerge with taking on this task. They each have a DTG hybrid system on the market and have been showcasing them at tradeshows over the last few years. This concept should only improve in time, but currently this equipment is large and comes with a hefty price tag. The real question is though: Is it worth it?
Given that the systems can range from $70k-$400k+, the understanding of your gains for your time and money will certainly need to be carefully calculated. At the latest industry shows, I learned quite a bit and was honestly surprised these printers are not evolving faster. The two main aspects that were “light bulb” moments for me were:
- Pre-treatment is a thing of the past with these systems
- Your color-count-based pricing grids go away
These systems take care of pre-treatment headaches. The new process lays down a base that is different from the standard DTG process and it provides fewer hurdles and inconsistencies.
Your pricing focus changes from the concept of counting colors to image size. Traditionally you would price a job by the number of colors you need to use and possibly include an underbase. With these new systems you can decide on the price based on your consumable’s usage. The possible color use is nearly limitless.
It gives you the advantages of digital printing combined with the stability of analog screen printing. I think the future looks bright with this combination and I look forward to watching the process evolve.