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Business Opportunities

Direct-to-garment Printing

Printing onto t-shirts, tote bags, and more has soared in popularity. Jo Golding finds out if there is real money to be made and where this print sector is heading in the future

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Epson’s SC-F2000 can print on black or white garments up to 25mm thick

World in your hands

The ability to print colour images onto garments has been a significant step forward in the print industry and has come a long way since it was first introduced. Now you can rest assured that the finished product will have vivid colour and a design that will not be damaged with wear and tear.

Developments in this sector have allowed for more creative applications in areas such as corporate clothing, marketing, sports, and leisure. It is also ideal for small print runs, as the popularity of personalised one-off items has soared in recent times.

Just think of festival t-shirts emblazoned with band names, or on a smaller scale, hen and stag weekend t-shirts with each person’s name on them. The possibilities are truly endless and there are a handful of companies working hard to provide the best technology for the job. I have spoken to a handful of companies offering direct-to-garment (DTG) printers to find out what their technology can do, whether this sector generates revenue, and what is in store for the future of this inventive sector.

Complete package

A big name in this sector is Epson and the company highlights the Sure Color SC-F2000 as its first direct-to-garment printer, offering a “complete design and textile printing package”.

Richard Barrow, senior product manager at Epson Europe, says: “Epson’s SC-F2000 prints onto t-shirts. sweatshirts, hoodies and other cotton or cotton blend products that are ideal for printing customised output. This DTG (direct to garment) printer is available with four different platen sizes, up to 406 x 508mm plus a polo and sleeve option.

The Epson SC-F2000 can also be used to print on cotton tote bags or of blended materials with a minimum of 50 percent cotton

“It can handle substrates of up to 25mm thickness and features an LED sensor for detecting the distance of the garment from the print head. It offers a high-quality print resolution of up to 1,400 x 1,400dpi.

“Epson is unusual in using both its own inkjet head technology and its own inks and for the SC-F2000, which means the Precision Core print head and Ultra Chrome DG inks. This model offers black, cyan, yellow, magenta as well as white, which allows print onto coloured as well as white garments. It uses an automatic head wiping system and has low daily maintenance making it very easy to run and maintain.”

The Ultra Chrome DG ink used in the SC-F2000 is certified by international textile safety standard, Eco Passport by Oeko-Tex

Barrow comments on how at this year’s FESPA, the company had plenty of visitors to its ‘pop-up shop’ which offered them the unique opportunity to create and take away their very own printed t-shirt.

Barrow explains: “Anyone could come onto the stand and select from a range of on screen options to create/design their own t-shirt which was then printed and taken away. This type of service is becoming more common as it is ideal for special events. It can produce that something special and unique at a festival or sports activity or as a seasonal special, not least Christmas. Personalisation or customisation adds value to a product so it not only generates revenue but profit too.”

Barrow offers its own insight into how the direct-to-garment printing market will grow in the future, explaining: “The retail sector is in an interesting phase as consumers want both to shop and buy online. Shops need pulling power so something unusual and creative is ideal but the online design/web to print business is also increasing across all sectors and works for garments as much as paper-based products.

“In both instances having the ability to invite customers to create something bespoke and unique can have massive appeal. Personalised or short-run apparel is ideal for school or college teams, as giftware or simply stand-out fashion.”

Personalised or short-run apparel is ideal for school or college teams, as giftware or simply stand-out fashion

Barrow describes local textile printing as having a “real renaissance”, with the company embracing this opportunity with its direct-to-garment technology as well as its dye-sublimation Sure Color SC-F series for polyester-based materials. Also, for industrial applications across a range of materials with its Monna Lisa technology supplied through For.Tex.

Barrow concludes: “Digital technology has opened up a new era of creativity in textiles although it still only accounts for 2 to 3 percent of about 33 billion square metres. That figure will grow significantly in the coming years; it is currently enjoying about a 2.5 percent per annum increase.”

Perfect storm

Kornit Digital is another key player in the direct-to-garment printing sector and used this year’s edition of FESPA to showcase its garment printing solutions.

Oliver Luedtke, head of global PR at Kornit Digital, says of the event: “This edition marks another successful participation of Kornit Digital in FESPA and like fine wine, it keeps improving over time. FESPA goes to great lengths to keep growing its focus, its audience and its commitment towards its participants. Our figures don’t lie—all efforts pay off.

“Our garment action really showed people the power of personalising textile anno 2017, and what the Kornit Digital solutions bring to the table. As a result, we closed our most successful edition to date, marking significant increase in lead generation and system sales.”

O Factoid: Direct-to-garment printing is beneficial due to the lack of set-up costs and print on demand nature, which is not associated with traditional garment printing methods such as screen printing. O

FESPA 2017 was a platform for the first showing of the Kornit Vulcan, which the company describes as the “ultimate cost-effective solution for mass production” in the direct-to-garment printing sector.

You may also be familiar with Kornit Digital’s Storm Hexa model, which has large print areas for XXL garments and cut pieces. It was developed specifically for mid-sized businesses’ high-volume production and has an ink recirculation mechanism which increases the lifespan of the printing heads, reducing waste and ink costs.

Kornit Digital’s Storm Hexa can print on substrates such as cotton, polyester, silk, leather, and denim

The machine is compatible with a range of substrates too, such as cotton, polyester, cotton-polyester blends, Lycra, viscose, silk, leather, denim, linen, and wool. This means users can be even more creative in their garment designs.

The machine was a big hit at FESPA 2016, with Luedtke saying at the time: “This is the new generation of the Storm, available in the Hexa configuration, with additional red and additional green on top of the normal CMYK, so you have a really great colour gamut and will be able to match spot colours, brand colours, and produce promotional textiles. We are bringing the Hexa configuration to more platforms—it’s really productive, reduces ink consumption, and optimises throughput.”

Kornit Digital helped to show people how this technology works in real life production through teaming up with Adelco back in May for an open house event. The companies invited the garment decoration community to the event in Leicester to see how its customer, T-Shirt Factory, has seen the benefits of installing a Storm Hexa. Adelco’s and Kornit Digital’s staff were on site to provide information on Kornit’s entire range of products.

Drawing in interest

Resolute DTG is another company that has a range of professional direct-to-garment solutions. Colin Marsh, managing director of Resolute DTG, explains: “We offer two different types of promotional printing and two levels of direct-to-garment solutions, entry-level and high-production. The products’ USP is we will give all the money back for an R-Jet 5i (entry level) in the first twelve months of ownership if you want to upgrade to the R-Jet 6 commercial high production machine. Our dual solution printer, the 1800z, produces DTG printing and hard substrate products like phone cases, bottles, signs, etc. and DTG printing onto cotton and polyester with no pre-treatment.”

The R-Jet 5 from Resolute DTG has a maximum print size of 360 x 465mm

Marsh says the trend for personalisation is having a positive effect on direct-to-garment printing and is certainly drawing in interest from businesses. He says: “Personalisation is attracting more and more businesses, especially now we supply one machine that prints hard substrates like phone cases, pens, bottles, etc. and traditional DTG with no changes to ink or setup. If you are new to both, one piece of equipment can do it all. This increases the opportunity with less footprint and labour costs while at the same time increasing margins.”

Marsh has his own insights into what will happen in this sector in the future: “I think there will be a clear split in the future of promotional printing. The middle market is disappearing leaving a higher growth rate for entry-level and high-end. This split is due to advances in technology in inks and equipment making the process quicker and easier. Green button printing is not far away for DTG printing.”

Resolute DTG will refund money given for a R-Jet 5i in the first twelve months for upgrades to the R-Jet 6

From talking to the experts, I have seen that direct-to-garment printing can not only generate revenue but also profit. The personalisation aspect of this type of printing is attracting a wide range of businesses and when one machine can do it all, margins are increased and labour costs cut. When looking to the future of this sector, the ability to invite people to create something bespoke is highly appealing, especially for areas such as school team garments and gifts.

Another observation was that the market will divide clearly in the future into entry-level and high-end sectors due to developments in technology. Whatever happens, there is certainly a lot of creativity in this sector of the industry creating garments that truly stand out from the crowd.

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