History of Direct to Garment Printing

Digital Garment Print

Digital Printing Technology 

Learning more about the history Direct to Garment Printing, the technology and the companies that do the manufacturing will give you a great framework for sifting through the products available today and the editorial comments about direct to garment that you’ll find during your research.

After all, the Direct to Garment Printer industry has come a long way since its introduction in the United States in 2005. While you read below and examine the timeline image, think about all the other changes that have taken place since then. Here are a few reminders for reference:

Look Back at 2005

  • You had your choice between flip phones or “crackberries”
  • You listened to music on a cassette tape
  • There were payphones everywhere
  • You were probably “IM”ing on AOL
  • There was no Amazon Kindle OR iPhone yet

The Beginnings of DTG

Fast TJet DTG PrinterUp until 2005 the only real option you had if you wanted to enter the printed shirt business was screen printing. Screen printing is a largely manual process that involves dragging ink across a porous “screen” with an image on it, transferring that ink to the garment below. But like the transition from large commercial printing and publishing companies to desktop publishing some decades earlier, the custom t-shirt business was in for a digital revolution.

The direct to garment printer industry in the United States seriously launched in late 2004 at the SGIA show in Minneapolis. At that show both Mimaki & U.S. Screen showed direct to garment printers for the first time – Mimaki with the GP-604 & U.S. Screen with the original Fast T-Jet (manufactured by Mastermind in Japan).

Early 2005 brought the first large traditional printer company into the marketplace as Brother introduced their GT-541 – a light shirt-only printing solution that eventually became the Brother Graffitee DTG Printer line.

Kornit Direct to Garment PrinterNot long afterwards, October 2005, Kornit introduced their first machines – the Storm & Thunder. There price point kept them out of range of all but the biggest of custom t-shirt businesses with initial investments in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.

October 2005 also saw the introduction of the first DTG brand direct to garment printer – the Kiosk – at the ITMA Asia show in Singapore.   The Kiosk offered some important direct to garment specific enhancements over the other models in the price range, like automated head cleanings, a valve system to shut off specific ink channels and more user friendly ink chip resetting.

Early Direct to Dark Garment Printing – White Ink Revolution

Up until the end of 2005 all of the t shirt printing machines on the market could only print on light garments because they did not have the ability to print white ink. Printing was restricted to light colors because when you print Yellow onto a black t-shirt, for example, you get this color – NOT yellow.

A radical change to the market came at the end of 2005 when U.S. Screen released white ink for their Fast T-Jet printers. Although the pretreatment process was VERY complex we were finally able to print on dark garments. That was possible because if you print a layer of white ink onto a black t-shirt for example, you can then print that yellow ink on top of it and get a true yellow color.

U.S. Screen sales of printers exploded and the direct to garment marketplace would never be the same again.

A year later the U.S. Screen exclusive on white ink expired and other vendors, like DTG Digital were given the opportunity to add white ink to their printers. At that time it became evident that changes were needed to manage the white ink which has radically different properties than the color inks (inorganic pigment vs. organic pigment).

This led the DTG brand direct to garment printer group to start formulating ideas of how to manage the white ink. The earliest example came on the DTG HM1. The white ink was contained in a single, large bottle which had a magnetic stir pill in it the stirred the white ink periodically to minimize settling. Not long afterwards the HM1 was upgraded to the HM1-C which replaced the stir pill with a circulation system (thus the “C”).

There are many people that are STILL using the Kiosk and the HM1. But the current generations are much more reliable, use much less ink, and do longer have the white ink issues that plagued the industry early on.

The DTG exclusive White Ink Management System was born – known by its acronym – WIMS.  This invention helped to greatly reduce the maintenance issues that are associated with the settling of white ink.

The video below describes the modern version of that first WIMS system:

Modern Direct to Garment Printers

In early 2009 the DTG Viper entered the market and set new standards for productivity. With its unique belt-fed system a shop could now setup a “print through” operation. This format was more conducive to efficiency, especially in shops where space was not a major concern. With the DTG designed 4-2-1 platen system a user was also able to produce multiple garments at one time without having to dedicate a huge amount of space to oversized printers.

Just for comparison, in 2009 Windows 7 was introduced and the iPhone App Store turned 1 Year old (read more)

Viper Direct to Garment Printer

The Viper also marked another step in the evolution of the DTG line; Not only was the WIMS system enhanced to now incorporate a stirrer in the white ink bottle as well as circulating the ink through the system – but the color ink system was now also pressurized to eliminate issues of ink flow during periods of heavy production.

DTG became MORE than just a passing fad.  

Until this point all of the DTG brand direct to garment printers had been based on core Epson printers (in fact, most of the direct to garment printers had been). In late 2011 ColDesi unveiled the DTG M2 at the Fort Worth ISS Show. The M2 became the first DTG brand printer not to start its life as an Epson page printer. The M2 is a joint effort between DTG Digital and a large format printer manufacturer. Gone are the non-direct to garment errors & messages associated with re-purposed printers, no more ink chips & waste counters to reset. Clever engineering greatly increased the serviceability of the machine and a two across platen system nearly doubled productivity.

DTG M2 Direct to Garment Printer

The M2 is represented a big jump in both technology and reliability for the DTG and t shirt printing marketplace. Large screen printers & fulfillment houses are now starting to incorporate DTG printing into their business. Some larger production houses have over 30 M2s operating.

With the release of the M4, which is an M2 with an extended bed system in 2014 players like Levi Strauss have jumped on the band wagon as well – doing oversized prints on items like blue jeans, beach towels and more.

DTG Viper2 Direct to Garment Printer

The Viper2 represents another leap forward not just in the DTG brand lineup, but in the direct to garment printer world in general. The Viper2 has several important breakthrough attributes that set it apart and mark 2015 as the next jump forward for DTG printer systems:

  • Cartridge based DTG brand product – up until the Viper2, the DTG lineup consisted of bulk ink, WIMS system run printers only. The Viper2’s cartridge based system was specifically designed with a very short ink line run – that means minimal waste AND less maintenance. 2 of the last issues in other brands of printers like the Brother and new Epson products
  • Doorway Dimensions – the Viper2 is also UNDER 34” wide, which means it will fit through a standard doorway. This important step means that you can finally have a home based, office based custom t shirt business without big issues with installation.
  • 4-2-1 Platen system – while this is NOT new for the DTG brand, it represents something pretty amazing – the ability to print images just as large as the M2, which is much bigger than any garment printer in its class AND the ability to print 1, 2 or 4 shirts at once.

ColDesi and DTG

Over the history of direct to garment printing and the custom t-shirt business, the DTG Brand has demonstrated its ability to innovate at the right pace, making sure service and support are there to back up new technology. More than 30% of our business are repeat customers; embroidery professionals buying DTG Printers, custom t-shirt shops expanding into rhinestone transfer machines and screen printers adding direct to garment for short runs. Learn why today by contacting ColDesi! or learn more about DTG Printers at www.dtgprintermachine.com

Want to know more?

Call toll-free 877-793-3278.