Monday, May 14, 2018

The rise of the DTG force

Screen printers across the country are sensing a tremor in the force (sorry for  the bad analogy to non-Star Wars fans). It is hard to put a finger on this new DTG revolution as DTG printing has existed a while, however in the last year or so the force have been getting stronger and stronger from our customer base .

Existing DTG Market

DTG as been around for many years, however with minimal industry changing effects. From our perspective, this is due to two reasons.
  1. Small businesses bought one DTG with the intent of doing 6 shirts for walk ins, and does not affect the screen print shop's core business.  
  2. Large Businesses bought DTGs to do one-offs for the online business, but this has not affected the screen print core business.

Emerging Market

For the first time, large corporations who do not screen print are investing in large scale DTG production as well as outsourcing to traditional screen print contract shops.  In addition, they are starting to look, online and offline, for screen printing core business orders that range from 30-500 pieces. Some shops have DTG machines capable of over 500 pieces an hour.  We foresee this eventually affecting the industry in three ways.
  1. Creates a market where water-base prints or a flat feel on a shirt becomes the industry standard for non-athletic wear.
  2. Creates a standard that a 6-color to full color prints are priced similar to 2 color prints.
  3. Creates an artistic style that is full color and those jobs are prices similar to 2 color prints.
  4. Creates a market where consumers are able to order their shirts online at any time of day with immediate or minimal lead time shipping.

So now what? If this is the future, what do you do?

If you are foretelling the future, like a Jedi knight, where do you see the best investment for your business? Will your current customer base shift and do you need to adjust? Will you expand your customer base so that you need options? Maybe a crystal ball would help. 

One man's crystal ball leans toward screen printing with a side of digital.

With screen printing as the primary production source, a single direct to garment machine gives some flexibility. This is one option for community printers.

  1. True screen printing is not going away in the foreseeable future. There are polyesters and other materials that can not be printed digitally, as of now.  Those items need traditional printing inks for adhesion.
  2. DTG ink costs substantially more per garment and on long run jobs it impacts the profitability of the run.
  3. Your website will take online orders that are single piece or low quantity. Advertising to your customer base that DTG is available is imperative.   As a note, this does not mean competing with Amazon, but having the ability for your customers to order online and at low volume increases the use of the DTG option.  

Another Man's Crystal Ball leans toward digital printing.

So, instead of screen printing, what are the positives for printing with DTG only? As a rule, the process looks cleaner. There are fewer consumables involved and there is less training required. For people who are more comfortable with touch screens and button clicking, this fits their style. Additional benefits include:

  1. Eliminates the screen processing and ink clean up steps of the process.
  2. Eliminates skilled labor for art and screen registration.
  3. Makes it easier to recruit/train new help.
  4. Some believe that final quality is more consistent.
  5. Allows unlimited colors with a flatter feel.
  6. Opens new markets in one-off designs and online stores.
  7. The dryer that is a large cost in the DTG system can also apply to future screen printing expansion.
  8. Keeps a project in-house for businesses that do not wish to be in the screen print decorating business.

The Lucky 8-ball is another view. Skip DTG completely.

So you are hands-on people. You cost out each job to determine the profit margin. You prints runs that are typically 100 or more. So you really don't want another style of printing in the building. There are some really good reasons for that:

  1. Larger runs of less colors are more cost effective with screen printing.
  2. Certain fabrics and certain customer bases require plastisol based inks. DTG cannot print these jobs.
  3. DTG machine require maintenance just as much as any other industrial equipment. 
  4. DTG ink costs substantially more per garment.
  5. Replacements parts for the printers may be pricier.
  6. DTG required the same footprint for production.  
  7. The core of your business is screen printing, and your expected expansion in low run markets is minimal.

So what do the Jedi Masters suggest?

We see the logic and financial breakeven of a DTG venture.  There is an expanding market that needs addressing and this is the best tool to capitalize on what is coming.  However, eliminating screen printing at this moment, appears to be moving too fast with the potential loss of a market that is already established.

Like everything else in business, there are success stories from all combinations of these processes. The DTG movement is something to be seriously considered. Just make sure that profits are the reason for the choice of direction and that your marketing plan agrees.