In these economic times it is even more important to make prudent investments. Over the past 6 years the direct to garment industry has exploded and with it screen printers, embroiders, and entrepreneurs have asked is Direct to Garment worth the investment? And the answer is it depends. Like most investments it is not ideally suited for every investor. Most see it as a shiny new toy and are taken by its technology. This may be all well and good but that shinny new investment may be nothing more than 200lb paper weight if not utilized. Before we consider which model or manufacturer might be right for you lets first consider if you should even be looking at one.
Most Direct to Garment Printers are not designed to print large volume jobs. A print on a dark colored garment will take most Direct to Garment Printers 2-10 minutes to produce depending on printer speed and image size. This does not include pretreatment or heat pressing. You can probable count on doing between 6-15 dark colored garments per hour. This is not a lot when you consider a manual screen printer could do a similar job and produce between 30-60 per hour and an automatic printer could produce upwards of 300 shirts per hour. So if you are doing larger jobs on average then screen printing may be a better investment. Also, screen printing is better for special effects printing such as high density, glow in the dark, puff, special bases, glitters, and shimmers. With Direct to Garment you are dealing with usually five colors (white, black, cyan, magenta, and yellow). The white is used to underbase and the other colors are used to render a process image. This is the good and the bad. The image comes out just like the image on your home ink jet printer. However, you can’t hit some colors because they are beyond the color gamut of process printing. So make sure your clients are not incredibly picky about getting exact Pantone matches. If they are picky then you may not be able to satisfy them.
So if it is so limited then why would you invest in one. You should invest in one if you have the right type of market for one. If you are printing smaller runs that include multiple colors you may be ideal for this type of equipment. Screen Printers have a larger set-up cost and smaller runs are not as advantageous for them. A 5 or 10 shirt run is going to cost them the same as 100 or 200 shirt run to set-up. Also, a Direct to Garment machine costs virtually the same to run whether it is a one color or four color job. Screen Printers have to compensate for more colors as each color will add time to the run. Smaller run reprints are also cost effective on a Direct to Garment Machine.
The other part of the equation is you need to have a business plan for what you are doing. Too many companies and individuals enter the Direct to Garment business without an understanding of their own customers. Customer base is a large factor in whether or not it is worth investing in a Direct to Garment Machine. If you don’t know who your customers are then you need to create a business plan and envision exactly who your customers are and how they are going to get to you. If you are unsure then you might want to invest in a heat press and do transfers to start with. It will be more cost effective in the short term. If you know that you are going to do smaller runs with photo quality images than Direct to Garment may be right for you.
The other part of the equation is that people under estimate how they are going to get customers. In order to make your investment pay off you need a plan to get customers. Direct to Garment Machines are expensive 12 to 250 thousand dollars. Most run in the range of 15-25 thousand dollars. A manual Screen Printing set-up is around 8-16 thousand dollars and a Sublimation set-up is 2-5 thousand dollars. So if you are going to go with a Direct to Garment set-up make sure this is your market or you will be spending unnecessary funds.
The other thing to consider about Direct to Garment is how comfortable you are with technology and fixing things. The reason I say this is because you will better off having a graphics background. Familiarity with Photoshop, Corel Draw, Illustrator will increase your likelihood of success. It will also make it easier to understand the RIP and any other graphic software that may come with the machine. Some of the people that have struggled with the Direct to Garment Technology have struggled on the software side. I bring up being comfortable with fixing things is because if you are handy it will help you avoid expensive service calls. Which brings up one of the big reasons people give for giving up on Direct to Garment ‘ mechanical trouble with the machines. Now there are definitely some machines that are more problematic then others but that doesn’t excuse you from taking care of your investment. Some machines require a lot of maintenance others just some but they all do require some preventative maintenance. Understanding this is one the keys to being successful in Direct to Garment. Another thing to consider is environment. Keeping a clean environment with the proper humidity is essential. When we began dealing with Direct to Garment machines we used to have to replace print heads every 2-3 months. Once we added a humidifier to our room to keep the proper humidity we never lost another print head. It was night and day and the prints came out better and more vibrant with a properly maintained print head. So make sure wherever you are putting your Direct to Garment Machine you have the proper environment.
So if you are going into the Direct to Garment market please make sure you have your business plan ready. Make sure you have the right customers and you know how you are going to reach them. Also, make sure you have the right environment and you feel comfortable with the technology. Direct to Garment is worth the investment for those with the right business plan.