DTG Hybrid Printing Finds Its Seat at the Decorated Apparel Table

How to choose the best method for customized apparel printing



Johnny Shell


The apparel decorating industry is experiencing a tremendous technology shift towards digital print. The rise in consumer preference for customization and personalization created the demand for low-volume direct-to-garment (DTG). But there has been an unfilled gap between low-volume DTG printing (<50 pieces) and high-volume screen printing (>50 pieces). That gap is quickly being filled with DTG hybrid printing that combines the benefits of screen printing and DTG into a single printing process.


Setting the Technology Stage

Screen printing is a proven method for printing apparel items like t-shirts, hoodies/fleece, and a variety of other textiles. But screen printing is a labor-intensive process due to the amount of make-ready steps just to get to the printing press. Specifically, screen making, ink mixing/color matching, and then the additional time for press setup. But once on-press, the process can quickly produce hundreds (if not thousands) of prints in a matter of hours. Pricing is based on the order quantity so that the make-ready steps are justified. That is why most screen print shops have minimum order quantities.


DTG technology enables decorators to capture the low-volume customers that were usually turned away by screen printers. DTG allows for an economic run length of one piece, with appropriate pricing of course. A single DTG printed shirt can sell for $35 USD or more depending on the customer and, more importantly, their level of desire to have a one-off print of their vintage car, their children, or their pet. Add to that the ability of DTG to produce photorealistic prints and you can understand why the technology has gained such traction. However, it is a slow process—especially when printing to dark materials that require a white under-base. On a DTG machine, this white ink pass can double the print times. If higher volumes are needed, the turnaround time can be quite long if capacity is limited.


Enter DTG hybrid printing, which combines screen printing and DTG. The setup uses a multi-head automatic screen-printing press. The white under-base is screen printed, which drastically reduces white ink costs compared to DTG white inks. Once the under-base is printed, the platen shuttles to the DTG station on the press that prints the CMYK inks. No pretreatment is required due to using a screen-printed under-base.


Where Does DTG Hybrid Printing Fit?

Each printing method has advantages and disadvantages but choosing which one will depend on the quantity and image detail. Screen printing is great for large quantities if the image does not need to change. Also, many screen printers may struggle with photorealistic, continuous tone images. DTG is great for those, but slower, so turnaround time plays into the formula.


DTG hybrid is great for larger quantities with a quick turnaround timeline that only DTG has difficulty handling, and when the image to be printed is highly detailed. The Table below shows a basic guide for determining which printing platform can be used. This is merely a general guide and will change depending on the print shop, the equipment being used, and the expected order turnaround time.


Screen/Hybrid/DTG Production Quantity Guide


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

With the ongoing advancements in digital printing and interest from PSPs to add hybrid printing, DTG hybrid will be part of the future for screen printed apparel. Reducing make-ready costs associated with multicolor screen printing while also being able to easily produce high quality, photorealistic work will allow PSPs to remain competitive in a highly competitive market.


I will close with one final thought on DTG hybrid printing. It also offers to ability to do variable data printing to customers if the under-base does not need to change. As an example, a simple butterfly shape could incorporate variable data to print the butterfly wings different colors on each t-shirt. This is a great selling point to really make investing in DTG hybrid worth investing for many print shops. Two OEMs at the forefront of DTG hybrid systems are The M&R Companies and ROQ International. The M&R Companies utilizes their Digital Squeegee affixed to one of their automatic oval screen print presses, and the ROQ Hybrid digital printer can be coupled with a ROQ automatic screen press.


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