3 Recent Direct-to-Garment Developments Shaping the Market

Why apparel decorators should take notice

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03/18/2022

Johnny Shell

 

Direct-to-garment (DTG) technology is providing a way for businesses to expand their market and offer customers short-run, photorealistic, and customized apparel. This revolution is causing many decorators to re-think how they will do business moving forward. OEMs continue to improve the capabilities of DTG systems and inks, leading to solutions that rival conventional printing systems in quality, durability, speed, and printing cost. These improvements continue to propel DTG technology into the forefront of apparel decoration methods…so let’s look at some of the recent developments and advancements of DTG.

 

Direct-to-Garment Printheads

The component at the heart of every printing system is the inkjet printhead, and development of improved printheads is a highly important component enabling industrial printing. The major factors in printhead performance are maximum jetting frequency, the number of nozzles, drop volume, jetting straightness, uniformity, and replacement costs. For many years, piezo drop-on-demand printheads have given the best compromise in speed, quality, robustness, and range of ink types that can be used—and they are used in all digital textile inkjet applications.

 

The StarFire printhead from Fujifilm Dimatix is being used in Kornit Atlas and ROQ NOW models. The StarFire is a self-contained printhead built for industrial textile applications. It uses robust materials to deliver consistent output over a long service life with continuous ink recirculation. While this printhead is technologically a leap forward, what’s being done with the printhead is truly groundbreaking.

 

Fujifilm Dimatix StarFire printhead can jet two colors per printhead

 

The StarFire printhead is being used to interlace fixation with the white and color inks as they are jetted to improve cycle times and production speed. Kornit’s XDi, part of their Max technology, allows businesses to create 3D prints and generate effects like threadless embroidery, high-density, vinyl, screen transfer emulations, etc. In addition, the Max technology also jets an intensifier that improves print durability. One can only imagine what may come with future improvements to chemistry and ink, as well as the possibilities of interlacing them during jetting. Instantaneous curing perhaps?

 

Kornit’s XDi Technology

 

Direct-to-Garment Ink Supply

While often treated as a secondary aspect, the ink supply system is vital to assure reliability of printing by delivering ink to the printheads. While simple in principle, the ink supply is often a source of problems that can be extremely difficult to track down. The ink supply must sustain the correct ink temperature, vacuum/pressure, and flow rate under various external and environmental conditions. It also must prevent particles/contaminants from getting to the printhead and avoid any chemical interaction with the inks themselves. Today’s ink supply systems, especially with industrial DTG printers, have continuous circulation, filtration, and degassing to keep inks in a print ready state.

 

Adding another layer to this is the ever-increasing nozzle density per printhead and system uptime requirements, we are seeing faster, automated maintenance configurations being implemented—which is a significant development in the continued adoption of DTG inkjet.

 

Direct-to-Garment Software and Workflow Automation

Many apparel decorators continue to move some (or all) of their operations toward on-demand printing to reduce manual efforts and overhead costs. Software advancements will continue to play a key role in further automating the workflow and the effectiveness of their products. Today’s printer software is much better at managing the printing system and controlling the supply of data to the printheads.

 

However, some OEMs don’t perform their due diligence on their software prior to releasing new DTG models. Continued development of robust and easy to use software is a significant factor in DTG adoption, and OEMs should avoid rushing to market with poorly functioning software that is riddled with glitches, bugs, and poor functionality.

 

A key area of opportunity for OEMs is recognition of print defects. Advanced vision and analysis systems can recognize a wide variety of print defects. When a defect is detected, automatic maintenance procedures could be performed, and the operators notified. Today, print defect recognition relies on the human eye in apparel decorating shops, so automating this important step would be much faster, more objective, and more consistent—enabling rapid response to the defect by triggering printer maintenance action and automatically queuing the job to be reprinted.

 

Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

The developments described here have led to major improvements in the capabilities and reliability of DTG systems and inks that deliver quality, durability, speed, and acceptable printing costs. While advancements in printing and ink technologies continue to evolve, workflow automation and web-to-print platforms that enhance customer experience and increase machine uptime will be vital to OEM success. If the technological advancements of the past 10 years are any indication to what we can expect in the next decade, I think we are in for an exciting ride!

 

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Additional Reading

Brother’s Newest DTG Family Member

Single-Pass DTG: Where’s My Flying Car?

DTG Hybrid Printing Finds Its Seat at the Decorated Apparel Table

Keypoint Intelligence’s Worldwide Direct-to-Garment Forecast: 2020-2025