Sponsored Ad

Thursday, October 10, 2013

DTG vs. Screenprint: A Guest Post by Industry Professional Dustin Devos

Recently, a DTG Awareness reader named Brian made the following comment on one of my posts:

"For anyone trying to market shirts, screen printing is far more cost effective, holds better on the 50/50 and polyester fabrics many customers prefer. Shrunked up 100% cotton shirts are not going to bring repeat business. I understand if you are must selling a few here and there going DTG, but for those who are looking to run a serious business, screen printing is the way to go. I do run a screenprinting shop, so I may be a little biased ;)"

Instead of addressing this comment myself, I have invited veteran industry professional and founder of Angler Skins, Dustin Devos, to give his take.  Dustin's extensive resume includes heavy production of decorated garments for companies such as Bealls Department Stores, Evinrude, and Ranger Boats . He also produces all of the decorated apparel for Animal Planet's "Turtleman" show. On top of all of this, Dustin has the distinction of having been a professional fisherman, and is an official spokesperson for Igloo Coolers. This all said, Dustin has many professional relationships, his work is widely available, and his reputation and financial success hang on making quality products on time.

The Following is Dustin's take on Mr. Power's comment:

I think the very last segment of Brian’s comments sum up his response and I can certainly relate.

If you had asked me six to seven years ago about the vitality of Direct to Garment printing in the apparel market I would have shrugged it off as a fad and simply moved on.  However, being much like my father and always wanting to find something new and different to play with, I jumped in. However, it was a “special situation.”

I was raised on plastisol ink. It’s in my veins, under my nails, and at times I’m pretty sure I’ve sweat mineral spirits.  It’s always been a love/hate relationship for me.  I’ve seen the days of 12-16 spot color jobs with giant Precision Versa Ovals and the days of 4 color electric presses as well.  One thing my father always pushed for in this industry was “a better way.” 

Trying to keep that mindset, when DTG first hit the ground and after my initial laughter, I paused and decided to do a little digging.  Early on it was hard to figure out the reality between hype and marketing.  There was more hype built up about DTG than a cage match between Mike Tyson and Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. But my curiosity got the best of me and I purchased a DTG from a guy who was having cash flow issues and dove in at a reasonable risk.   After about a week of making several calls to this DTG manufacturing company whose name I had trouble pronouncing, they had me up and running and I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Now let me say, at that time, the learning curve was more like a cliff.  It was a whole new love/hate relationship for me, but I could see the potential.  I had purchased my machine for five grand and after about another thousand dollars in parts and ink and just getting it back on track, it was time to try and sell some shirts.  It only took me two days to find someone who wanted a large number of tee shirts with a Photograph printed on them.  I made enough profit from that first job that it paid for the machine.  So great story right?  Well hold on.  I was still having some issues and there were a lot of variables that kept snake biting me, so I rolled it in the corner, parked it, and there it sat for 5 years!

Fast-forward to today and it’s a whole new ballgame. I now have an entire business segment based solely on DTG.  As I said to begin with, had you asked me some year’s back, I would have had the same response as Brian.  However now a little older, a little more experienced, the advances in the technology, and hopefully a little wiser, my response is this:

Let’s just use Brian’s comments as a basis and I will answer in response to him.

1    “For anyone trying to market shirts, screen printing is far more cost effective…”

I would have to say that this is way too broad of a statement for me.  First we have to compare apples to apples and as we all know there are so many fruits in this business you better make things really clear.  So let’s just look at two examples.

A.      One color white print on a black tee shirt and we will say it’s 48 pieces.
a.       Absolutely, Screen Printing is more cost effective for this print hands down.  The cost of white Plastisol vs. using a DTG pre-treat and a DTG white cannot compare in this example.

B.      9 Color Simulated Process Print on a black tee shirt, 48 pieces.
a.       STOP! You can’t screen print this, or least no one I know would even quote it because of the cost. Screens, set ups, and run times would be so expensive no one would do it.  However it can be printed with a DTG and the client will pay a premium for it just because you said yes. Not to mention the print quality will crush even the best simulated process.

Now adding even more variables to the equation, you may want to sell the shirts in example A via DTG if the person needs them in 24 hours or less because with DTG you don’t need film output. I could spend hours on the cost effectiveness argument, but in my mind it’s a non-issue. It really boils down to what the client wants.  If you have clients that only want large quantity orders of 250 or more pieces then sure screen-printing is currently still the producer.  But if you are like 80% of us who are finding our clients don’t want to order those big quantities, you had better be looking at DTG.
screens, or a trained screen printer.

   “…holds better on the 50/50 and polyester fabrics many customers prefer.”

A couple of thoughts come to mind for me here. One is that again you have to do the research.  Certainly there are some DTG’s whose print quality on these fabrics is not so hot.  But then there are others who have really nailed down the pre-treatments for these fabrics and are doing a great job.  But let me just focus on the two fabrics.
A.              50/50 shirts are a blend of cotton and polyester. For this, screen-printing obviously works well, however most people like 50/50 shirts for the feel. They are softer and cooler to wear but have a more natural feel because of the cotton.  Plastisol printing adds that “wonderful” feel of plastic to your shirt. However, when pretreated and printed with a quality DTG you have not only an amazing looking print but a great feel or “soft hand” as well.  Again though, comparing apples to apples, quantities and number of print colors still apply here.

B.              100% Polyester.  I know a thing or two here since we manufacture fully custom, cut, sew, and dye sublimated garments.  My dye sub beats everything else hands down! Sorry screen-print and DTG.  But even now we find ourselves using pretreat and DTG to print 100% poly shirts. Mainly white shirts but still it does a really nice job and it’s all about quantity, not big high ones but small quantity orders.  And you can believe it will only be a matter of time before the chemistry catches up and we will be printing on dark polyester with DTG.

3    “Shrunked up 100% cotton shirts are not going to bring repeat business [sic].”

Okay, I kind of wanted to laugh here, but wasn’t sure if Brian was kidding or not.  The idea that somehow using a DTG “shrunks” up a shirt to me is a bit laughable. (sorry Brian!) We use 20ft gas ovens to cure screen-printed shirts and our shirts exit the oven at around 360 degrees.  So, if I cure a DTG shirt for one minute at 340 degrees in only one area of the shirt, not the entire shirt, how is it that my DTG shirts get “shrunked up” and my screen-printed shirts do not?  Sorry, not trying to be a funny guy, I just don’t get that one!

   “I understand if you are must selling a few here and there going DTG, but for those who are looking to run a serious business, screen printing is the way to go. I do run a screen-printing shop, so I may be a little biased ;) [sic]”

I totally get it; if your sole business is based on screen-printing then this statement makes complete sense.  But for me it’s the reason I have begun to make the change.  We have steadily seen our screen print business shrink due to the economy of scale.  People have less money to spend and they will either spend it on smaller quantities or not spend it.  The second wave is the culture of “ I want it custom and I want it my way and oh by the way, I want it tomorrow”.  As for the serious business comment, I would ask is Custom Ink, CafĂ© Press, Zazzle, and others like them serious businesses?  They make tens of millions of dollars each year and they all run big DTG shops.

At the end of the day, for me, it is clear that DTG is here to stay.  With the rate of speed that the technology and chemistry is advancing, it won’t be long before DTG begins to do things none of us thought it could do.  So I would rather get on the bus now and grow with it then be left standing at the corner with a bunch of screen print machines that I can only use for fishing structure!

And for the record, we screen print, DTG, embroider, dye sublimate, vinyl transfer, and offer cut & sew.  I think we are a serious business!


  1. Dustin is spot on. Great article and I would have to agree with the lack of knowledge & education of DTG being a major issue with many in the Industry. DTG has it's place in our Industry and should be considered a major aspect of any shop if costs permit. I can think of many instances where DTG is the most cost effective route.

  2. We built a thriving franchise system around DTG printing. I second the motion.

  3. Check out our new direct to garment community: