DTG Business Workflow – Design, Print, Press, Profit

Direct to garment printing is really a straightforward process. Generation of great artwork is the beginning, proper selection of print settings is second along with consistent operation of the machine, finish the process with a quick press under your heat-press and you are ready to deliver high quality, durable, DTG printed garments,  Learn more about each below:

  • Design
  • Print
  • Press
  • Profit
  • DTG Shop Setup
  • Success Formula

DTG Process - Design

Opp_Design_538x313All garment decorators have to start somewhere.  With direct to garment printing the work generally begins at the computer.  All DTG machine need good clean artwork to produce the best prints on your garments. Good artwork starts with professional quality graphics software such as, CorelDRAW, Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.  When using photo images taken from a digital camera, at least 4 megapixel is desired – generally this isn’t a problem with modern digital cameras, but can be a concern with lower specification camera phones.

By following a few basic resolution and artwork guidelines, you will find it easy to design or edit graphics that will produce commercially acceptable printed garments.  If you are not artistically inclined there are a number of clipart and template programs available that will streamline the process for you. A simple Internet search will give you invaluable assistance.

The general rule for direct to garment printing is as follows;  if the image looks good printed at true size on a desktop printer, then the image will look good on a t-shirt. Developing your graphics skills can only benefit you and will see your business evolve to greater heights. We encourage you to take the time to become more proficient with your chosen graphics software. There are many aides available such as books, tutorial DVD’s, webinars and even community colleges often run part time graphic design courses. Make the old adage “if you want to earn more, learn more” your motto.

DTG Process - Print


Direct to garment printers generally require a specialized software package called a Raster Image Processor (RIP) to print.  The RIP generates the white ink underbase required to print on dark garments, controls the amount of white and color ink laid down, it creates appropriate colour spaces as well as other functions such as multi-shirt image placement and ink cost calculation.  Your DTG printer will come with a RIP configured with the most common settings for the printer. Your DTG training sessions will cover in detail the process of creating specific print settings for your application.

The RIP software is easy to use and can be configured to greatly simplify the process for even the least knowledgeable of end users.

Before you can actually print you will need to prepress your t-shirt to remove any wrinkles and moisture and, in the case of images requiring white ink, pretreat the shirt and press the shirt again before loading it onto the shirt platen and loading it into the machine.  All DTG branded machines use removable shirt platen systems to speed up the production process.  With additional platens you can have the next garment loaded and ready to go into the printer to create a a more productive workflow,  If the printer sits idle while you have to remove a freshly printed shirt before loading a new one onto a fixed platen you are wasting valuable time – wasting valuable time means – LESS PROFIT!

DTG Process - Press

Opp_Press_1_539x320Once the print process is complete, you will need to cure the garment to set the inks to insure maximum wash-ability.   Typical cure times range from 1-2 minutes at 170 degrees Celcius (340’ F), some garments may allow you to cure at slightly higher temperatures for shorter periods of time – but you will need to test them individually – remember – the way a shirt washes will often impact future sales!

The easiest and most reliable way to avoid a bottleneck in your production due to cure times is to add an additional heat press.  Every DTG printer will out-produce a single heat press – especially when running smaller graphics (a pocket print takes much less time to print than a full back, but the same amount of time to cure).
You will learn in your DTG training about different finishes you can get on your prints based on the type of curing sheet you use – Teflon, parchment, release sheets, even embroidery backing material will all give different results.


DTG Process - Profit

Opp_Profit_541x314There are a number of factors that go into determining how much profit you make with your DTG printer.  Simple things such as blank garments cost,  stocking the most common colors and sizes to take advantage of better pricing and reduced shipping costs.  Are you charging enough for output?  Get to know how much it costs to print images based on size, coverage and amount of  ink used. Analyse the true cost of production and set your profit margin accordingly.  Chances are that you are printing for a customer not so much because of pricing, but more likely because you can offer them what they want – full color, customized, low quantity, etc.

Your success with your DTG all depends on developing a good business model, working that model and being willing to adapt when you see opportunities to grow in areas not included in your original plan.

DTG Process - Shop Setup

Opp_Shop_1_250x250While a large proportion of our customers run a home based business and utilise their garage or spare bedroom as their primary production space, it is worthwhile planning for future growth and a dedicated print space.

Workflow is important to running a successful direct to garment printing operation. Above you see some examples of shop setups that allow plenty of room to load and unload garments while also minimizing the amount of steps required to transition from pretreatment to print to press.  These are good starting points to help you setup your shop.

It is not a bad idea to consider putting the tables that you are using in your direct to garment printing shop on rollers. This will allow you to get the most out of your space, especially if you offer multiple types of apparel decoration that will demand use of limited space at different times.  It is also important to make sure you work out your electrical needs in advance – heat presses and electronic equipment need to be on separate circuits and the presses draw fairly high amps.

You can learn more about shop setup ideas as well as other important pre-purchase expectation in the DTG Customer Success Formula.

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DTG Process - Success Formula

Opp_SuccForm_538x315Digital Printing can be a very lucrative process when done correctly.  It is important to consider the following criteria to make sure you are comfortable with the knowledge that you need to have and or attain to do the DTG process successfully as well as things to consider when implementing direct to garment printing into your business.  Please review and feel free to discuss the points in detail with your local DTG dealer.

Computer literacy is necessary to perform the graphic and printing functions associated with the DTG printing process.
Attending training to learn proper usage and maintenance for your DTG printer is strongly recommended, in order to limit potential replacement of printer’s parts.  You have allocated a decent amount of your financial resources to the purchase of a DTG printer, it is also important to invest a couple of days of your time to take the training offered to give yourself the best start possible.

Daily, Weekly, and Monthly maintenance steps are required in order to keep your printer operating at peak performance. These steps are easy and take just minutes to perform and are covered in the training session, listed on the maintenance decal on the printer itself and documented in the training materials, contact your dealer for the printed maintenance chart
Your printer should only be used in a dust free, clean environment.  Also, humidity and temperature need to be at moderate levels for optimal printing.  Manufacturer recommendations for optimal operational temperature & humidity are as follows: 40 F – 86 F & 40% – 70% relative humidity.  It is strongly recommended that you invest in a hygrometer to keep near your printer to verify your humidity levels. Indoor humidity levels are often lower than 40%, especially during cooler months when heaters may be in operation.  If your humidity is too low you can control the level by adding a humidifier to you print area.  Both of these items (hygrometer & humidifier) can be purchased online or at your local home improvement store.

Plan to allow up to 30-60 days to become familiar with your DTG printer so that you can be printing profitably in a business environment.  This combined with the formal training from your DTG dealer will maximize success with your new DTG printer.
DTG printers love to print!  They don’t like to sit dormant!  If you are not using your printer regularly it should be flushed properly to prevent clogging.  This is not a guarantee that your printer will not clog if left sitting idle for a period of time, but the best method to mitigate clogging.  Your DTG dealer can provide you with documentation on properly flushing your machine.
You should invest in commercial grade graphic software for optimal performance.  Recent versions of Adobe Photoshop or Corel Draw are recommended. Image quality that is produced by the printer is directly proportional to the quality of the graphic file used.  If you are unsure of which package to purchase – consult your DTG dealer to get a better idea of which graphics package would be best for you.

Printing on dark shirts (that require a white ink underbase) is recommended to be done on 100% cotton.  While it is possible to experience success with garments that are less than 100% cotton – it takes experimentation with these garments to get the best result before offering them to your customers.

Non-textile printing is possible, but should be considered a secondary function.

DTG printers are designed to be operated using specially formulated Genuine DTG inks.  Using other brands of inks may lead to premature failure of the machine’s ink delivery components as well as causing color matching issues.
Printer should be no further than 10 feet from the computer that is being used to operate the printer. The connecting USB cable needs to be 10 feet or less – if you replace the cable that comes with your DTG printer make certain the replacement is no longer than the cable included.

DTG printers and the RIP software only operate on Windows Operating systems (XP-7-8); they are NOT compatible with Macintosh platforms.  If you have concerns about your current computer configuration or need advice on purchasing a new computer for your DTG printer – please contact your DTG dealer.

The primary method of support on your new printer is via phone, you need to be comfortable with verbal troubleshooting to resolve unforseen issues.

It is important to allocate the proper space required to operate your DTG printer.  A well thought out work space will greatly increase the throughput of your DTG printer.

When printing dark garments with white ink you will need to pretreat the garments prior to printing.  You can do this with an automatic pretreatment machine or with the powered hand held sprayer provided with your printer.  It is important to allocate space for pretreating garments and we strongly suggest discussing this with your DTG dealer.

You will need a heat press to cure your DTG printed garments.  It is critical that your heat presses are on a separate circuit from your DTG printer (and your computer for that matter).

Placing your DTG printers, presses and work tables on wheels will allow you to easily modify your work area to allow for optimal work flow.

The best way to sell direct to garment printing is to actually show the product. Don’t be shy about providing samples of the process to potential customers (or existing customers for your other products).  Accentuate the benefits of direct to garment printing – no minimums, no setup costs, infinite customization options, quick turnaround.

Have fun! Being able to provide your customers with high quality, short run garments – tailored to their specifications – is exciting and profitable. Your customer gets what they want and you have the tools to offer it to them.