What is Direct-to-Garment (DTG)

Table of Contents

What is Direct-to-Garment (DTG) Printing?
How DTG Works
Steps for DTG Printing
When to Use DTG vs. Screen Printing
Best Shirts for DTG
Durability of DTG
Art Considerations for DTG

Consider the following scenarios and chances are you can relate to one or more of them.

  • Your boss drops a task on you at the last minute requiring you to get a dozen shirts for your team for an event at the end of the week.
  • Your family is going on a summer vacation and you want to get six shirts printed for the trip.
  • You receive your large screen printed order of shirts for your event, but realize you forgot to order a few shirts for some late registrants.
  • You usually order a large order of screen printed shirts, but on this particular occasion, you only need a handful of shirts printed.
  • You want to get shirts printed with your family photo and give them out to your family members for Christmas.

If you have ever found yourself in any of the scenarios above, Direct to Garment printing is something you need to know about.

What is Direct-to-Garment (DTG)?

Direct-to-garment, or commonly abbreviated as DTG, is a method of printing directly on t-shirts without the use of screens as used with screen printing. Think of your home inkjet printer, but for apparel. By foregoing the screens required for screen printing, DTG allows a much quicker process to print your shirts, meaning smaller minimum quantities are practical. Since a separate screen has to be created for each print color in a screen printed design, it can take from 30 minutes to over an hour to create all the necessary screens for screen printing. With DTG, the entire design prints all at once with no screens. This makes the process much simpler. However, with the convenience comes additional costs. The inks are more expensive than inks used for screen printing.

The technology and inks used for DTG have come a long way over the last decade. It has gone from an inferior quality compared to screen printing to an equal quality. Both have their pros and cons, which we’ll discuss below. However, DTG is durable with many advantages over traditional screen printing.

How DTG Works

Much like your home inkjet printer, DTG uses four colors to print a possibility of millions of color shades for your t-shirt designs. Typical inkjet prints do not print white, instead, they use the white from your paper to show white in your design. The ink colors used for DTG printers are Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. Most high-quality DTG printers do have the ability to also print white, which is critical for a vibrant print quality if you want to print on t-shirts other than white.

Check out the difference between a design printed with and without a white under base.

Notice how vibrant the print is on the left side with the white under base and how dull it is on the right side without the white under base.

Before you start thinking DTG is simply inserting the shirt into the printer and clicking print, there are several other steps, but overall, the process is much easier than traditional screen printing.

Steps for DTG Printing

STEP 1: Ensure the artwork is high resolution. You’ve heard of garbage in-garbage out before, right? That’s the case if your artwork is low resolution. If you want to test your artwork, print it out on your home inkjet computer at the same size it will print on your t-shirts. If it’s pixelated and blurry on paper, it will print the same way on your shirts. Keep in mind that printing on paper will always be better than printing on fabric. DTG printers aren’t magic, so they can’t take a bad artwork file and print a high-quality shirt. One of the biggest problems we see is customers pulling low-resolution web graphics to print. Another common pitiful is artwork that is created at a small size being submitted to print a large area on a t-shirt. As a non-vector file (.jpg, .png) is enlarged, it gets blurrier the larger it gets. Our graphic designers always review the art to make sure it will work well, including deciding when a white under base is required for a better-looking print.

STEP 2: Ensure the right garments are selected. This is important because all shirt fabrics won’t hold the ink used for DTG. This printing process requires some cotton in the shirt to adhere. The less cotton in the blend, the less vivid the final print will be. See our recommendations below for the Best Shirts for DTG.

STEP 3: Pretreat shirts – Shirts must be pretreated with a solution to help the ink adhere better to the fibers. Pretreatment can be manually hand sprayed or by using a pretreat machine. Pretreating by hand can result in too little or too much pretreatment causing variances in the printing process, whereas, pretreatment by a machine will cause a uniform pretreatment on all the shirts resulting in a much better outcome. There are actually some shirts that can be purchased which include pretreatment, which can save time for rush orders.

STEP 4: Printing with DTG Printer. Shirts are printed. This is the easy part of the process. Insert the shirt on the printer and print. Repeat until all shirts are printed.

STEP 5: Cure the garments. Each shirt must be cured in a heat press to permanently dry the ink. Time and temperatures vary depending on the fabric blend. After this step, the shirts are boxed and ready to be shipped or picked up.

When to Use DTG Vs. Screen Printing

Determining whether to use DTG or screen printing mostly comes down to quantity and your shirt style.

If you need less than 24 shirts, DTG will be the choice. If your shirt design has many colors, DTG may be a great choice for smaller quantities, but as your quantity increases, the pricing for screen printing becomes more economical. We’ll always guide you to the best process based on your artwork, time frame, and pricing.

If you need your shirts within a few days, DTG may be the answer (assuming our current production schedule allows it).

If you want moisture-wicking shirts, you must go with screen printing since the DTG inks won’t adhere well to polyester fibers.

If you have a few specific colors in your design which you want to be really vivid, screen printing will be best for that job since colors can be printed bolder. For example, if your design requires a bold red print, DTG won’t be able to achieve that since red is created from the Magenta and Yellow colors. With screen printing, a bold red ink can be used to achieve that bold color.

If you want a more photorealistic design, you should opt for DTG. The details in your designs will be much better with DTG. While more expensive, the final print will look more like a photo than with screen printing.

If you have a large order of adult shirts for printing and only a few sizes for kids (youth or toddlers), a combination of both may be required. This is because when a screen is created for screen printing, the print size of the screen is fixed and it won’t work on the tiny shirts. Therefore, DTG may need to be used for the smaller sizes to avoid creating a second set of costly screens.

Best T-Shirts for DTG

The shirts that result in the best prints are 100% Ringspun Cotton. Below you’ll find a few of our favorites.

Short Sleeve T-Shirts

Gildan Adult Softstyle® 4.5 oz T-Shirt G640

Gildan Ladies’ Softstyle® 4.5 oz Fitted T-Shirt G640L

Gildan Softstyle V-Neck T-Shirt 64V00

Gildan Softstyle® Women’s Fit V-Neck T-Shirt 64V00L

Port & Company Core Cotton Pocket Tee PC54P

Bella + Canvas Unisex Jersy T-Shirt 3001C

Bella + Canvas Ladies’ Relaxed Jersey Short-Sleeve T-Shirt B6400

Next Level Unisex Cotton T-Shirt 3600

Next Level Ladies’ Boyfriend T-Shirt N3900

District Perfect Weight Tee DT104

Long Sleeve T-Shirts

Gildan Softstyle Long Sleeve T-Shirt 64400

Port & Company Ladies Long Sleeve Fan Favorite V-Neck Tee LPC450VLS

Gildan Ultra Cotton 100% Cotton Long Sleeve T-Shirt G2400

Gildan Ultra Cotton 100% Cotton Long Sleeve T-Shirt with Pocket 2410

Tank Tops

Bella + Canvas Women’s Jersey Racerback Tank BC6008

Bella + Canvas Unisex Jersey Tank BC3480

Gildan Ladies’ Softstyle Fitted Tank G642L

Hoodies

Bella + Canvas Unisex Sponge Fleece Pullover Hooded Sweatshirt 3719

Bella + Canvas Unisex Poly-Cotton Fleece Full-Zip Hooded Sweatshirt 3739

Alternative Unisex 6.5 oz., Challenger Washed French Terry Pullover Hooded Sweatshirt 9595CT

Durability of DTG Prints

When printed with high-quality inks on the right shirts, DTG is very durable. While it’s not quite as durable as screen printing, you can expect shirts to easily last 50 washes.

Art Considerations When Printing T-Shirts with DTG