If you’re thinking of buying a secondhand DTG printer, Colin Marsh of Resolute DTG has some straightforward advice to help you bag a bargain… and avoid a lemon

Colin Marsh

When considering a pre-owned DTG printer, price should not be your top priority. More important is how many T-shirts you intend to print on a daily basis, as this will help guide you towards the production level of the DTG printer you will require.

Unfortunately, all too often the unknown factor in a new DTG venture is the production volume!

The search criteria for a secondhand printer is very similar to when buying a new one, but with the added complication of finding out the printer’s history, its age, the cost of parts, how much work it has already done and what life expectancy it has left.

All inkjet printers, not just DTG printers, have a life expectancy. Beyond this the printer could continue to work perfectly well for many more years, but it could also prove to be unreliable and expensive to maintain. The last thing you want in a new venture is a piece of equipment that has had a hard life, earned its money and should now be retired or broken for parts. So, how can you successfully seek out a bargain and avoid the pitfall of buying something that is past its best? As the process is quite lengthy, we’ll cover the research process this month, and focus on software and support and practical buying advice in following issues.

Prints per day

Entry-level and middle-market DTG printers vary in the amount of prints they can produce per hour. Realistic production numbers are easy to work out based on the print head technology that’s used in the printer – often this is similar across different brands with just a few exceptions. In order to get this first part right, you need to establish the maximum amount of prints per day you expect to be able to achieve. There is no point buying a printer that can only produce a handful of shirts per day if you expect to print more than that in the near future.

You can use this simple calculation to work out your requirements – these are averages, so please change the figures if you expect more or less margin. Dark shirts: ink and pretreatment costs £1.20 and the T-shirt costs £1.50, giving a base cost of £2.70, a sell price of £11.00 and a gross margin of £8.30. This simple calculation multiplied will give you fairly accurate figures and show how many shirts you need to produce to meet your expectations financially. Printing 10 dark shirts an hour gives a gross margin (not turnover) of £83 per hour, and £415 a day if printing for five hours each day. An entry-level printer will probably do no more than this. Printing 25 dark shirts an hour gives a gross margin of £207.50 per hour, or £1,037.50 a day if printing for five hours. A mid-range DTG printer should produce this amount with ease.

If we assume your entry-level, used DTG printer cost you £5,000 then you are looking at quite a quick return on investment with the right kind of work. Upscaling to a mid-level printer that’s likely to cost £10,000 could give you the opportunity to more than double your earning capacity. Don’t try to run before you can walk though – starting off with a few simple products will be much easier to manage while learning the ropes. There will be plenty of opportunity to introduce more products once you get some experience and your business is established.

What print head does it use?

This might sound like a strange question, but it is essential to know this before purchasing a used printer. Most DIY and older entry-level DTG printers use the Epson DX range of print heads. This print head technology has been around for over 15 years and is proven to be robust, however it is limited speed-wise by today’s standards. By knowing the print head technology a printer uses, you can work out in real terms how many prints per hour you can achieve, the speed of the printer, and how old the technology is.

In my experience, most DTG printers using single Epson DX heads will produce a maximum of 10 prints per hour on dark shirts. This is based on an average size image and good quality print mode. If you need to produce more prints per hour you should be looking for a printer that has faster print heads. The Ricoh Gen 4 or Gen 5 print heads are fast and are the most commonly used in the secondhand middle market area. The Epson T series, or the multiple Epson DX head set-ups used in some printer builds, also offer greater speed. You should expect to pay more for these models of printer compared to the entry-level models, but you will soon see the increased production justifies the higher price. 

Selling DTG

You should also consider your selling platform carefully as this helps calculate and control your volumes. The sales can be sporadic–and also very high – when selling online direct to customers, but you have the luxury of switching your website off as and when required to control volume. Business-to-business (B2B) is more stable work, but you will have to sell your services rather than depend on an online platform. Large orders of one design may also be best suited to screen print – the whole idea of DTG, after all, is the ability to print different designs on T-shirts with no set-up costs. By carefully evaluating what size jobs and how often you expect to be printing, you’ll gain a clearer idea of what DTG printer is best suited to your needs (and what questions you should be asking before handing over any cash).