Mark Smith, managing director of Adelco, explores the changing market of the DTG and digital textile print sector

It is widely accepted that digital garment printing has come of age in recent years and now not only has a viable market share, but is also making inroads into new market sectors as well as expanding in its existing sectors.

Mark Smith


Ecommerce, including personalisation, has been the most viable sector for DTG printing and has seen the largest growth of multi-system print companies and has the highest output of all DTG sectors. This covers both in-house printing at the larger ecommerce sites and those companies providing fulfilment for ecommerce websites that prefer to outsource their production to existing DTG print specialists.

Many renowned companies, such as Vistaprint, Moonpig, Photobox and Amazon, have their own in-house DTG print set-up for their ecommerce platforms, while numerous DTG printers market and sell their printed merchandise on platforms such as Amazon and Ebay. 

There is also a surprising number of websites that are not commonly known, yet supply significant quantities of DTG printed merchandise, either from their own in-house print unit or from outsourced print fulfilment. This marketplace is seeing tremendous growth and seems to have few boundaries to its future growth potential. DTG printing has been the ideal solution for this low quantity and often individual print fulfilment. Continuous improvement in system stability, production output and reduction in print costs all help ramp up the growth potential in this arena.

Fashion retail

Several large fashion and sportswear retail companies have had considerable success adding DTG to their high street retail outlets, using DTG systems both to draw customers into their retail space, and for on-the-spot garment personalisation. There are also increasing signs that major fashionwear and sportswear retail brands are exploring higher volume print-on-demand through DTG, both in-house and through fulfilment. This is a new and exciting area for expansion.

DTG has enabled on-the-spot personalisation in retail stores [Printed on the Kornit Avalanche HD6]

Contract screen printing

Recent product launches from various DTG system manufacturers, particularly those already with higher output models, have resulted in major advances in print quality, system output, wash/rub tests and the quality of the finished product. The real gamechanger over the last year, however, has been the vast change in per unit print costs on these high output systems. This has resulted in several of the large conventional printers in the UK and worldwide either completely or partially replacing screen print with digital print. The savings in overheads, labour costs and the ‘go to press‘ time have enabled traditional screen printers to see a true cost benefit of digital over conventional print. It‘s been a long time coming, but finally conventional textile printers are making this change from screen to digital to produce their existing output rather than looking at new markets to justify a move into digital print.

Another limitation of DTG for conventional printers has been the colour gamut range achievable through DTG and the ability to hit spot colour requirements accurately. The introduction of six-colour digital print combinations, such as that seen in the Kornit Storm Hexa and Avalanche Hexa printers, and the introduction of high-end RIP software with colour matching capabilities, means that this issue is now mostly covered.

Hybrid digital

The above appraisals are all based on fully digital print output. Hybrid digital printers, where a digital colour image is overprinted on a screen printed white base, have also seen a significant improvement in print speeds and the quality of the finished product over the last two years.

Hybrid digital is most suitable for low to medium runs, not for individual print output, and therefore lends itself more to the existing conventional contract print, fashionwear and sportswear markets. There are not a significant number of systems installed in the UK or Europe as of yet, but they are more common in south-east Asia. The advantages of hybrid over fully digital print output is the lower cost of print as the white ink is screen printed, with only colour digital ink used. The fact that DTG print costs are reducing so significantly, however, means that the savings in print costs between hybrid and DTG are ever reducing. Another advantage of hybrid systems is that they make it easy to combine digital print with speciality inks, spot colours, foil and flock etc.

Home furnishing and eco-fashionwear

Similar to DTG, digital roll-to-roll printing has also seen a major shift towards digital print. To date this has been most prominent in the print-on-demand sector. Major retail sportswear and fashionwear companies, however, are increasingly looking to their suppliers to reduce the huge water consumption associated with the preparation and post-treatment of printed fabrics. The fabric print sector is one of the largest consumers of water, and is often based in locations that have the most difficulty in providing such water quantities to sustain their textile print output.

Recent advances in digital roll-to-roll print systems have seen an almost total drop in water consumption through advances in digital print using pigment ink systems with in- line fabric treatment. Similar increases in system output and reduction in print costs will without doubt increase the effect that digital print has in this market sector. My own experience in textile print over the last 30 years originated in conventional screen printing systems and that market is unquestionably here to stay for the foreseeable future. However, I have no doubt that the future of print for the textile market is digital.