John Albrecht outlines the factors that will affect your return on investment in D2G printing equipment

One person may be able to run several machines and produce hundreds of shirts per hour with inline pretreating on a machine such as the Kornit Breeze

Printers want to know if they can make a profit with D2G. To answer that question it’s necessary consider the following: consumable costs; labour, overhead and opportunity costs; and the market you are targeting (pricing, volume, fit of the process). These factors will cause your return on investment to vary greatly.

Consumables

Let’s assume that you have sourced a high quality T-shirt for D2G printing (see Optimising the variables for quality D2G prints – Images, Feb 15 issue). You then need to consider the ink and pretreatment costs. This can get complicated.

Ink costs vary massively between manufacturers, while pre-treatment costs vary from nothing (on a white, or light-coloured shirt – depending on the desired look) and 50 p or more on a dark shirt requiring white ink, plus there are the added handling costs to factor in.

When printing a dark pretreated shirt you will also need to consider ink waste along with ink costs per print. Each manufacturer has its own way of determining ink use and waste. Some have software that estimates wastage based on image size, while others measure the number of jets per litre. Make sure you don’t just see the per-job cost without a waste ink percentage when you are trying to optimise this cost variable.

Overheads

Keep in mind that with many D2G printers, the operator has to handle the shirt from pretreat, to pretreat cure, to the loading of the print, all the way to the curing of the print. This is especially true if you are offline pretreating with a heat transfer press. If one customer comes in and wants one shirt — even if art preparation is not figured in — this process could take six minutes or longer. If your pretreatment process is separate, be sure to factor added employee overhead.
You’ll also need to factor in opportunity costs when determining your ROI. One person may be able to run several machines and produce hundreds of shirts per hour with inline wet pretreating: the operator could load the shirt, and then take the next few minutes to finish other orders or do any number of other functions. This may allow for a true one-person operation.

A significant dryer is required when printing on an inline wet pretreating press: a heat press, such as this Sefa Rotex Auto Swing GPX Heat Press for D2G from Xpres, may be more than sufficient for offline pretreatment curing

Space for equipment and dryer needs should also be considered. With inline wet pretreating presses a significant dryer is required for evaporation, and requires more electric or gas. A heat press may be enough for offline pretreatment curing.

ROI formulas vary greatly, and every shirt decorator uses something different. In many cases, one machine is cheaper to purchase, but has higher consumable costs. Another machine may be more expensive upfront, but is cheaper to run or has fewer daily maintenance requirements.

The dilemma for many potential D2G buyers is that they are caught in the middle: not enough volume to pay the capital lease for the higher cost machine; too much volume to afford the consumable costs and added employee overhead of the lower-priced machines. A possible solution for some is to work with a decorator that specialises in contract D2G printing until volumes justify entering the market.

Target market

Pricing structures in the marketplace often shape where D2G is most profitable. In traditional screen printing sales, the larger the run the lower the price per shirt; once a job is set up, there is very little added cost to the screen printer. With D2G this is very different. For this reason long-run printing is often not D2G-friendly unless the price charged to the end user does not vary dramatically based on run length. It is up to each company to differentiate their artwork in order to create niche markets that are more advantageous to D2G over other forms of garment decorating. Short-run and raster (bitmapped) jobs are often cited for D2G. Many companies take the approach of showing what’s possible, and can reach farther into other traditional markets. It’s now also an option to add D2G to traditional screen printing presses to combine both processes on a single print, further extending the possibilities.

Ongoing support

So you like the quality of D2G and have the market to justify a good profit for your company, but you’re wondering where the ongoing support comes from. When entering the D2G market, keep the supplier’s reputation firmly in mind.

D2G is still in its infancy compared to screen printing, embroidery, dye sublimation and other garment decorating processes. When you consider a supplier, look at their history with big equipment sales and support; the focus of the technicians that will service the D2G equipment; and whether the supplier stays on the cutting edge and keeps you up-to-date as the industry changes.

Ink and pretreatment costs can vary greatly between different manufacturers and suppliers

Make sure your supplier has a history with capital equipment and a reputation for using these resources to help the client succeed. Check with their client list from over a lengthy period to help ensure they will stay around to be your business partner. Make sure the supplier and the manufacturer are working together (if different companies) to ensure your success. You do not want to be sold a box, and then be told to read the details – about figuring out software, parts, workflow, art prep, applications, materials, pretreating and so on – later, on your own.

Technician expertise is another crucial area for D2G. Being as this is a new industry, some vendors take their general techs and throw them into D2G service. Make sure your needs will be serviced by D2G specialists and that you have access to support that helps with art prep, file prep, workflow, machine operation, pretreatment, and is a complete business partner.

The D2G marketplace is ever-changing, and so supplier innovation is necessary. It’s not an easy market, although it can be very lucrative. You need a partner that is connected, and a supplier looking out for the future. You need a supplier that understands the entire garment decorating industry, and one that is investing heavily in R&D, one that you can trust will continue with new ideas year after year. Many companies purchase the same equipment, but produce very different results. Pick the right supplier, and you will be well on your way to producing award-winning prints and making money.

Direct-to-garment printing is exciting. Every day there are new ink breakthroughs, lower costs per print, higher production speeds, higher quality prints, more versatility with substrates, brighter colours, more colour options, and more sophisticated workflows. Don’t get left behind; by optimising the variables you can join the D2G revolution and ensure a satisfying return on your initial investment.

John Albrecht is a 30-year veteran of the garment decorating industry. He owned and operated a screen print supply company and has spent the past 20-plus years at SPSI, a one-stop-shop for screen printing and other textile related equipment, in various leadership and sales capacities. He currently heads the sales of Kornit direct-to-garment products at SPSI. John is a longtime volunteer at SGIA.
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