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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all, in an attempt to grow my t-shirt brand over the past 2 years, I've dabbled ordering from print shops (super pricey), screen printing at home with kits (a messy disaster), and most recently have resorted to a cricut maker (vinyl is the worst). I'm over each of these methods for producing shirts and am ready to join the big leagues lol.

Assuming I don't want to spend the equivalent of a down payment on a house, what DTG /Pre-Treat/ Heat Press combo are good for when you're starting out? My comfort level is to afford everything for under $10K, but if I'm overwhelmingly trading off quality to stay under that price, I'd consider increasing it as needed.

For context, I'd like to be able to print CMYK and black on both white and dark garments. Long print time and noise level are not of huge concern at this point.
 

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DTG is harder and more expensive per unit than any other thing you have listed. There is a lot to go wrong, a lot to adjust and test and tweak based on the specific shirt and art. This is why POD/DTG prints are often fairly crappy, as they can't afford to test and tweak when printing one copy each of many different designs on many different garments. DTG ink is expensive and used in copious amounts on dark garments and in maintenance to keep the heads and lines unclogged. These printers need to be used often and for a fair number of prints, or they will clog and/or you will be spending 10 times more on ink wasted during cleanings than what ends up on the few shirts you print.

See some of the threads in the DTG section:


See this current thread of attempting to troubleshoot DTG printing:


Don't delude yourself into thinking DTG is as easy as printing a family photo with your desktop inkjet; it isn't. Which is not to say that it isn't possible, as obviously it is. The other things you tried were possible too, and cheaper and easier. So ... just suggesting that you seriously research the experience of others before spending $20K on a new frustration 😐

All that said, have you considered Plastisol heat transfers? That's a good option for low-color art that sells well enough to justify an order of about 50 or more. If you need to support a bunch of low-volume and/or high-color designs, there aren't any really great DIY options. Though there are various types of digital heat transfers that you can buy and press yourself. There's a list of vendors somewhere around here ...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
DTG is harder and more expensive per unit than any other thing you have listed. There is a lot to go wrong, a lot to adjust and test and tweak based on the specific shirt and art. This is why POD/DTG prints are often fairly crappy, as they can't afford to test and tweak when printing one copy each of many different designs on many different garments. DTG ink is expensive and used in copious amounts on dark garments and in maintenance to keep the heads and lines unclogged. These printers need to be used often and for a fair number of prints, or they will clog and/or you will be spending 10 times more on ink wasted during cleanings than what ends up on the few shirts you print.

See some of the threads in the DTG section:


See this current thread of attempting to troubleshoot DTG printing:


Don't delude yourself into thinking DTG is as easy as printing a family photo with your desktop inkjet; it isn't. Which is not to say that it isn't possible, as obviously it is. The other things you tried were possible too, and cheaper and easier. So ... just suggesting that you seriously research the experience of others before spending $20K on a new frustration 😐

All that said, have you considered Plastisol heat transfers? That's a good option for low-color art that sells well enough to justify an order of about 50 or more. If you need to support a bunch of low-volume and/or high-color designs, there aren't any really great DIY options. Though there are various types of digital heat transfers that you can buy and press yourself. There's a list of vendors somewhere around here ...
Hi NoXid, thank you for the detailed response!

I've been working for free at a print shop and have had the chance to use heat transfers. I think this will have to be the interim solution until I can afford a DTG set up and am actually sell enough shirts to keep the heads/lines unclogged as you pointed out.

My only resistance to using heat transfers is making shirts that don't experience any demand, leaving me with a ton of surplus transfers. Would you recommend just purchasing my own heat transfer printer?

I haven't heard of digital heat transfers, but I'll check those out.
 

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Hi NoXid, thank you for the detailed response!

I've been working for free at a print shop and have had the chance to use heat transfers. I think this will have to be the interim solution until I can afford a DTG set up and am actually sell enough shirts to keep the heads/lines unclogged as you pointed out.

My only resistance to using heat transfers is making shirts that don't experience any demand, leaving me with a ton of surplus transfers. Would you recommend just purchasing my own heat transfer printer?

I haven't heard of digital heat transfers, but I'll check those out.
Regular Plastisol transfers are screen printed, so like with any screen printing, each color adds another screen and more cost, and the more units you order the lower the per unit cost. A good option for things you sell enough of.

Digital transfers, to greater or lesser degree depending on the exact process used, reduce or eliminate those considerations/limitations. The places providing this service often have their own name for the process, so it can be confusing to sort out what's what when comparing across providers, or even different options within the same provider. They may, or may not, describe them as digital transfers. Direct To Film (DTF) is one of these technologies, though they are unlikely to call it that. In any case, the best course is to order some samples and see what you think of the application process, the look and feel of the final product, and its durability. Don't jump into using any new-to-you process without running a test shirt through at least 15 wash/dry cycles.

As to printing your own, having a surplus of transfers would be cheaper than having a surplus of equipment. As with DTG, DTF equipment isn't cheap, and is best kept in frequent use.

That said, if you want to print on white Polyester, then sublimation is an inexpensive path in terms of equipment, though the sublimation blanks themselves tend to be a but pricey. But a lot of people are not so fond of 100% Poly garments.

Also if you want to print on white cotton, then Jet Pro Soft Stretch (JPSS) inkjet transfers look good and are fairly durable (not as durable as screen printing or sublimation). Unless your designs are limited to simple easy to trim shapes like a rectangle, you would need a cutter to trim away the excess transfer, else the transparent polymer "box" of the unprinted area is evident.

There isn't a "retail quality" affordable DIY method of printing your own digital transfers for colored/dark garments. Handfeel and durability just aren't good enough for daily-worn garments.

What you want, and what I want, is the elusive Unicorn. A process that can print on cotton and cotton/poly blends of any color, has a durable print with low handfeel, can reproduce full-color art, is affordable to operate in a Print On Demand manner of a low volume of each design, is time efficient (no weeding), and uses equipment that is reasonably affordable to purchase and maintain. This method does not currently exist, and may never. So as with most things, it is a matter of finding the best compromise for your particular situation.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Regular Plastisol transfers are screen printed, so like with any screen printing, each color adds another screen and more cost, and the more units you order the lower the per unit cost. A good option for things you sell enough of.

Digital transfers, to greater or lesser degree depending on the exact process used, reduce or eliminate those considerations/limitations. The places providing this service often have their own name for the process, so it can be confusing to sort out what's what when comparing across providers, or even different options within the same provider. They may, or may not, describe them as digital transfers. Direct To Film (DTF) is one of these technologies, though they are unlikely to call it that. In any case, the best course is to order some samples and see what you think of the application process, the look and feel of the final product, and its durability. Don't jump into using any new-to-you process without running a test shirt through at least 15 wash/dry cycles.

As to printing your own, having a surplus of transfers would be cheaper than having a surplus of equipment. As with DTG, DTF equipment isn't cheap, and is best kept in frequent use.

That said, if you want to print on white Polyester, then sublimation is an inexpensive path in terms of equipment, though the sublimation blanks themselves tend to be a but pricey. But a lot of people are not so fond of 100% Poly garments.

Also if you want to print on white cotton, then Jet Pro Soft Stretch (JPSS) inkjet transfers look good and are fairly durable (not as durable as screen printing or sublimation). Unless your designs are limited to simple easy to trim shapes like a rectangle, you would need a cutter to trim away the excess transfer, else the transparent polymer "box" of the unprinted area is evident.

There isn't a "retail quality" affordable DIY method of printing your own digital transfers for colored/dark garments. Handfeel and durability just aren't good enough for daily-worn garments.

What you want, and what I want, is the elusive Unicorn. A process that can print on cotton and cotton/poly blends of any color, has a durable print with low handfeel, can reproduce full-color art, is affordable to operate in a Print On Demand manner of a low volume of each design, is time efficient (no weeding), and uses equipment that is reasonably affordable to purchase and maintain. This method does not currently exist, and may never. So as with most things, it is a matter of finding the best compromise for your particular situation.
You should write a book on this. Again, thank you for the insight. I think the message here is that until demand increases and cash is flowing, I'll have to sacrifice quality and variety for my designs. I'll absolutely test various transfers as you said in the interim.
 
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