CUSTOM DIRECT TO GARMENT

Direct to Garment Printing (DTG) Explained

Direct to garment printing (also known as DTG or digital printing) is the newest and most advanced type of apparel decoration.  DTG printing works best with complex, colorful artwork.  We do not recommend using DTG printing for large areas of solid color.  DTG printing is the ideal print method for on-demand printing and fulfilment.

Instead of using screens for each color like screen printing does, direct to garment printing uses a specially designed inkjet printer to print full color images directly onto the garment in minutes.  Additionally, direct to garment printing doesn’t print on another medium first, hence it’s name.  For example, heat transfers, sublimation, and vinyl all have an additional step in the production process.

Advantages of direct to garment printing over screen printing are quick setup times and affordable, vibrant, full color prints.  Additionally, using CMYK+White inks, you can print a one-off photograph on a shirt for under $20. With traditional screen printing using 4 color process printing, this same job would likely cost you well over $200 with screen charges and printing minimums.

It is very important to understand what DTG printers can and cannot do.  Generally speaking, anything that can be opened with Adobe Photoshop can be printed using DTG technology.  However, there are limitations.  First, your monitor has a wider color gamut than the printers can print.  Colors may appear different on a shirt than you see on the screen.  Second, DTG printers do not have neon, glitter, glow, metallic, or other specialty inks.  Our printers all use CMYK inks.  That said, our Epson printers do a great job of printing a metallic effect with a properly designed file.

DTG Inks and Pretreat:

All DTG inks are water based and translucent.  Therefore, a base layer of white ink must be laid down first when printing on colored shirts.  Then, the color inks are printed on top of the white base.  Without the white ink base layer, you would not be able to print yellow ink on black shirts.  To get the inks to bond to fabric, the fabric is pretreated with a special formula prior to printing.  This process varies based on the manufacturer and will be discussed further below.

DTG Equipment:

There can be large variances in the quality, capabilities, and speed of DTG printers (from modified ink jet printers to custom built industrial machines).  For example, some machines do not have the ability to print white ink or on materials other than cotton. Additionally, most printers cannot pre-treat the garment.

We operate industrial DTG printers from Kornit and Epson.  We purchased our Kornit Breeze printers in the fall of 2013.  In the fall of 2020, we added two Epson F3070 printers.   While the Kornit models offers built in pretreatment, the Epson model does not.  We use a custom-built Lawson pretreat machine that sprays an area of 18″x22″.  The shirt goes in a 20″ x 25″ heat press.  This combination of equipment allows us to print the max size design without the risk of “missing” the pretreated area.

We use forced-air gas tunnel dryers to cure all DTG prints.  This results in more vibrant colors than when using a heat press to cure inks.  There are very big differences between the two printers, the pretreat process, what fabrics they print on, and the file requirements to get the best-looking prints possible.

Now that you know the limitations of DTG printing, the following sections will describe how to make files properly for each printer.  Following these guides will yield the best results.  We will not reprint shirts because the print doesn’t look right because you supplied poor quality artwork.

Our Kornit Breeze DTG Printers

Our Kornit Breeze DTG Printers

Our Kornit Breeze DTG Printers

Our Epson F3070 DTG Printers

Kornit vs. Epson Printers

We now have two different styles of DTG printers (Kornit Breeze and Epson F3070) that use two different file setup formats and serve slightly different purposes.  Depending on what you want printed, the printer being used matters.

When to make files for our Kornit printers:

  1. Repeats of previous DTG orders: If you have used our DTG services between 2013 and January 2021, AND you want to print something that matches the exact same way, you must still use the Kornit printers.
  2. Printing on polyester: Any time you want to print polyester garments, design files for the Kornit printers. When printing on polyester shirts, we highly recommend using cationic polyester garments for best results and lower pricing.
  3. Untested fabrics: If you want to print on a fabric we haven’t tested yet, the Kornit pretreat process is more forgiving than the Epson process.
  4. Specific colors: If you have our Kornit color charts and are trying to match a color, you must still use the Kornit printers.
  5. Fleece: Until we get more familiar with the new printers, we still recommend fleece is printed with the Kornit printers.

Please note: The Kornit Breeze printer model has been discontinued by Kornit.  They will continue to support it with parts and consumables through January 2025.  We will do our best to keep them running through then.

When to make files for our Epson printers:

  1. Ringspun Cotton shirts: When printing on 100% combed cotton ringspun shirts, we now recommend Epson printers. Our list of recommended products will grow over time.  For best results, only use garment styles we recommend. For starters, we only recommend lightweight ringspun cotton shirts.  The following popular styles are a great starting point: Bella + Canvas 3001C & B6400, Next Level 3600 & N3900, American Apparel 2001 & 2102.
  2. New files: If you don’t need to match something we have previously printed, the Epson printers will likely give you the best results.
  3. Non standard pallets: If you need to print something that takes advantage of our new pallet sizes (details on these pallets are further down in the page), design your files for the Epson printers.
  4. Transparencies & Fades: The Epson printers do a significantly better job at reading transparencies and fades and reproducing the effect onto t-shirts.

Brief Comparison of Kornit & Epson Features and File Requirements

Kornit Breeze DTG Printer Type Epson F3070
CMYK using special values Color Mode RGB (printers are color profiled & quite accurate)
U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 Color Space sRGB IEC61966-2.1
300 dip TIFF File Format 300 dpi PNG
Yes (except on white) Transparent Background Required? Yes, except on white or black shirts (when using 0/0/0)
No Removes Black from Printing? Yes, on black shirts with RGB value of 0/0/0 for black areas
100% Cotton/Tri-blends/100% cationic polyester Recommended Garment Fabrics 100% combed ringspun cotton
2 Number of Pallet Options 10
Only on white shirts Good for Fades & Transparencies? Yes, on white and dark shirts
No Prints Neon/Flourscent Colors? No
No, but does OK at simulating Prints Metallic Inks? No, but does GREAT at simulating
Short sleeve only Prints on Sleeves? Short and long sleeves
13.5″ x 17.5″ on most, up to 18″ on some Max Print Area 16″ x 20″
Slight vinegar smell, but washes out Pretreat Scent? No
No Heat Press Box on Finished Goods? Yes, but washes out

EPSON F3070 FEATURES, FILE SETUPS, AND MORE

Epson Artwork Settings:

For best results and to avoid artwork charges, artwork should come in the following format:

  • PNG file format
  • Color Mode set to RGB
  • Color Space set to sRGB IEC61966-2.1
  • Transparent Background
  • 300 dpi image sized to be the actual print size you want on the shirt.
  • If using Photoshop, trim away the excess background (Image>Trim).  Your design should fill up the canvas. (Don’t send a 3″ x 3″ image on a 12″ x 10″ art board).
  • Items downloaded from the internet (unless purchased from artwork sites) are generally only 72 dpi-low resolution files, and in most cases, illegal to reproduce. If you don’t have professional graphic design software, you can use our online designer, or have us create something for you.
  • NOTICE: Any files that come in another format will need to be converted to PNG format.  If not designed correctly, this could change the color profiles and will result in artwork charges

Epson Print and Pallet Sizes:

Our Epson printers can print up images up to 16″ x 20″ in size. We have a lot flexibility with the Epson printer due to the number of pallets we have.  Most garments will fit on one of these pallet sizes.  Items that cannot lie flat on one of these items have a non-flat fee.

We offer six different print size price points…up to 24 sq in, 24.01-80 sq in, 80.01-120 sq in, 120.01 to 168 sq in, 168.01-252 sq in, and >14″ wide OR >18″ tall. Please see our price charts for more information.

Name Pallet Size Ideal Uses
Facemask Pallet 3″ x 3″ Facemasks and other apparel with a small print area
Short Sleeve Pallet 4″ x 4″ For printing the left/right short-sleeve or left/right thigh
Baby Pallet 6″ x 7″ For printing onesies
Toddler Pallet 8″ x 10″ For printing Toddler shirts and some tote bags
Long Sleeve Pallet 4″ x 18″ For printing long sleeves or pantlegs
Youth Pallet 10″ x 12″ For printing youth and smaller women’s sized shirts, and totebags
Adult Pallets 14″ x 16″ & 14″ x 18″ For printing most adult shirts
Wrap-Around Pallet 13″ x 20″ For printing the side of a shirt (around the sleeve)
Zip-Up Hoodie Pallet 16″ x 20″ For printing over the seam of a zip-up hoodie
Oversize Pallet 16″ x 20″ For printing 2XL+ adult shirts

Epson Pretreatment:

All Epson-printed garments using white ink must be pretreated.  Pretreating white shirts is recommended, but not required.  The Epson pretreat has no smell to it.  However, it does have a stiff feeling.  This goes away after the first wash, giving the shirt and print a pleasant feeling (aka: Soft Hand).

Epson Print Locations:

Do to the wide variety of pallet shapes and sizes, we can print in most places on a garment.  Any items that do not lie flat on the pallet will incur a non-flat fee.

Epson Printable Fabrics:

DTG inks are designed to print on 100% cotton. Lightweight, 100% ringspun combed cotton works best, as the fibers are smoother and the ink lays down flatter. We do not recommend cotton/poly blends.  The less cotton in the garment, the less vibrant the colors will appear. We do not print 100% polyester garments with this printer.

Epson Print Settings:

Direct to garment printing offers many settings to choose from.  Those settings result in thousands of ways to print the same file. For instance, these settings include print speed, ink levels, number of coats of white ink, print resolution, etc. While many online fulfillment centers use budget settings and choose quantity over quality.  We offer five different print options:

  1. High Print Quality for white shirts (standard and recommend for most users):  We pretreat the shirt with a special type of pretreat just designed for CMYK inks.  The result of the pretreated shirt is better colors, sharper images, and better washability.
  2. Economy Print Quality for white shirts (must be specifically requested): We do not pretreat the shirts.  Colors are not as bright, inks could bleed, images are not as sharp, and the prints will not last as many washes as the pretreated shirts.
  3. High Print Quality for colored shirts (standard and recommended for most users):  We print using color-profiled RIP software and two passes of ink.  The first pass is the white underbase layer.  The second pass is a a white highlight and color layer.  This results in the most accurate colors and bright whites.
  4. Economy Print Quality for colored shirts (must be specifically requested): We print using the default printer software and one pass of ink.  The white underbase goes down first and the color layer follows a few seconds behind.  Colors are decent, but not near the levels of the high print quality option.  White levels are not as bright since there is only one layer of white ink.
  5. White Ink Only (High Print Quality): We use two passes of white ink.  This should mainly be used for complex white ink designs in very small runs.  Vinyl or screen printing will likely be better options for simple designs and/or bulk runs.

Epson Ink Curing Process:

Our Epson direct to garment prints are cured in a forced-air gas tunnel dryer.  This allows for better color and higher production speeds versus curing with a heat press like many smaller companies do.  Curing the ink is just as important as the printer and print settings used to print a design. Proper curing must occur to achieve wash-ability and a long-lasting print. Many decorators rush this step and while the design looks done, it will not make it through the wash. A good way to know if a print is cured is to stretch it. If the ink stays in place, the print is cured. If it cracks, the ink has not bonded to the shirt. This will fall off in the wash prematurely and you will not be pleased. Stop by our office and we can show you this in person.

KORNIT BREEZE FEATURES, FILE SETUPS, AND MORE

Kornit Artwork Settings:

For best results and to avoid artwork charges, artwork should come in the following format:

  • TIF file format
  • Color Mode set to CMYK (using only CMYK color codes, especially for common colors listed on our website).
  • Color Space set to U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2
  • Transparent Background
  • 300 dpi image sized to be the actual print size you want on the shirt.
  • If using Photoshop:
    • Trim away the excess background (Image>Trim).  Your design should fill up the canvas. (Don’t send a 3″ x 3″ image on a 12″ x 10″ art board).
    • Merge all the layers into one layer.  This will prevent missing font issues and allow the file to print correctly.  TIF files submitted with more than one layer are subject to artwork charges and/or misprinted images.
  • Items downloaded from the internet (unless purchased from artwork sites) are generally only 72 dpi-low resolution files, and in most cases, illegal to reproduce. If you don’t have professional graphic design software, you can use our online designer, or have us create something for you.
  • NOTICE: Any files that come in another format will need to be converted to TIF format.  If not designed correctly, this could change the color profiles and will result in artwork charges.  Due to the sensitivity of the inks and printing process, the colors you see on the screen are not always what you will get when printing. We have print charts with hundreds of colors (and their CMYK values) for you to choose from, along with a list of codes for popular colors. Using these codes when designing your art to print on our printers will give you the best results. For example, see how different red and blue appear on the screen compared to how they look when printed.

CMYK Values:

First, when designing your artwork for use on our printers, please use the following CMYK values for common colors so the results are what you expect:

  • Black-60/60/0/100
  • Red-0/100/65/0
  • Royal Blue-100/46/0/0
  • Golden Yellow-1/19/100/0
  • Hot Pink-0/96/20/0
  • Navy Blue-100/44/0/76
  • Green-90/0/90/0
  • Old Gold-16/27/84/16
  • Purple-79/100/0/15
  • Crimson-0/100/65/34
  • Orange-0/50/100/0
  • Brown-42/73/73/48
  • Yellow-0/0/100/0
  • Light Pink-0/50/0/0

For other colors, please come in and check out our color charts. Next, when designing, CMYK values should add up to be below 260. For instance, never make black 100/100/100/100. It will result in too much ink being printed on the shirt and the ink will bleed into other colors.  Finally, remember that what you see on the screen is not necessarily what you get when printing digitally.

CMYK samples-computer vs print

 Left image: how the images looks on the screen; Right image: how the image looks when printed and dried.

DTG quality sample

Left image: High resolution photo; Right image: Low resolution photo

DTG charts for color matching

We sell sets of the above color charts for $20 plus tax so you can get the best color possible. They are highly recommended for all contract DTG customers.

Kornit Print & Pallet Sizes:

We have two pallet sizes: Adult and Youth.  The adult pallet measures 14″ x 18″, but realistically prints images up to 13.5″ x 17″ in size for most designs.  If the top 1″ of the design is CMYK white (0/0/0/0) or CMYK black (0/0/0/100 or 60/60/0/100), designs can be up to 18″ tall. The youth pallet measures 11″ x 11″, but realistically prints images up to 10.5″ wide x 10″ tall.  We also use this pallet to print the front of adult hoodies (between the bottom of the collar and top of the pocket). Smaller garments, polos, sleeves, etc. need to be rigged to safetly clear the print heads.  This results in a non-flat fee per item. 

We offer five different print size price points…up to 24 sq in, 24.01-80 sq in, 80.01-120 sq in, 120.01 to 168 sq in, 168.01+ sq in. Please see our price charts for more information.

Kornit Pretreatment:

All Kornit-printed garments must be pretreated.  On some fabrics, you can see a pretreat stain after the garment has gone through the dryer.  It may also have a slight vinegar smell.  This is normal, and both the stain and smell wash out the first time you wash the garment.

Kornit Print Locations:

With the Kornit printers, we mainly offer direct-to-garment printing on the front and/or back of a garment, up to 13.5″ wide x 18″ tall. The sleeves of most (no cap sleeves) short sleeve shirts can be printed as well.  Additionally, some other items like small towels, tote bags, and fabric swatches can be printed. For standard printing pricing to apply, the garment must lie flat on one of our two pallets.

Many other items can be printed that are non-flat for an additional fee. For example, we can print on onesies, the left or right chest of polos, and pant legs.  We do not print on or above pockets, the sleeves of long sleeve shirts, over hoodie pockets, over zippers, or on other items that cannot be safely rigged to fit within the confines of the printer.

Kornit Printable Fabrics:

Direct to garment inks are designed to print on 100% cotton. 100% cotton or ringspun cotton works best, as the fibers are smoother and the ink lays down flatter. Cotton/poly blends will also work, but the less cotton in the garment, the less vibrant the colors will appear. 100% polyester can be printed, but non-cationic polyester costs more to print than cationic polyester. Other materials that absorb water generally work. We have printed canvas, denim, Masonite board, and wood. For printing on white, and other light colored 100% polyester garments, sublimation may be your answer.

Kornit Print Settings:

When digitally printing, there are many settings to choose from.  Those settings result in thousands of ways to print the same file. For instance, these settings include print speed, ink levels, number of coats of white ink (for the underbase), print resolution, etc. While many online fulfillment centers use budget settings and choose quantity over quality, we will choose the best settings for your file and garment.

We use vary generous ink levels over two or three passes of printing.  On white shirts, we use two passes of color.  On colored shirts, we print a white base first.  On the second pass, we print another coat of white ink and the first layer of color.  On the third pass, we print a second layer of color.

Additionally, we don’t use automated systems that just print the file as is regardless of how it will look when completed.  For instance, we review art files for quality before we print them.  There can be drastic differences in print quality between budget settings and quality settings.

Kornit Ink Curing:

Due to the wet-on-wet printing method, all Kornit printed items are cured in a forced-air gas tunnel dryer.  Heat press curing is not an option.

Curing the ink is just as important as the printer and print settings used to print a design. Proper curing must occur to achieve wash-ability and a long-lasting print. Many decorators rush this step and while the design looks done, it will not make it through the wash. A good way to know if a print is cured is to stretch it. If the ink stays in place, the print is cured. If it cracks, the ink has not bonded to the shirt. This will fall off in the wash prematurely and you will not be pleased. Stop by our office and we can show you this in person.

Other Information for Epson & Kornit DTG

Recommended Graphics Software for DTG 

When creating artwork for any print method, we recommend vector-based software (like Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator) for graphics/logos, and raster-based software (like Photoshop) for photographs and photo-quality designs.  Vector-based software will allow you to make your logo any size you want it initially and scale it to any size (from decorating a pen to printing a billboard) without losing image quality later.

On the contrary, the larger you blow up raster-based images from their originally created size, the worse they will look.  You can always save vector-based artwork in raster formats (when needed) down the road.  Raster-based software needs to be recreated in vector-format when vector files are required.  This normally incurs art charges.

Please note: Many of the free graphic software programs have limitations on color and file format exports.  Just because something looks great on your phone, doesn’t mean will look great when printed on a shirt.

Image Size

When creating DTG print files, artwork should be made and sent to us at the size you want it printed.  Be careful not confuse image size with canvas size.  Image size is the size of the actual design.  Canvas size is your work area.  Confused?  First, take a regular sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper.  That is your canvas.  Then, draw a picture in the middle of the paper.  That is your image size.  How big is your image?  That answer depends on what you drew, but should be significantly smaller than 8.5” x 11”.  If you drew a 3” logo, that is what size you should expect it to be printed at.  If you want a front chest design, your design should fill the entire piece of paper (or possibly larger).  This article explains the difference a bit more.

Color Modes

Regardless of what printer you design files for, do not mix CMYK and RGB color modes, or use Spot/Pantone/PMS colors in the same file!  Under no circumstances will we offer refunds or reprints if you are not happy with the end result and you do not follow our file setup guidelines!  If you are not a designer, it is suggested you either hire a designer or use our online designer to create artwork.

Design Tricks

If printing on cotton/poly blends, we recommend distressing the artwork.  Printing on these fabric types doesn’t give the same results as ringspun combed cotton does.  The distressed effects help hide the flaws and give the print a more “vintage” effect.

Not matter what shirt type you print on, we do not recommend large blocks of solid ink coverage.  There are a variety of techniques you can use to help break-up solid areas.  For example, you can add marbled effects, fades, color changes, and different filters.  Remember, DTG printers are designed to print complex and detailed artwork.  You do not need to simplify your artwork like you would for other decorating methods like screen printing, embroidery, or vinyl.

Garment Care for all Direct to Garment Printing

Once you have your garment, proper care is necessary to achieve a normal garment and print life.  Most importantly, wait 24 hours after printing before washing a shirt. For all garments, we recommend cold-water washing inside out and hang drying. You may tumble dry on fluff (no heat). Never iron over the decoration. Following these steps will help you achieve the maximum amount of life for your garment. Just remember, no garment or print is designed to last forever!

Direct to Garment Sample Prints

We have samples of all this and more in our office. Please come by and check them out, get your questions answered, and see if direct to garment printing is right for your apparel project!

In conclusion, we’ve explained what direct to garment printing is about.  If you are looking for custom direct to garment printing in the Indianapolis Metropolitan area (Alexandria, Anderson, Arcadia, Avon, Bargersville, Beech Grove, Broad Ripple, Brooklyn, Brownsburg, Camby, Carmel, Chesterfield, Cicero, Clayton, Clermont, Cloverdale, Cumberland, Danville, Edgewood, Edinburgh, Elwood, Fishers, Fortville, Franklin, Frankton, Greencastle, Greenfield, Greenwood, Indianapolis, Ingalls, Lapel, Lawrence, Lebanon, Martinsville, McCordsville, Meridian Hills, Monrovia, Mooresville, Morristown, Nashville, New Palestine, New Whiteland, Noblesville, Pendleton, Pittsboro, Plainfield, Princes Lakes, Shelbyville, Sheridan, Southport, Speedway, St. Paul, Thorntown, Trafalgar, Warren Park, Westfield, Whiteland, Whitestown, and Zionsville), A+ Images can help.


Not located in one of these cities? We also service Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, Evansville, Northwest Indiana. Wholesale direct to garment services are available.

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