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Direct to Garment Printing: A Beginner’s Guide

by Gooten Editorial Team on Aug. 11, 2022

There are a number of decoration methods available in the print on demand apparel industry, but the most popular is the direct to garment (DTG) method.

It wasn’t always that way. In fact, when DTG was first invented, several decades ago, it was notoriously low-quality and imprecise. But over the years, the DTG method has been improved and refined. In fact, today’s DTG printing technology is the gold standard for the print on demand industry.

But what is DTG printing, exactly? What are the alternatives? And what makes DTG the standard-setter? Here’s everything you need to know before launching your customized apparel business.

Direct to Garment Printing vs. Screen Printing

Direct to garment printing, also known as direct to fabric printing, involves ink being sprayed directly onto a garment. The ink can then soak into the fibers of the garment. It’s basically the same concept as printing directly onto paper, except instead of paper, it’s a T-shirt, sweatshirt, or fanny pack.

The other main option for printing customized apparel is screen printing. In this method, ink is pushed through a mesh screen, or stencil, onto fabric. As such, the ink does not actually soak into the fabric, but just lays on top of it.

Which Method is Right for Your Print on Demand Business?

While both printing methods have their advantages, there are several reasons why DTG has become the go-to, and the industry standard.

For one thing, there’s the matter of setup time. There is almost no setup time required for direct to fabric printing, which means it’s equally efficient for bulk orders or for one-offs. By contrast, preparing and setting up the stencil for screen printing can be very time-consuming. For this reason, screen printing is primarily recommended for bigger orders.

There are also issues of quality. Screen printing can work really well for basic shapes, but it doesn’t offer the same level of detail that you can get from DTG. The reason for this is simple: Creating a highly intricate and precise stencil takes a lot of time.

Something else to be aware of: With screen printing, each color is sprayed on separately. Because of this, screen printing is mostly recommended when working with a limited color palette. Direct to garment printing makes it much easier to print intricate designs, to capture vivid details, and to work with a broader palette of hues.

In addition, many print on demand sellers and customized apparel companies are increasingly mindful of environmental issues. DTG printing is more sustainable than screen printing, precisely because you can print everything to order. By contrast, screen printing usually means working in bulk, which can result in leftover or unsold wares being dumped in a landfill somewhere.

The bottom line: For most print on demand sellers, DTG is the best printing option, both from a business standpoint as well as a social responsibility standpoint.

How Gooten Ensures DTG Quality

The technology used for direct to garment printing has improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years. And Gooten is at the forefront. We’ve developed policies to ensure the highest standards of quality control, allowing our print on demand partners to choose DTG with total confidence.

One way that we support our partners is by providing them with ample information about how different designs will look when they come out of the DTG process.

Below we’ve created a test digital image that features various design elements which are then printed on black, white, and blended shirts so that you can understand how to create designs specifically for DTG apparel.

This DTG test image was produced digitally with multiple design elements

 This digital image features multiple design elements: 

  • Photography (both full color and B&W)
  • Vibrant color swatches
  • Flesh tones
  • Transparent images
 

In order to see how a design on your screen can look on various fabrics and colors, we printed the above design on 5 of our most popular t-shirts:

Test 1: Bella + Canvas 3001Black, 100% Cotton

Test 2: Bella + Canvas 3001, White, 100% Cotton

Test 3: Bella + Canvas 3413C, Heather Grey, TriBlend

Test 4: Gildan 5000, Yellow Haze, 100% Cotton

Test 5: Gildan 5000, Mint, 100% Cotton

Test 1: Black, 100% Cotton

Bella + Canvas 3001

For black garments, bright or vibrant colors tend to be muted so you may want to increase the saturation in your design for increased vibrancy when printing on dark colors.
Test 2: White, 100% Cotton

Bella + Canvas 3001

For white garments, bright or vibrant colors are more true to the original artwork. It will be difficult to match the colors exactly to what’s on your screen but it will be closest with white fabric and garments that are 100% cotton.
Test 3: Heather Grey, TriBlend

Bella + Canvas 3413C

Keep in mind when designing for DTG, that the same image may not be ideal for all garment colors or materials. You may need to customize each design to meet your expected output.
Test 4: Yellow Haze, 100% Cotton

Gildan 5000

When printing on garments that are not white or black, the garment colors can show through your printed images as you can see with the Yellow Haze Gildan 5000.
Test 5: Mint, 100% Cotton

Gildan 5000

Similar to the Yellow Haze shirt above, you can slightly see the Mint fabric color peek through some of the images. That's why it's important to design elements with the shirt color in mind.

What To Keep In Mind When Designing for DTG Apparel

As the above test images showcase, the same design can look slightly different on different fabric and shirt colors.

Here are some important design notes to keep in mind when you are creating images specifically for direct to garment apparel products.

Color Vibrancy Varies by Fabric

  • As you can see with Test #1 (Bella + Canvas 3001, Black), bright or vibrant colors tend to be muted so you may want to increase the saturation in your design for increased vibrancy when printing on dark colors.
  • For white garments, showcased in Test #2 (Bella + Canvas 3001, White), bright or vibrant colors are more true to the original artwork. It will be difficult to match the colors exactly to what’s on your screen but it will be closest with white fabric and garments that are 100% cotton.
  • When printing on garments that are not white or black, the garment colors can show through your printed images. This is show with the Yellow Haze and Mint Gildan garments, both of which are 100%. When comparing them to their black and white counterparts, you can see some of the fabric colors peeking through the images. 
  • Keep in mind when designing for DTG, that the same image may not be ideal for all garment colors or materials.  You may need to customize each design to meet your expected output.
 

Try to Avoid Transparent Images

  • The image of the orange slice wedges showcases opacity at varying amounts. From top right moving clockwise it is:  30%, 100%, 20%, 0%, 100%, 85%, 75% and 40%. As you can see, the image is barely visible at 40% opacity and almost unrecognizable at 30% and below. That’s why we strongly recommend avoiding transparency in your designs.
  • When using Transparencies in your design, the DTG printers are trying to place tiny droplets of ink on tiny droplets of white under base.  The output will rarely meet your expectations, and depending on the color of garment you’ve selected they may not show up at all. If you must use them, we recommend testing your design before going live with the product or instead, try using halftone gradients. 
 

Be Mindful of Neon Colors

  • This is another element to be careful of in your apparel designs. Most DTG equipment uses prints in the CMYK color space, which do not encompass neon colors. The DTG printers will find the closest possible color but it won’t be a 100% match.

Choose Gooten for Custom Print on Demand Apparel

Looking for the highest standards of quality and efficiency with your print on demand apparel? Choose the direct to garment printing method. And specifically, choose the Gooten approach.

We’d love to tell you more about our exacting standards for printing customized apparel with the DTG method, and to give you our complete quality control guide. To start a conversation about print on demand methods, contact our team of our eCommerce and DTG experts today!