Direct to garment printing has arrived

Direct to Garment printing is coming

Direct to garment apparel printing is still a nascent industry. Right now it is so new that we have a hard time understanding of what DTG printing is.

Essentially it is printing apparel using water based inks which contain no chemicals or toxic substances. The process is 100% environmentally compatible.

A few tips

A few tips to remember about DTG printing is that a quality printer is approximately  the size of a small car. But this small car is actually a ink jet printer that can print on apparel.

The most popular item to print on is 100% cotton tees. Preferably a ring spun cotton with a tight knit. A 50/05 cotton poly garment will work but the results will not be as vibrant as a 100% cotton tee.

Computer does all the work

Because the designs are processed using a computer the art work should be clean and camera ready. We prefer a 300 dpi jpg or a higher resolution the better. Drawing programs which are great for designing are Corel Draw, Adobe Illustrator and photo shop. The soft ware can process these programs very easily.

The nice part of having a computer do the processing is that you don’t have to work with messy screens. This allows the design to contain as many colors as needed in the design. Screen printing requires a separate screen for each color in the design. The set up process is much longer than a Direct to Garment set up. DTG set up is just enter design into the computer, press the start/stop button and commence printing.

End result is beautiful

The end result of DTG printing is a thing of beauty. The shirt is so soft to the touch. The soft hand does not rub on your skin. A DTG garment will also survive at least 50 or more washing. We have been testing tees in our plant for over 6 years and the shirts are as vibrant as ever.

To summarize direct to garment printing is eventually going to be the decorator’s choice. It is so easy to do. Mistakes will be reduced when pre-approval is done on a computer. The actual design can be shared with the customer prior to production.

The demise of screen printing

Screen printing is dying a slow death

The last trade show I attended the big promotion was companies selling direct to garment printers (AKA DTG printers).

The traditional screen print equipment companies were well represented but their booths were not as crowded as the DTG manufacturers. This new process draws a crowd.

An interesting story I want to share with you:

A friend of mine owned a very successful photo finishing company in the Midwest. His company would process the pictures for professional photographers. He had 3 facilities for developing film. He was very successful and all his competitors were chomping at the bit to buy him out. This was about 20 years ago.

Then one day he happened across a very elementary digital camera. He bought it to try out. It was at that moment he saw the future. He had a real epiphany.  He put his photo labs for sale. One  of his competitors bought him out.

Today that competitor is out of business. My friend had the foresight to see the future of photography. Digital cameras ruined the photo processing business.

The digital print era is coming

We are now in the beginning of digital printing where anybody can have ease of entry. Basic DTG printers can be purchased for less than $10,000.00. Every one of these printers entering into the decorated apparel market takes a little bite out of the pie. Right now it seems they are not a threat. Just wait.

Our company has always contracted out our screen printing. We did this because we didn’t want the hassle of smelly inks, solvents, and crap in our embroidery factory.

We took a big step and purchased Kornit DTG printers. (3 to be exact). Since we got them on line it has been all uphill. We print on lights and darks. As many colors as the customer wants. We can do small orders. (Even one at a time). The set up costs are minimum.

The process is so simple.

Vulcan, Kornit, DTG
The new Kornit Vulcan Printer will be available We have two operators running three machines, a dryer and then folding and packing.

We have transferred most of our screen printed work in house. We have all but left our screen printer. Our business is up. We made a wise decision and we see the future in DTG.

This is why I feel screen printers are on the demise.

Direct to Garment Tees are the way to go

Two proven methods of decorating tees

There are two methods of decorating a tee shirt with ink. One is silk screening and the other is Direct to Garment printing.

Silk Screening is a method where the ink is applied to the tee shirt via a mesh screen with the design area cut leaving a open area for the ink to flow freely on to the garment. This is a very efficient process for large scale orders. The above is an example of what we have done for the MWR on Diego Garcia. This was done with embroidery.


One major drawback is that the design is limited to the amount of colors which can be used in the design. There is one screen for each color in the design.

Because of the amount of color in some designs the order has to be large enough to absorb the cost of the screen set up.

For example a six color design would cost around $120.00. This is why multicolor screen printing needs at least 144 pieces to make the order feasible.

No screens in digital

The digital to garment printing technique does not require any screens at all. This makes this process very inviting for a small order. For example a design with over 12 colors does not require any complicated set up like screen printing. It prints whatever is on the computer screen. An order of six pieces is very easy to do.

The set up is very easy and basic. The key is to have good finished art. The easiest format to use is Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator. These two drawing programs are very popular and are used exclusively in the apparel decorating industry. Also, there is a great deal of designs available for sale on the internet which can be linked up with a basic lettering system to produce some very acceptable art work.

Popular designs

Seattle Seahawk Playoff Shirt 2015. The Road to the Championship goes through Seattle
Seattle Seahawk Playoff 6.1 oz Navy T-Shirt. This was featured on KOMO 4 News on December 29th 2014

The most popular designs available on the internet are mascots. Everyone has a mascot and you will find many schools teams use and enjoy the same mascot design. The only difference is the lettering used in the design.

This blog was intended to introduce the reader to the two techniques for custom decorating apparel. For more information contact NW Custom Apparel.

Branded apparel increases sales

St. Patrick's Day Irish Pub Shirt Customized with your last name created by NW Custom Apparel. This t-shirt is 100% cotton.

Branded Apparel increases sales.

Direct to Garment printing (DTG) is a new method of decorating apparel. The most common item decorated using DTG is a tee shirt or a hooded sweat shirt. Historically apparel decoration was done by silk screening. This is still a popular method of decorating especially for large volume orders.

There are specific differences when choosing between DTG and Silk Screen printing.


The main difference is large orders. These would be orders larger than 144 pieces. Especially one color designs. The DTG excels for multicolor orders less than 144 pieces.

One major advantage DTG has over Silk Screen is the set up process. Silk screen requires a separate screen for each color in the design. The more colors the more expensive the set up.

DTG requires only a good piece of art. We prefer EPS, Adobe illustrator or a 300 dpi or better art.  Small multicolor orders are cost prohibitive for screen printers.


The process is very simple with good art work. The process is the art is scanned, ripped and sent to the printer. Ripping is a process to ready the DTG printer for printing on dark colors. The rip part of the design is a white back fill. The white back fill is printed and prepares the DTG printers substrate to accept the colored portion of the design.

Consumer Product Safety Commission

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has implemented new safety rules which specifically address printed apparel for youth under 12 years of age. What the rules are is that no inks with carcinogenic compounds can be used is the printing of shirts in the youth market. DTG printing is 100% in compliance because the ink is water based and can be cleaned up with water. Screen print inks do not meet these regulations and will soon find themselves under the watchful eye of the CPSC.

Child Safety

Child safety has always been at the end of the pack in the silk screen decorating industry.. This is why the water based inks for Kornit are and always be in compliance with the CPSC regulations.

Choosing DTG is always the best choice if you are selling to the youth market. There are other reasons why DTG is superior to Silk Screen. The most obvious one is chemicals in one and no chemicals in the other.


How to make a DTG emblem

How to make a printed emblem.

This blog is to explain how we at Northwest Custom Apparel make printed emblems. The advantage of a printed emblem is that it can be made much quicker and offers more detail in the the design.

The first step in the process is to have all the materials necessary to manufacture a printed emblem.

Tools necessary are:

  • Digital Printer (We use the Kornit Hexa)
  • Die Cutting Machine
  • Heat press
  • MG3U merrow machine
  • Sharp Scissors
  • Materials
  • A good solid twill fabric to print the design on.
  • Acceptable art in a eps or 300 dpi jpg format.
  • Heat seal material (5mm or thicker).
  • Fusible backing to make emblem firm for finishing
  • Merrow thread with the correct color

The process is

  • Scan the art and adjust size to meet the emblem requirements
  • Load design into the digital printer
  • Print the design on a sheet of material. You should be able to print 24 emblems per sheet of material.
  • Apply fusible backing to sheet of emblems
  • Cut the emblems to size or use a die cutter with the correct size die.
  • The printed emblem now needs to be finished with a over lock border. This over locked border is achieved using a 3GU merrow machine. The Merrow machine was designed to apply a heavy stitched border to a emblem. This gives the emblem a real sharp finished look.
  • Last step is to apply the heat seal backing. Heat seal material can be purchased at a local fabric store. The application can be done with a steam iron or a heat press machine if you have one.
  • The finished emblem is now ready to be applied to a cap front using a cap heat press.
  • To put a emblem on a cap is very simple. Remove all the loose heat seal backing material and apply heat and pressure for about 25 seconds and then you have a finished product.
  • Trucker emblems are now becoming very popular so good luck.

In by 10 delivery by 5 screen printing

target market

Yes that is a true statement. It is now possible to offer same day tee shirt printing using a Direct To Garment system of printing.

To explain how it is done just review what it takes to print for example an 8 color design on a basic tee shirt.

A 8 color design will require 8 screens and one screen for applying the white ink on a dark garment.

  1. Art separation is the first item to get done
  2. Prepare the films for each color
  3. Burn the screens
  4. Wash out the screens
  5. Dry screens and block out the design
  6. Align the screens for registration
  7. Print a sample or press check
  8. Print tees
  9. Clean up the screens
  10. Breakdown the carousel and set up for next order

Now let’s examine the DTG process.

  1. Create art on the computer
  2. Save art as a PNG file
  3. Upload to RIP software
  4. Transfer design to printer and print
  5. Cure design and it’s done.

The advantage of time is so important now that clients are getting accustomed to same day service.  This is pure hell for a screen printer who has to try and meet customer demands.

The old days of delivery in less than two weeks is starting to exit the process. Customers want it now. Decosource has 3 state of the art Kornit printers which allows us to make a same day delivery. Our motto in by 10 out by 5 will hold up.

DTG printed garments are now holding up under heavy washing and can go toe to toe with screen printing when it comes to the life of the garment.

The two scenarios above resulted in the fact that the DTG process is more efficient than the screen printing process.  The screen print would take at least 5 hours where the DTG would take less than a hour.

Same day screen printing?

DTG is the solution if you want tee shirts fast.

DTG solves the problem on short delivery time. At Northwest Apparel we invested in two state of the art Kornit digital printers. The reason we did this is that our customers are asking for faster delivery on their orders.

Fast and quick delivery is now becoming the norm.

When we first started Northwest Embroidery two weeks delivery was fantastic. We have now changed our name to Northwest Custom apparel and our delivery time can be as little as 6 hours. Speeding up our delivery options meant we had to change our name and rebrand the company. We are now Northwest Custom Apparel.

Millennials demand service

Doing business in a millennial environment means we have to meet the demand.  The internet doesn’t allow customers to wait two weeks they need it now.

Northwest Custom has invested in two state of the art Kornit digital printers. These printers are state of the art. We use water based inks which allow us to deliver shirts that are soft to the touch.  The old method of screen printing is actually environmentally unacceptable. The new consumer protection laws and regulations prohibit selling shirts with carcinogenic inks to children younger than 12 years old.

Because we specialize in Direct to Garment printing we meet all the environmental regulations. Our shirts are safe for the youth market.

When it comes to delivery we can offer same day printing. This is because if we have camera ready art work with all images 300 dpi or better we are ready to print.

We had a customer come in yesterday who was entertaining a group from Switzerland and wanted to give them a memento of their visit. He showed up at our office panicking because he forgot to put the tees in his things to do list. The Swiss Sportmen’s Club of Tacoma was so happy we could accept this order.

Fortunately we had excellent art work on file and we were able to go in our warehouse pull from our inventory and print the multicolor shirts in less than four hours. Because of our DTG printers we were able to create a raving fan who will spread the word about Northwest Customs customer focused service.DSC02717

Being located in Milton Washington we are able to service the greater Seattle area with our fantastic service.

DTG is better than Screen Print

The question is now is what is better Direct to Garment printing or Screen Print printing.

Direct to Garment often referred to as DTG printing is new and entering the production shops of decorators around the world. The reason for this evolution is that companies want a system which is easy to learn, operate and is environmentally friendly.

Most DTG systems are a four step process.

The first step is to pre-treat the garment with a pretreatment machine to apply the pretreatment solution to the garment.

Then setting the pretreatment with a heat press machine.

Step 3 print the garment

Step 4 back to the clam shell heat press.

This complicated process takes at least 10 minutes per item.
The heat and pressure is done with a clam shell heat press.
Decosource has a totally different and efficient process operating the Kornit DTG printer to print their shirts. The Kornit system eliminates the manual pretreatment process.
The system Decosource uses is a two step process.

Step 1 is load the garment on the printer platen, push the start button and


The pre-treatment is self contained in the Kornit printer and speeds up production by eliminating the pre-treat step of all other machines on the market.
Step 2 The final step is to remove the garment from the Kornit printer run through the dryer and then fold and finish.
The positive features of DGT printing is the finished product. The end result is a garment with a soft feel. The plastisol ink used in screen printing leaves a hard finish which is annoying to women. The plastisol ink also has carcinogenic compounds which have proved harmful to humans. This problem will eventually be addressed and screen print shops will start to come in compliance with the consumer protection laws.
Another positive feature of DTG printing is set up time. All you have to do is download your artwork click the green button and print. This process will print and infinite number of colors.

Screen printing we know takes a separate screen for each color. This eliminates the ability to print small orders with no screen set up and clean up.3966
To summarize DTG is faster, time efficient, cleaner, exact design matching and easy to use.

DTG printing is much better than Screen Printing.

DTG is much better than screen printing

The answer is send it to Decosource.  Decosource has two state of the art Kornit printers which are groomed for small order production. With Kornit all we ask of our customer is to bring us good art. We prefer EPS to make our life easier.

Lets think about the time of DTG vs a screen print order with 6 colors. One screen is necessary for each color and one extra screen for the white under base. Inks have to be mixed to meet the color requirements. Then comes the press check and we hope everything is done correctly. If not we go back to the drawing board.Jim Oktoberfest

Assume we did a decent job printing the 6 colors.(actually 7 because we have to print a white undercoat.

No mess with DTG

Now the clean up begins. Add another hour or two to the order to clean up the mess.

The order was for 6 colors and a lot of printers are not equipped to print 6 colors assuming the seventh color is white undercoat.

It’s coming and we have to aware that traditional plastisol inks contain carcinogenic Studies have been done which show these inks are harmful to children under the age of 12 years. The consumer protection act even states these chemicals are harmful.

Now let’s examine direct to garment printing.  This is commonly referred to as DTG printing.

DTG process

The process for DTG printing is have good art work. Good art work means easy set up. The computer is going to do everything.

Good art work means it’s time to point and click. All that is necessary now is to load the computer which drives the Direct to Garment printer. Time taken is less than 30 minutes.

Printing is a snap. The computer tells the printer what to print and it is as easy as one, two, three.

Erik Mickelson
Erik Mickelson showing off the multicolor design.

Loading printer is fast and saves a tremendous amount of labor. DTG set up compared to traditional screen printing is a breeze. (actually Kornit has a printer called the Breeze)

Good artist is all you need

To conclude all you need for DTG work is a good artist. Their productivity will increase when doing DTG art because there are not screens to set up. Check out the colors on this shirt. The setup was $40.00 for everything.

Deco Source History

  • Northwest Embroidery was the first commercial embroidery company in the Pacific Northwest. We opened our doors in Oct 1977. We are celebrating our 40th anniversary.
  • During those days we supported some major companies such as Nike, Eddie Bauer, Britannia jeans, REI, and Columbia to name a few. We had the market locked because we were the only company of size who could do embroidery.
  • Life was good until our government lowered the duty on imported decorated garments. The duty used to be around 28% on apparel with any decoration. Northwest at the time was able to do the embroidery for less than the 28% duty. But, our government lowered the duty with some nudging from some of the major apparel players at that time.
    With the duties lowered the manufacturing slowly started to shift to the far west. Hong Kong and Taiwan were the first big players to have factories and solicit this manufacturing business. It was a slam dunk the selling price would remain strong in the US and the cost of goods manufactured would go down. It takes a fool not to realize what was happening.
  • Seattle at one time was the leading manufacturing center for outerwear in the United States. Rainier Valley was a cluster of contract sewers who fed the retail industry. Northwest Embroidery was able to take advantage of this because of the fact that embroidered logos enhanced the perceived value of the finished
    The market during this period (1977-1985) was strong for everyone. But the majors wanted more bang for their buck. They started to turn to the Far East or far west if you are in Seattle to out source their manufacturing.
    Cascade Manufacturing just down the street from us was a prime contractor for Columbia and LL Bean. They had over 600 sewers in Puyallup and Seattle. This was no small operation. Today the property hosts a large apartment complex.
  • Northwest Embroidery saw the handwriting on the wall and turned outward to becoming a retailer selling logo merchandise direct to the end user. This proved to be even better than trying to hustle orders from the majors. Companies like San Mar, JM Products, Winkler Northwest were born. These companies were actually distributors who imported directly and marketed to the decorated apparel industry
  • .
    The decorated apparel industry was starting to take off in 1980. Logo apparel was just getting popular. A cottage industry was growing selling decorated apparel.
  • The industry has changed astronomically since 1977. In 1985 we bought our first fax machine and for $3.57 a page we could throw away our telex machine and communicate with the far west without having to send DHL packets. Our orders really flowed smoothly.
  • After the fax machine came the internet and the whole world opened up.
    Some of the new innovations which are coming to market are Digital to Garment printers which print directly from a computer to a garment.


  • There is no setup involved and the quantities can be as little as one. This is a labor killer which addresses the must have now generation.
    This little brief can give you an overview of who Deco Source is and how we started out as a small embroidery company who is the leader in the decorated apparel in the Pacific Northwest.