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Is it possible to start a t-shirt business with only a t-shirt printer (DTG)?

If you’re new to the t-shirt business, you probably have already thought: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a t-shirt printer. A printer that would work as a common inkjet printer. But instead of paper we would put a t-shirt instead.

The good news is that this kind of printers already exist. They are called DTG printers. And DTG means Direct To Garment.

The way this printer works is much like a paper printer. In reality, most of them are based on paper printers.

So, are all printing problems solved? Can everyone now become a t-shirt printer?

Unfortunately, no.

It’s a big investment

Let’s start with the price.

DTG printers are expensive. Even though the prices have been going down, it didn’t come to a point where everyone can afford it. The price of a DTG starts around 12,000€ /15,000€. It’s the price of a small car.

Of course, the investment can be good or bad, depending on your sales and margins.

Printing with a DTG is more expensive than screen printing. So, margins are lower. Let’s suppose your margin is 10€ per t-shirt. This means, you have to sell 1,500 t-shirts just to pay the printer. 1,500 can be a lot or not. But still, the first 1,500 t-shirts you sell, are not real profit.

By the way, you’ll find cheap DTG printers in Chinese websites. I don’t want to be unfair to all of those guys, but the cases that I’m aware, people who bought them, are not happy.

They won’t print all kinds of jobs.

If you think you can do the same prints as those you see in stores, you’re wrong. Almost every t-shirt that you find in stores are screen-printed. You won’t find DTG printed t-shirts in big chain stores.

And the cost of printing is not the only problem. The main problem is that inks are very different.

Inks used in screen printing are usually opaque. Inks used in DTG are not. You can print in white, or light colored t-shirts with a DTG printer. But printing in dark color t-shirts is much more difficult.

It is possible, using a white under base, but there are two problems:

  1. Not all DTG printers are ready to print white under base.
  2. Before printing in white, you need to cover the part of t-shirt that is going to be printed with a special coat, that is called pre-treatment. And this pre-treatment is very difficult to apply.

In a t-shirt printer it is very difficult to get two t-shirts printed the same way. Specially if t-shirt colors are dark. And remember, the most sold t-shirt colors, by large margin, are dark colors, not white.

Printing in a DTG printer without white under base, is like printing on paper.

Try to print a picture in a colored sheet of paper using your inkjet printer. What happens? The color changes. And if you print on a dark sheet of paper, you won’t be able to see the print. The same thing happens on a DTG printer without white under base.

I had a DTG printer, but I gave up. The costs were too high and the quality, for my market, was not acceptable.

So, is it a bad investment?

Not always. In some cases, DTG printers can be a good investment.

And I’m going to show you two cases that can profit from a t-shirt printer. Probably there are a few more success cases out there.

1 – Custom made t-shirts

This is one the t-shirt businesses that can profit from a t-shirt printer.

It’s very easy to make only one t-shirt with a t-shirt printer. In screen printing, it’s impossible to profit from making only one t-shirt. And it’s very common to have customers who want to customize only one t-shirt.

Example of a good design to t-shirt printers DTG
These kind of pictures and photos on white t-shirts are highly demanded in the custom made t-shirts business. The right job for DTG printers.

The quality of prints in the custom made t-shirts is usually not so important, because people are used to inkjet heat transfers. And DTG is much better quality than inkjet heat transfers.

2 – Black prints on heather grey t-shirts

A couple of years ago, some guys (or girls) came with an idea of printing heather grey t-shirts with words in black. Maybe you’ve seen these t-shirts. One company that makes this kind of design, is “Buy me Brunch”. You can search for these t-shirts and see yourself.

These t-shirts are printed with a DTG printer, and that particular kind of design (black on light colored t-shirts) works very well. The quality is good.

I don’t know which company first came with this idea. What I know is that a few months later, there were dozens of companies doing the same kind of design and print. So, the market, right now, is probably saturated, for these designs.

But, there are always good ideas over there. And maybe you can find, or figure it yourself, another kind of design or t-shirt for DTG printers.

DTG printers can be a good investment, just don’t think you’re going to be able to print all kind of designs.