100% cotton is our best friend when it comes to direct-to-garment printing. The water base inks in all DTG printers are specifically formulated to work best with 100% cotton fabric. The truth is, a garment you can print on one DTG machine, you can print on the next. A garment you cannot print on one, you cannot print on another. Your first choice will always be a 100% cotton garment.
Blended fabrics – cotton and polyester – are also printable using DTG, but the higher the cotton content the better. For example, an 80% cotton/20% polyester sweatshirt will print perfectly fine. 50/50 blends are printable, and you can get an acceptable result, but this garment will not print with as vibrant an image, and wash-ability will be decreased as well.
Some additional items DTG operators will print are: denim jeans and jackets, canvas tote bags, golf towels, mouse pads (polyester but do not need to be laundered), uncoated artist canvass and more. Unstructured caps, including 6 panel (seam in front), can be printed on some (not all) DTG machines. Be sure to check if the machine you are interested in has a cap attachment option.
There is a special pretreat available for 100% polyester fabrics, but this product will only work with CMYK inks (no white ink). So, your only option is for wh3ite or light color polyester garments. Not all t-shirts are created equal. Some garments print better than others due to the weave and density of the fabric. There are popular brands that decorate beautifully with screen printing, cut vinyl, etc., that do not work well in DTG printing. It is important to do print tests with any new garment brands/styles that you decide to use. New high density garments are now available from most suppliers, and are specifically made for DTG printing.
What can I not print?
The number one question we hear from potential customers on the phone or at trade shows is, “Can I print on phone cases?” The water base inks in all direct-to-garment printers are made for fabrics, not hard plastic substrates. There are specific methods such as sublimation printing that are better suited to printing rigid items such as phone cases.
The new performance-wear fabrics also are not printable using a direct-to-garment machine for two reasons. First, DTG white inks will not adhere to 100% polyester (even using polyester pretreat). Second, these new synthetic fabrics cannot withstand the higher temperatures required to cure DTG inks.