Evolutionary Thinking

Screen printing’s earliest origins date back centuries ago to China. It was first patented over 100 years ago, and for multiple decades has been the dominant method to print T-shirts and other apparel.

By contrast, you were probably sending emails from your AOL account when direct-to-garment printing and sublimation showed up.

These digital technologies are still very young, and it’s amazing how much they’ve evolved in even just the last few years. Direct-to-garment in particular was once a preponderance of Epson printers hacked to print T-shirts. Now, there are several leading models built from the ground up to work specifically with apparel. Manufacturers are improving pretreatment applications and ink quality, and even bridging significant gaps, like DTG’s inability to work on polyester.

Bottom line, these technologies are getting better, and distributors and their clients are picking up on that fact. About half of distributors we surveyed in our recent Wearables Sales Forecast are selling these decoration methods to customers.

Meanwhile, the Forecast unearthed an interesting discrepancy: far less screen printers are adopting these technologies for their own shops.

That divide forms the basis of “The Digital Decision,” our lead article in this month’s Screen-Printing Success section. We showcase successful decorators who have integrated these technologies in their shops, and cover the strengths and limitations of each technique.

Perhaps most importantly, we cite the scenarios where it makes sense to add these services. And it definitely makes sense, despite the reluctance of many screen printers because they worry of overlap with their core decoration service.

“In reality, DTG and sublimation can work as a complement to screen printing.”

In reality, DTG and sublimation can work as a complement to screen printing. DTG thrives with the short-order runs and multiple-color designs that prove to be way too costly for screen printing. It’s also mobile (for on-site events) in a way that screen printing is not.

Sublimation, meanwhile, is a robust solution for the performance–wear craze. While decorators have to upend their carefully controlled world (switching to low-cure inks, slowing their dryers and throttling down the temperatures) to screen print on polyester, sublimation can be a much simpler solution.

The message is, you don’t want to lose lucrative business. The six-piece order you turn away now could eventually be the 600-piece order you miss out on later. By incorporating DTG and sublimation into your shops, you can become a diversified decorator that satisfies the multitude of needs of your clients. Plus, it pays now to get in early with these decoration techniques – they’re only going to become more popular. This is the evolution of apparel decoration.
Thanks for reading,