By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Direct to garment (DTG) printing offers customizable apparel in small and large quantities. As the demand for printed apparel advertising increases, so does the need for advanced digital print technology.
In part one of this two-part series, we look at one print shop specializing in digitally printed apparel.
Founded in 1990, Underground Threads is a print shop in Richland Hills, TX that offers commercial printing, large format, and DTG printing on apparel.
The shop began as a prepress service company for commercial printers with two employees in three small offices. It evolved from its locally focused business to one offering services across the U.S. The shop works in a 20,000-square foot facility and employs a staff of 34.
Gary Lawrence, owner, Underground Threads, credits its success in part to its DTG services. “With the acquisition of DTG equipment, we are now seeing huge growth in the local market and hope to expand into other markets very shortly.”
The custom apparel provider’s niche is the independent musician marketplace, which it serves with printing, packaging, fulfillment, and digital distribution. “DTG printing allows us to offer our musician clients apparel printing and fulfillment that would otherwise not be possible due to minimum order requirements of traditional screen printing,” explains Lawrence.
Underground Threads offers fast and personalized shirts, sweatshirts, koozies, bags, and hats. To better serve its clientele, the company installed a Kornit Storm Hexa press and Brown Digital’s FireFly dryer in early 2017.
The Kornit Storm Hexa features six-color ink channels plus white with 16 printheads. Its maximum print resolution is 1,200 dpi and is compatible with cotton, polyester, lycra, silk, leather, denim, linen, and wool. The press’s 20×28-inch printing area handles XXL garments and cut pieces.
“We have found that our clients prefer DTG advantages like full-color Hexa printing, great color and detail, and quick turn times—something that we have not always been able to offer in the past,” explains Lawrence.
The FireFly dryer uses thermal imaging cameras to continually monitor substrate temperature. Its instant reaction to substrate changes constantly adjusts and regulates.
“Together, these machines allow us to easily print and dry any number of garments like cotton, blends, tri-blends, and some 100 percent polyester,” says Lawrence. The shop works with clients to determine the best fabric brand for the job. “Clients often ask us which fabric will showcase their artwork most vibrantly and with the greatest amount of detail,” he adds.
In this niche, fabrics with a vintage appearance are trendy. “Using the Kornit simplifies the process and allows us to create the look our clients want—even worn looking or distressed print can be achieved without difficulty.”
Using an automated workflow system by Brown Manufacturing, the shop produces up to 110 shirts per hour, even with a different design per shirt. The workflow uses several platforms to accept print projects including Big Commerce, Inksoft, Shopify, and XML uploads.
Challenges are present in the DTG space. Lawrence says ink costs are still not competitive compared with other forms of high-volume direct print technologies. Underground Threads uses Kornit inks. “Some of the DTG equipment we looked at had ink that costs three times as much as Kornit. This is impactful considering ink costs and productivity of the equipment are the two largest factors that impede profitability,” adds Lawrence.
As DTG technology advances and digital apparel printing trends, the company is always looking to the future. “We feel that our biggest opportunity for expansion is selling DTG services to existing screen printers across the country, due to our ability to print exceptional full color artwork on a variety of fabrics, quick turns, no minimums or setup charges, and a wholesale pricing approach,” says Lawrence.
Repeat customer, T-Shirt Kingz, approached Underground Threads with a client that ordered 2,000 full-color DTG prints on dark t-shirts and hoodies. T-Shirt Kingz supports the designer apparel market with traditional screen printing and DTG.
The company received the job for 2,000 full-color prints after T-Shirt Kingz’s client declined to accept shirts and hoodies from a different supplier due to quality issues. The client then approached T-Shirt Kingz to salvage the problem in three days before the event.
Using the Kornit Storm Hexa and FireFly dryer, Underground Threads printed 700 tri-blend t-shirts and 300 hoodies with pockets. Lawrence says all the garments required a white ink base and full color Hexa printing—a total of 6,000 square feet of print. The graphics are displayed on the front and back of the garments.
T-Shirt Kingz’s client stressed the importance of the graphic’s quality and requested color corrections that Underground Threads completed with Adobe Photoshop. With 54 hours to complete the order, Lawrence says the time frame was tight but the job was completed on time. “Our goal is to always say, ‘yes, we can do the job,’ when a client has a difficult request,” he explains.
T-Shirt Kingz was pleased with the garment’s print quality and the shop’s quick turnaround time. According to Lawrence, without the completed garments, the client would have lost thousands of dollars of revenue.
DTG presses allow t-shirt graphics to be completed in as fast as 30 seconds with the touch of a button. Shops like Underground Threads use DTG for high-quality graphics compatible with a variety of fabrics. In part two of this two-part series, we feature available DTG products.
May2017, DPS Magazine