Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing allows you to print full-color images and designs directly onto t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other garments. DTG printers offer a cost-effective way for small businesses to produce high-quality custom apparel without minimum order quantities.
Buying a DTG printer represents a significant investment for any business. This guide examines the different factors that influence DTG printer pricing, additional equipment you may need, operating costs per print and tips for getting the best deal. We also suggest top DTG printer models for every budget range.
What Impacts the Cost of a DTG Printer?
Several variables affect the price of DTG printers:
- Entry-level: Compact and affordable DTG printers ideal for startups. Print speed is slower than other types. Expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000.
- Pro-sumer: Offer faster print speeds and larger print areas than entry-level, with more built-in features. Price range: $10,000 to $20,000.
- Industrial/Commercial: Built for high-volume production with large print areas and fast print speeds. Prices from $20,000 up to $80,000+.
Print Size Capability
The bigger the prints a DTG printer can handle, the higher the price:
- Compact (Pocket Printers): Max print size around 8×10 inches. Only suitable for printing left chest graphics.
- Medium Format: Print sizes up to 14×19 inches. Standard for printing t-shirts.
- Wide Format: Print widths over 20 inches allow printing across the entire front of sweatshirts, t-shirts and bigger garments.
Print Head Technology
Most DTG printers use one of three print head technologies:
- Piezo inkjet print heads offer good print quality at an affordable cost. Used in many entry-level and pro-sumer DTG printers.
- Ricoh Gen 5 print heads provide faster print speeds, higher print resolution and increased durability over piezo print heads. Found on high-end pro-sumer and industrial DTG printers.
- Brother print heads offer comparable print quality and speeds to Ricoh at a lower cost. Seen in some value-focused DTG printers.
Higher print head costs get passed onto the buyer through higher printer pricing.
Brand, Warranty & Support
Established DTG printer manufacturers such as Epson, Brother and Kornit command higher pricing than “no-name” Chinese brands found on sites like Alibaba. With bigger brands, you get the reassurance of professional support and service under warranty.
Extended warranties, maintenance contracts and equipment replacement guarantees can add further cost once the standard 1-year warranty expires.
Automatic Maintenance & Diagnostic Features
Higher-end DTG printers incorporate maintenance and troubleshooting capabilities that reduce overall operating costs, including:
- Automated print head cleaning
- Nozzle check functions
- Print head alignment and calibration
- Status monitoring of key components (ink levels, caps, wiper, etc)
- Remote access for the printer manufacturer to diagnose issues
These capabilities come at an added expense, although they can save money long-term through reduced technician maintenance bills.
Most DTG printers include basic software for image preparation/RIP and printer control/diagnostics. Additional design software and RIP solutions tailored for DTG printing may cost extra. Some printers even offer a monthly software subscription fee rather than one-time purchase cost.
Additional Equipment Needed
Aside from the upfront cost of the printer itself, starting a DTG printing business requires further equipment:
|DTG Pretreat Machine
|$1,500 – $3,000
|$300 – $1,000
You’ll also need a commercial space suitable for DTG printing, reliable high-speed internet for large file transfers, garment inventory and lots of spare ink and pretreatment fluid. Don’t underestimate these additional expenses when budgeting for a printer.
What Does Each Print Cost?
The more you utilize your DTG printer, the faster it earns back your initial investment from profitable prints. But what do DTG prints actually cost to produce? Here’s a breakdown of typical costs per print:
- DTG Printer Amortization: $0.30 to $0.60
- Pretreat costs: $0.20 to $0.30
- Garment / Blank: $2+
- Ink Costs: $0.30 to $0.60
- Other Consumables: $0.10
- Labor & Shop Overheads: $0.50+
Total Cost Per Print = $3.40 to $4.10+
To determine your specific print pricing model factoring in profit margins, calculate your precise operating costs across consumables, labor, maintenance, and financing based on your expected monthly print volumes.
Getting the Best DTG Printer Deal
Here are some tips if you’re looking to buy a DTG printer on a tight budget:
- Consider second-hand/refurbished printers from reputable resellers after checking service histories
- Take advantage of seasonal sales – equipment deals around Black Friday or in January are common
- See if the printer manufacturer offers leasing/financing options to spread payments
- Bundle a printer with a heat press and other equipment for a discount
- Negotiate the price, extended warranty length, premium support services, maintenance contracts, etc. Never hurts to ask!
- Calculate total cost of ownership over the printer’s lifespan, not just purchase price
Buying old or off-brand DTG printers solely because they are cheap can cause headaches from unexpected downtime, costly repairs and inconsistent print quality.
Top DTG Printer Models by Budget
We’ve rounded up quality DTG printers to suit all budgets and business scales:
Compact “pocket” DTG printers fitting small shop spaces and budgets. Just don’t expect blazing fast print speeds suitable for high-volume production.
- Spectrum 1410 ($1,495 to $2,200)
- HM1-Mini ($3,295)
- DTC1000W ($3,675)
$5,000 to $9,000
Entry-level commercial DTG printers offering faster print speeds than pocket models with larger print areas to handle full garment front designs. Reliable enough for decent monthly print volumes.
- Eagle Systems Talon ($5,999)
- Colman & Company Rogue ($6,500)
- Brother GTX ($8,995)
- Epson F2100 ($8,995)
$10,000 to $15,000
Prosumer-grade DTG printers with attractive blends of print quality, speed and features for startup apparel decorators or print shops lacking floor space.
- Colman & Company Maverick ($11,500)
- Brother GT381 ($12,495)
- Epson F3070 / F3080 ($13,995)
- KYMC Hero ($14,900)
$15,000 to $29,000
Robust DTG printers with industrial-level output speeds, low operating costs and minimal maintenance needs – as long as you can feed them enough print volume.
- Epson F2100 Production Model ($16,995)
- Brother GTX-830 ($27,500)
- Colman & Company Renegade ($28,900)
- Belquette Mod-1 Eco ($28,900)
Commercial workhorse DTG printers built for high-volume, continuous production in the fastest possible print times.
- Kornit Breeze ($35,000+)
- Brother GT-381C / GT-361C ($47,495+)
- Kornit Storm II ($80,000+)
Reach out to the respective equipment manufacturers for current pricing on any models that grab your interest.
- Plan for an initial DTG printer investment between $5,000 to $15,000 for most small businesses, plus added costs for vital accessories like a heat press and pretreat machine.
- Industrial DTG printers offering the fastest print speeds and highest monthly capacity cost over $30,000.
- Carefully factor in ongoing costs per print such as ink, garments, and shop overheads before determining pricing.
- Leasing programs allow spreading DTG printer costs over 3-5 years instead of a single huge payment.
- Printer choice depends on expected order volumes, print sizes, and quality/speed requirements. Don’t overspend on capabilities you won’t utilize.
The purchase price constitutes only a portion of long-term ownership costs for a DTG printer. Avoid fixating purely on printer hardware pricing or shop exclusively by monthly payment amount. Instead, research total lifecycle costs and calculate potential ROI based on your specific shop’s order volume, margins and capacity goals to determine the ideal DTG printer investment for sustainable growth and profits.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the cheapest DTG printer? The most budget-friendly new DTG printers cost around $3,000 to $4,000, such as the HM1-Mini or Spectrum 1410 compact “pocket” printer models. These have very slow print speeds but take up little workspace. Expect to invest at least $5,000 for basic commercial DTG printing capabilities.
- Is a DTG printer a good investment? Yes, a DTG printer provides exceptional design flexibility, print quality and profit margins once you build enough business volume to offset the original printer cost and ongoing operating expenses. But cash flow can suffer during the early ramp-up phase before your order pipeline fills.
- What brand DTG printer is best? Kornit and Brother consistently earn recognition as the top DTG printer manufacturers thanks to strong reliability and print quality plus good customer service backing. Other leading DTG brands include Epson, Colman & Company, Belquette, Anajet and Polyprint.
- Should I lease or buy a DTG printer? Leasing avoids a huge upfront payment and may work better than buying outright if cash flow proves tight initially. But you won’t build any equity towards full printer ownership. Buying with cash or financing means no recurring monthly lease costs after paying off the printer loan.
- How long do DTG printer print heads last?
Average DTG print head lifespan under warranty is around 18 months assuming proper maintenance. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning cycles, nozzle checks and capping periods helps maximize operational uptime and extend print head longevity.
- What problems occur with DTG printers? Common DTG printer issues include printhead clogs from lack of cleaning, misfiring nozzles causing ink drips or banding, pretreatment sediment clogs, daily maintenance skipping leading to breakdowns, software/connectivity glitches, and mechanical wear on high-workload printers.
- Should I get an extended warranty for a DTG printer? Paying extra for multi-year extended warranty coverage brings peace of mind against potentially expensive repair bills outside the normal 1-year warranty period. But if you rigorously maintain the printer and have backup cash saved for parts replacement, an extended warranty may not prove worthwhile.
- Can you print photos with a DTG printer? Yes, most DTG printers use CMYK ink formats perfect for photorealistic reproduction at up to 1440×1440 dpi resolution. DTG excels over other garment decorating methods for printing vivid photographic images with smooth color tonality and detail accuracy straight onto final goods.
- What GSM shirts work best for DTG printing? For DTG printing, 100% cotton tees between 150 GSM and 200 GSM deliver the best ink absorption and retention after curing to prevent fading or cracking. Triblends and polyester garments don’t take liquid inks as effectively as pure cotton.
- How do you cure DTG prints? Heat pressing DTG prints onto garments for 30-60 seconds at 320-330°F completely cures inks by bonding them to fabric fibers for a soft, stretchy graphic that won’t fade with washing. Standard home irons won’t reach suitable DTG curing temperatures.
- Can you dry DTG prints with a hair dryer? No, a simple hair dryer only blows ambient-temperature air that won’t permanently set DTG inks within garment fibers. Proper fusing through a heat press or conveyor dryer heating to over 300°F remains vital for curing, regardless of air drying attempts.
- What printer is best for printing on canvas? Dye-sublimation printers offer exceptional photographic print quality at up to 1,200 dpi onto coated canvas media like polyester or canvas-blend sheets designed specifically for dye-sub inks. Avoid inkjet solvent, UV or latex printers for printing directly onto canvas.
- What is a transfer print? Transfer printing first outputs a graphic onto special transfer paper before heat pressing the image onto a garment. This allows printing multi-layer designs with simulated distressed effects or high-density photographic details difficult for direct printing. But transfer papers and added labor increase costs.
- Should I buy white ink capability? White ink permits printing onto colored fabrics instead of just light shirts by laying down a white base layer before CMYK colors. But white inks bring added maintenance, clogs, equipment damage risks and costs. Only purchase white ink capability once you actually book darker garment orders.
- Can you shorten DTG print times? Print speeds directly correlate to printer model capabilities. Upgrading from an entry-level to an industrial DTG printer shortens print times drastically through features like dual print heads and bigger ink line capacities. But expect to pay $30,000+ for the fastest DTG printers suitable for mass production.
- Do DTG printers require a lot of maintenance? Keeping DTG print heads clean via frequent purge cycling and nozzle checking proves mandatory for reliable operation, along with daily capping when not printing. Autocleaning print heads standard in costlier DTG printers reduces manual maintenance workload somewhat.
- Can you leave pretreatment on shirts overnight? Yes, giving freshly pretreated garments 6-8 hours minimum for the solution to fully settle into fabric before printing avoids ink blowing out along pretreat edges. Leaving shirts overnight ensures proper absorption. Just don’t exceed 24 hours before printing and curing.
- Should I design my own t-shirt brand? Launching an original t-shirt brand allows focusing designs specifically on your target demographic compared to printing custom orders. But you assume full inventory and marketing risk without confirmed buyers lined up yet. Start branding after establishing steady contract print volume as a safer strategy.
- What ink and pretreatment should I use? Always use the official inks and pretreat fluids formulated for your specific DTG printer model to guarantee performance and avoid equipment damage from clogging or corrosion that third-party fluids can cause despite cost savings. Generic consumable quality and composition consistency just isn’t reliable.
- Can you dry clean DTG printed garments? No, always wash printed garments inside-out in cold water and mild detergent instead of dry cleaning. Machine tumble drying also risks damage. Air dry only. The heat and chemicals from dry cleaning removes DTG inks from fabric. Take care to preserve your printed apparel.