What is Digital Shirt Printing?

Digital printing is a much newer method of printing custom apparel and is commonly known as direct-to-garment printing. Rather than applying one layer or colour at a time using screens, a direct-to-garment printer will apply all colours directly to the garment in one single layer of ink. Think of this process like when you watch a regular paper printer output a photo at home. The printer applies all the necessary colours in a single pass, from top to bottom, and eventually produces a full image once the paper comes out. The ink used is for this type of printing is a lightweight water-based ink that absorbs easily into the garment fibers without a mess.


Direct to Garment Process

Step 1. Prepare Artwork

Time: 2 hours – 3 days

It starts with a vector or raster file that your client would like to have printed. In the case of direct to garment printing, files must first be checked for compression artifacts, color profiled, as well as going through a process of color correction specific to the garment color by a production artist in the art department. Once the file adjustments are made, it is sent off to the Direct To Garment (DTG) department to have a file created, that will be read and interpreted by the garment printer.

In the case of the NUBN garments, Brad has usually uses bright colors on light colored garments. This is ideal because it makes the art preparation a little less difficult. We can, however, print bright colors or dark, earth tones on dark shirts as well. We’ll show an example of each.

Step 2. Prepare Garment

Time: 0 – 30 minutes
Zero minutes? This only applies for light colored garments that come right out of the box and go directly onto the printer. This is not the case for the NUBN Artifacts jobs along with many others. Linen is a sturdy, unforgiving fabric to work with and if proper care is not taken before it goes to the printer this can happen:

digital printing misshap

All that smearing just looks painful, doesn’t it? Not only has the garment been ruined, but all the time spent unwrapping and preparing it has been ostensibly wasted – but not completely. Like any mistake, lessons can be learned from it and subsequent advances made in its wake. Dolphino decided to steam the shirts first (which requires heat pressing following the steaming) to avoid this problem in the future.


He then, using specialty adhesives, effectively fixes the shirt directly to the DTG platen, making sure his seams are straight and that his print surface is flush with the platen to promote even distribution of ink.

Ahereing shirt for dtg

The result? A beautiful, vibrant Direct to Garment print on a fancy, schmancy shirt.

Beautiful Digital Print

Remember the dark on dark print I spoke of before? Well, all of these steps are required in Brad’s creation, however, there’s more.

Here we see Garvin steaming our chocolate brown linen shirt:

Garvin Steamin Shirt

Before printing dark garments, pretreating is required. Using industry standard equipment, the shirts are sprayed with a fine mist of a specially formulated liquid.

Pre-Treating Equipment:

Pre Treat Equipment

After heat pressing a second time, the pretreat creates a bonding layer for the white ink. The reason for this? White ink is very heavy and not very viscous so it needs a little help standing up to porous surfaces like textiles.

Step 3: Printing

Time: 45 seconds – 5 minutes
Now for a little fusion of relaxation and wracked anticipation; the manual labor is finished, but now the printer has to lay up to three layers of ink in a consistent, uniform manner over 288 square inches (16×18 platen) with no errors. While preparing the next shirt one can’t help but glance at the digital garment printer while it works it’s magic.

Digital Print Magic

Step 4: Drying & Final Quality Inspection

Time: 4 – 10 minutes
For white ink to cure properly, it must be kept in 356 degrees for at least 5 minutes. Then the garment must be inspected for any imperfections. If the five P’s (Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance) have paid off, then the digital print specialist and the customer both are rewarded with a, frankly, beautiful digitally printed garment. In this case, they paid off in spades (note the buttons).

Finished Shirt