T-shirt printing has been one of the industry’s biggest growth areas in recent years. We investigate the opportunities it offers printers with a mind to embrace the sector

Visitors to recent FESPA events will have seen this trend first-hand, with print manufacturers and supplies alike showcasing their latest solutions in an effort to support them in this creative, yet competitive, sector.

However, this competition can lead to issues in the market. As more companies look to take advantage of the work on offer, this leads to something of a crowded sector, in which many talented firms are competing for work. This, in turn, means that such companies must find something to help them stand out and, as a result, bring in the best work that will ensure continuing success.

Here, we look at the opportunities that are available in the market and consider whether if t-shirt printing is still a sector worth expanding into, and, if so, how can companies capture work and become a success?

Buoyant market with opportunities
One company well placed to pass judgment on the current state of this market is Epson, which has a range of solutions on offer. Phil McMullin, sales manager for ProGraphics at Epson UK, said the manufacturer is continuing to experience a high level of demand for its products, as companies look to differentiate their service offering from that of their competitors.

“The short run t-shirt printing market that Epson is focused on continues to be very buoyant,” McMullin said. “This is in line with print in general where the demand for bespoke, personalised and short run output from digital technology is driving new revenue streams for business.

“Consumers are looking for exclusive garments and even the reproduction of their own designs on t-shirts to express their individuality and creativity. Even the high street retailers are waking up to the profit opportunity inherent in digital printers by enabling complete personalised designs to be printed on demand at point of sale.”

McMullin leads on from this to pick out some of the options on offer from the company, including its SureColor F2000 direct-to-garment solution and the SureColor F6200 dye sub offering, both of which are attracting heavy interest from the market.

“Both of these units could be considered entry-level and are heavily utilised when printing on to finished garments such as t-shirts,” McMullin said. “The main attraction to a print business of the Epson units is that the whole system has been designed and built by Epson – the printer, the printheads and the ink chemistry.

“Every component is designed specifically for the task, driving outstanding print quality and exceptional reliability. This delivers peace of mind and improved profitability for the printer.”

McMullin went on to state that Epson intends to continue to develop technology for this area, and its recent acquisition of Italian direct-to-textile print specialist Robustelli highlights this focus.

“Globally Epson spends around $2m (€1.8m) every working day on R&D with the express intention of creating the next generation of market leading print technology,” McMullin said. “In particular Epson is focused on the textile industry as evidenced by our recent acquisition of Robustelli. Once Robustelli has been fully integrated into the Epson family we would expect to see further exciting developments in short run digital textile printing technology.”

Consistent profit area
Another company that has seen growth in interest in its solutions is Mimaki, with its UK and Irish distributor, Hybrid Services, in particular seeing demand rise. Stephen Woodall, national sales manager for textile and apparel at Hybrid, said the market is one of the most popular areas at present and could offer a constant flow of income to print companies.

Woodall said: “Demand for printed t-shirts continues as one of the most popular promotional wear sectors. Being a typically low cost, short-term solution for myriad requirements; from corporate and event wear, through to consumer-purchased products, it’s a broad customer base to work with, which has its benefits too.

Where some requirements will be seasonal, others will fill in the gaps, so marketed correctly, it can be a consistent profit area for a printing business to get into.

“Mimaki’s solutions include dye sublimation systems and garment decoration print and cut. A current trend is the ‘all-over’ print, achieved on made-up garments to great effect using the dye sub process, with striking patterns possible on suitable polyester based shirts.

“There’s also demand for the more simple corporate wear, incorporating a printed logo onto a sleeve, breast pocket or the nape of neck where embroidery may previously have been used. A sublimation print doesn’t affect the handle of the garment, so there are real advantages for certain applications over alternative technologies.”
Printer news
With this in mind, Woodall picks out some of the solutions on offer from Mimaki that could help those looking to expand and grow in this sector.

Woodall said: “Mimaki’s entry-level dye sublimation printer packages are extremely competitively priced, so the barriers to entry have been significantly reduced. These printers are capable of not only producing print suitable for garment decoration, but also volume output for textile banners and signage, event branding or sublimation onto other products such as mugs, bar runners or promotional items.

“Being able to produce a diverse range of products means that investing in a sublimation system for t-shirts could also bring new profit centres and revenue streams to a business at the same time, making the decision to invest easier to justify.

“Also available are sublimation print and cut systems; where the cutter is integrated into the printer to deliver an ‘all in one’ solution. This is ideal for companies looking to take advantage of easy placement printing; by accurately cutting out the transfer paper, placement onto the garment can be accurately achieved, reducing wastage and returns."

"Systems are surprisingly inexpensive and if required, the cutting element can be used on its own, making it perfect for cutting decorative coloured or even metallic garment film prior to applying to the shirt.”

An ever-growing demand
Also involved in this market is Kornit Digital, which has a selection of products on offer to support those looking to take advantage of the demand for t-shirt printing. Omer Kulka, product marketing director at the firm, describes the sector as ‘booming’ and one companies should consider moving in to.

Kulka said: “T-shirts are always in fashion, and together with an ever-growing online demand, it’s never been busier. We see constant demand growing across segments and territories, supporting our tremendous growth year over year.”

In terms of solutions on offer from Kornit, Kulka highlights the Vulcan printing system, which was first unveiled at the end of last year.

He said: “A system, designed and built to be the most cost effective printing solution for medium to long runs; challenging the borders between digital and conventional screen printing. Suitable for major players, serving high volume segments with growing need for quality and time to market at competitive cost per print.

“As market leaders, with years of proven competitive edge driven by our proprietary technology developments, we pride ourselves on being always one step ahead when it comes to innovation and technology excellence.”

Although the t-shirt printing market is attracting plenty of interest from those in the industry, and thus creating a more crowded market, the message from manufacturers in this area seems to be that work is still available. By investing in quality equipment, your company can also take advantage of the work on offer, producing a whole host of work for a wide range of clients.

However, as with moving into any market, t-shirt printing does offer risks. It is important for all companies to consider, first, if there is a real demand for this type of work from their customers, and, secondly, if they are actually capable of carrying out production. After all, there is no point moving into the market if you cannot properly carry out jobs.

That said, following the advice of those featured here, by investing in the right type of kit and polishing your skills, there is no doubt that this market offers plenty of opportunities for those looking to access new types of work and additional streams of revenue.

Explore new opportunities at the Digital Textile Conference in Milan
Digital textile print may seem like an attractive prospect for companies, but it is important to consider the many differences compared to traditional print.

Those in this sector have to pay attention to factors that they may not be too familiar with, such as fabric and the effect of ink on this material if they are to ensure the work they produce is of a high standard.

Source: fespa