The T-Shirt Revolution: Building Your Business Using a Digital Apparel Printer

The T-Shirt Revolution: Building Your Business Using a Digital Apparel Printer

by Chase Roh, David A. Lavita
This book is about decorative apparel printing by digital press. The $22-billion garment printing business is going through a rapid change thanks to the exciting new digital technology. The authors give a comprehensive overview of the industry's past, present and future, and explain how to adopt the new technology and profit from it. Garment decorators and


This book is about decorative apparel printing by digital press. The $22-billion garment printing business is going through a rapid change thanks to the exciting new digital technology. The authors give a comprehensive overview of the industry's past, present and future, and explain how to adopt the new technology and profit from it. Garment decorators and entrepreneurs alike will benefit enormously by taking advantage of the new digital printers, a.k.a. T-shirt Printers.

The authors are twenty-year veterans of the industry and experts in inkjet technology. They introduced the digital revolution to the sign and screen printing industry nearly a quarter-century ago. Now they are leading the way in digitally transforming the apparel textile printing process. This book is a comprehensive and indispensable reference guide for anyone considering digital garment decoration.

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This book is written for the benefit of screen printers, embroiders, and other garment decorators who are interested in digital apparel printing using inkjet technology. We have seen a great number of entrepreneurs entering the garment decoration industry thanks to this emerging technology. Thus, we also devoted a part of the book to give an overview of the industry. This may be also beneficial to those who are already in garment decoration. There are vastly different operational characteristics and economics at play with direct-to-garment printers compared to traditional screen printing. Thus, garment decorators will have to adjust their business model when they adopt direct-to-garment printers. We devoted a significant section to sales and marketing to show how decorators can best utilize new digital printers to enhance their business. Finally, we added a chapter about the promotional wear industry, which is the fastest-growing sector of the decorated garment industry.

Although we frequently use the term "digital apparel printer," we are really referring to specifically the so-called "direct-to-garment" printer - an inkjet printer that prints graphics directly onto the garments and other substrates like mouse pads, typically using water-based pigmented inks. In essence, this technology is the future of the garment decoration industry; we expect most garment printers will switch to direct-to-garment printing over the next twenty years for reasons of performance, costs and environmental consideration. Some people use the term "direct-to-garment" printing to distinguish from earlier attempts to use (dye sublimation) inkjet or laser printers - both digital printers- to print images on a transfer sheet which will be applied to garments with heat. Although practiced in specialty shops and by hobbyists in the past, such methods lacked the technical or commercial merits needed to be widely adopted for commercial garment decoration. As we will discuss in detail, such non-direct-to-garment digital printing is in decline. When we say "digital apparel printer" or "digital printer" in this book, the terms are interchangeable with "direct-to-garment printer."

This book is an outgrowth of our interactions with many folks in the garment decoration industry. We both have occasionally participated in the distributor training sessions at AnaJet, and some of the materials were developed for presentation at those seminars. As the company grew, we both largely moved on from the training programs - but our interest and fascination in this burgeoning industry continues. According to a 2007 industry study by Impressions magazine, it is a $44-billion business (wholesale value), conducted by 55,000 entities in the U.S. Since we estimate the value added by garment decorators is about 60%, the garment decoration is indeed a fairly large industry. A market research firm, I.T. Strategies, estimates the worldwide market retail value of decorated apparel is as much as $121 billion. This gives an idea on the magnitude and importance of this industry.

The two primary traditional methods of decorating garments are screen printing and embroidery. Commercial embroidery went through the "digital revolution" more than twenty years ago. Although a digital method of screen preparation has been developed, today's screen printing process is pretty much as it has been for hundreds of years. We believe direct-to-garment printing technology is the key to the digital revolution of garment printing. Economics aside, one of the most troublesome parts of screen printing is the plastisol ink, which contains PVC and phthalates. These are some of the most environmentally damaging materials made by man, and phthalates used as plasticizer is highly carcinogenic. Efforts to develop more environmentally-friendly screen printing ink have not been very successful. We believe that digital printing's gradual replacement of screen printing with more environmentally-friendly water-based digital ink will be good for the environment. But the driving force of the change will be economics.

Direct-to-garment printing technology is still evolving. During its short existence, some early entrants have over-sold and hyped the technology. Many in the industry are concerned about its future. We will soon see a shakeout of the industry, and then it will move on to the next level. The key to success is customer education and full disclosure of any limitations by the manufacturers. Nothing can be more important than good customer education and continuous technical support regarding this technology. As of this writing, the purpose-built textile printers perform well if they are maintained properly. It is our hope that this book can contribute to the education of and about the industry.

For proper disclosure, we should mention that we are co-founders and officers of AnaJet, a manufacturer of direct-to-garment printers. We made every effort not to let this book be an extension of our day job, but rather to be a balanced reference guide for the industry. We limited mention of the AnaJet experience as best we could, and fairly presented all products in the market. But on a few occasions we were obliged to mention AnaJet brand names, such as ARTprintTM and PHOTOshirtsTM as there were no generic equivalents; AnaJet is the only maker offering such products. You, the reader, will be the final judge how well we have done in making an unbiased presentation. We should also mention that Melco Embroidery System, a division of the huge Swiss corporation Oerlikon, is a private brand customer of AnaJet for the MelcoJet printer. We discuss the MelcoDirector production management program and Melco LiveDesign program, as we are just familiar with these products - and frankly, they are among the best products in the industry.

We are indebted to many people in writing this book. Although we cannot list all those who have contributed to our efforts, we wish to acknowledge the following reviewers. Johnny Shell, SGIA Vice President for Technical Services, has reviewed and commented on parts of the manuscript. Patti Williams of I.T. Strategies also reviewed some chapters and provided valuable advice. Our good friend Dr. Franz Bosshard - CEO of the world's third-largest appliance manufacturer, BSH Home Appliances, and marketer par excellence - reviewed the sales and marketing chapters. Dr. L. W. Gertmenian, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, also provided valuable advice on economic subjects and presentation of the material. Our acknowledgements do not imply that the above reviewers agree with our views. Of course, any remaining errors and biases are entirely the fault of the authors.

We are most grateful for the five direct-to-garment business operators who are featured in our success stories in Chapter Four. They sacrificed their privacy and revealed some of their business practices to help other direct-to-garment printers and advance the industry. We are also indebted to some of our colleagues at AnaJet. Among them, Edward Joseph contributed to the mixed media decoration section. Paul Green provided advice regarding graphic preparation for direct-to-garment printing, and also prepared most of the charts and graphics that appear in this book.

We would also like to thank several organizations that generously gave us permission to use their survey results and research analyses. Impressions magazine's 2007 Decorated Apparel Industry Universe Study was indispensable for providing a grasp of the industry. So were the studies by I.T. Strategies. We also used studies by SGIA, ASI and PPAI. Whenever possible, we provided proper credit in the text or End Notes. The End Notes also contain the bibliography.

Finally we would like to thank our wives, Dee Roh and Karen LaVita, to whom this book is dedicated. We had to write and refine this book entirely while in airplanes and on evenings and weekends, as we have day jobs. During this period, our wives had to live and run households largely without our help. Dee, being in this business, read most of the chapters and made many valuable suggestions to improve the presentation.

Chase Roh
David A. LaVita

August 24, 2008

What People are saying about this

Leo Kats
"This is the definitive book on the digital garment decoration industry. Whether you are already a decorator or thinking about getting into the business, this is a must read."--(Leo Kats, President & CEO, Instant Imprints Franchising, Inc.)
Vincent Cahill
"Authors provide their innovators' perspective and considerable knowledge in this timely guide for garment decorators."--(Vincent Cahill, CEO, VCE Solutions, and an authority on digital printing)

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