I recently wrote about how new direct-to-garment (DTG) printers are blurring the lines and closing the gap between commercial and industrial segments. While this is still true, the ceiling for the high-speed industrial DTG segment is also being raised. Systems available at this stratum are producing volumes that rival automatic screen printing without the make-ready and press setup involved, and are gaining the attention of traditional screen printers. Since the introduction of DTG over 20 years ago, the biggest complaint from screen printers has been that “it’s too slow”—but these newer systems may just be the decisive factor for many.
High-speed industrial DTG systems evolved from hybrid screen and digital systems where a white underbase is screen printed first and then flash-cured. The colors are then digitally printed using high-speed inkjet print engines. Hybrid also allows for other inks to be screen printed (special effects, glitters, etc.), but limits print variability because the white underbase never changes.
Newer high-speed industrial DTG systems include features like pre-treatment, flash curing, heat presses, and (on most) separate print engines for white and CMYK. They also use a multi-platen indexing base from the screen printing world. By marrying the hardware for each workflow step to one of the multiple platens on the indexer base, the user can accomplish all the processing steps (pre-treatment, curing, heat press, and printing) with one machine. Using the indexer base from a screen printing machine, each step in the workflow operates independently from the others, so there’s no waiting before moving to the next step. In many traditional DTG machines, pre-treatment and curing are usually performed in batches and then followed by printing.
CNTOP (based in China) is a subsidiary of Hanglory Group, a manufacturer of automatic oval screen printing and digital printing equipment. Their 14-platen Wings Compact device, launched in 2019, is available with 14 or 28 printheads jetting CMYK+W inks; it offers inline pre-treatment and can produce up to 240 garments per hour. If pre-treatment is done offline, the printer can produce up to 400 garments per hour.
ROQ (based in Portugal) is an industrial printing manufacturer of screen and digital printing machines that released the ROQ Now in 2020. This machine is built on a 16-platen oval indexing base and is available with 12 or 18 printheads per print station. The machine also includes 2 inline pre-treatment stations, 4 flash units, and 4 heat presses for a complete automated workflow producing up to 200 garments per hour depending on print size and number of passes. The ROQ Now is priced around $500,000 USD.
The M&R Companies introduced the Polaris in 2022. It is the fastest industrial high-speed inline DTG system currently available, printing over 300 garments per hour. The machine is built on a 16-platen oval indexing base. Shirts are first flattened using a heat press. The flattened shirt is then pretreated, followed by 2 quartz flash units. Before entering the digital white print station, the shirt is heat pressed once again. Once the white underbase is printed, the ink is flash cured with another quartz flash, and can be heat pressed again before entering the digital CMYK print station. The Polaris is priced around $825,000 USD.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
A linear DTG model, used by the machines covered here, has virtually all steps of print production performed in-line effectively creating an automated, in-line digital factory. These machines are setting new standards and undoubtedly indicate a new opportunity for high-volume apparel printers. By combining screen printing attributes of oval indexing, in-line pretreatment, curing, and heat presses—not to mention high-speed digital printing—it is my opinion that the time has come for those traditional screen printers to take notice. The “it’s too slow” argument doesn’t hold water anymore.
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