There are many ways of printing t-shirts. If your business is printing t-shirts commercially, you will likely already rely on screen-printing. This time-honoured method ensures bright, precise colours and reduces costs when printing large quantities.
However, if you’re only getting small orders or want to make your own shirt for personal use, screen printing can get pricey. Screen print setups can cost thousands, and costs for inks and custom frames can easily eat away at profits. That’s where Direct to Garment (DTG) and Direct to Film (DTF) printers come in. DTF printers print the design onto film, which can then be ironed or heat-pressed onto the garment. DTG printers print designs straight on to garments water ink technology – the same kind used in your office screen print printer!
Although these machines themselves aren’t cheap, they’re a great option for small businesses looking to print small runs. Here are our picks for the best DTG/DTF printing machines available right now.
Product Comparison Table:
Best in class
Best for low budgets
As a DTF printer, this machine first prints your design onto film, before it can be pressed onto the garment with a heating plate or curing oven. Although it doesn’t have the typical high-end touches like adjustable pressure knobs or a ceramic coated surface, this printer boasts solid colour finish and a swift 3 minutes printing time – making it a great bet for your small business. It can print any size up to A3 (297×420). Plus, no need to get hold of transfer paper; a regular PET film does the job.
The printer package comes with 100 free sheets of film, an ink set, a curing oven and free AcroRIP software (only available for Windows OS). This allows you to configure designs that are automatically compatible with the printer’s capabilities.
If you haven’t used this kind of printer before, figuring out how to get the optimal heat or how to handle the plates can be difficult. However, you will also be put in contact with an engineer to remotely guide your installation after purchase, making this printer a winner for simplicity, functionality and value.
- Fast printing time
- High quality prints
- Uses Epsom L1800 print head
- Includes all the extras
- Support on installation
- Dual printing process (printing, then heating)
The Punehod Flatbed DTF Printer is the best DTF t-shirt printer for small businesses, combining well-known conventional printer technology with excellent fabric-printing results – at a very reasonable price!
Our most expensive printer featured, this model from HRM provides the largest print size (329x500mm). Using water-based ink creates high quality prints, applied directly to the garment; this speeds up the process considerably, and requires little human involvement to produce the product. The machine can even adjust the printable height by itself! It can also print both white and color at the same time to improve production efficiency, and handle fabrics with up to 50% synthetic fibres. Purchase includes Free RIP9.0 software to produce your designs. However, like any DTG printer, you will have to put the finished print through a heat press afterwards. Dark colours will also have to be pre-treated to create the most vibrant images.
- Decent printing time (6 mins)
- High quality prints
- Large print size capability
- Automatically adjusts print height
- Eco-friendly water based inks
- Very large and heavy
- Quality control needs some human involvement
- Doesn’t include heat press or other extras
This t-shirt printer is good for small businesses making a serious commitment to printing; the price and advanced techy capabilities make it a good bet if your company is looking to make a serious investment in promotional garments, or can’t spare the manpower for other printing methods.
HRM is a brand known for its affordable product range. The upfront cost for a high-end DTG printer may be too much for a small business, but the HRM DTG offers direct-to-garment technology at a direct-to-film price. It uses the popular L1800 print head from Epsom, which ensures the best t-shirt printing performance at an affordable price point, plus familiarity for businesses new to the garment game. The compact design (210x300m print size) is easy to fit in the smallest premises. However, the free printing software supports only Windows OS, meaning you can’t use it on Linux distros or Mac OS. Moreover, the printing speed won’t be close to things like digital sublimation. You will also need to heat press pieces before and after printing, at very high temperatures of over 170°c.
- High quality detailed prints
- Small and compact
- Great price for DTG
- Doesn’t include a manual
- Slow to print
- Doesn’t include heat press
The HRM A4 DTG is our cheapest option, and probably the best value if you’re looking to print on a budget. However, the lack of manual, slow print time and risky heat-pressing process knock this one off the top spot.
Although not a DTG or DTF printer, this machine offers sublimation printing at an extremely low price. With a 12″x 15″ (29 X 38 cm) Teflon-coated heat press plate, the press is non-stick and stable. The swing-away arm applies pressure evenly – improving transfer quality – while also allowing the heating element to move safely to the side, reducing the chance of accidental contact or scorching. The VEVOR also has an LCD screen with a timer; its memory function can store 3 sets of data, so there’s no need to set parameters for every print. You’ll need it too, as this machine can print many different garments: cups, plates, hats, shirts and more! However, unlike our other models, you will need to create your design on transfer paper first. This machine doesn’t have software or the capability to apply designs directly, or in as much detail.
- Safe, simple design
- Small and compact
- Makes high quality prints if used well
- LCD interface
- Can print on a variety of garments
- Needs skill to use without risk (heat gets up to 210°c)
- Very slow to print
- Less technologically advanced
- Needs transfer paper
If DTF and DTG printers are out of your price range – or if you only need to print one or two pieces – this is the t-shirt printer for you. However, the quality of the prints you produce depends on several variables, like user skill, temperature setting and transfer paper quality.
When it comes to printing t-shirts, your profit margin is often very small. If you’re doing something wholesale, then you can’t go wrong with screen printing; DTG and DTF printing is the best option for small businesses that don’t have the volume to invest in screens. When it comes to printing t-shirts, always consider your use case as well as the pros and cons of your preferred printer.