Digital Textile Printing as a Service: How the Third-Party Print Fulfilment Business Model Is Democratizing the Industry

Although digital textile printing has not grown as fast as expected, a new business model could help to accelerate that growth. The digital printing as a service model offers designers a managed virtual shop where they can present their designs online. However, all shop functions such as order processing, payment processing and drop-shipping are done by the digital printer. Debbie McKeegan (tissue expert and WhatTheyThink contributor) shares more information about this trend.

(Image courtesy Texintel.

The promise of digital printing for textiles has been long-standing. It promises speedy delivery, customization, as well as short-run printing capabilities. However, the difficulty of entering the sector meant that there was no way to create successful business models. As machine prices fell, small-scale producers appeared to be the dominant players in the field. This created a flood of suppliers with low overheads who were willing to work hard to keep their machines running. A new, vibrant business model is now available that offers extraordinary commercial opportunities.

B2B & B2C Print on-Demand

Digital printing is now considered a service in this model. This includes a component in a broad-based textile offer. The offer incorporates digital design and production speed as well as superfast logistics.

This new model offers the digital print enterprise a managed virtual shop where designers can present their designs online. However, all shop functions including order processing, payment processing and drop-shipping delivery are done by the digital printer.

This market shift has fed perfectly into the dynamics of the global e-commerce market where apparel and accessories—with a value of more than US$759.5 billion (Statista)—has become the number one e-commerce sector in the world. This fulfilment model was made possible by the steady rise in direct-to-garment printing.

The Role Of DTG

Direct to garment (DTG), a technology that prints directly onto pre-sewn garments, and allows for customized designs made from digital files. Garments can easily be ordered, made, and shipped within 24 hours.

Blank garments that are pre-sewn can be found all over the world. It is easy to organize supply.

This has provided a unique selling point (USP), for clothing designers who had previously had to deal with supply issues and finished goods from third-world suppliers. They also had to manage viable inventories, which had to balance customer service and economic viability.

DTG printing has enabled fulfilment enterprises to bridge the gap between service and inventory and to provide an economically successful service for apparel designers, who now sell their products through the printer’s webshop using API technology. As creativity and business opportunities harness the digital benefits of on-demand production, this has resulted in a significant rise in production volumes.

DTG Technology

DTG technology is the driving force behind this revolution in supply chain. Many pioneering machine manufacturers continue to increase their investments in machine innovations, ink research, as well as software innovation.

Kornit Digital presented their first DTG machine almost 20 years ago to the trade at the 2004 SGIA Expo. Kornit Digital has continued to expand their reach in this sector by introducing new software, ink and machine developments since that time.

Kornit now stocks a variety of DTG printers including the Avalanche (Hexa), Storm, Atlas and Vulcanmachines. To expand the range of products and surface effects that can printed, these printers use Max, XDi and Max technologies.

Their new systems print on polyester, cotton, and blends in a unique one-step process that has contributed to Kornit Digital’s financial success in the last two decades (since 2004).

Brother was also a pioneer in DTG printing. In 2005, at the ISS Atlantic City show, Brother International introduced the GT-541 Garment Printer to the market, making it the first “ground up” DTG printer offered. This printer featured printheads, ink, as well as electronics designed specifically for DTG printing.

Brother GTX Pro Direct to Garment Printer features an industrial-white printhead, which allows internal ink circulation throughout the printer and within the printhead. This reduces ink waste.

The F2000 printer was introduced by Epson at the Chicago PRINT 2013 exhibition. This printer solved many of the issues that DTG printing faced at the time, and was notable for its release. Epson F2000 had an ink set that was two years old and did not suffer from the settling and clogging issues associated with DTG inks.

Epson’s latest offering, the SC-F3000, is an industrial-level DTG printer that’s designed for high volume. This production-level printer is extremely cost-effective and delivers high quality, high volume prints with top-of the line quality.

Across the board, technology has driven print fulfilment enterprises’ capabilities upwards, and currently all eyes are on the advent of direct-to-film (DTF) technology which threatens to provide another upward twist to the tech spiral.

The Players

Print fulfilment companies have enjoyed a number of successes thanks to the combination of e-commerce and print technology.

Printful is a leading company in this field. It offers on-demand printing and fulfillment services that help people transform their ideas into products and brands. Printful fulfills custom orders for online businesses and ships them out.

Printful, a unicorn company valued at more than $1 billion, was founded by a Latvian-born founder. In 2021, Printful reached a milestone of $289 millions in revenue. Printful was founded in 2013 and has delivered 50+ million products. It has grown to 1,600+ employees in 10 fulfillment centers around the globe.

Beyond Printful, print fulfilment has also been taken up by blue-chip ecommerce players such as Amazon, whose Merch By Amazon offering encourages the trade to “Share your designs” with the world by creating graphic tees, accessories, and more, all printed on demand. “Let Amazon handle your printing and shipping so you can design while we deliver.”

There are many successful print fulfillment businesses, and they all offer digital printing as a service.

Inkthreadable and T-Shirt and Sons in the UK have made a significant mark. In Europe, Shirt King and Spreadshirt demonstrate a successful approach for DTG printing to print fulfillment.

Conclusion: Digital printing is an integral part of a profitable print fulfilment business model. It provides quick response, attractive clothing, and profits that support the model’s economic success.

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