By Olivia Cahoon
Manufacturers use digital printing technology to offer customers design freedom and expand their decorative products. For garments, digital printing allows manufacturres to use multiple file formats, undergo simpler printer maintenance, and produce short runs with faster turnaround times.
Above: Spreadshirt, with headquarters in Germany, recently purchased Brother GTX DTG printers for all of its facilities.
Create Your Own
Established in 2002, Spreadshirt is a self-expression global ecommerce company for on demand printing of clothing and accessories. The manufacturer offers over 200 base products including aprons, bags, bandanas, hats, hoodies, mugs, phone covers, pillow cases, sportswear, t-shirts, and water bottles.
Customers and designers sell their merchandise and personalized products on the Spreadshirt Marketplace website or in thousands of independent shops. The manufacturer prints customer designs onto a base product and ships it to the end user. Spreadshirt is available in 12 languages. In 2016, the manufacturer printed more than 4.1 million items and sent them to over 150 countries.
With headquarters in Leipzig, Germany, production facilities are located in Krupka, Czech Republic and Legnica, Poland. The company integrated into the U.S. in 2004 and opened business in Louisville, KY. Since then, Spreadshirt has relocated its U.S. headquarters to Boston, MA, and has two U.S. production facilities in Henderson, NV and Greensburg, PA. With its current production facilities combined, Spreadshirt operates in 200,000 square feet of workspace and employs over 500.
“Spreadshirt empowers people to express themselves through creating, discovering, and selling clothing and accessories with messages they want the world to hear. Companies like Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube enable self expression in the digital world, but people don’t have the same opportunities in the real world where the need still exists,” says Jurgen Gauger, COO, Spreadshirt.
The company started with a focus on plot printing. Plot printing uses a vector graphic with no more than three colors. The graphics are manually melted into the fabric using heat and pressure and the plastic backing is removed.
Throughout 2017, Spreadshirt increased its digital direct share to 75 percent worldwide. It plans to increase its digital direct printing share to nearly 100 percent in the future. Now, the company offers print on demand, digital direct printing, plot printing, thermos sublimation, and digital transfer/laser transfer.
According to Gauger, Spreadshirt’s three approaches—create your own, marketplace, and shops—provide limitless opportunity for on-person self expression. “Consumers shop for great designs on the Spreadshirt Marketplace or create their very own product with the help of our design tools,” he says.
Designers earn money by selling designs on Spreadshirt Marketplace or in a white label shop using the shop system, SpreadShop. Spreadshirt Marketplace displays customer designs for over 80,000 daily customers in addition to access to campaigns, Amazon, and eBay.
SpreadShop provides users with a responsive and easy-to-customize shopping system to market their Spreadshirt products. They can create custom shop displays, select which products to sell, and receive the highest possible commission earnings available.
“Everybody can open a SpreadShop for free—all they need are ideas. Spreadshirt takes care of the rest, from printing and shipping to customer service,” offers Gauger.
Spreadshirt started using digital printing technology to print onto garments in 2007 with Kornit Digital devices. Shortly after, the manufacturer added multiple, different generation Brother International direct to garment (DTG) printers. According to Gauger, the printers offered high resolution, redundancy, and flexibility for production setup.
In 2017, Spreadshirt invested $1.4M into 45 Brother GTX DTG printers. The Brother GTX offers a maximum print size of 16×21 inches and uses water-based pigment inks. It includes two printheads and eight ink channels with a maximum print resolution of 1,200×1,200 dpi.
“We are excited about the implementation of these machines. Customers love the great quality, superior durability, and limitless opportunities for photos and complex graphics now created with digital printing,” says Gauger.
The GTX printers offer unlimited color options and design reproduction, short runs, simplified reprints, and seamless printing over zippers and other difficult garments.
For Spreadshirt, Gauger believes the Brother GTX machines offer notable competitive advantages including availability in multiple file formats, easy printer maintenance handled in house, readily available from the manufacturer for scale up, and the ability to easily move around the machines due to its small and flexible size.
The company currently uses 14 of the Brother GTX printers in its U.S. production facilities in Henderson, NV and Greensburg, PA, and the additional machines in its three European production facilities.
For both its Brother and Kornit devices, the respective OEM inks are used. “We’ve come to realize that if the ink and machine come together, we get the best results,” says Gauger. The finishing process is completed through oven drying. All of this is driven by proprietary software.
Digital Garment Printing
Spreadshirt predominantly prints on 100 percent cotton garments although some of its products have a small percentage of polyester. Because cotton is a natural material, it’s subjected to small variations and special needs. This presents challenges for digital printing in a manufacturing environment.
According to Gauger, every product requires a special pretreatment and settings are adjusted individually by product type or color. “This is one of the reasons why we developed our own premium brand—the Spreadshirt Premium Collection—to guarantee consistent quality.”
The Spreadshirt Premium Collection consists of fabrics optimized for any printing style including plot printing with flex, flock, specialty printers, or digital direct. Clothing sizes are available up to 5X for men and 3X for women.
“We provide consistent colors across our men, women, and children styles so that matching across genders and ages is no problem, such as for team or group wear,” says Gauger.
Spreadshirt sources its materials from only fair and sustainable suppliers and offers a traceable Respect Code on each shirt label for customers to track where the shirt was produced. The Spreadshirt Premium T-shirt is an ultra-durable fabric that weighs 5.2 ounces. According to Gauger, it is the ideal t-shirt weight for durability without excess thickness.
Although Spreadshirt specializes in print on demand for products starting at one piece, the manufacturer still caters to clients with large orders. Its bulk department handles orders of 50 items or more for agencies, associations, and small- to medium-sized enterprises by using the most efficient printing methods.
Ongoing advancements in digital textile printing increase customer sensitivity to quality. With expectations at an all-time high, it’s increasingly important to use technology that guarantees high-quality with every print. According to Gauger, digital production printers allow more flexibility to react to seasonal changes in volume.
Compared to traditional manufacturing techniques, Gauger believes digitally printing garments is a quick, one-step process that requires less labor. Manufacturers like Spreadshirt investing in e-commerce and digital technology satisfy customers with solutions to design, discover, and sell custom printed garments.
Apr2018, Industrial Print Magazine