Let's Talk About DTG Pretreatment

When first starting out with direct to garment (DTG) printing there is a learning curve. Trying to figure out the best setup, how the software works, or even how to place shirts on the machine are all part of the learning that has to take place in the beginning. In actuality, the learning curve is not that steep. It is easy to get up to speed with DTG printing. There are still things to understand to move forward. There’s always something new to learn.

In this article we are going to discuss pretreatment. It is an important topic for DTG owners to understand. Without pretreatment a DTG business may end up with shirts that are unsellable. Nobody wants that. So, let’s get started. 

What is DTG Pretreatment?

DTG pretreatment is a liquid solution. The solution gets applied to a shirt before it is printed with a DTG machine. The concept is similar to painting walls. First a coat of primer is applied, then the paint is applied. The primer prepares the walls to accept the paint. With DTG pretreatment a garment is being prepared to receive the ink. 


The pretreatment allows white ink to be applied to garments on dark colored shirts. It also makes colors on light colored shirts brighter. When a shirt is printed without the pretreatment the ink has a tendency to absorb into the shirt. Which means that what is seen on the shirt is not what is  intended. 

If you had a black wall and you painted it red the color would not show up very well. When you apply primer to the wall before you apply the red color then it appears as the color that you intended. 

How To Apply Pretreatment?

There are a number of ways that pretreatment is applied to a shirt. The most basic way to apply the pretreatment is to get a spray bottle and fill it with the pretreatment solution and spray it on. This seems like the best solution, but it is not necessarily the right answer. 

The solution costs money. It needs to be applied in a manner that covers the shirt evenly and doesn’t waste the solution. Plus it needs to happen over and over. So watching the costs is important. You don’t want to overspray the shirt and at the same time you want the shirt to be covered with the solution to the point where the ink will be able to adhere. If you don’t have complete coverage then the ink might not completely adhere to the garment. The shirt could be ruined. 

The pretreatment solution can be rolled on with a roller, but there is a more accurate solution to applying the solution. There are pretreatment machines available on the market that spray the shirt with the solution. They spray evenly and measure the amount of solution that goes onto the shirt. A good pretreatment machine will run anywhere from $2000 - $5000. While this seems expensive at first the measured solution and even coverage will make up for the initial cost. You can purchase one of these machines anywhere you purchase screen printing supplies and equipment. 

Can I DTG Without Pretreatment?

It is possible to DTG without pretreatment, however you need to take this factor into consideration. If colors don’t look good on dark colored shirts then you will need to print only on light colored shirts. But remember, even on the light colored shirts there will be some loss of color. 

The issue is that when you dtg print you need to lay down an underbase layer of white. The pretreatment adheres to the shirt and the underbase layer. The image is then printed on top of the underbase layer. 

The Final Word on DTG Pretreatment

While it is not completely necessary to use pretreatment on shirts it does limit your ability to print on dark colors or even have bright colors. If you are fine with that then you will have no problems. Most DTG printers are not ok with this, and want their work to be represented the way that they want it represented.

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