These days it's pretty easy to get a one-off T-shirt printed by a service, but what do you do if you want to print, say, T-shirts for people with pictures of their pets on them or customized with their names? Those can get a bit tedious, and you're generally limited to the T-shirt choices a particular printer has. Or what if you have an in-the-moment yen for a shirt with the latest meme on it? Coming to the US in the Spring, a T-shirt with the daily meme can be yours with Ricoh's sub-$4,500 Ri 100 (directly converted, that's about £3,320 or AU$5,720).
Printing on fabric is technically challenging -- as with 3D printing it requires special consumables, faces some constraints when it comes to the designs you can print and can reach high temperatures. So direct-to-garment printing, as it's called, hasn't really made it down to consumer-friendly prices until now.
The Ri 100 is essentially a dye-sublimation printer reworked with CMYK inkjet printheads; given that inkjet printers are line-by-line and dye subs are page printers (like lasers), that makes sense; inkjets have enough trouble feeding paper reliably. This printer is composed of two parts: the printer itself and a heating unit (the RH 100) on the bottom, which cures the print. It's being sold as a bundle, but you can use any curing device with the printer.
The printing process seems relatively straightforward; you load up the fabric in the cartridge, stick it in and print, then remove the cartridge and put it in the heating unit for about three minutes. Because there are no exposed elements, there's no risk of burning yourself. Anajet estimates the cost at about 50-60 cents per print, not counting the shirt, of course (if the design isn't very dense) plus says it's quite colorfast and should last the life of the garment.
There are some constraints, though. It can only print on strong, mostly natural fibers -- that pretty much means cotton, up to a 50 percent cotton/polyester blend. Because printing white ink is a more complex process requiring pretreating the fabric, it's limited to printing solid colors and on light-colored fabrics. (You can probably work around that with knockouts in some cases, though.)
Editors' note: Updated with corrections that the printer is a Ricoh product, not Anajet, and that it will be available in the spring.
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