The best printers for printing direct to garments, tshirts, metals, PVC, glass etc are flatbed printers and DTG printers, As the name suggests, flatbed printers are printers with a flat surface, or bed if you may, on which the printing material is placed. One may question this fact by saying that even regular printers have a flat loading tray and so how is a flatbed printer any different from a regular printer?
This printer is actually capable of printing on a variety of materials as opposed to a regular printer that can print on a very limited number of materials such as paper, photo paper, etc. They can print on materials such as film, cloth, plastic, ceramic, leather, wood, glass, acrylic, etc.
How does a flatbed printer work?
These printers work in a very different manner than regular inkjet or laser printers. Where most common printers these days make use of a mechanism where a drum and the paper are charged and a laser is shone onto the drum in the shape of the intended image. The uncharged areas attract the toner which is pulled onto the drum and sticks on the paper to come up with the image that was given to be printed.
Flatbed printers on the other hand make use of UV inks. These inks do not just spray on the material because doing so would just be temporary and the print would fade away in just a couple of days or so. To print on such hard or uneven materials such as wood, fabric, glass, etc. flatbed printers make use of a mechanism that etches if you may, the print on the material. The UV inks made out of monomers are exposed to very a strong UV light source that subsequently polymerizes the ink and embeds the printing image on the material.
The printing bed is kept adjustable to accommodate for the varying thickness of different materials. Although we're not quite sure about the maximum thickness that flatbed printers are capable of adjusting to but that number may go as high as 4-5inches. It can change, however, depending on the type and build of the printer. The more expensive ones may have more thick material compatibility and vice versa.
Usage and applications
Having known that flatbed printers are capable of printing stuff on unconventional materials; unconventional in the sense that most people didn't know that printing was possible on such materials, it's not very far to comprehend that they are mostly deployed for commercial and industrial applications. This is because only one in a thousand people would be having a flatbed printer at home and even fewer people would be using it for domestic purposes.
Owing to their resolution lying between 72DPI to 2400DPI, flatbed printers are mostly used for screen printing. Sometimes they are also used for executing multiple passes to create 3D and embossing effects. Sometimes they can also be used for printing on spherical surfaces. However, doing so is mostly avoided due to the poor resolution around the edges for spherical and circular edges do not have enough surface area to work on efficiently.
DTG printers on the other hand can be used to print direct to garment like tshirts and do not use UV rays. They use dry air or heat to dry textile pigment ink.