DTF printing, or Direct To Film printing, is a technique that allows you to print your designs directly onto a film and then transfer them onto T-shirts made of cotton, polyester, or their blends.
Unlike other methods, DTF printing can work with white ink, making it a versatile option for any color of fabric.
In this article, we will explore what DTF printing is, how it works, and the equipment you need to get started.
How does DTF printing work?
DTF printing is fairly quick to do compared to other printing methods.
It’s also a great choice for printing detailed designs on bulky, outdoor apparel.
Interested in how it works?
Let’s break down the DTF printing process.
Step 1: Preparing the film and powder adhesive
First, a PET film is prepared and placed in the DTF printing machine where the entire design is printed in color.
After the first layer is created, the machine prints a white layer over the entire image, completely covering the first layer.
Check out the image below if you’re curious about how DTF print designs look once printed on PET film.
Next, a powder adhesive is uniformly applied onto the wet ink.
After applying the powder evenly and removing all excess powder, the film is heated to prepare it for fabric transfer.
Adhesive heating is done in either a curing oven or with a heat press machine.
Step 2: Pre-pressing fabric and using a heat press
With the PET film preheated, the fabric receiving the design gets dehumidified and pre-flattened by being kept under heat for 2 to 5 seconds inside the heat press machine.
After initial flattening, the film is taken and placed on the pre-pressed fabric.
The design on the film is then transferred using a heat press for 15 to 20 seconds at an average temperature of 165°C onto the garment.
Step 3: Peeling the film and post-pressing the fabric
With the design transferred onto the fabric, the second to last step is to carefully cold peel the film.
When the film is removed, the designed fabric is flattened a second time in the heat press to help improve the design’s durability.
After post-pressing, the garment is ready to pack and ship to customers.
Equipment Needed for DTF Printing
To get started with DTF printing, you will need the following equipment:
- Inkjet printer modified for DTF printing with 6 ink channels CMYK+White: This printer is specifically designed for DTF printing and comes with all the necessary hardware modifications.
- Special inks for DTF printing: These elastic inkjet inks prevent the print from cracking when the garment is stretched.
- DTF film: This is the surface on which you print your design.
- DTF powder: This acts as an adhesive between the inks and the cotton fibers.
- RIP software: This software is necessary to print CMYK and white-colored layers correctly, as the printer has been modified and cannot print in the correct order by itself.
- Heat press: A heat press with an adjustable height platen is recommended for curing the ink printed on the film. The Brildor XH-B2N press is equipped with this feature.
Cost of DTF Equipment
One of the advantages of DTF printing is that it requires a relatively low investment compared to other printing methods.
You can get a complete DTF printing kit, including the printer and consumables, for less than $3,000.
This makes it a cost-effective option for businesses looking to integrate DTF printing into their operations.
In addition to the DTF printer and consumables, you will also need a heat press or an oven to cure the ink printed on the film.
If your company already has this equipment, you will only need to purchase the DTF printing kit mentioned above.
DTF printing compared to other print methods
With so many print methods to choose from, it’s important to understand how DTF printing compares to other popular techniques. Here’s a brief comparison:
Direct-to-film vs. screen printing
Screen printing is a popular method that involves pushing ink layer by layer through a woven screen or mesh stencil onto fabric.
This method requires a separate screen for each color and design element, and the ink lays on top of the fabric instead of soaking into it.
Screen-printed designs can feel different depending on the level of detail, with more detailed designs resulting in a thicker feel on the garment.
In contrast, DTF printing creates a more uniform feel on the fabric, regardless of the complexity of the design.
DTF printing works well with detailed designs and doesn’t require separate layers or screens for different elements or colors.
Direct-to-film vs. direct-to-garment printing
Direct-to-garment printing (DTG printing) involves spraying ink directly onto fabric after applying a pre-treatment solution.
This method is best suited for cotton blends and 100% cotton products.
If you want to offer a wider range of fabric options, including polyester, fleece, and nylon, DTF printing is a great choice to complement DTG printing.
Direct-to-film vs. sublimation printing
Sublimation printing is a popular method that involves printing artwork into fabric from seam to seam.
It requires special paper and a heat press machine to bind the ink to the garment.
Sublimation printing is suitable for polyester and polyester-blend fabrics.
If you plan to expand your product catalog to include different fabric blends, DTF printing can be used alongside sublimation to offer more versatility.
Pros and Cons of DTF Printing
DTF printing offers several advantages and disadvantages for T-shirt personalization:
- Low investment: DTF printing requires a relatively low investment compared to other techniques.
- Versatility: DTF printing can be used on T-shirts of any color or fabric, including cotton, polyester, and their blends.
- Elastic prints: The inks used in DTF printing are very elastic, preventing the print from cracking when the fabric is stretched.
- High wash and wear resistance: DTF prints have excellent wash and wear resistance, ensuring longevity.
- Plasticized finish: DTF prints have a slightly “plastic” finish, similar to screen print transfers or HTV.
- Complex printing process: DTF printing involves multiple steps, making it more complex compared to other techniques like sublimation or DTG printing.
Is DTF Printing Right for You?
If you’re looking to add T-shirt personalization or other textile products to your business, DTF printing can be a great option.
With its low investment cost and versatility, DTF printing allows you to expand your offerings and increase profitability.
If you’re already familiar with dye-sublimation printing, DTF printing can be a complementary technique to enhance your performance.
In conclusion, DTF printing is a cost-effective and versatile technique for T-shirt personalization.
With the right equipment and materials, you can achieve high-quality prints on a variety of fabrics.
Consider the pros and cons of DTF printing and determine if it aligns with your business goals and requirements.
DTF printing, or Direct to Film printing, is a technique that allows you to print designs directly onto a film, which is then transferred onto a T-shirt or other textile products.