One of the key points to DTF printing is the use of a special adhesive powder that replaces the traditional pre-treatment used in DTG printing.
Without doubt the best way to produce a DTF transfer is with full automation. Manually adding the powder for the occasional sample or test print is ok, but it should be avoided where possible in order to maximise your production. If for some reason you cannot have a finishing unit you are going to need a dedicated area to apply the powder and a heat press to hover cure the powder.
Let's look at what happens during automated production on a commercial scale.
The automated DTF process end to end
The film passes over a vacuum bed holding it in place while printing takes place, this bed is normally pre-heated to around 40c to avoid any ink bleed. The dual print heads apply the CMYK to the pre-heated film, then the second print head used for the white ink backs the image up with an adjustable layer of white ink.
Film is pre-heated ready to accept the ink without bleed
Once printed the film is kept warm while it travels into the finishing unit, the inks are kept in a semi cured state by the heated bed. This is an important stage of the process, DTF inks are similar to latex inks which are temperature sensitive. Throughout the whole process the temperatures are controlled automatically by the system. Printed film is normally kept at around 40c for optimum results.
The transport bed is kept at 40c to semi cure the inks.
The next stage is where the DTF process becomes very different to any other process, the printed film passes through a chamber that applies the powder. Any excess powder is removed from the film by the automatic pulse mechanism the film passes over, powder is collected in a draw below and is simply tipped back into the hopper and re used. Powder only sticks to the ink and does not cover the entire film.
Powder is applied in a special chamber avoiding any waste.
Once the powder is applied the film enters the heat chamber for curing, this can be anything from 85c to 120c depending on how much ink has been applied. During this process the powder changes state and turns to a liquid, in this form it binds to the ink in a very thin transparent layer. Once the film leave the curing chamber it is cooled by fans before collection on the spooler, the transfers are ready to use or can be stored or sold on for later use.
Curing unit open to show internal chamber and vacuum belt.
A commercial system like the Resolute R-Jet PRO DTF makes the process very simple. Transferring the ink only (no vinyl as in print & cut) onto the garment is a simple 15 second heat press. The prints are super stretchy, very soft to touch and durable to work wear requirements. DTF printing is also very well suited for polyester, soft shell, high viz and most workwear products.
In the next post I will be covering non garment items suited for DTF printing. The market for custom packaging is huge, until now this has been in the form of a label unless you could order in high numbers. DTF creates stunning packaging with no changes to any settings during the print process.
Pizza Box printed on the R-Jet PRO DTF
Resolute Premium DTF durable inks print over creases without cracking.