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What is DTF Printing

Updated: May 1, 2021

Direct to Film transfer printing is a new exciting printing process that uses a water based ink similar to used in DTG printing but without the need for pre-treatment. This post explains what it is designed for, what it is good for and what it can & cannot do.

Direct to Film Printing - WHAT IS IT???

DTF is an alternative printing process to DTG. Using a specific kind of water-based ink to print a special film, the ink is transferred from the film to the product by means of a 15 second heat press. No preparation is required on the garment meaning practically any fabric can be decorated, lets look at some of the benefits over other methods of garment decoration.

  • no pre-treatment required on any colour fabric

  • very soft hand, no base transfer on the garment

  • the ink stretches and does not crack

  • faster than most other decoration processes

  • water based eco friendly inks

  • better washability suitable for workwear

  • no weeding simply press what you print

  • can be used on packaging, boxes & bags

  • more economical than most other processes

  • polyester, soft shell, sports wear, cotton, caps

  • semi automatic and fully automated systems

  • save on production time and labour

  • no setup costs i.e. screens, plates or ink mixing

The process involves a few stages, these can be fully automated or done manually, in any event the processes remain the same.

Once printed a powdered glue is applied to the back and then heat cured ready for storage or instant use. One of the benefits to DTF is there is no need to use pre-treatment, the powdered glue does this job for you. Once heat pressed the soft water based ink is transferred to the garment in just 15 seconds. The transfer can be used onto polyester and other non cotton fabrics that are difficult to print using traditional DTG printing. No pre-treatment is required even with white ink, the white ink is bright and very opaque. It is different to traditional DTG ink as no polymer binders are included in the formulation, this makes the ink more stable requiring less maintenance.

It is important to know, even though DTF white ink is a different formulation it still requires the correct management. Circulation is critical to keeping the ink in good condition, the storage tank also requires stirring to make sure the Tio2 (white pigment) does not drop out making the prints milky and weak.

What to buy for DTF?

This subject is a little bit delicate and I will probably be accused of being biased, the truth is I am a little biased but for very good reason. Industry leaders generally have a reputation they need to protect. It is very easy to be "tarred with the same brush so to speak" when things go wrong. The DTF process is new, some equipment will have little testing, will not be suitable for the DTF process and will have little or no backup or support as hundreds of companies jump on the DTF bandwagon to make a quick buck.

My industry knowledge and experience spreads back over the last 40 years, yes I am old! and have been involved in printing in many different guises all my life. If I had a £1, €1 or $1 for every distress call or email I have received I would be living on a yacht in the Bahamas. With experience come knowledge and whilst I would ofcourse prefer anyone to buy a product from my company, the sole intention of this blog is to stop people wasting money whilst trying to make money, so here goes . . .

The first thing you should decide before buying a DTF printer is how much this will effect your other processes. As DTF has many applications you will probably save money by switching production of other products from an existing process to DTF.

  • Make sure the DTF printer you are buying can produce prints large enough, A3 prints are quite a thing of the past. Many images need to be printed over seams, off the bottom and around the side which will require a much larger image than A3. Don't forget DTF can produce other items, hard substrates, wood, plastic, metal, leather etc not just t shirts. How big is a T towel, flag, window sign, all these are options with DTF.

The Software

Software, this is a huge decision. Professional RIP software is not cheap and there is a reason for this. Developing the many functions required to utilise a process to the maximum costs a lot of money. Correct colour profiles are crucial to the end result, these are often linked to a specific ink set so you don't want to be chopping and changing. In your research make sure the RIP supplied is well supported, you will require help at some point and a good product will allow for instant remote login without you having to download additional software to allow a technician to help you. If you are serious about your business make sure the RIP software is reputable, very often free options are available. This can be attractive but it cannot offer the same support and features as a well developed RIP can. As an example, Resolute RIP, a fully supported product for DTG, UV & DTF printing costs £950 + vat per unit. We include this software with all our printers with the remote support, warranty and unlimited automatic updates built in.

  • Remote support, on-line updates, bar coding, colour matching, multiple print modes, future proof and plenty of flexibility are all crucial features of a RIP that will serve you well and prove to be a productive part of your DTF process.

The printer

This is the bit where I will be accused of being biased. There are two main types of inkjet printer for DTF. One is custom built for the job, the other is a re-manufactured desktop printer.

There is nothing new about re-manufacturing desktop printers to produce a different product than it was originally designed for, my company, although we have not done this for some years now, did in the past sell this type of printer.

There are three main reasons for re-manufacture.

  1. No print engine is available for the process required.

  2. COST.

  3. Developing print engines for a specific process costs millions.

But times have changed, print engines can now be designed and purchased to be used in a custom built printer specifically designed for a unique process, like DTF and DTG. Generalised as, made for the job or does what it says on the tin these printers will perform much better, last longer and save money in the long run. It can be difficult to warrant paying more for something, earning money is a good enough reason to spend wisely and this is demonstrated in simple figures below. These are fact not just something I have plucked out of the air and are from actual real tests.

Printer 1

Costs £2000 all in and you are ready to go.

Printer 2

Costs £9000 and you are not sure why?

Printer 1 is an A3 re-manufactured and it will take 30 minutes to produce a full A3 print in high resolution. Thats 2 prints an hour offering an earning of £20 per