Understanding DTF Printing and How to Implement it Into Your Business

Garment printing has proven to be a very viable and sustainable form of revenue generation for many people, assisting many people who have fallen on hard times, especially during the worst times of the pandemic. Printing of small items such as T-shirts, table runners, and even pillow slips provides a bread-and-butter revenue stream, while printing of wall hangings, table cloths, bed spreads and duvet cover provides nice additional and higher revenue generating income streams.

But how is it done and what it needed? The first thing is obviously the printer and the ability to use it. But, this brings with it more questions. What type of printer? For many people the choice of printer will be directly linked to the cost, not only initial cost but running cost with things like ink, substrates, size and additional processes required. There are two options available in the smaller end of the market direct-to-garment and direct-to-film printing. The costs and associated processes vary according to type of printing used.

So how does Direct-To-Film compare to Direct-To-Garment?

Direct-to-garment is exactly that, printing directly to the material. This particular technology carries with it a few disadvantages in that the material has to be pre-treated before it can be printed. Another drawback is that only cotton can be printed using this method, thereby limiting the flexibility. Another flaw is that, for the most part, direct to garment is generally used for printing pre-manufactured which means that it is usually used on sheet material not on finished garments. There are machines that can print T-Shirts with special modified feeding system, however, both Textile Pigment Inks and UV Inks come with significantly higher costs and the printing area is also very limited to front and back.

Direct-to-garment does have a couple of benefits in that it prints directly to the material which means that there are no additional steps, excluding pre-treatment, which in most cases have to be handled. This type of printing also has the effect that the ink appears to be part of the material and does not stand proud of the material.

Direct-to-film does require a few preliminary steps before the process of actually applying the print to the material. These include:

  1. Printing onto the film,
  2. Applying an adhesive powder which actually only sticks to the back of the printed section of the film,
  3. The powder has to be heat treated following which it can be applied to the material.

Once the print is applied to the material it is heat pressed and must then cool before the film can be removed. While this is slower and contains more steps, it offers the advantage of being able to use a wider variety of different materials and complete garments can be printed rather than flat sheets only. These prints stand on top of the material which allows for greater design flexibility resulting in prints which appear to rise out of the material.

An important point to note is that both DTG and DTF require a white layer to printed before the colour is printed, but in the case of DTG this is only where the substrate material is dark or where the colours of the print will be difficult to distinguish from the base material. In the case of white material no white base layer is necessary. DTF always requires a white layer regardless because it lays a vast amount of ink equal to 100 per cent coverage over two printheads which equates to 200 per cent coverage. This allows the adhesive powder to stick much better to the printed area.

Without the use of the white ink, it is only possible to print solid Black comprising C50%, M50% Y50% and K100%; Red comprising M100% and Y100%; Green  comprising C100% and Y100%; and Blue comprising C100% and M100%. All other colours will produce a bad result when transferring.

DTF sounds like Heat Transfer, how does it differ?

The most important difference between DTF and heat transfer is the fact that there is one less time-consuming step. In heat transfer printing, the print must be cut out from the base material to remove all non-image areas. This means the image you printed needs to have sufficient bleed area, that is where there is a bleed gap in the image it must be cut out and all areas outside the image must also be removed. This generally requires a contour cutting vinyl cutter otherwise the process is too long and painstaking to be viable. With DTF printing, the image is printed, the powder applied, heated and then the image is pressed onto the material. The image does not need to be cut off the base and any unused areas on the film sheet can be used for future prints.

How does DTF differ from Sublimation Printing?

Both these methods are used to achieve high-quality finished prints, they have a lot of similarities in that they both use a transfer process with specialist sheets, but there are a few differences. As already stated, in DTF, the image is printed onto the transfer sheet in right-reading format and without the need to be mirrored. After the interim steps, the image is applied to the material. You have a great deal of flexibility in the types of material which can be used and you are not limited to flat items, even odd shaped items can have the image applied to them.

With sublimation printing, there is the specific limitation in the type of material which can be used. Only polyester is suitable for sublimation printing, although high percentage cotton and polyfabric blends can be used but require the use of expensive sublimation and transfer powders, but cost is a factor here. Another limitation is the fact that sublimation cannot be used on dark materials.

So what is required for DTF Printing?

Even here, DTF offers some flexibility. The answer really depends on whether you are wanting to do this as a money-making hobby or as fully-fledged business enterprise. In either case, we at AM.CO.ZA recommend a six-colour Epson A4 or A3 EcoTank series printer. This works best at the lower-end of the market for the hobbyist and for the more serious entrant to the garment printing market. Rather than using the original inks it is necessary for you to use our range of DTF inks available in Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and White. The white ink requires constant agitation so we recommend and agitation tank. Larger printers can also use these inks and the type of printer will be determined by the size and volume of the prints required.

We can also supply you with the AcroRip software white allows the Epson printer to print white. The AcroRip is professional RIP software which will allow you to get the most out of your printer. You will also need the adhesive powder which we can supply to you.

The difference between the hobbyist and the business user really comes in on how you handle the print once the adhesive powder has been applied. The hobbyist can use a standard home oven pre-heated to 150C, whereas the business would opt for a dedicated LED dryer which does not require any pre-heating and offers more precise temperature control with greater energy efficiency.

Once the image is applied to the material, the hobbyist can use a standard dry iron to fix the image whereas the professional would use a heat press. As the professional’s business grows, investments can be made in larger format printers and heat presses allowing higher volumes and larger items to be printed. The professional can also invest in a continuous feed powder shaking machine which increases productivity and speeds processing.

Speak to us at AM.CO.ZA and we will help you to configure the solution which best meets your production and budgetary requirements.

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