Direct to Film Printers Explained | The DTF Printing Process

The commercial printing industry looks set for a surge in its market value. Experts predict a projected value of USD 574.12 Billion by the year 2030. One of the key drivers behind this growth is the increasing adoption of the DTF Printing process. Many printing organizations have switched to Direct to Film Printers for their benefits. While others are contemplating whether to make the switch.

Are you still on the fence about switching to direct-to-film printers? Or are you curious about how the process works? If your answer is ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will provide you with all the information you need. 

Explore what makes direct-to-film printers an attractive option for many people. Also, discover how the DTF printing process functions and what benefits it provides.  

What is DTF Printing?

DTF (Direct to Film) printing involves the transfer of prints onto fabric or other substrates via a heat-press mechanism. Unlike DTG (Direct to Garment) printing, which only works on cotton fabrics, the Printer DTF technique can work on cotton and poly blends. In simpler terms, you print an artwork on a special film. Then, transfer it onto fabric or other textiles through heat press. 

Indeed, DTF printing is like transfer printing. Still, this process requires a desktop inkjet printer equipped with textile inks. These inks are specifically designed for DTF printing.

What is a DTF Printer?

A direct-to-film (DTF) printer is a device that allows you to print a design on a film. Then transfer it directly onto any surface, be it fabric or not. DTF printers are so popular thanks to their versatility. You can print on almost any surface without any difficulty. 

This advanced printer technology allows you to easily print on cotton, polyester, synthetic, or silk fabrics. The best part is that DTF printers can work seamlessly on both dark and white fabrics. So, there is no need for expensive A & B papers.

What Does DTF Mean in Printing and How Do DTF Printers Work?

First, the cost of implementing a DTF printer in your printing business isn’t as high as many believe. This process doesn’t  need a significant investment. This cost-effectiveness makes it an excellent option for newbies in the printing industry. It’s also helpful if you hope to expand your offerings by incorporating DTF printing.

DTF printers have revolutionized the printing industry by eliminating the use of rollers. These rollers caused pages to slide, leaving unsightly lines on white-layer prints. DTF printing technology produces flawless final designs. Hence, it is a preference for anyone looking to create an exact depiction of an image on fabric.

Another advantage of DTF printers is the ability to use different ink tanks. This edge makes it easier to work with CMYK settings. These printers work thanks to ink specially designed for the DTF process.

Why DTF Printers?

DTF printers use specialty ink to produce premium-quality printing. This gives you an edge in both dark and light fabrics. They end the limitations caused by traditional commercial printing processes. And save you money on total printing expenses. 

Expect this cost-saving innovation to inspire massive growth in the textile industry in the coming years. Growth analysts believe more and more companies will adopt DTF printing technology for its benefits. So, are you a textile or t-shirt company looking for efficient results at an affordable price? Consider using DTF printers going forward.

How Does DTF Printing Work?

To understand the DTF printing process, we must clarify some details that may be unclear. What are the required materials, the advantages, and disadvantages of this printing technique? What’s the step-by-step process involved in DTF printing? 

What Will You Need for Your First DTF Print?

The beauty of the DTF printing technique lies in its cost-effectiveness. This means that you don’t have to make a huge investment to get started. 

1. Direct to Film Printer

There are printers specifically designed for direct to film (DTF) printing. Still, many prefer their direct-to-garment (DTG) printers or adjust a printer for DTF purposes.

2. Direct to Film Printer Films

A DTF printer requires PET films to function. But these films are different from the ones used in screen printing. PET films are also known as DTF transfer films in the market. They are about 0.75mm thick, making them superior at transferring images. 

Cut sheets of PET films are available for small-scale DTF printing. While rolls are available for commercial usage. Additionally, there are two types of DTF PET films available on the market. There’s the cold-peel type films and hot-peel type films. The difference is in their temperature requirements.

Software for Direct to Film Printer

It is impossible to use a DTF printer without the software. The software plays a crucial role in determining the color performance and the print of the inks. Additionally, it influences how the final print looks. So, to complete your DTF printing process, you will need specialized software. They help to control your white and CMYK colors. This software is essential in determining drop sizes and other critical factors. Their use ultimately determines the print quality. The software also ensures the final product meets the highest standards.

Hot Melt Adhesive DTF Printing Powder

The Direct to Film printing powder is a white granular substance. It functions as an adhesive material for the print. This powder helps you to bind the colored pigments in your printer to any surface of your choice. Yet, it’s worth noting that there are several grades of STF hot-melt defined by microns.

Direct to Film Printer Inks

You need unique kinds of inks for your DTF printing. These inks are unique pigments created in white, black, yellow, cyan, and magenta colors. The white ink creates the foundation of your print. While the colored pigment prints the design on the film. It is advisable to use DTF inks that work best with your DTF printer to avoid clogging or other issues. Direct-to-garment (DTG) or any textile inks can be good options depending on the printer you use.

Heat Press Machine

The heat press machine helps you to transfer the printed images on your film onto the surface or fabric you have chosen for your DTF print.  Aside from that, this machine can also help you to melt powder on your DTF film. 

The following items are optional requirements for a DTF print. 

  • Automatic Powder Shaker

This tool is an optional part of the DTF printing process. It is a Direct to Film printer component more commonly used in commercial settings. In such settings, you need your DTF printer to apply the powder in an even fashion. Additionally, the powder shaker gets rid of excess powder. With the DTF powder shaker, you no longer have to manually shake the powder on the print yourself. Go on to load the sheets, apply powder, and leave the DTF powder machine to shake the excess for you. 

You have the option of the automatic powder shaker with a DTF dryer built in. This option will automatically place the DTF film onto the dryer to get cured.

  • Curing Oven

The curing oven is a small industrial oven. You need it to melt the printer’s hot melt powder before it goes on the transfer film. A heat press machine can also help you carry out this function. But it would only bring the best result if you used the heat press machine in a no-contact mode. The curing oven will also help you to melt your DTF powder uniformly. That means you get stronger adhesion for your DTF print.

How Does The DTF Printing Process Work? A Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Print on Film

The first step is for you to print your CMYK down, then you print your white layer afterward. That is a direct contrast to how the direct-to-garment (DTG) process works. Certain softwares makes this process very easy and efficient in one pass. With others, you will need to run the print twice to get this result.

Step 2: Apply You Hot Melt Adhesive Powder Manually or Using the Automatic DTF Shaker Machine

Ensure you apply the adhesive powder on time and uniformly. It’s best to apply it while the print is still wet as it will stick better then. After that, shake off the excess powder carefully to ensure there’s no remaining other than the print. Doing this is particularly crucial as this is the glue that binds the print to the fabric.

Having a DTF powder shaker machine makes this easier. Simply place your print normally, and add the powder. Now, watch the automatic powder shaker machine work its magic.

Step 3: Turn on and Adjust Air Purifier 

This is an optional step but it helps. Make sure your DTF air purifier is above or near where the steam/vapor comes out of from where the machine you’ll be curing from. This machine can either be your DTF curing oven, heat press machine, or dryer.

Step 4: Melt or Cure the Powder

If you’re using a Curing Oven, place your print onto the curing oven. Ensure it is at the temperature advised by the producer of your curing oven. For those using a Heat Press Machine, cure your newly powdered print. Do this by hovering over it with your heat press machine at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 minutes.

Step 5: Transfer

After cooking the transfer print, you can proceed to transfer it onto the fabric or surface you choose. With your heat press, transfer the print film at 284 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds.

Step 6: Cold Peel or Hot Peel

For this step, consider the type of DTF transfer film you’re using. Depending on which one you’re using, you have two options before peeling the carrier sheet off the garment or fabric. You either wait until the print is completely cooled off or proceed to peel off while it’s still hot. Ensure you read the instructions of the particular DTF film you use.

Benefits of the DTF Printing Process

  • Ample Material Options

There is a wide range of material options for DTF printing. Some of them are cotton, nylon, treated leather, polyester, 50/50 blends, and other light and dark fabrics.

  • Cost-Effective Solution

You save up as much as 50% on white ink. Also, other necessary supplies are significantly more affordable.

  • Needs No Pretreat 

The direct-to-garment (DTG) process has the burden of pretreating the garments before printing. The DTF printing process relieves you of that worry. Now, you don’t need to pretreat the garment before printing.

  • No A+B Sheets Marrying Process

DTF printing removes the need to marry the expensive A+B sheets in the white-toner laser printer process

  • Swift Production Process

Here, you take out a couple of steps with the sheets’ marrying process and pretreating gone. This means you can expect a sped-up production process.

  • Impressive Wash Resistance

The washability of the fabric is better than traditional direct-to-garment (DTG) printing.

  • Easy Application Process

With DTF, applying the print on difficult or awkward parts of the garment or fabric gets easier.

Drawbacks of the DTF Printing Process

  • The result of full-size prints is not as great as direct-to-garment (DTG) prints.
  • You need to wear safety gear like protective eyewear, mask, and gloves when working with DTF products.
  • You need to keep the DTF adhesive powder at a cool temperature. Failure to do so will expose it to high humidity which can ruin its quality.

Closing Thoughts

Direct to film printing might not be the technology to displace direct-to-garment (DTG) printing. Yet, this fast-growing printing process is a game changer. It introduces a new opportunity for your business and production growth and expansion. Experts believe that using DTF printing for smaller designs is a no-brainer. This process is best for designs like neck labels, chest pocket prints, and so on. They can be tricky with direct-to-garment printing.

Do you have a direct-to-garment printer but want to adopt the DTF printing option? Considering its several benefits and cost-effectiveness, it is worth a try. 

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