What is DTF Printing? A Guide to Direct to Film T-Shirt Printing

What is DTF Printing? A Guide to Direct to Film T-Shirt Printing
Table Of Content

What is DTF Printing?

DTF printing, which stands for "direct to film", is a method of printing designs onto heat transfer vinyl that can then be applied to fabrics like t-shirts, hats, bags, and more. It allows for high-quality custom printed apparel without the need for screen printing.

With a DTF printer, the image is printed in full color with specialty inks directly onto a thin film sheet. This printed film, also called DTF transfers, can then be applied using heat press machines. The process causes the inks to gasify and permanently bond with fabrics like cotton, polyester, nylon, and blended materials.

How DTF Printing Works

The DTF printing process involves several key steps:

  • First, the desired graphic is designed digitally using design software. This allows incorporating effects, treatments, mimaki uv ink colors, and more.
  • The design file is then printed onto a DTF transfer sheet using a specialty DTF printer loaded with inks formulated for applying to textiles.
  • The printed transfer sheet, with the graphic design now printed in full color, can be applied to products like t-shirts using a heat press machine.
  • Heat and pressure bond the DTF inks to the fabric leaving the vivid printout as a permanent decal on the garment or textile.

DTF Printing Equipment

Several specialty pieces of equipment are required for DTF t-shirt printing:

  • DTF Printer: A dedicated DTF printer, like mimaki's TS100-1600 printer, is required. Unlike regular inkjet printers, these are engineered specifically for printing apparel transfers.
  • DTF Transfer Paper: A special carrier paper is required that has a coating designed to work with textile applications.
  • Heat Press: An industrial heat press machine applies the right heat and pressure to get the inks to bond with the garment.
  • Design Software: Software like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to create the graphics.

The Benefits of DTF Printing

Some key advantages of DTF printing include:

  • Photo Quality Prints: Using a DTF printer allows for exceptionally high print quality with vivid colors and clarity on apparel.
  • Soft Feel Finish: DTF printed shirts feel smooth to the touch without the thick hand of screen printed designs.
  • Cost Effective Short Runs: The process works well for smaller custom apparel orders making it cost effective for start ups.
  • Minimal Setup: Unlike screen printing, DTF does not require graphics to be burned onto screens which allows faster order turnaround.
  • All-Over Prints: As there are no screens involved, all over prints can be done more easily compared to screen printing.

How to Get Started With DTF Printing

Choose Your DTF Printer

The printer is arguably the most vital piece of DTF printing equipment. Some options include:

  • Mimaki TS100-1600: High performing dedicated DTF printer capable of up to 680 sqft/hour output.
  • Epson F2100/F6200: Popular digital t-shirt printer choices due to their performance and ink capabilities.
  • Inkjet Printers: Some inkjet printers can be adapted for DTF use with ink upgrades and RIP software.

Pick DTF Transfer Material

The DTF transfer material is coated with a special polymer resin formulation engineered to work with textile applications. Some options include:

  • Chemica Hotmark 7095 DTF: An industry standard with exceptional quality and wash durability.
  • Forever Flex Soft 8543FA DTF: Delivers a particularly soft finish popular for athletic apparel.
  • Magic Touch 1913 DTF: Budget friendly option suitable for lower ink coverage prints.

Use The Right Inks

Using properly formulated DTF inks designed for cotton and polyester fabrics is vital for wash fastness and print durability. Some options include:

  • Mimaki LUS-170 Inks: Reliable inks specifically for Mimaki DTF printers.
  • Dupont Artistri Inks: Deliver excellent wash performance with high opacity.
  • Sensient ElvaJet Inks: Provide strong fabric adhesion and mimicaki uv ink compatibility.

Get a Specialty Heat Press

A heat press with precision time, pressure, and heat controls is required for the transfer application process onto the garments. Some options include:

  • Hotronix Fusion IQ: A popular high quality 16x20 heat press particularly suited for DTF use.
  • GEO Knight DK20S: With digital controls, it's a versatile heat press choice.

Following the proper DTF techniques using the right printer, inks, transfer papers and heat presses allows hitting the sweet spot for exceptional, full color custom printed apparel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about DTF printing:

Can You Use A Normal Printer For DTF?

Standard inkjet printers are generally not suitable for direct to film printing. DTF requires specialty formulated inks, customized print profiles, and printers that can print on special transfer papers without issues.

What Fabrics Can You Use With DTF?

The DTF method works on 100% cotton along with polyester and poly-cotton blends. How well it adheres does depend partially on the quality of the base material.

Is DTF Better Than Screen Printing?

Both DTF and screen printing have pros and cons. DTF delivers exceptional photo quality resolution, can be easily set up for shorter runs, and has fewer limits in terms of graphic areas. But screen printing can be more cost effective for very high volume runs.

Can You Wash DTF Printed Shirts?

Yes, DTF printed shirts can withstand washing just like any normal t-shirt. With proper application and inks you can expect wash durability of 20+ commercial laundry cycles.

How Thin Can You Print DTF Transfers?

Most DTF transfer papers have a thickness around 3.5 to 4 mils. Thinner options around 2 mils are also starting to become available expanding the capabilities for fine detail.


What Other Products Can You Print With DTF Besides T-Shirts?

DTF transfers can be applied to all kinds of apparel and textile items including hats, sweatshirts, towels, canvas bags, baby onesies, socks, jackets, and more. The polyester content of the material does impact ink adhesion.

What Are Typical Print Sizes For DTF?

Common DTF print sizes range from 8x10 inches up to 16x20 inches. Although technically possible, extra large graphic sizes tend to be better suited for screen printing methods.

Is There A Texture Difference With DTF Prints?

When done correctly with proper transfer papers and inks, DTF prints feel smooth to the touch and mimic the hand of the original base garment without thickness.

Do You Need To Pre-Treat Fabrics Before DTF Printing?

For cotton containing fabrics, pre-treating with a solution helps ink adhesion. Polyester materials generally don't need any pretreatment before pressing DTF transfers.

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