You’ve probably heard that the dominant buzzword in the apparel industry is DTF. You may have even tried a direct to film printer and found some teething issues like clogged nozzles and ruined print heads. The good news is, the process has matured since the initial influx of cheap imported printers. Today’s DTF systems are much more reliable and easier to maintain. The better news is we’ve just added a DTF solution that offers the advantages of Direct to film printing in a system that won’t make you pull your hair out. The UNINET DTF 1000 desktop direct to film printer offers the unique advantages of DTF vs other garment decoration methods, comes from a trusted vendor, includes excellent support, and is available in complete business-ready starter bundles.
Overview: What is DTF?
Before we get into what makes the direct to film printer Uninet DTF1000 so exciting, it’s a good idea to step back and cover the basics. Let’s talk briefly about what DTF is and how it works. DTF stands for direct to film. It’s an amalgamation of old and new garment decoration technologies. DTF combines the ease of application of old-fashioned plastisol transfers with the custom printing capabilities of DTG, or direct-to-garment printers.
In short, DTF is an apparel decoration process in which custom images are printed with an inkjet printer on a specially coated film. The ink is then coated with white or black adhesive powder, and the powder is cured by heat which fuses the powder and ink. The film is then placed on apparel in a heat press and heat applied to the garment. Once cooled, the film is removed and the printed image remains on the garment. The applied transfer is soft, durable, and stretchable. Please click here for a step-by-step pictorial guide to the DTF process.
DTF’s popularity comes from its unique set of advantages, compared to other digital garment decoration techniques. One might say that DTF’s popularity comes from fixing what decorators don’t like about other technologies, but that’s a matter of perspective. Taken by itself, the appeal of direct to film heat transfer can be summed up in a few bullet points.
- Ease of use: There are four steps in the DTF process, but they’re all fairly simple.
- Durable transfers: DTF transfers are more wash-resistant than DTG (direct-to-garment) and laser transfers
- Soft and stretchable: DTF transfers have more plasticity than laser transfer and some HTV (heat transfer vinyl) transfers. They’re not as soft as sublimation, but they stretch with the fabric.
- Vibrant color, opaque white: The bright colors and opaque white of DTF transfers are comparable to that of DTG prints and screen printed apparel.
- Weedless transfers: Like DTG, sublimation, and laser transfer, complex DTF transfers can be applied without cutting and weeding.
Although we mentioned sublimation, DTF is more similar to DTG, HTV, and white toner laser transfers because it’s most often used to decorate dark and colored apparel. So let’s take a closer look at how DTF print systems compare to these three similar heat transfer methods.
DTF VS HTV
This one’s fairly easy. Both DTF and HTV are digital inkjet processes used to decorate dark apparel. They both produce very durable transfers. The main differences between HTV and DTF are in softness and weeding.
- No weeding: HTV is a great process that can produce vivid, durable graphics. But the prints must be printed, then contour-cut, then weeded. Depending on the complexity of the image, weeding can be time-consuming and frustrating. DTF eliminates this step.
- No Transfer Tape: After your HTV graphic is cut and weeded, it needs to be transferred to the target garment with special heat transfer tape. Due to the high tack levels and heat resistance required, some heat transfer tapes are difficult to use. DTF’s self-weeding transfer film requires no tape. Just place it, press it, and peel it.
- Softer hand: Since DTF deposits ink on fabric instead of heat-applying a printed face film, the applied image is generally softer. This is especially true when the rasterization features pioneered by laser transfer printers are applied to DTF. Ink can be applied only where needed, resulting in very soft transfers, and very happy customers.
DTF vs DTG
Of all the competing digital garment decoration technologies on the market, perhaps DTG is the closest competitor to Direct to Film printing. DTG printers are also inkjet systems using CMYK plus white ink. But, as the name implies, DTG printers don’t print on transfer film. They print directly to shirts. But there are caveats.
- Pre-treatment: DTG printers can’t really print directly to dark fabric unless the fabric is pre-treated. This adds another step, more time, and considerable cost. DFT doesn’t require any pre-treatment of apparel.
- Cotton only: DTG printers and ink were formulated specifically for heavy cotton and don’t work as well on Polyester and blended apparel. DTF transfers can be applied to cotton, polyester, and blended garments.
- Speed: DTG systems require heat pressing garments before and after printing, adding pre-treatment (for dark shirts), plus a minute or two to print. Roll-fed DTF systems with automated shakers can produce transfers in much higher volume, with more productivity than DTG printers.
- Gang Printing: DTF printers can be used to print and prepare transfers in advance. Once powdered and cured, a DTF print can be stored and applied to a garment later, perhaps at a remote location like a sporting event. This is not an option with DTG, in which each garment has to be printed on the shirt.
Cost: DTG systems typically start at $15 - 18,000 and are commonly priced at or near $20,000. This puts them out of range for many small businesses and aspiring decorators. DTF systems that can print similar sizes start at less than half the price of most DTG printers.
DTF vs White Toner Laser
The methodology of DTF printers may be most similar to DTG, but the price point is more closely comparable to laser transfer. A desktop DTF printer costs about the same as a desktop laser transfer printer. This invites a lot of cross-shopping. And, since both laser transfer and DTF systems are available from UNINET, this will be our most detailed comparison. Both laser transfer and direct-to-film printers have unique advantages and disadvantages. So how do you know which one is right for you? Let’s do the bullet point thing.
- Stretchability: Transfers that crack when the shirt is stretched are one of the most-common complaints of laser transfer users. As noted above, DTF prints don’t have this issue. The ink stretches with the apparel, producing a more appealing final product. Advantage: DTF
- Ease of Use: The other frustration voiced most frequently by laser transfer decorators is the relatively narrow window of parameters required by laser transfer films and papers. The hurdle is the first step in the ‘two-step transfer process, during which adhesive paper is applied to the printed image. This narrow window also means most clamshell heat presses aren’t suitable. A high-grade swing arm heat press is required. Conversely, the DTF process of sprinkling powder on a wet inkjet print, and curing it in an oven, sounds messy and silly - and it has its own drawbacks. But it’s very simple. Advantage DTF
- Vivid Color: The most versatile laser toner transfer printers, such as the IColor 650, come with five toner cartridges -CMYK plus White. But they can only use four at a time. Users can choose between traditional CMYK process color for printing or transfers on white, or CMYW for transfers on dark apparel. White and black toner are mutually exclusive. Since DTF printers use ink in a five-color system with CMYK plus white, the gamut is larger and colors tend to be more vibrant. Advantage: DTF
- For a complete, detailed comparison of DTF and white toner across 29 parameters, please click here to download UNINET’s Laser Transfer vs DTF comparison chart.
With all those advantages, it’s obvious that DTF vs laser transfer is a slam dunk, right? Well, not so fast. No new technology is perfect, and we did mention drawbacks. DTF has some of those too. Let’s take a more balanced look at what direct to film has to offer.
DTF Drawbacks: Things to Consider
No process is perfect. Every digital graphics process has its drawbacks. DTF is no exception. If you’ve read this far and are convinced that DTF is the way to go, keep reading. There are some important things to consider before making a decision.
- Hazardous fumes: The adhesive powder used in direct to film processes emits fumes containing polymers that can be hazardous to your health. Do not breathe the fumes from the powder during coating or after curing. A fume extractor with a HEPA filter and well-ventilated workspace are highly recommended.
- White Ink: Any white-ink enabled inkjet printer requires regular maintenance to prevent the titanium dioxide that makes white ink white from settling and causing clogs. If not used or maintained properly, DTF printers will experience clogged ink lines and/or print heads that can lead to costly downtime and repairs. Dedication to regular maintenance and cleaning is absolutely essential.
- Slow print speeds: DTF printers are relatively slow. A 10” x 13” print can take 5 minutes or more to complete. Both laser transfer and eco-solvent inkjet printers (HTV) offer much higher print speeds. So, if you need a high-speed printing solution, direct to film may not fill the bill.
- Apparel only: As easy as DTF is to use, it’s not as versatile as laser transfer and sublimation, which can be used to decorate hard-surface items. DTF printers can be used to decorate cotton and polyester garments and other textiles like caps and tote bags, but not mugs and metals.
DTF Dollars & Sense
Unless you’re doing this as a hobby, the other major consideration when comparing garment decoration techniques is cost. In a commercial t-shirt shop, cost and profit margins are as important as ease-of-use and productivity. This is another area where DTF shines. It’s not only one of the simplest garment transfer technologies, it’s one of the most economical. Among digital print transfer options, DTF is the king of thrift. In terms of startup cost and operating cost, it’s the most attractive option. We have this presented in great detail in our T-shirt Printing Options Under $5,000 blog article, so we’ll just present the cliff notes here.
|Method||Startup Cost||Avg Cost/Shirt|
|Direct to Garment (DTG)||$13 - $30,000||$3.00 - $5.00|
|Heat Transfer Vinyl (print & cut HTV)||$7,000 - $15,000||$3.99|
|Laser Transfer (White toner)||$3,500 - $6,500||$5.18|
|Direct to Film (DTF)||$4,000 - $30,000||$1.25|
Still with us? Great! If you’ve weighed the pros and cons, and have decided that a DTF system is right for you, allow us to present the UNINET DTF1000. The DTF1000 is an affordable desktop solution from a trusted vendor. In addition to all the advantages listed above, Uninet DTF printers come with outstanding support and a generous starter bundle with lots of essential supplies for setup, production, and maintenance. Here’s a short list of the DTF1000’s top features.
- Roll-fed, 13-inch Film: The DTF1000 is a roll-fed printer optimized for the maximum image size for most popular apparel transfers.
- High-resolution Prints: The DTF1000 uses an advanced piezo print head that can output images at up to 5760 x 1440 dpi. In other words, it produces stunning, photo-quality images that look absolutely awesome.
- CMYK + White: The six-channel, piezo print head prints CMYK process color plus White in one pass. The driver and bundled RIP software coat the process color with white ink to prep the film for application on dark and colored apparel.
- Bundled RIP software: Like all UNINET printers, the DTF1000 comes bundled with powerful ProRIP software designed specifically for heat transfer applications. DTF ProRIP makes managing workflows easy, and includes rasterization features that can soften transfers and reduce ink costs.
- WIMS: The DTF1000 has a built-in White Ink Management System that automatically circulates white ink through the ink lines. This helps prevent clogs and maximizes uptime.
- Training & Setup: Each DTF1000 purchase includes access to the DTF Master Class video training modules and concierge setup assistance directly from Uninet. One year of SIGNWarehouse Gold support is also included to help keep your print engine running.
And those are just the highlights! Click here for a full presentation of the UNINET DTF1000’s outstanding features.
Affordable Starter Bundles
The UNINET DTF 1000 comes with a good basic starter bundle. We’ve done one better by offering a complete menu of starter bundles with all the essentials for any budget from shoestring to Pro. They’re all great values, and there’s a perfect option for every budget. If you’re not Miss Moneybags - and you already have a heat press - choose the basic $4950 starter bundle, and add accessories as your business grows.
If you’re starting from scratch, and have plenty of it, opt for the DTF PRO bundle that includes the basic starter bundle plus an automated powder shaker, media take-up system, fume extractor and a premium SilverBolt heat press, all for $8995.00.
There are more options for people with varying levels of equipment and resources. Start here and browse the bundles to find your ‘Goldilocks’ DTF1000 startup solution.
If you’ve been hearing about DTF and wondering what the buzz is all about, we hope we’ve answered all of your questions about this exciting garment decoration technology. DTF offers several advantages over DTG, HTV, and white toner laser transfer printers. It’s easy to use, economical, and offers soft, stretchable transfers that customers find appealing. It does use white ink, so regular maintenance is required. And a fume extractor is highly recommended.
The UNINET DTF1000 distills all of DTF’s benefits into an affordable package, and adds a complete basic starter bundle, free training and installation, and the peace of mind of dealing with a trusted vendor. And our line of DTF1000 starter bundles offers a range of choices so that you can find the direct to film starter bundle that best suits your needs and budget.