Since DTG (Direct-to-garment) busted into the printing scene, it has become a popular way to decorate apparel for many businesses.
However, DTF (Direct-to-Film) printing has shaken the industry as a versatile and affordable option for creating custom-printed garments.
As these two printing methods clash head to head, one wonders between DTG vs. DTF– which one suits their business?
This article will explore the similarities, pros, and cons of DTG and DTF printing to help determine which one is profitable.
Understanding DTG printing
Direct-to-garment printing (DTG) is a printing method that allows one to print high-quality and full-color designs directly onto a garment without using transfer paper. It is suitable for natural fabrics that absorb color, like cotton.
Most print-on-demand production businesses use DTG printing to create soft, durable, and breathable product designs.
How the DTG printing machine works
Here is a brief step-by-step overview of how to use a DTG printer.
Step 1- Digital design preparation.
DTG printing begins with creating the design using a laptop and saving it in a compatible format (PNG and TFF). These formats have transparent backgrounds for better printing. DTG software also accepts JPG format for white background printing
Step 2- Fabric pre-treatment
The garment is pre-treated or cured with a special pre-treatment liquid to help the ink bond with the fabric efficiently. This solution forms the base layer for CMYK colors, helping to accentuate them. It also prevents the white ink used with dark fabrics from mixing with other inks.
Step 3– Curing the pre-treated garment.
Once the garment is treated, it is cured using a heat press or a dryer. This process prevents the garment from absorbing the white ink. It also ensures the printing surface is flat and dry for quality print.
Step 4– Printing
The pretreated and cured garment is ready for printing. Place it in the DTG platen for correct alignment during printing. Now press starts to print the design.
Step 5- Ink Curing
This step is optional but vital for the longevity of the design. Ink curing involves placing the printed t-shirt under the heat press to bind the ink to the fabric correctly.
What is DTF printing?
Direct-to-film (DTF) printing is very similar to DTG, but the ink is applied to a unique transfer film instead of directly printing the design onto the garment. Using a heat press, the design is then printed from the film to the fabric.
How the DTF printing machine works
Consider a brief step-by-step overview of how to use a DTF printer.
Step 1– Preparing the digital art
One will need to install the DTF design software to help with preparing and saving art files in the correct file. Like any other printing, you’ll send digital art design to the inkjet DTF transfer printer.
Step 2– Print the design onto a DTF film paper.
This step involves inserting the DTF film paper into the printer and pressing start. Since it’s thin, it carries the design before transferring to the fabric. A well-maintained and cleaned DTF printer will produce vibrant designs for efficient transfer.
Step 3- Coating the printed design
The printed design on the film needs adhesive powder to help it bond with the garment. Use a shaker to help apply the bonding powder uniformly on the film and remove excess ones.
Next, place the powdered film in a curing oven for 15 to 20 seconds to give the design its sticking properties.
Step 4- Garment printing
Place the garment under a digital transfer heat press and align the film paper on top. Now press the design onto the fabric to transfer the design.
Step 5– Peeling off the film
Since we’re only interested in the design, it is vital to peel the film off the garment to leave the vibrant print design on the t-shirt or textile. Some prefer cold peeling the film to ensure the ink embeds into the garment.
Step 7– Curing the design (Optional)
This step entails heat pressing the design again to cure the ink to the fabric. It may increase the life and durability of the design, but it may also lose color saturation.
DTG vs. DTF Printer: The Differences
While these printers have striking similarities, they also have stark differences. The table below shows some differences to help you decide which method suits your business.
|Differentiator||DTG Printing||DTF Printing|
|Printing Method||DTG printers print directly on the fabric to produce soft, breathable designs.||DFT printers print the design on a special film, which is then transferred onto the fabric using a heat press.|
|Fabric Compatibility||Ideal for natural materials like cotton and light-colored garments.||Works well with different materials, including polyester, cotton, blends, and leather. It is suitable for both light and dark fabrics.|
|Color vibrancy||It prints vibrant colors on light garments but struggles with white ink opacity on dark garments.||Because of the white underbase, the DTF transfer printer produces vivid colors on light and dark fabrics.|
|Design complexity||Excellent for intricate and detailed designs.||Suitable for complex and colorful designs on light and dark textiles.|
|Printing speed||It can print bulk items quickly, with some DTG printers printing a front t-shirt fill color design in under 10 seconds.||Relatively slow, especially for bulk printing. The process of pealing the film slows the process.|
|Durability||Since it prints directly onto the fabric, the design binds with it, making it last longer, even with the wash. Although the ink and fabric type affect the print’s durability||The design may feel slightly thicker due to the film layer and may only last for a while after multiple washes.|
|Setup and Maintenance||It needs regular maintenance and calibration that takes a few minutes every operation day.||It has fewer maintenance requirements, making it easier to operate and maintain.|
|Pre-treatment||Pre-treatment on the garment needed||Pre-treatment not required|
|Print size||It can print large and awkward designs faster||Limited to printing smaller designs that fit the transfer paper.|
DTG vs. DTF: Pros of DTG Printing
Now, let’s look at the pros of DTG printers over DTF printers.
No need for transfer papers
Since DTG printers print directly on the fabric, they don’t use special transfer papers. As with DTF printers, printing directly to the material eliminates the extra steps needed to transfer the design to the garment.
Besides saving time and materials costs, it also allows printing larger and awkwardly shaped designs that may otherwise take two or more sheets of transfer paper to produce.
Durability of the design
DTG printing involves directly printing into the garment and curing the ink with a heat press to bind it with the fabric. This process gives the design a smoother feel than the one from a DTF transfer printer.
And since the ink is bound with the fabric’s fiber, it’ll last longer on the wash vs. a heat transfer DTF design.
Ability to print bulk items at fast speeds
DTG garment printer has a faster printing speed than DTF printers, allowing businesses to print in bulk. This ability makes DTG versatile, enabling a company to meet sudden increases in demand.
DTG printers use water-based and eco-friendly inks; hence, they have a minimal environmental impact. They produce less waste and use fewer chemicals than DTF printers.
DTG vs. DTF: Cons of Direct-to-Garment Printing
Before printing directly on the fabric, one pretreats the garment with a special liquid that allows the ink to bind with the material. Without this solution, the design will be less vibrant or faded.
Some businesses buy pre-treated t-shirts to load the t-shirts onto the printer for direct printing.
It only prints on flat substrates.
DTG printers only print on flat garments like t-shirts, hoodies, and shirts. This means they can’t decorate ceramic mugs, plates, and caps.
Limited Fabric Compatibility
DTG garment printers work best on natural materials like cotton-rich fabrics and may not perform well on synthetic or dark-colored textiles. On the other hand, DTF printers are more versatile and suit various materials, including polyester and dark fabrics.
Higher Initial Costs
DTG printing equipment and machinery require a significant initial investment, barring investors with limited means.
DTG vs. DTF: Pros of Direct-to-Film Printing
No pre-treatment process
Since one prints the design on a unique film and then coats it with adhesive powder, there isn’t a need for pre-treating the garment. And because it skips this step, it can save some time and cost for treatment liquid.
Ability to print on different substrate
Direct-to-film printer is versatile, allowing one to transfer designs onto several substrates. Since you aren’t printing directly on the fabric but on a special film paper and then transferring the design, this opens up opportunities to transfer designs on different substrates.
For instance, with a four-head DTF printer, one can transfer any design to ceramic mugs, plates, and caps, which could be impossible to design with DTG printers. This allows businesses to expand their horizons and products for customers to choose from
Ability to stock up on pre-printed designs
DTF transfer printer allows businesses to print designed films beforehand. And with a ready design in stock, a business owner can transfer them whenever a customer requires them. This is an advantage that DTG may not have because it could require stocking more garments.
Pre-printed film designs are easy to store, and one may not require substantial upfront capital as in the case of keeping t-shirts.
Versatility in fabric compatibility
DTF printing allows businesses to print on different materials, including polyester, cotton, blends, and leather. This versatility opens a huge market with a broader spectrum of products and fabric types than DTG, designed for cotton-rich fabrics.
Color vibrancy on dark garments
DTF textile and garment printers produce vivid colors and intricate designs on light and dark fabrics because they use white underbase. In contrast, DTG may struggle with vibrancy on dark-colored garments, especially with writing.
DTG vs. DTF: Cons of Direct-to-Film Printing
It requires more materials.
Since a DTF transfer printer film and adhesive powder aren’t reusable, one will need to stock lots of these materials. DTF printing results in more waste than DTG printing.
It is labor-intensive
Unlike the more automated DTG printing process, the DTF printing process requires more labor. One will need manual labour, from pouring adhesive powder onto the printed film paper to heat-pressing and peeling off the paper afterward.
Additionally, the extra steps involved in DTF printing mean it takes longer, hence unsuitable for bulk work.
Longevity of Prints
While DTF prints are durable, they don’t have the same longevity as DTG prints, which can withstand more washes without fading or cracking.
DTG vs. DTF Printers: Which one is better for your business?
After examining DTG and DTF printing techniques, it’s evident that both suit any business owner in the print-on-demand industry. Nevertheless, each method has different outcomes, and your choice can enhance or ruin your design.
When a business should choose a direct-to-film printer.
DTF technology is ideal for companies in apparel made from synthetic materials such as nylon, fleece, and polyester.
It is also a suitable printing method for those selling costumed textile designs like ceramic cups and plates and uneven surfaces like hats and bags. This printing method suits businesses that want to produce vivid and sharp layouts.
However, since DTF prints aren’t breathable, they may not be a good choice for printing large designs. This could make the garment uncomfortable to wear for long.
When a business should choose a direct-to-garment printer
A business owner selling products from natural materials like cotton will significantly benefit from DTG printing. This method allows you to create stellar t-shirts, shirts, tote bags, and hoodie designs.
DTG technique is also suitable for uncomplicated designs like text, graphic art, and logos. And while it also supports images, the prints may not be sharp, especially on dark-colored fabrics.
DTG prints are excellent for large and bulk images; follow the instructions.
So there it is. Direct-to-garment and direct-to-film printers have their pros and cons and ideal situation. The beauty is one can invest in a dual printer with a DTG and a DTF function.
Alternatively, one can upgrade the DTG printer like RICHO Ri 1000 with a simple software upgrade to perform both functions. This allows businesses to experience the best of both printing worlds. The dual printers allow one the versatility to scale their business without making additional equipment investments.