Since its introduction into the printing industry in mid-2020, the direct-to-film (DTF) printer has revolutionized how businesses and individuals print designs on textiles and fabrics.
However, like any new technology, it presents various challenges, especially for beginners. New business owners need the correct information, from choosing a suitable DTF printing machine to operating and maintaining it.
This article analyzes what beginners should look for when choosing a DTF printer, maintenance tips, and where to buy one.
What is DTF printing technology?
DTF (direct-to-film) is a printing technique that allows one to produce high-quality designs and graphics directly into a film before heat transferring it to fabrics and textiles. This technology is popular in the custom apparel industry- businesses creating personalized t-shirts and accessories.
Overview of DTF printing technology
Here is what a beginner needs to know about DTF printing.
- The printing process– DTF printers print designs onto a special heat transfer sheet/film using an eco-solvent ink. The designs are then transferred onto the desired fabric or material using a heat press.
- Materials– Because the printer uses white ink, one can use direct-to-film printers on several materials, such as cotton, polyester, blends, and leather.
- Color and detail– DTF printing machines can produce designs with full vibrant on any fabric.
- Durability– Unlike vinyl printers plagued by pealing designs, DTF printers are known for the durability and longevity of their designs, even after multiple washes.
How to Choose the Right DTF Printer
Choosing the right DTF printer can be an uphill task for beginners. Why? Because this technology is relatively new in the market and with several manufacturers, consumers can make mistakes when buying.
Fortunately, this section gives insight into how to choose a quality DTF printer.
1. Check the ink circulation system.
One of the significant challenges with a DTF printer is white ink clogging the nozzle and blocking the print head. While daily maintenance can alleviate this problem, the printing machine should have a white ink circulation system.
The effectiveness of the ink circulation system depends on its location. DTF printers that don’t stir the ink, the bottle, and the sac are susceptible to precipitation (clogging).
So, look for a DTF printing machine with an efficient white ink circulation system.
For instance, the a3 dtf printer has a circulation system that moves the ink from the ink bottle → ink bag ink→ pump→ ink bottle as a continuous process. This design allows the white ink to circulate for a long time without precipitating.
2. Consider the number of printing colors.
The older versions of DTF printers had two print heads- one nozzle emitting white ink and the other CMYK color ink. However, with advanced technology, new printing machines, like the Kaiou 2020 powder shaker machine, have multicolor functions.
Before settling for a DTF printer, one should research manufacturers with this technology. Evaluating whether the multiple-nozzle application is mature enough to avoid bug issues is also essential.
Evaluate if the white and black-hot melt powder works well
One can’t discuss DTF printers without mentioning powder-shaking functions. Excellent DTF transfer printers rely on quality hot melt powder to transfer designs onto textiles and fabrics.
However, choosing a substandard white hot melt powder can produce chaotic or poor color layering on the printed product. Therefore, it is essential to establish whether the direct-to-fabric machine uses the black and white hot melt powder efficiently.
The machine’s ability to display the original design is an essential feature of a DTF printer.
Remember, one can choose a hot melt powder depending on the fabric’s color. Different materials respond differently to hot melt powder.
Examine if the printer has a static elimination function.
One of the major issues with a direct-to-film transfer printer is the static problems during the printing process.
This issue relates to static electricity and can adversely affect the printing process and output quality. It happens when static electricity builds on various printing materials like the printing film, transfer sheet, fabric, or the printer itself.
Static electricity can damage the film, attract dust, interfere with ink dispersion, and cause the print to stick unevenly.
Beginner business owners should look for DTF printers with electrostatic eliminators. Otherwise, they can buy these rods and install them in the discharging system at the back. With this technology, one can avoid the effect of static electricity and improve printer performance.
Check if the DTF printing machine has a smoke-purifying function.
A DTF transfer printer is a machine that emits gases, powder, and other by-products that may be harmful to the operator’s body. While original designs didn’t have the exhaust function to eliminate harmful gasses safely, the new designs come with smoke extraction functions.
A good example is the Audley Mycolor DTF printer with an air purifier and a centralized waste discharge system to make it safer for employees to operate.
Consider ease of use.
Since beginners don’t have extensive experience with printing technology, they’ll need a direct-to-film printer that’s easy to use.
Ensure the printing machine has a user-friendly interface and touch-screen display to simplify printing. The installation process should also be straightforward, and the printing software should handle standard file formats like PNG and JPEG.
Confirm Size and Portability
Another aspect to consider before buying a DTF printer is its size and portability because they determine one’s ability to use and store the printer.
DTF printers come in different shapes, from small desktop models to industrial-size machines. Measure the space dedicated to the printer to ensure it fits well. And, of course, the print area should accommodate the machine and the operators.
Portability is essential for easy movement between locations. Look for models with built-in handles, wheels, and lightweight construction.
Remember to examine the power requirements of the printing machine before buying. Some DTF transfer printers have a high voltage that could force you to change your electrical wiring.
So, strike a balance between size and portability depending on specific needs. Larger stationary printers are ideal for business persons with a dedicated printing space. On the other hand, portable models are suitable for those with limited space and who intend to move the printer frequently.
Ensure web software compatibility.
As a newbie in the DTF printing business, you’ll need web software with a clear and straightforward dashboard. The software should be compatible with RIP (Raster Image Procesor) for ink optimization, color management, and halftone setting.
Printer with RIP software
Additionally, it should be compatible with Windows, macOS, or Linux and supports different file formats. Choosing a developer that provides regular updates to fix bugs and improve functionality and security is also essential.
Pro tip: Before spending a lot of money purchasing new software, try the free version to gauge what fits your business.
Essential DTF Printer Consumables
Anybody who thinks of printing t-shirts, mugs, or textiles and selling them online or offline can benefit from DTF printing technology. Many business owners are warming up to this method to bring their designs to life because their consumables are relatively cheap and last longer.
Here are the consumables needed to start a DTF printing business.
DTF printers work with specialized inks that stick well to different fabrics. The white ink is used as an under-base to allow one to print on dark and black shirts. One will also need the colored inks (a set of CMYK- cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) depending on the desired design color.
DFT film roll
DTF film roll is a transparent or translucent film that acts as the ink carrier. The design from the computer is printed on it and then transferred to the fabric. They come in different formats and sizes depending on one’s business needs.
This white powder helps bond the ink and the fabric during the heat transfer. The adhesive powder is applied to the printed design on the DTF printer film immediately after printing and spread evenly over the entire design using a shaker.
The film with the adhesive powder-covered design, is then placed onto the fabric and subjected to heat and pressure using a heat press machine. The heat press melts and activates the adhesive powder, fusing the ink with the fabric fibers.
Teflon sheets protect the printed designs from sticking to the heat press and ensure even heat distribution during the curing process. And while they are reusable, they may need replacement over time.
Glove and masks
Operating a DTF printer means handling ink, hence the need to wear disposable gloves. Employees may also need to wear a respirator to avoid breathing fumes, dust, and powder from the printer.
Even if one operates a printer with a sound ventilation system, wearing a face mask reduces the risk of future respiratory infections.
Maintenance of the DTF printer
Conduct a print head cleaning
One can do this through their computer to see if the print head is clogged. Examine the nozzles to see if all the lines are functional.
Keep the Workspace Clean
As discussed earlier, static electricity can cause dust to settle on the DFT film, clog the printer components, and impact print quality. Therefore, one should use lint-free cloths or wipes to clean the work area, including the printing table, platen, and surfaces near the printer.
Ensure the ink containers are tightly sealed to maintain the ink’s viscosity and prevent drying. Keep the containers in a cool, dry environment to maintain the ink’s properties.
One should also store DTF ink containers in a dark area to protect them from direct sunlight or UV light. Direct light can degrade color and impact print quality.
Where to buy quality DTF printers
Business owners can find direct-to-film transfer printers from the manufacturer’s website, authorized dealers, and local printing equipment suppliers.
Online marketplaces like Alibaba.com have many direct-to-film printers from different manufacturers. One can research unique models using customer reviews before buying in this marketplace.
The platform offers efficient customer support in case of any challenges with installation and operations.
FAQs on DTF printers
How do you know that the white tube is clogged?
- One will notice inconsistent or missing white ink on the prints.
- The white ink doesn’t flow smoothly through the print head, or uneven white backgrounds in the prints.
- The print head cleaning doesn’t resolve the white ink problem.
- Check the nozzles or perform a test print to discover irregular or missing ink nozzles.
- Visual inspection can also help the operator see the blockages or discoloration in the tube.
What is a DTF printer?
A DTF printer is a digital machine designed to directly print high-quality, full-color images on fabrics and textiles. They don’t need the traditional heat transfer vinyl or screen printing, and with white ink as a base color, they allow printing on dark or colored fabrics.
Can one print DTF with any printer?
No. Direct-to-film printers have specialized printing processes that need specific printers. The printer must have white ink capability, print head design, and heat transfer ability.