Is this the future of digital print?

Jim Nicol and Colin Marsh at the launch of the DTF collaboration

P&P editor Melanie Attlesey speaks with Jim Nicol of TheMagicTouch and Colin Marsh of Resolute DTG to find out more about direct to film printing – the new garment decoration technique that is flooding the market right now.

For my first trip out of the office since the pandemic hit in March 2020, I had to make sure the visit was going to be a good one.

And what better way to spend the day than seeing a new technology in action, which is pegged as an exciting addition to garment decoration that cannot be ignored.

TheMagicTouch and Resolute DTG have spent the past year beavering away behind the scenes to collaboratively bring to the market the R-Jet Pro DTF printer and automatic finishing unit, which utilises the newest in garment decoration technology.

One of the first things that Jim says to me on arrival at TheMagicTouch in Dunstable is that direct to garment printing is dead. Certainly, a bold claim to make. However, it is a claim that is seconded by Colin when I later speak to him.

The R-Jet Pro DTF printer

Is DTG dead?

As Colin explains: “We have been in the DTG market for the last 12 years and have just watched it fall of a cliff in the last year. Anyone that has come in to view our range of DTG printers have seen the DTF printer sitting in the corner, asked for a demo and are then no longer interested in DTG.”

The reasons for this will become clear later on.

Direct to film printing is an alternative process to DTG printing. Using a specially formulated water-based ink, a 60cm wide roll of PET film transfer is printed using two eight channel Epson print heads at a rate of 20sq m per hour. Once printed, a hot-melt adhesive powder is applied to the ink to set the print. The transfer is then heat cured using infrared bulbs ready for storage or instant use. The transfers can be heat applied to garments or other substrates using a traditional heat press at 150˚C for just 15 seconds using medium pressure and warm-cool peel.

TheMagicTouch’s journey to this point began in the summer of 2020 during videocall with Chris Pisani, CEO of TheMagicTouch USA, when talk turned to this new technology that was emerging out of China. Jim explains: “Chris had been watching YouTube videos where Epson printers had been converted to print transfer film. He was amazed by the technology.”

Nathan Newbury of TheMagicTouch heat presses the neck label of a T shirt

Intrigued by the possibility, TheMagicTouch purchased an Epson desktop printer and Nathan Newbury, head of technical, spent three months converting it to make it print transfer films. The first modified printer took an average of 28 minutes to produce an A3 print, so it was clear that more work was needed to increase the speed to make it a viable alternative to methods currently on the market. The more Nathan tinkered with the concept the quicker the prints came out of the machine.

Having worked with Resolute DTG on previous projects, Jim approached Colin to start the ball rolling on producing a DTF system built from the ground up. Unbeknown to Jim, Colin had also been intrigued by this technology that was emerging out of China and was already in conversation with his manufacturer about developing a DTF system.

“We were about to launch a new DTG printer to the market and had placed an order for X number of units when our manufacturer said ‘have you seen this new technology? It doesn’t need pre-treatment’. We asked for some samples and when we saw them, we thought we’ve just wasted a whole load of money on a printer that is going to become obsolete in a year’s time,” explains Colin.

Utilising Resolute DTG’s knowledge of the DTG market and TheMagicTouch’s knowledge of the transfer market, the result was the R-Jet Pro DTF. It is one of the fasted fully automated systems available in the UK.

Three key advantages

The best thing about the DTF set-up is that no weeding and no pre-treatment is required to produce fine detail and vibrant prints. Along with the ability to print straight onto polyester, cardboard, doormats, bags etc. with ease, these attributes are what both Jim and Colin say are the three key advantages of direct to film printing. For anyone who has previously shied away from DTG printing or transfer printing because of those complexities, this system is ideal. And for anyone who currently operates direct to garment printers and is used to the maintenance involved, they will be well placed to carry out the basic 15 minutes’ worth of maintenance required each morning and evening to ensure the printer operates at its best. You can understand why Jim says that DTG is dead, when you actually see and appreciate how easy and quick the DTF print process is.

Colin adds: “It outperforms DTG hands down. For every four sales we do that is probably one DTG, one print and cut, one screen print and one white toner printer, that never got sold because this machine does it all.”

Another positive of the R-Jet Pro DTF printer is that it is also an eco-friendly option, because of the specially formulated water-based pigment inks used. The inks are similar to that of latex inks offering better wash durability and unique stretching properties.

Users of the DTF system can set up a white label website

The Resolute RIP software is written by CADlink under an OEM license and for users of the DTF system there is even the option to launch a white label website for on-demand orders using a DecoNetwork platform specifically designed for direct to film printing.

Life changing

The first machine in the UK was installed at Manchester-based Identity Printing in March, a mere six months after Nathan began modifying an Epson desktop printer. “They’ve told me that this machine has changed their lives,” says Colin. And since then, installations of the machine have been non-stop.

TheMagicTouch and Resolute DTG are currently installing the machines at a rate of six a week in the UK and have enough orders on their books to take them through to the beginning of next year.

Sales have taken off that much, that Colin says he has had to open a second unit to house a bigger showroom, allowing for more storage in the original Resolute HQ where the pre-delivery inspection testing is performed.

“We are completely snowed under with orders and are recruiting extra inkjet technician’s and additional members in our consumables team to cope with demand,” says Colin.

Jim agrees: “We have sold a machine to everyone who has seen it. The only exception being those whose building we cannot physically get the machine into because of its size.”

The footprint for the R-Jet Pro and the automatic finishing unit is approximately 4x2m. The printer including the stand is 150kgs and the finishing unit is 270kgs. For those with tight corners and doorways, this machine is definitely not an option as a minimum of 1m door clearance is required for installation.

Jim continues: “This machine is worth its weight in gold and some of the comments we have received from customers are unbelievable. Some have even cancelled their orders for DTG printers on the phone right in front of us, after seeing a demo of the DTF printer.”

Both men agree that this is a very exciting time for the garment decoration market and predict that in time, the DTF process will become quicker, smaller and cheaper to open up the technology to even more decorators.

  • You can see this machine in action at Printwear & Promotion LIVE! in February
Hannah Benson of Signature Printing with the R-Jet Pro DTF printer

‘I’ve never seen a printer like it’

Upon seeing the R-Jet Pro DTF printer earlier in the year, Hannah Benson of Chester-based Signature Printing, could not wait to get one installed. Here she explains why.

As a long-time customer of TheMagicTouch, Hannah was one of the first customers that Jim Nicol invited for a demo of the R-Jet Pro DTF printer.

“At first, I thought that Jim was giving it the big sales talk, but when I saw the printer, I thought I just have to have it!” explains Hannah. “One of the first things I do when I see a new printer is the stretch test and usually there is some cracking with a print, however these prints are amazing quality, really durable and actually move with the fabric. I’ve never seen a printer like it.”

The R-Jet Pro DTF printer was installed at the beginning of July and has actually replaced three direct to garment printers. Using direct to garment printers, meant that Hannah and the team were limited to printing on just cotton garments. However, now the team are planning to broaden the number of products they print on to include diaries, denim and polyester. They would like to print on backpacks too but at the moment lack the right heat press.

Pre-COVID Signature Printing was the biggest seller of personalised gifts on eBay, which gives an indication of the size of the business and the output that the team are capable of producing on a daily basis. The team have just been through one of their busiest periods with the back to school season and the R-Jet Pro DTF printer has coped with the demand. Two team members can comfortably print 2,000 jobs in a day. And the beauty of DTF is that you can produce transfers in advance and decide what product to apply them to later on.

“We were actually quite shocked at how good the printer actually is. It is hands down the best printer we have ever owned. Even our customers have noticed the difference in the quality of the prints. Quality isn’t lost in the prints, even with tiny writing on neck labels. It’s game changing,” says Hannah.

Hannah would love to have a second system installed in due course. And with the R-Jet Pro DTF printer she says that bigger and better things are planned for Signature Printing in the next 12 months. Hannah even has plans to regain her top spot on eBay as the number one seller of promotional gifts, after the pandemic has affected sales in the last 18 months.

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