In this extended article, Dmitry Sarbaev, managing director of FLUXMALL DTG, details the ins and outs of direct to film printing and why this method could be a great add on to your direct to garment set-up.
The DTF printing method has rapidly entered the garment decoration industry over the last two years, invading some sectors of the market, and bringing in discussions of tremendous benefits for the new know-how.
Some experts even claimed that DTF would disrupt the DTG world and kick it out from the game by delivering greater results at a lower cost. Let’s look closer at the method itself and reflect on the pros and cons of DTF for the industry.
DTF abbreviation confusion
If you have been in the industry for a while – you will certainly experience some confusing moments related to the DTF abbreviation. For many years experts used to think of DTF as a method of a roll-to-roll direct printing on various types of fabrics. The latter defines the letter ‘F’ in the abbreviation – direct to fabric. It implies the usage of industrial printers that would feed the fabric in, print the pattern directly using the inkjet print head along the fabric width, and complete post-treatment of the fabric by the usage of stentors, steamers and polymerisation units, depending on the type of ink being utilised in the printer.
This remains intact for the professional niche of garment manufacturers and decorators, whereas the widespread direct to film application has entered our vocabulary and made DTF an abbreviation with a dual meaning. As the name suggests, it is a different type of a decoration method that has nothing to do with direct fabrics printing. Some would call direct to film printing as PET referring to rolls of polyester film made from stretched polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
More or less, be careful to check with your counterparts what they actually mean when they use the DTF abbreviation.
What is DTF?
In a nutshell, direct to film printing is a reverse-order DTG using special heat transfer films to apply artwork on the substrate. The artwork is pre-printed on the film – CMYK layer first, then white layer second – in order to form the solid foundation of the print on the film. The method is known to be using no pretreament. Instead, a hotmelt adhesive powder is applied on the surface of the print once it is completed on the printer. You might think of the powder as a dry glue – once melted, it is evenly spread over the white ink layer and will serve as a bonding agent in the next step when the print is heat-pressed onto a garment. All you have to do last – peel off the special film, and you get a nice DTF-printed garment in your hands!
Is DTF a threat to DTG?
Not at all! By no means, DTF has its own advantages but it would be ignorant to assert that DTG will sink in the hype of the DTF market. DTG has paved its own way over the past decade or more to become an industrial garment decoration method of digital printing, and only in the most recent years the industry professionals have been observing state-of-the-art DTG machinery built from the ground up, being rolled out so amazing quality could be delivered at an outstanding speed and affordable cost per print.
Here are some quick advantages of DTG when compared to DTF:
- DTG is unbeatable in terms of the handfeel as you can precisely control the amount of white ink that you lay down onto different garments whereas pretreatment already sits inside in the fibres. As of now, the industry is experimenting with improving the handfeel of DTF prints by putting holes or stripes throughout the print to make it feel softer. Still, this would bring the visual comprehension of the DTF print down, as you put the same DTG print to compare side-by-side.
- When it comes to blends into the substrates, gradients and other effects when you need to use the color of the fabric as part of your artwork – there is no better choice than DTG. On the contrary, the DTF fixing powder will make the print less integrated with the fabric, thus all the edges between the print and the fabric will be visibly seen.
- There is a widespread idea that DTG is only applicable for cotton. It is true that printing on dark synthetic materials will require a significant tweaking of a standard DTG production process, careful selection of pretreatment liquids, inks and drying equipment but it is still doable, and the results could be amazing. Don’t limit your creativity if you are a designer and stick with the manufacturers that can deliver great prints of a variety of fabrics, including polyester and nylon.
The benefits of DTF as an auxiliary for DTG
Writing this article from the heart of textile and garment manufacturing industry of Southeast Asia – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – I can firmly say that DTF should be wisely used as an add-on to the existing sustainable method which DTG truly is. It is always better to build up on a strong foundation of an existing credible method while being able to recognise the holes that the new add on could successfully cover.
The DTF segment of the industry is new and immature, and flooded with repurposed printers using non-genuine cheap consumables from neighbour countries, and many players around the world are overly excited to enter market because of a seemingly low entrance ticket. It might work well in the DIY market to master the process in-house, but surely won’t meet quality and safety standards of recognised fashion brands in an industrial scale.
A responsible approach is to use direct to film printing on your existing DTG fleet – this will ensure all prints have been made using eco-friendly, Oeko-Tex certified inks and meet highest safety standards, and there no need to invest in other equipment.
- Low cost of investment
Do you have your DTG printer up and running, and your heat press on? Great! Just add a pack of DTF films and a couple kg of hotmelt powder to your first DTF order from your dealer, and you are good to go! The printer and the heating equipment is just enough, and the rest is primarily a manual labour. You might also want to double check with your RIP software vendor about the availability of extra DTF drivers that are compatible with your DTG printer that will help you jump in and make your first DTF print right away.
- Solid colour artworks on non-organic fabrics
DTF prints are easier to make on non-organic fabrics where DTG is seemingly more complex, or you don’t have a proper expertise and/ or equipment to print on those fabrics. If your artwork contains solid blocks of colours, and you don’t mind a bit of a shinier look, and plastic-type of a handfeel – DTF is a proper choice for you and an easier path to take.
With certain business models, especially if you do some typical customisation like numbers, lettering and logos – you can pre-print those in bulk quantities on your DTG machine, keep them and press when you need only. This will allow you to save some time on incoming repeated jobs.
- Difficult placements
It’s no surprise that every DTG machine has a variety of different platens to fit the demand of printing on sleeves, hoods, shoes, caps, etc. However, in certain scenarios the position on the print might be quite tricky and won’t necessarily fit into the DTG printer. In these cases, DTF application might help you position the film with a print exactly as you need, and heat press it to fix in the required position.
All these hints and recommendations will help you become a better garment decorator and owner of a DTG printer making the most of it by printing directly on a garment, or using indirect DTF application.