What is direct-to-film (DTF) printing?
Susie Graves

What is direct-to-film (DTF) printing?

What is direct-to-film (DTF) printing?

Fashion trends come and go, but everyone loves a good graphic t-shirt.  Whether it’s a company logo, a niche pop culture reference, or just a cool design, printed garments are a fun and casual way to express yourself.

If you’re looking to start your own garment printing business or want to upgrade your current operation, DTF can help you produce high-quality designs that last.  Because this technology is so new, even experienced garment printers may not fully understand what it is or how it works.  In our DTF Basics series, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about this revolutionary garment printing technique.

A brief history of DTF Printing

At first, only large clothing manufacturers were able to produce graphic t-shirts and other garments.  However, the technologies necessary for garment printing have slowly become accessible.  You may have screen-printed shirts at summer camp when you were younger.  In more recent years, heat transfer vinyl and paper used with cutting machines have become a popular way to make shirts at home.  These have made it easier to start your own garment business, but they do not allow you to create intricately detailed designs and may fade or peel easily.

DTF technology—which addresses many of these complaints—first hit the scene in 2021.  However, it took until late 2022 to be adopted as a mainstream production technique.

How does DTF work?

DTF printing is a straightforward process, but it does require specific equipment.  First, you will need a special DTF printer to print your design onto a heat-transfer film.  Much like a standard inkjet printer, DTF printers use water-based inks in magenta, cyan, yellow, and black to create a wide range of different colors.  Unlike inkjet printers, DTF printers also require white ink.

Once the design has been printed on the film, it is treated with an adhesive powder and cured.  Once it is cured, you apply the film to the garment where you would like the design and use a heat press to transfer the graphic to the fabric.  DTF printing allows you to create highly detailed designs with bold, vivid colors.

DTF vs. DTG

DTF vs. DTG

Before the invention of DTF technology, direct-to-garment (DTG) was the most modern way to add designs to garments.  DTG printing uses modified inkjet technology to spray water-based inks directly onto a garment.  It has useful applications, but there are several drawbacks when compared to DTF printing.

DTF printing works on more fabrics

You can only print directly on garments made from natural fibers or garments that have been pretreated for printing.  DTF printing works on any fabric, even synthetic materials, without treatment.

DTF produces more bold and vibrant colors

Unless you are printing onto a white garment, the color of the fabric can make the colors of the design appear muted or muddy.  Since DTF transfers the design to a colorless film first, the original colors are preserved.

DTF graphics are more durable

Graphics printed directly to a garment may start to fade with repeated washes.  However, since DTF graphics are cured first, they tend to last a lot longer.

Start printing your designs with help from DTF Superstore

Interested in exploring the world of DTF printing?  DTF Superstore is the largest Direct to Film supplier in America.  We offer everything you need to get started, including printers, inks, transfer films, adhesive powders, design software, and heat presses.  You can also follow our blog to learn the ins and outs of creating incredible designs and garments.

Watch our YouTube series on DTF Basics.