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DTF Shirt Printing 101: Elevate Your Apparel Business

DTF Shirt Printing

Custom T-shirt printing has consistently ranked as one of the most popular niche market within the customization industry, and the printing solutions have continued to evolve in recent years. The emerging DTF shirt printing approach is proving to be a promising and ultimate solution for shirt customization. Despite its popularity in textile printing, many business runners still lack comprehensive information on how DTF printing works. In this post, we aim to demystify DTF printing by explaining what it is, how it works, and providing a step-by-step guide with deep insights and professional tips. This will empower even beginners in the shirt customization business to print with DTF printers like seasoned experts. Keep reading, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments; we welcome any ideas you might want to contribute to the discussion.

What is DTF Printing for Custom T-shirt Printing?

DTF printing stands out as a relatively new technique in T-shirt printing, especially when compared to traditional methods like plastisol screen printing and Direct to Garment (DTG) printing. Instead of printing the design directly onto the garment, DTF involves printing designs onto a PET film (check our ultimate guide on DTF transfer). The next step involves transferring these designs to the garment by applying heat and pressure to transfer and fabric using heat press machines. To get a visual understanding of how DTF printing works, consider checking out the video linked below:

Choose The Best Printing Technique for T-shirt Printing?

While DTF appears to be the optimal choice for the garment decoration industry, determining the most suitable printing technique for your business will always entail taking into account the unique demands of your specific operations.

Screen Printing: Screen printing, a time-tested method, is efficient for large orders but may be limited in intricate designs and color options. While suitable for bulk production, its constraints in design complexity make it less versatile compared to newer technologies (Additional colors in screen printing has the potential to significantly escalate costs).

DTG (Direct-to-Garment): DTG stands out in its ability to accurately reproduce intricate and vibrant designs, positioning it as an excellent choice for smaller batch productions. However, it is limited to cotton materials, and this restriction, coupled with potential cost considerations (the application of pretreatment liquid and the associated process contributes to an increase in costs per unit), may impact its versatility for larger runs compared to alternative options.

Sublimation: Sublimation is ideal for vivid, full-color designs and all-over prints, but its reliance on polyester fabrics and limitations in design intricacy may not make it the optimal choice for businesses aiming for versatility in fabric selection and design complexity.

HTV (Heat Transfer Vinyl):

HTV proves to be a fitting choice for straightforward designs on cotton fabrics. Nonetheless, its single-layer-per-color characteristic, along with a restricted color range and applicability to specific fabrics, could render it less versatile when compared to the advanced capabilities offered by DTF printing.

DTF (Direct-to-Film): As an emerging and promising solution, DTF printing offers unmatched flexibility for intricate designs and vibrant colors. Its ability to handle various fabric types, coupled with the durability of prints, positions DTF as a superior option, especially for businesses seeking high-quality results across different production scales.

4 Reasons to Use DTF for T-shirt Printing

Fabric Versatility: DTF printing boasts unparalleled compatibility with a wide array of fabric materials prevalent in the market. Whether it’s polyester, cotton, denim, leather, nylon, or blended fabrics, DTF printing effortlessly adapts to each, ensuring seamless and flawless prints without any concerns or limitations.

Versatile Designs: DTF printing excels in intricate and detailed designs, providing a rich palette for designers and shirt printing companies. From intricate patterns to photorealistic images, the precision of DTF allows for diverse design possibilities, catering to various applications like sports apparel graphics, high-end fashion logos, and fine art reproductions.

Cost-Effective & Swift Turnaround: DTF printing streamlines the process by eliminating steps like screen creation in traditional screen printing, weeding in HTV, and pretreatment in DTG. This not only enhances cost-effectiveness but positions DTF printing as an optimal solution for small to medium orders, ensuring both economical production and rapid turnaround times.

Washability, Stretchability, & Soft Touch: Through rigorous testing, DTF printing has demonstrated washability qualities equal to, if not surpassing, traditional DTG methods. Additionally, it offers commendable stretchability and a soft touch, ensuring that printed garments not only withstand washing cycles effectively but also provide a comfortable and flexible feel when worn.

Essentials to Start T-shirt Printing at Home or Workspace

While DTF printing is a relatively straightforward process, there are a few essential items that users need to have in place before launching your T-shirt printing business:

  • DTF printers
  • Powder shaking machine
  • DTF oven
  • DTF air purifier (optional)
  • DTF adhesive powder
  • DTF ink
  • DTF film
  • Heat press machine

Choosing the Right DTF Printer

It’s time to pick the right DTF printer for your project. With so many options out there, especially for beginners, choosing the perfect one can be tricky. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the DTF Station product line. It’s a great place for everyone, from beginners to experts, to find the right solution for their printing needs.

Model

Prestige A4


Prestige R2


Prestige R2 Pro


Prestige L2


Prestige XL2

PhotoPrestige R2 Pro DTF Printer
Max. Printing Width21cm30cm30cm45cm(18″) 60cm(24″)
Printing SpeedA4(1140/5min)6Pass 2.5-3.5 sqm/h
8Pass 1.5-2 sqm/h
10 Pass 2.5-3 sqm/h
12 Pass 1.5- 2 sqm/h
6Pass 5.5 sqm/h
8Pass 4.5 sqm/h
6Pass 9.5 sqm/h
8Pass 7.5 sqm/h
Net Weight (kg)15kg40kg56.5kg139kg 154kg
Main Board & Printer HeadEPSON/
EPSON L805
Hosonsoft /
Dual EPSON F1080
Hosonsoft /
Dual EPSON i1600
Hosonsoft /
Dual Epson I3200
Hosonsoft /
Dual Epson I3200
Daily Output70 pcs
(7.87″ x 11.81″ design size, 8 hrs per day)
Around 160pcs
(Based on 12”x14” design size, 8 hours per day)
Around 160pcs
(Based on 12”x14” design size, 8 hours per day)
6pass: 400pcs / 8pass: 300pcs
(Based on 12”x14” design size, 8 hours per day)
6pass: 650pcs / 8pass: 500pcs
(Based on 12”x14” design size, 8 hours per day)
SizePrinter Size
580*530*200mm
Packing Size
650*470*280mm
Printer Size
795*330*442mm
Packing Size
970*670*670mm
Printer Size
853*643*530mm
Packing Size
970*670*670mm
Printer Size
1160*750*1416mm
Packing Size
1200*1000*711mm
Printer Size
1336*658*1400mm
Packing Size
1470*1100*720mm

Factors to Consider

Apart from the basic figures, there are few important factors, every business owners should consider.

Printing Width: While you can design your graphics and fonts in both horizontal and vertical directions in the design file, it’s crucial to ensure that the maximum printing width of the DTF printer exceeds the width you need for your T-shirt designs.

DTF T-shirt Printing Size
DTF T-shirt Printing Size

Daily Output: When running a T-shirt printing business, understanding the daily productivity is key before choosing a DTF printer that suits your business needs. You can inquire with the supplier for information on printing speed values or the daily output numbers of a DTF printer.

Ease of Use: Though DTF printing requires no steep learning curve, it’s always recommended to choose a printer with user-friendly design like touchscreen interfaces and straightforward controls.

Supplier Support and Training: Avoiding the loss of orders and clients due to malfunctioning devices is crucial. Opt for a DTF printer with straightforward maintenance and cleaning processes to save time and effort. Adequate support and training from the supplier can play a pivotal role in preserving your brand reputation, providing the knowledge and assistance needed to address issues promptly and efficiently.

Durability and Build Quality: Invest in a DTF printer with a robust build to ensure durability and longevity, especially if you plan to use it for heavy production.

Budget Considerations: Setting a budget is the first step; then, compare the features and capabilities of various DTF printers within your price range. Take an extra step to factor in costs for onsite training, additional tech support, or any required paid software. It’s crucial to consider the long-term cost of ownership to make a comprehensive and informed investment decision.

Recommended Features for Optimal Performance

In addition to the previously mentioned factors, it’s essential to check for the following recommended features when evaluating DTF printers:

  • White Ink Circulating System: To counteract settling issues that can lead to clogging or uneven distribution in white ink, many printers incorporat a White Ink Circulating System. This system continuously agitates and circulates the white ink within its container, ensuring a consistent mix and preventing settling or separation.
  • Auto-cleaning System: Another important feature of DTF printer is the auto-cleaning system. It takes care of maintaining and cleaning the printhead when the printer is left on.

How to Perform DTF Shirt Printing: Step-by-step Guide

Step 1: Preparing the Printing Workspace

To achieve optimal printing result, it also requires a strict control on working environment. Here are a few steps to take to prepare an ideal workspace for DTF shirt printing.

1) Clean and Controlled Environment: Maintain a clean and controlled workspace to prevent dust, debris, and contaminants from affecting the printing process. A dust-free environment ensures the quality of prints and reduces the chances of defects.

2) Proper Ventilation: Ensure proper ventilation to manage fumes and odors generated during the printing process. Adequate airflow helps in maintaining a healthy working environment and ensures the comfort of operators. To maintain a fresh and odor-free workspace, you could also consider utilizing devices equipped with built-in air purifiers or incorporate an additional air purifier system.

DTF Oven with Built-in Air Purifier
DTF Oven with Built-in Air Purifier

3) Organized Workstation Layout: Plan a well-organized workstation layout to facilitate a smooth workflow. Arrange equipment, such as the DTF printer, powder shaker, and workspace, in a way that minimizes unnecessary movements and enhances efficiency.

Organized Workstation Layout for Prestige R2 A3 DTF Printing Solution

4) Storage for Consumables: Allocate designated storage for consumables such as DTF films, inks, and cleaning supplies. Proper storage helps maintain the integrity of materials and prevents contamination.

Step 2: Preparing Artwork for DTF Printing

Whether you’re opting for the traditional plastisol printing method or the advanced DTF printing technique, the initial step involves preparing your designs. You can either craft your design from scratch or download an image from a website. It’s crucial to note that when using printing techniques that involve a transfer, such as DTF, mirroring your design becomes essential. In addition to mirroring, here are some extra tips to elevate the quality of your printing results:

1) High Resolution Graphics: Use high-resolution graphics to ensure sharp and detailed prints. DTF printing can capture intricate details, so provide high-quality source files for optimal results.

2) Use Vector Graphics: Utilize vector graphics for in your designs. Vector graphics maintain crispness and clarity regardless of size, ensuring legible and professional-looking text on the final print.

3) Avoid Small Text or Details: DTF printing may have limitations with extremely small text or intricate details. Avoid designs with overly intricate elements that may not transfer well during the printing process.

4) Consider Fabric Type: Design with the target fabric in mind. Different fabrics may require adjustments in your design approach to achieve the desired look and durability.

Step 3: Printing DTF Transfers

While initiating DTF transfers for your shirts might seem as simple as pressing a powder button, the preparatory tasks can be considerably more intricate, demanding extra attention and time. Typically, an ICC profile encompassing all the necessary settings is provided, offering tested and proven optimal printing configurations for each printer. However, achieving optimal results across different inks, films, and fabrics may necessitate some fine-tuning. It’s a process of experimentation and calibration to pinpoint the perfect match and combination.

Print & Cut Film Transfer
Print & Cut Film Transfer

Step 4: Powder Shaking

Powder shaking involves the even distribution of adhesive powder across the entire printing area to ensure proper adhesion and bonding between ink, film, and fabric. Insufficient powder shaking can lead to several undesirable outcomes. Here are some of the adverse effects of poor powder shaking:

  • inconsistencies in ink adhesion causing blotches or gaps in the design
  • insufficient powder coverage leads to a distorted or incomplete print
  • inconsistent powder distribution leads to peeling, cracking, or fading after washing
  • poor powder shaking cause fine lines or intricate elements not being accurately reproduced on the garment
  • inadequate powder coverage can make it challenging to peel the film which can result in tearing or damage to the print during the peeling stage
  • uneven powder distribution may contribute to ink bleeding, where colors spread into unintended areas

When it comes to powder shaking, users have the option of conducting it manually or utilizing an automated powder applicator machine. While manual powder shaking is easy to operate, a powder shaker offers greater efficiency, ensuring sufficient, consistent, and even distribution for more desirable results.

Manual Powder Shaking

Step 5: Curing

After distributing adhesive powder onto the printed film transfer, the subsequent curing process is a critical step where heat is applied to the ink and powder for the following 3 main purposes:

  • Powder Activation: The heat causes the powder to melt and become tacky, creating a receptive surface for the ink transfer.
  • Minimizing Ink Migration: help the ink adhere securely to the activated powder and ensures the ink bond effectively with the fabric, resulting in a well-bonded and durable print.
  • Enhancing Print Durability: It ensures that the ink, powder, and fabric form a robust bond during the heat press, resulting in a long-lasting and resilient design.

For the curing process, it typically involves using a dedicated DTF oven machine.

Film Curing with Phoenix Air 4050 DTF Oven

Certain automated powder shaking machines also incorporate a curing function, streamlining the entire process for increased efficiency and reduced labor requirements, thereby enhancing overall productivity.

Powder Shaking Machine with Upper Curing Oven
Powder Shaking Machine with Upper Curing Oven

Step 6: Prepare the Shirt

Before using a heat press machine to transfer designs onto shirts, it’s beneficial to briefly pre-heat the shirts. A few seconds of gentle heat help remove moisture and smooth out wrinkles, creating an optimal surface for the film to adhere to the fabric. This quick pre-heating step ensures a clean canvas, minimizing distortions and contributing to the overall quality and durability of the final print.

Step 7: Place The Transfer

Choosing the right location for your T-shirt design is crucial, and it’s beneficial to plan ahead considering that each location may have recommended sizes. Here’s a graphic guide highlighting the 8 most popular T-shirt printing design locations with placement guidance for each. If you have additional suggestions or insights, we welcome your comments and input.

DTF Shirt Printing: Transfer Placement Guide
DTF Shirt Printing: Transfer Placement Guide

Beyond relying solely on the graphic guide, there are several additional tricks to enhance your t-shirt printing prowess:

  • Alignment is Key: Ensure precise alignment of the transfer on the garment. Use reference points such as seams or specific measurements to achieve accurate placement. Consider the location of neck and sleeve seams when placing the transfer to ensure that the design complements the garment’s overall structure and appearance.
  • Secure with Tape: Use heat-resistant tape to secure the transfer in place. This helps prevent any movement or shifting during the heat press application.
  • Utilize Alignment Tools: Invest in alignment tools or accessories that assist in achieving consistent and accurate placement across multiple garments.

Step 8: Heat Transfer

Now comes the crucial step of transferring the design onto the garment using a heat press machine. The key to a successful heat transfer process lies in ensuring the correct settings for the garment, particularly focusing on the temperature, time, and pressure settings of the heat press machine. Specifically tailored for DTF transfers, here are the recommended settings categorized according to different fabric types (For more detailed information, refer to the ultimate guide on heat press settings).

MaterialTemperatureTimePressure
Cotton320-350°F (160-180°C)10-15SMedium to Heavy
50/50 Blends320-350°F (160-180°C)10-15SMedium to Heavy
Synthetic & Polyester Fabrics280-300°F (140-150°C)10-15SMedium to Heavy
Heat Press Settings for DTF Printing

To attain the best results when heat pressing, consider these additional tips and tricks:

Experiment with the Best Settings: While the suggested setting values above serve as an initial guide based on our heat press and supplies, it’s advisable to conduct a few print tests to determine the optimal settings for your specific conditions.

Use Teflon Sheets: Place Teflon sheets between the heat platen and the DTF transfer to ensure even pressure distribution and prevent any irregularities caused by direct contact between the press and the transfer material. This contributes to the overall quality of the transfer.

Place Telfon Sheet Between Platen & Transfer & Shirts
Place Telfon Sheet Between Platen & Transfer & Shirts

Step 9: Peel Off

The last step of DTF T-shirt printing is peeling off the film on transfer. Based on whether users should wait for the transfer to cool down to peel it off, DTF transfers could fall into hot peel or cold peel transfers (While transfer film from DTF Station, you can either wait it to cool down or peel off when it is still warm). So before peeling off the film, make sure you understand which film type you are using.

Here are some additional pro tips and tricks to enhance the peeling process during DTF printing.

Patience is Key: Allow the transfer to cool adequately before peeling. Rushing the process can lead to smudging or distortion of the printed design.

Evaluate Film Release: Assess how easily the film releases from the fabric. If you encounter difficulties or find the film isn’t releasing smoothly, adjust the peel angle or wait a bit longer for cooling.

Avoid Abrupt Movements: Smooth and controlled movements are crucial during peeling. Avoid abrupt or jerky motions, as they can cause unintended distortions in the printed design.

Consider A Second Heat Press: While, in most cases, additional heat pressing is not required, if some or all of the design fails to transfer, it indicates insufficient heat, pressure, or time during the initial press. Begin by pressing your transfer again with increased pressure and an additional 5-10 seconds. If the issue persists, experiment with 15°F heat increments until you pinpoint the optimal temperature for a successful transfer.

Conclusion

DTF Shirt Printing 101 isn’t just a guide; it’s your ticket to transforming your apparel business. The insights into DTF, the wisdom in choosing techniques, the power of DTF’s four pillars, the essentials to start printing, selecting the right printer, and the step-by-step guide—all map out your roadmap to success. It’s time to roll up those sleeves and get your hands on that DTF printer. And don’t forget to hit like, drop a comment with your thoughts, and share this post with fellow creatives. Let’s build a community of inspired T-shirt printers!

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