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DTF VS DTG Printing – A Guide to Selecting the Best Fit

DTG VS DTF

If you have been involved in the textile industry for several years, it’s likely that you have come across a lot of discussions regarding DTF (Direct-to-Film) printing technology. Since its introduction in 2020, DTF printing has gained significant attention within the industry and has become a favored option for many business owners engaged in garment customization. This popularity can be attributed to its cost-effectiveness, user-friendly nature, broad fabric compatibility, and impressive printing details and outcomes.

With an increasing number of business operators pondering the idea, there is no doubt that many are considering the switch from DTG (Direct-to-Garment) printing to DTF printing. Nevertheless, numerous industrial players remain hesitant about adopting this new technology, wondering if DTF surpasses DTG and if it is the right choice for their specific business requirements.

To assist these individuals in making well-informed decisions, this article aims to present the pros and cons of both printing technologies, highlight their differences, and provide guidance on making the appropriate choices. We encourage you to continue reading and kindly share your insights in the comments section below.

What is DTF? How Does DTF Work?

DTF stands for Direct-to-Film, which is a cutting-edge printing technology primarily used for garment printing. It involves transferring design files onto fabric using DTF transfer film. Unlike a standard printer, DTF printing requires a few additional devices and accessories to function, including a DTF printer, transfer film, DTF ink, DTF powder, a shaking and curing machine, and a heat press. While this list may seem daunting, the process is actually much simpler than it appears. The key steps in DTF printing involve designing the file, printing the DTF transfer, and transferring the design onto the fabric.

To gain a better understanding, let’s explore a step-by-step guide on how DTF printing works:

  • Preparing Design File: Similar to using a regular printer, you need to create a graphic file that you intend to print on the garment. Save the file in a format recognized by DTF printers, for example .tif, .png and .rng are three main image formats for DTF Station printers.
  • Printing the Design on Film: Once the printing process begins, load the DTF film into the printer, and the design file will be printed onto the film according to your specifications.
  • Powder Shaking and Distribution: The film with the printed design is then passed through a powder shaking device. An even layer of powdered adhesive is applied to the entire film, allowing the ink to adhere to the fabric during the transfer process.
  • Film Curing: After the film is coated with the adhesive powder, it requires proper handling to avoid surface scratches and ensure optimal printing results. A high-quality film curing machine is crucial in this step. Some suppliers, like DTF Station, offer compact machines that combine powder shaking and film curing, such as the Seismo 11 Shaker, streamlining the entire process.
  • Preparing the Transfer for Printing: Before initiating the heat transfer, the prepared transfer film is placed on the intended fabric or garment. Ensure that the printed side faces down and the adhesive side makes contact with the fabric.
  • Heat Press Transfer: This is where the heat press machine comes into play. By applying heat and pressure, the machine melts the adhesive powder and transfers the design onto the fabric. Temperature, time, and pressure settings are crucial factors in this process, so it’s important to follow the supplier’s guidelines for optimal results.
Seismo 11 2-in-1 Powder Shaking & Curing Machine

If you still have any confusion, you can find answers and additional helpful information in the following video (thanks to our US dealer AA Print Supply Co for providing us the video link).

What’s DTG? How Does DTG Work?

DTG, which stands for Direct-to-Garment, is a highly popular garment printing technology used today. Unlike DTF printing, which involves transferring designs using film, DTG directly prints onto garments. While this may seem simpler and more user-friendly, both DTG and DTF have unique advantages, making it challenging to determine the right technology for your business. Before delving into the differences between these two technologies, let’s explore how DTG works.

DTG printing follows a straightforward process similar to using a regular printer, but with a few additional steps. Here is a step-by-step breakdown:

  • Design File Preparation: This step is essential for all printing technologies before starting the printing process. Prepare your design using graphic design software and save it in a compatible file format.
  • Pre-Treatment: Unlike DTF printing, DTG printing requires a pre-treatment step. A pre-treatment liquid is sprayed onto the printing area to ensure optimal ink absorption and enhance the vibrancy of the printed colors.
  • Drying: After the pre-treatment, the garment needs to be dried before it can be loaded for printing. This ensures that the fabric is ready to receive the ink.
  • Printer Setup: Prior to printing, you need to configure the printer settings such as resolution, color management, and print size according to your design file and fabric specifications.
  • Garment Printing: Once the setup is complete, place the garment on the printer’s platen or flatbed. The printer will then directly apply the ink onto the fabric, layer by layer, following the instructions from the design file.
  • Ink Curing: The final step in DTG printing is curing the ink to ensure proper bonding with the fabric. This can be achieved through a heat press or other specialized curing machines.

For more detailed information on DTG, you can refer to the following video (thanks to our US dealer AA Print Supply Co for providing us the video link and sharing with us the workflow of DTG), which provides additional insights into the process and its nuances .

DTF VS DTG: Which One Is the Better Option for Your Business?

It’s obvious that these two garment printing technologies work quite differently. However, their differences are much more than that. Determining the superior option for your business is a complex matter, ascertaining the answer necessitates a comprehensive understanding of their respective advantages and disadvantages in relation to each other.

Pros & Cons of DTF

Pros of DTF

  • No Fabric Limits: Unlike DTG, which is limited to pure cotton or at least 2/3 cotton-based fabrics, DTF is compatible with all kinds of fabrics. The pigment ink used in DTG printing requires heat pressing to bond with the fabric surface, making it challenging to achieve on every fabric due to compatibility issues. In contrast, DTF film is designed to adhere to garments using a heat-melting adhesive, eliminating concerns about fabric compatibility. Therefore, if your business deals with different materials, DTF is the most suitable solution for your needs.
  • No Pre-Treatment Required: Apart from the considerable time investment, pre-treatment in DTG printing adds to the overall costs, making it less cost-effective for business owners. In contrast, DTF printing does not require pre-treatment and offers a more affordable solution, particularly for business owners with small orders.
  • Lower White Ink Consumption: DTF uses much less white ink on all garment types except white shirt printing. When printing on colored garments, DTF only requires a slight layer of white ink to bond with powder while DTG needs the white ink soaking the garment and users would save at least 50% on DTF vs. DTG. What’s more, the cost/price of ink difference is big, too. Usually, DTG white inks cost 1.5 times more than dtf ink. That’s also one reason why DTF became really popular, especially for DTG customers who were struggling to get a good white ink layer at a reasonable price.
  • More Design Options: The versatility of DTF printing extends beyond fabric limitations and encompasses various project types. Since DTF printing utilizes a transfer film, as long as the DTF transfers fit the surfaces and can withstand heat pressing, you can use DTF for customization tasks. For instance, campaign hat customization orders pose a challenge for DTG printers due to the curved surface, whereas DTF printers handle such projects effortlessly.
    (Let’s add a photo of a dtf transferred cap or zipped-up hoodie)
  • Increased Productivity: DTF printing enhances productivity in multiple ways. Firstly, it eliminates the need for pre-treatment. Secondly, users can store ready-to-print transfers, speeding up the printing process in many cases. Thirdly, DTF allows for multiple designs to be printed on the same film, and users can cut out only the required images for their projects. This versatility makes DTF suitable for both small and bulk orders, while DTG is typically better suited for small orders.
  • Enhanced Detail and Vibrant Color: Compared to DTG, which requires ink absorption into the fabric (resulting in potential loss of details and colors), DTF printing produces more intricate details and vibrant colors.
  • Superior Garment Suitability: DTG printing requires frames to accommodate specific garment sizes, resulting in high setup costs to cover all types of garment sizes. In contrast, DTF printing often only requires a change in film size, incurring no additional expenses.
  • Improved Washing Performance: DTF printing offers better washing performance compared to DTG printing.
  • Lower Cost Per Print: Despite the requirement for powder and a powder machine, DTF printing boasts a relatively lower cost per print compared to DTG printing (You might find more details on startup and consumable costs in the next part of the content).

Cons of DTF

  • DTF feels like plastic: As DTF uses film and adhesive powder to transfer the design, the printing area would feel like plastic. This won’t be a problem for DTG, as the ink is absorbed by the fabric so it would feel more natural and softer.
  • DTF Requires white ink even on white garments: DTF uses white ink as a background color which would cover all printing areas to get the powder to adhere better to the printed image.
  • DTF is not effective when there is gradients or fadeouts within the graphic: Solid logo, picture, and high-resolution graphics are easy subject for DTF but when it comes to gradient images, it may not be the best quality compared to other printing methods.

Pros & Cons of DTG

Pros of DTG

  • Soft and Natural Feel: With DTG printing, the ink is absorbed by the fabric, resulting in a soft and natural feel, unlike the plastic-like texture that DTF printing can sometimes impart.
  • Suitable for Small Orders: While DTF printing excels in producing intricate details and vibrant colors, DTG printing still offers excellent quality for low-volume prints, making it a viable option for smaller order quantities.
  • Printing on White Shirt: Pretreatment is not required when the graphics are being printed on a white background colored garment. Color garment soaks into the garment and bonds without any other treatment.

Cons of DTG

  • Pre-Treatment Requirement: Although pre-treatment may not pose a significant issue for small-volume prints, it can be time-consuming and costly for larger orders, thus limiting its application for such scenarios.
  • Limited to Cotton Fabric: DTG printing is typically suitable for 100% cotton or at least 2/3 cotton-based fabric materials, restricting its compatibility with other types of fabrics. Some DTG claims that they can do 100% polyester but either the washability is poor or the ink usage goes up to double which makes it not so practical.
  • Potential Loss of Detail and Color: Since DTG ink is absorbed into the fabric, there is a possibility of some loss in design details and colors compared to DTF printing, where colors remain more vibrant.

DTF VS DTG: Which Is The Better Option for Your Business?

After reviewing all the information provided, I hope you have gained valuable insights to help you make an informed decision about which printing technology is better for your business. However, if you still have uncertainties, we can provide additional perspectives for you to consider in order to choose the right printers. Please continue reading, and by the end of the list, you should have the necessary information to make an informed decision.

Startup Costs

Startup costs encompass the expenses associated with acquiring the necessary equipment to carry out the entire printing process. These costs are particularly crucial for startup businesses or those operating on a limited budget. A standard DTG printer can cost anywhere from $13,000 to $25,000 or even more. On the other hand, DTF printers are generally more competitively priced, ranging from $3000 to $9,000 on the same level of output. It’s important to consider additional equipment costs such as powder shaking machines and film curing machines, but even with these expenses, DTF remains a more cost-effective choice in terms of startup costs.

Consumables

If you are already in the textile printing business, you might be aware that consumables represent a significant portion of your daily operational costs. If you are contemplating expanding your business and transitioning to DTG or DTF printing, this becomes the second crucial factor to consider. The main consumables for DTG and DTF are ink, and the general cost of DTG ink is considerably higher than that of DTF ink. For example, you may find a 1L bottle of Brother DTG printer ink priced at $389, while the same quantity of DTF ink could be around $100, depending on the quality standards.

Maintenance & Support

Maintenance is a critical factor to consider when purchasing any equipment. Both DTF and DTG printers generally have similar maintenance cycles, so the focus should be on choosing the right supplier rather than the specific machine. Opting for a local supplier or an overseas supplier with comprehensive technical support for overseas clients is a wise decision. Superior after-sales service is paramount in the garment printing industry. That’s also the reason why manufacturers like DTF Station, for instance, often prioritize the development of global dealer networks and offer on-site training for distributors to ensure prompt support for each dealer.

Production Time

The ability to maximize the number of prints within a given timeframe directly impacts daily profits. In this regard, DTF is undoubtedly the better option. Although the DTF process may initially seem complex, once workers become accustomed to it, the workflow becomes smooth. There are even industrial solutions available that automate the process, requiring no manual labor throughout the day. On the other hand, DTG pre-treatment is time-consuming, and after pre-treatment, workers must dry the garment before printing, incurring additional time and labor costs. This is why DTG is typically more suitable for small-volume prints, while DTF is recommended regardless of order volume.

Versatility

The compatibility of printing technology with various fabric materials and projects is a crucial factor in choosing the right printer. DTG’s limitation in terms of fabric materials is a significant drawback, as it can only print on pure cotton or cotton-based fabrics. This limitation has contributed to the rapid rise of DTF in recent years, as it provides more versatility for business owners to expand their product lines and customer base.

Print Quality

Print quality in the garment printing industry is often assessed based on the overall feel of the prints on the substrate. As previously explained, due to their different working processes, DTF generally produces more details and vibrant colors compared to DTG. However, DTG-printed garments have a softer and more natural feel. It is crucial for business owners to determine which aspect is more important for their specific business and orders. For example, if printing sports t-shirts with a large image area, DTG might be a better option as a large DTF printing area could make the sports t-shirt less breathable.

Durability

When discussing durability in DTG/DTF printing, stretchability and washability are key factors. Overall, DTF offers better durability than DTG. If you take a DTF-printed shirt and stretch the design as much as possible, you will notice that the design returns to its original shape once you stop—no stretch marks, tearing, or damage. DTF prints also tend to have better wash durability, especially with proper garment care. DTG prints typically last for up to 50 washes, but over time, you may notice faded colors in various parts of the print.

Now, let’s reconsider the decision of whether DTF printers or DTG printers are the right choice for your business. After considering all the factors, it boils down to finding the solution that best fits your specific business needs.  If you have a small business with a low printing volume and you are satisfied with your current productivity and results, sticking with DTG printers may be the right choice for you. However, if you have plans to expand your business, print on a variety of fabric materials, increase productivity, or start a garment printing business, DTF printers would be the more suitable option.

Fortunately, the DTF printing industry has seen considerable development, offering printers for players at all levels. DTF Station, for example, offers a complete line of DTF printers ranging from starter A4 printers with a daily print output of 50 pieces to industrial 60cm printers capable of producing over 500 prints. You can easily find a printer that matches your specific requirements.

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

If you still have any questions or doubts about DTF printing, please don’t hesitate to use the contact form on our website to seek assistance from our industry experts. They will be able to provide you with further guidance and support.

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