A white DTF printer and a man wearing a designed t-shirt

DTF Printers: What You Need to Know about Direct-to-Film Printing

A white DTF printer and a man wearing a designed t-shirt

Recent technological developments in the printing industry have seen more businesses shift from traditional printers to DTF printers

If you’re considering starting a printing business, you may wonder- what a DTF transfer printer is, how it works, what you need to start, and whether it is profitable. 

Fortunately, this article answers all business-related questions about DTF printing. Before starting the business, you need to learn everything about this printing method.

What is DTF printing?

DTF printer machine printing a floral design on the film

DTF is the acronym for direct-to-film printing. It is a process that involves printing a graphic design onto a special transfer film and then transferring the printed design to the desired garment or textile using a heat press. 

The pre-printed film is pressed onto the apparel using a heat press to produce high-quality, long-lasting graphics. We’ll discuss the steps for this printing later. 

What is a DTF transfer printer?

A DTF printer is a special printing machine that prints designs directly to film, which is then transferred to a desired garment (t-shirts, bags, and hoodies) and textiles (cups and plates). And since the printer works with white ink, it produces quality prints for cotton or polyester apparel regardless of color. 

What does one need for DTF printing?

Running a DTF printing business requires planning and having suitable machines and supplies. This section lays it all out. 

DTF printer

dual heads roll to roll a3 UV DTF printer

The first thing one will invest in when starting a DTF printing business is a DTF transfer printer. You can buy one from an authorized dealer, a distributor, or from an online marketplace like Alibaba.com. 

The prices differ depending on the size, specifications, and brands. Check out customer reviews for these machines before buying. 

DTF ink and Cleaning Kit

DTF printing machine works with two sets of ink- the white ink and the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). The white ink helps produce consistent, precise, and reliable designs because it enhances the CMYK colors. 

DTF printers also need daily maintenance. This means one will need a cleaning kit (all-purpose cleaning solution and wipes) to clean the printing head, clogged nozzles, wiper blade, and the work area. 

And like the printer, you can buy these supplies online.

DTF powder

hot melt powder, a PET film, and printed t-shirt

This powder, also called the hot melt adhesive, is formulated for DTF printing. Once the design is printed on the film, the powder is uniformly spread and then heated in the oven. 

The heating process melts the powder, giving the film its adhesive characteristic. This allows the ink to stick to the garment. 

DTF film

It is a specialized PET film (DTF transfer film) where the printer prints the desired design. A thickness of 0.75mm gives them better transferring characteristics. 

DTF curing oven

large yellow desktop DTF curing oven

A DTF curing oven is a heating machine with a digital controller that shows temperature and time. The pre-printed film with the powder is melted in the heating oven, giving the film its adhesive qualities. 

One can also use an infrared dyer to continuously and automatically melt the powder. 

Heat press

Dual worktable heat press transfer machine

The heat press helps to pre-press the fabric before transferring the image to dehumidify the garment. It is also used to press the PET film design on the fabric. The heat press firmly attaches the film to the fabric to produce vibrant color. 

Air Filter

various parts of a DTF printer’s air filter

Since heating the powder in the curing oven produces fumes and smoke, it is safe to have an air filter. This helps to clean the air and reduce the risk of respiratory issues. 

Desktop or Laptop

Direct-to-film printers only work with PCs. The laptop or desktop allows you to install the RIP (raster imaging processor) – a program that allows communication between the DTF transfer printer and the PC. The software turns the image into a format the printer can understand and print on the film. 

A Quick Overview of How DTF Printing Works

Direct-to-film printing involves 5 steps. Let’s consider them.

a demonstration on how a DTF printer works from start to finish

Step 1. Set up system

After assembling the equipment discussed above, one must set up the workstation. This will include connecting the machines to the power source, filling the printer bottles with white and CMYK ink, and installing the RIP software on the PC. 

Step 2. Printing on the film

Choose the ideal graphic design you intend to print on the garment and send it to the printer. Insert the PET printer film in the direct-to-film printer like one would paper for standard printers and press start. 

The film printer, like….will print directly the design on the film with a speed of up to 15 m2 per hour. 

Step 3. Applying the hot melt powder

This step involves applying hot melt powder to the pre-printed film. The specialized bonding powder is an adhesive material that sticks the colored design on the film to the fabric or textile. 

Apply the powder on a wet print evenly. A powder-shaking machine is suitable for this function since it helps remove excess powder from pre-printed film. 

The powdered film is then inserted into a curing oven to melt the powder. The heating process takes between 2-5 minutes, making the film adhesive. 

Step 4. Pre-pressing the garment

This is a crucial step before transferring the image to the fabric. The heat press helps dehumidify the garment for quality printing. 

Step 5. Use heat transfer

Heat transfer is the most important step of DTF printing. It involves placing the PET film from step 3 on the pre-pressed garment to produce a strong bond between the fabric and the film. 

The heat press firmly attaches the film to the fabric at a temperature between 160-170 degrees Celsius for 20 seconds. 

Step 6. Peel the film

Peeling the film from a DTF design on a t-shirt and a book

This step involves peeling the film off, leaving the design on the garment or textile. While others prefer peeling the film at room temperature, others don’t have the patience to wait. 

The hot melt powder is an adhesive material, bonding the ink design with the fabric’s fibre. 

Step 7. Post-processing

Post-processing is an optional step but is recommended for the longevity of the design. It involves placing the fabric with the design under a heat presser and pressing it again for 10-25 seconds. While it improves the longevity of the design, it reduces color vibrancy. 

Is DTF printing ideal for my business?

DTF printers are rising stars in the printing industry, and many businesses love them for a reason. 

They are easy to set up and don’t require specialized knowledge or skills. And since they can print vibrant color designs on any colored surface or garment, they stand above other printers like screen and DTG printers

They’re also relatively cheaper than DTG printers. With DTF transfer printers, businesses can make a decent return on their investment from the beautiful designs.

Here is a rough estimate of the starting cost

DTF printer cost between $2,000 – 5,000 

MaterialCost per unit print
Adhesive powder$0.5 – $0.6
DTF film paper    $1.5 
A pair of T-shirts   $3 – $4
Cleaning materials$0.5
Total cost per print$5.5 – $6.6

Now, a DTF-printed t-shirt can sell between $25 and $30, allowing businesses to make a decent return on their investment. 

Pros and cons of DTF printers

The pros and cons of DTF printing are the next things one needs to know as a prospective investor. 

The Pros:

They are Versatile

One can apply direct-to-film print designs on various materials, including 100% cotton, 100% polyester, 100% silk, or a blend of both materials, regardless of color. DTF printing also works well with textiles and uneven surfaces. 

They reduce production time. 

The production process is faster since one can pre-print DTF designs on a unique transfer film without pre-treatment. The pre-printed film also allows you to respond to sudden surges in demand without stocking garments. 

Can handle complicated details and colors

Printing complicated designs with multiple colors is easy with DTF printers. Unlike DTG and screen printing, dark colors will neither be a problem nor cost more. 


They aren’t breathable. 

Since DFT printers don’t print directly onto the garment, the ink doesn’t bond with the fabric’s fiber. This gives the prints a stiff and stretchy feel. DTF prints aren’t as breathable as DTG prints. 

The Nozzle clogging problem

Like most inkjet printers, DTF transfer printers experience clogging, especially when left unused for a few days, which may affect the print quality. The white ink in the print head may precipitate, causing the nozzle to clog. 

Durability of the design

Although the final product from a DTF printer is often vibrant and durable, it is prone to cracks after several washes. Unlike DTG printing, the design isn’t part of the fabric’s fiber. 

Jumpstart Your Business with Direct-to-film printing

DTF printing has undoubtedly changed the world of apparel and textile customization. The technology provides cost-effective and versatile printing solutions for businesses looking to expand their product offerings. 

For instance, the SinoColor Double head i 3200 boasts high-resolution printing capabilities on several fabrics. It also has an efficient ink management system and a user-friendly interface for newbies. 

Another unique direct-to-film printer worth considering is the Ricoh Ri 2000. This machine is famous for its speed and precision. It can also handle large production volumes while maintaining exceptional print quality. 

Furthermore, the Ricoh Ri 2000 can act as a DTF and a DTG printer with a simple software upgrade. This allows business owners to shift to either type depending on the operations. 

Regardless of the DTF printing model one chooses for their business, DTF printing technology can generate decent returns. Embracing it can help you jumpstart and propel your business to greater heights. 






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *