Direct-to-Film Printing Technology and Textile Applications Explored

Direct-to-film (DTF) printing on apparel is having a significant impact on the decorated clothing market. This growing technology, which was once the domain of small craftsmen and women, is now offered by machine manufacturers in industrial solutions that are more effective. In a global market for DTG (direct-to-garment) printing that is predicted to reach nearly US$1.9 billion by 2032, the DTF process is gaining ground by the month—as it offers new and unique advantages to trade printers. Debbie McKeegan is a contributor to WhatTheyThink and a textiles specialist. She shares her expertise in this article.

(Image courtesy Texintel).

Direct-to-film (DTF) apparel printing has a significant impact on the decorated clothing market. Machine manufacturers now offer ever-more successful industrial solutions for this growing technology—that just a few years ago seemed to be the preserve of the small craft manufacturer.

DTF is gaining popularity in a market that will reach almost US$1.9 billion (direct-to garment) by 2032. It offers unique and new advantages for trade printers.

The DTF Process

The DTF printing process begins with the printing of images on PET film using water-based inks. Due to the fact that it is a transfer, the image must be printed in reverse. After inkjet printing, the wet image is powdered and cured with hot melt adhesive. Once the image has been cured, it can be transferred on to a fabric using a standard heating press.

The DTF process is superior to DTG in a few ways:

First, the DTF process does not require pre-treatment and it can be applied to many types of fiber compositions—polyester, cotton, nylon, and mixed fiber blends can all be printed using the DTF method. DTF prints are vibrant and have a wide range of colors (the results will vary depending on the ink vendor).

It is said that the quality of printing is exceptional because lines, fine fonts, and small details are accurately printed due to the regular surface of the PET films.

DTF prints also improve the elasticity and stretchability of garments, due to their lower solid mass.

DTF Economics

DTF’s economic model is based on the simplicity of the DTF printing process. It is easy to understand and simple to implement. The digital printing process for printing on a PET film substrate is similar to that of printing on paper, which is well-known in the print sector. DTF printing is a simple and effective way to print on PET film, whether you are a one-person operation or a large-scale industry. The space requirements and ease of learning and application make it possible for anyone.

Despite the higher cost of powder and film, the printing costs of a meter are estimated to be between $0.50 and $0.75. This is a significant economic gain for both large-scale apparel manufacturing operations and independent printers.

DTF printing is possible at high speeds. The film can be stored indefinitely, waiting for the transfer process. This means that the speed of apparel production printing is not affected by traditional workflows, double-white/CMYK prints or operator intervention.

When the film is eventually used, its applications are wide and varied: typically, T-shirts, hoodies, sportswear, promotional items, and even interior décor offer commercial opportunities for the DTF process using a film produced at the lowest possible price.

DTF has become the latest and most vibrant trend in garment decoration due to its combination of print speed with separate image transfer.

DTF Machinery

Originally, DTF printing, which started at a very small, affordable scale, was the preserve of standard inkjet printers—desktop machines using specific inks for textile use and these were readily available from a multitude of manufacturers.

As DTF printing has evolved to offer significant advantages, including no fabric limitations and faster printing innovations, many major digital printer manufacturers are now offering a variety of machines with variable speeds and affordable entry prices. With time, the technology has improved to allow this sector to adopt an industrial process.

Recently, Mimaki announced the TXF150 75 as their entry to this premium brand apparel market. Mark Sollman Sr. Mark Sollman, Sr.

Apparel decoration, a popular and dynamic industry that we already operate in with other textile technologies, is one of the most exciting areas. In recent years we have seen the positive impact of DTF technology on the textile industry, as it offers significant advantages to existing technologies. DTF, for example, eliminates the lengthy process of creating plates in screen printing as well as the weeding required in vinyl heat transfers. With its full-color printing capabilities, the technology is able to create designs that are vibrant. We’re excited to bring a solution to the market that is designed for those already active in the decorated apparel sector and those looking to enter it -which excels in usability, reliability and quality.

Ricoh announced in 2022 a DTF Retrofit for existing Ri 1000 DTG and Ri 2000 DTG capability, allowing their DTG machines a simple transition to the new DTF process.

Axel Stuhlreiter is the Head of Textile Solutions in Graphic Communications Group at Ricoh Europe.

The innovative technology enhances the versatility and flexibility of Ricoh’s leading DTG printers. They can be converted in a few easy steps to allow DTF printing onto a variety of materials, and deliver a wider range of applications. Fast and easy, the process delivers highly creative and affordable results.

Sublistar STAR-IV Series DTFP Printer, manufactured in China, became available to the public in 2023. It includes a balanced in-line print, a powder shaker, a moisturizer and drier for fixation, making it possible to print films quickly and with no errors.

Beyond these, in 2022 there were DTF offerings from Epson, Brother, Mutoh, Resolute,, and Roland—all of which reflected the growing attraction of the DTF market, which a trade commentator recently described as being one of the ”newest and hottest trends in the decorated apparel industry.”

DTF is here and has a bright future. With a variety of machines on the market and the ability to print on any fabric, it offers undeniable production benefits.

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