Direct-to-film printing is a process in which images are printed directly onto a piece of clear film. This type of printing is often used for creating transparencies, decals, and other types of graphics. In this article, we will discuss how direct-to-film printing works, as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of this type of printing.
What Is DTF Printing?
Direct-To-Film Transfer, as its name suggests, is the process of printing on a film and then directly transferring it onto fabric. The freedom to choose almost any fabric is the most significant factor that makes this process available for use by many people. It doesn’t matter if it’s polyester, cotton, silk, or synthetic fibers like rayon or terrycloth–the DTF printing process will work well with all of them.
What Do You Need To Print DTF
Direct-to-film printing (DTF) is an affordable way to get into the world of digital printing. If you’re already in the printing business and thinking of getting a DTF printer, or this is your first time in the printing industry, all you need is the following:
In the DTF printing process, PET films are used instead of those used in screen printing. These have a thickness of around 0.75mm and better transfer characteristics, often referred to as ‘DTF Transfer Films.’
DTF films come in Cut Sheets, best for small projects, and Rolls, ideal for commercial purposes. The PET films can also be classified by the type of peeling that occurs after the transfer process is complete. This classification depends on the temperature at which the film was transferred; hot-peel-type films or cold-peel-type films.
Heat Press Machine
The heat press machine is used mainly for transferring the image printed on the film onto the fabric. It can also be used to heat the hot melt powder on the DTF film. The method of doing this is stated in the process detailed below.
Hot-melt Adhesive Powder
DTF printing powder is a white adhesive that, when heated, binds the colored pigments in the print to the fibers in the fabric. There are different grades or sizes of DTF hot melt powder which are specified by microns. The grade selection should be based on requirements such as project specifications or deadlines.
You will need to purchase a direct-to-film printer that is compatible with the type of fabric you want to print on. There are many different types and brands of printers available on the market, so it is important to do your research before making a purchase.
The curing oven is a small industrial oven used to melt the hot melt powder applied over the transfer film. Alternatively, you can also use a heat press machine to carry this out but make sure it’s in no-contact mode.
DTF Printing Inks
Our specially designed pigment inks include Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black and White colors. The White Ink is a unique component that creates the white foundation of the print on the film, which then the colored design is printed upon.
Automatic Powder Shaker
An essential piece of equipment for DTF printing, the powder shaker evenly distributes the hot-melt adhesive powder on the printed film. This step is crucial to ensure the perfect transfer of your design onto the fabric.
The software you use plays a pivotal role in the printing process. From the colors of the ink to how the fabric looks after the transfer, everything is impacted by your Software choices. For DTF specifically, you need a RIP that can manage CMYK and White Colors. Other things that affect an optimized print, like color profiling, ink levels, and drop sizes, are also determined by DTF Printing software.
How Does The DTF Process Work?
Below, we list a step-by-step process of how to print using the DTF method:
Step 1 –Start By Printing
Insert the PET film into the printer trays instead of regular paper. First, print a white image on the PET film. Then, using appropriate color settings in your printer, print the required image on top of the white layer–but remember to make it a mirror image of what you want the final product to look like.
Step 2 – Apply Powder
The next step is to apply hot-melt powder to the printed film. As you do so, make sure the ink is wet and that the powder is being spread evenly across the surface of the film. Carefully remove any excess powder once you’re done.
One way to do this is by grasping the movie at both ends, with the long horizontal edges (landscape orientation), and then pour the powder into the center of the film from top to bottom. This should result in a 1-inch high pile that extends from top to bottom throughout the middle section.
Gather the film and powder, then curve the film inwards to form a U shape with the concave surface facing you. Use your fingertips or an automated shaker machine to rock it from left to right until the powder has spread evenly across the entire surface of the film.
Step 3 – Melt The Powder
In this step, the powder is melted. This process can be carried out in multiple ways. The most frequent method is to put the film that has both the printed image and applied powder into a Curing Oven and heat it up.
If you don’t have access to a curing oven, another option would be to place the film inside of a heat press machine and bring the top part pressed very close to the unconsumed film but not touching it. It is recommended to leave a gap of 4 to 7 mm between the film and the heat press top plate.
One can use a metal wire to secure the press top so that it does not close over the film and leaves an adequate gap. For best results, always follow the manufacturer’s specifications for powder melting. Depending on the powder and equipment being used, heating is typically done for 2-5 minutes at a temperature of 160-170 degrees Celsius.
Step 4 – Pre-pressing
The fabric must be pre-pressed before the image transfer. To do this, keep the fabric in a heat press and apply pressure and heat for about 2 to 5 seconds. This will flatten the fabric and remove any moisture from it. Pre-pressing also adheres the image onto the fabric more effectively.
Step 5 – Transfer
The PET film with the image and melted powder is placed on the pre-pressed fabric in the heat press, which creates a strong bond between the film and the fabric. This step is also referred to as ‘curing.’ The curing process is completed at a temperature that falls between 160 to 170 degrees Celsius for 15 to 20 seconds. After this time period has elapsed, the film will be firmly attached to the fabric.
Step 6 – Cold Peel
The fabric and attached film must cool to room temperature before the film is removed. This is because, as it cools down, the hot melt functions like amides by acting as a binder that firmly adheres the colored pigment in ink onto the fibers of the fabric. Once cooled, peel-off should leave the required design printed on the chosen surface.
Step 7 – Post-pressing
Although this step is optional, we highly recommend it if you want the best possible results. In this step, the final fabric with the transferred design is pressed in the heat press for around 10 to 15 seconds. This will help ensure that your colors are properly set and locked in place.
Pros And Cons Of Direct-to-Film Printing
Let’s talk a little about the DTF printing pros & cons:
Work With A Variety Of Fabrics: One of the main advantages of using DTF printing is that when compared to other printing methods like sublimation printing, it can be done on a variety of fabrics. The only requirement is that the fabric must have a high enough melting point so that it doesn’t melt when exposed to the high temperatures required for this printing process.
No pretreatment necessary: Another advantage is that there’s no need for any kind of pretreatment before printing. This means that you can save time and money by not having to treat your fabric beforehand.
Quicker and less time-consuming than DTG printing: DTF printing is also quicker and less time-consuming than DTG printing. This is because you don’t need to wait for the ink to dry before starting the printing process. Asides from this, Direct To Film printers cost less than DTG printers.
Color Vibrancy Is Low: One of the main disadvantages of DTF printing is that the color vibrancy is low. This means that the colors won’t be as vibrant as they would be if you were to use DTG printing.
Users Might Not Be Familiar With Software: Another downside is that some users might not be familiar with the software required to design the images that will be printed. However, this can be easily overcome by taking some time to learn how to use the software or by hiring someone who is familiar with it.
The DTF printing process has few restrictions in comparison to other textile processes. For example, you don’t need pretreatment, and fabric choice is not limited. Since the DTF method doesn’t require extra steps, it’s cheaper per print and offers a higher profit margin– which explains why this industry is booming. Additionally, fabrics are produced quickly with this method; hence, the future of fabric production seems optimistic when considering the benefits of using the DTF transfers.