DTG vs DTF Printing: Which New Printing Solution Should Your Shop Consider?

DTG vs DTF printing: which new printing solution should your shop consider

Are you looking to expand your shop? Working in screen printing has been great for sales, sure, but it does have its limitations. You’ve been hearing a lot about direct-to-garment (DTG) and direct-to-film (DTF) printing, and you’re curious if either of these options can take your business further.

Of course, coming to an important business decision can be tricky. How much can you commit to start? Which one will help drive new customers to you? To make matters worse, conflicting information on both methods only adds to the confusion. How do you know what’s right, in the end?

Well, don’t fret; let this article help you to decide on whether DTG or DTF is the way to go for your business.

What is DTG and DTF?

Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing is basically digital printing onto a garment, the same way you’d normally print a document on your desktop printer. You’ll first digitize a design into the system, then a raster image processor (RIP) software translates it into a set of instructions the printer can use to print it out. Ink is sprayed onto the surface of the garment using carefully controlled print heads, creating the design.

On the other hand, direct-to-film (DTF) printing prints designs on a special transfer film. The artwork will be printed on the reverse side of the film, after which a special hotmelt powder is applied to it. The powder serves as an adhesive, helping the inks bond to the garment, which is done by using a heat press to apply the design to the chosen garment.

Comparing DTG and DTF

We’ll be comparing DTG and DTF based on the following criteria:

  • Costs: this includes the initial purchasing of printing equipment, inks, and other associated tools or machinery used in DTG or DTF printing.
  • Order quantity: how many orders each method can efficiently complete.
  • Production time: the amount of time needed to produce a batch of garments.
  • Design and durability: how well the designs turn out, including their color vibrancy and the feel of the material, and how durable it is to physical stress, such as stretching.
  • Versatility: the variety of materials that are compatible with these printing methods.
  • Maintenance: how often maintenance needs to be done to keep the printers in excellent working condition.

Costs

A man preparing a shirt for DTG printing

This is possibly the most important factor when deciding on your next investment. Of the two options, DTG is by far the MOST expensive one. A standard DTG printer can easily cost between $16,000 to $25,000 – if not more – and that’s only the printer you’re purchasing! Add a pre-treatment machine, the pre-treatment solution, a heat press, and RIP software, and your bill is going to skyrocket.

That’s not all: DTG inks are astonishingly expensive, especially in terms of white ink. White ink is used as the under-base when printing on black garments, and DTG printers may use twice the amount of white ink to color ink! It is thus recommended that you buy cheaper compatible inks to reduce your overall costs – but this does have its caveats.

In the case of DTF equipment, you’ll only need a DTF printer, inks, transfer films, and a heat press. You can easily acquire an inexpensive converted desktop printer (yes, these are a thing!), a heat press, and other necessary items with a relatively frugal budget. Most importantly, you won’t need a pre-treatment machine and solution at all, further driving down your expenses.

On top of that, DTF inks are more affordable, and the price of transfer films are quite low as well. Not only that, DTF actually uses much less ink than DTG, especially white ink. The hotmelt powder will bond the inks to the garment, so you don’t need that much white ink as an under-base. You’ll be able to comfortably scale order quantities as needed without making a huge dent on business expenditures.

Order Quantity

A stack of shirts with various designs

DTG printing is best suited for small scale, highly customized, print-on-demand orders that feature complex designs with multiple colors. DTG printing has a short setup time, since it’s a lot like printing a document. This is an advantage, but DTG printing has a hard time to scale with larger order sizes. The increasing overhead costs makes this highly unfavorable for long-term runs.

DTF printing is able to take on larger orders, much like screen printing, as the designs are printed onto the relatively wide transfer films. It’s actually more cost effective to perform bulk printing than small scale orders. Moreover, you can easily print out popular designs onto transfer films, and then stock them on these prepared films for future orders.

Production Time

A printed shirt lying on an open heat press

Of the two printing solutions, DTG printing is the slowest, since it prints designs line by line. For an entry-level DTG printer, you’ll be printing between 15 to 20 t-shirts per hour. This doesn’t include the time you need to pre-treat the garments beforehand. You can still reduce the time by pre-treating garments ahead of time, or by buying readily pre-treated garments sold at various stores.

In the case of DTF, however, printing multiple designs on a single transfer film helps cut down production times significantly. Based on some estimates, you might be able to print 60 transfer films with artwork within approximately half an hour or so, before using a heat press to apply the design onto the garment. It still does require some manual labor, but it’s much less time-consuming than DTG printing.

Design and Durability

3 rows of shirts with various designs

In terms of design, DTG printing wins hands down. Once the design has been digitized, the printer can easily print it onto the garment. No matter how complicated the design is, or even if it needs 8 colors or more, DTG printing will get it done beautifully.

When properly pre-treated and cured, the designs are quite durable and retain their color vibrancy even after multiple washes. DTG prints usually last for up to 50 washes – more if you take extra care of them. Do note that this can depend on the type of fabric and ink you use.

The additional advantage of DTG prints is that they produce an excellent, smooth and soft feel. It makes for the best choice in terms of softness. Even screen printed designs can’t hope to match the quality of DTG’s prints.

DTF printing can also take on relatively complex designs with many colors. However, it doesn’t have the same color quality or softness as DTG prints. The design transfers tend to have a plastic-like feel, since it’s basically printed on film that is then heat transferred onto the garment. But what DTF printing lacks in its design, it makes up for in durability.

Take a DTF printed shirt and try stretching the design as much as you can. You might notice that once you stop, the design returns to its original shape – no stretch marks, no tearing, no damage at all! Their durability in the wash is also better than DTG’s, especially if you take good care of your garments.

Versatility

A rack of clothes on hangers

Despite being around for some years now, DTG printing is still limited to printing on cotton garments. DTG uses water-based inks, and cotton can absorb the ink very well. Polyester, on the other hand, isn’t ideal as the material repels the water-based inks. This is on top of other issues, like prints cracking when washed.

DTF is a more versatile printing solution. It can be used on virtually any type of material – cotton, nylon, polyester, and more. You can even easily apply the transfers onto other surfaces too, which means you can easily print on ceramic cups, glass surfaces, and even metal! All you need to do is to apply the transfer carefully onto the desired surface, and be sure to set it in properly.

If that wasn’t enough, you can even sell the transfers themselves and let your customers apply it to their liking. Talk about versatile!

Maintenance

A shirt sitting on a printing station

DTG printers are known to require careful and regular maintenance cycles. Even on days when you’re not printing anything, you’ll still need to run a cleaning cycle once a day. If you don’t make sure to maintain your DTG printers, you’re running the risk of causing more problems in the future – from printer jams to clogged ink, and beyond; the more problems you run into, the higher your maintenance costs.

DTF printers have a slightly similar maintenance cycle to DTG printers, but don’t need it as often. If you’re using a converted desktop printer, standard maintenance practices are usually sufficient to keep them running optimally. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Which Solution Should You Choose?

Depending on where your business is now, either DTG or DTF printing will offer you flexibility in various ways.

If you’re happy to take up small orders of customized shirts with complex designs and a vibrant color rage, while delivering to your customers with a fast turnaround time, then DTG printing is the way to go. The initial entry costs may be a daunting hurdle to overcome, but if you’re able to justify the expense, the return on investment – and the potential of your clientele’s rapid growth – is well worth it.

If you’d like to be able to meet medium-to-large orders for various materials, then DTF is a good pick. DTF printing is a very easy way to expand your market share, since you can easily print designs for a wide variety of material types that cater to a broad audience. Moreover, DTF printing is an economical and environmentally friendly solution, since it requires less ink than DTG.

If it’s entirely possible to invest in both solutions, then why not? You’ll be putting yourself at an advantage over your competitors, giving you a significant number of opportunities from various clients with differing needs. Be sure to weigh your options carefully and plan ahead before taking a plunge with either one (or both) of these printing solutions.