Myths and Realities of DTF Printing

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Direct-to-Film or DTF Printing is the most discussed topic in garment decorating today. Thanks to a suggestion from a listener, Josh Hester we decided it was time to talk about it on 2 Regular Guys. We got Todd Downing, a power DTF user, to join Aaron and Terry to talk about how the process works and how you might use it in your own shop. Todd will talk about what is true and what is a myth about this new DTF Printing process. Expect a fun and information-packed episode this week on the 2 Regular Guys podcast!

Our Success GroupOur regular listeners know this, but 2 Regular Guys are all about garment decorating, a bit of fun, and no rants or lectures or selling. We are not doing this for our employers, but rather for our industry. Since February 2013, The 2 Regular Guys have been the first and the most listened to garment decorating industry podcast on this planet! We are humbled by all of you tuning in each week. We work hard to bring you information that will make your business better, and our industry better. Take a look at our incredible weekly guest list and you’ll understand where this industry goes for news, interviews, and the heartbeat of garment decorating. Thanks for listening!

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Dad Joke: What do you call a naughty lamb dressed up as a skeleton for Halloween?

Baaad to the bone

The Creative Process

Aaron: We welcome to the show, Todd Downing from Fat Dad Custom Wholesale and Our Success Group. Starting with a simple vinyl decal business in 2007, his business has grown to include eco solvent printing, HTV, transfers, team sales and DTF transfer printing.  He is also an online community mentor that strives to help others see how to move their businesses forward in a realistic fashion. Welcome to the Show!

Terry: Start us off by telling us about your journey into DTF printing. When did it start and what has that process been like?

TODD: In the summer of 2020 I started hearing about this “new” technology where people were printing full color transfers in house with converted printers. After a few months of researching, I found a US company that I was happy with and placed an order for a printer and supplies. It took a good 3 months and over 1k in supplies to learn how each step of the process worked and feel comfortable and confident in the final product. 

Aaron: So when you got started, what was the thing that stands out that was way different than you expected it to be? The biggest surprise. 

TODD: That’s a hard question as I had spent months researching everything I could about the process and printer but color matching is always fun to do as not all profiles are created equal. I did find out fairly quickly that if not in constant use you are going to have issues fast.

Terry: So for anyone unfamiliar with DTF, what is the process to create a DTF transfer?

TODD: The short story, you print on a film, let the ink set up, add an adhesive powder, cure, and now you have a ready-to-press transfer.

I use Epson P600’s to print on a film and we cure using a manual method which if you are not using an enclosed area like a sand blasting cabinet you are going to get the adhesive powder everywhere. For curing you have a few options like heat press, oven, and even a tunnel dryer.

There are 2 types of film that you are able to print on a cold peel and a hot peel. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other and this is more of a personal preference. These transfers can adhere to cottons, poly, blends, and more. We did a test a few weeks ago on Tuesday With Todd and we were able to press to wood and paper with no issues at all.

Aaron: A question from a Regulator Jessica Rodriguez  “What is the true quality of DTF and is it really viable in the long run or is it just a trend?” 

TODD: The quality is only going to be as good as the printer and the person running it. We have all had bad experiences with a product from 1 person while amazing experiences with that same product from someone else. Before we sold out first transfers we washed tested in house to 50 washes and if anyone knows my wife, she is known to wash rhinestones off within a blink of an eye so if they held up to our washing then I knew they were good to go. I hear every day that DTF is going to kill screen printing, DTG,  htv, sublimation, etc and that’s just not going to happen. Each process has its place in the print world. I feel DTF is a complementary process to what someone might already have. If you are a screen printer are you turning down that 10 piece 8 color job? DTF can solve that problem. Are you doing sublimation and turning down cotton or dark garments, DTF can solve that problem. Are you doing HTV and do people want full-color designs? DTF can solve that problem. The only real process that I can see DTF encroaching on is White Toner Printing but even with that, you can do so much more than shirts with White Toner. 

Terry: Also from Jessica Rodriguez “What is the true cost of upkeep of a DTF machine?”

TODD: I would factor in on average at least an hour of time a day. Now that’s not saying it’s going to take you an hour every day but there will be days that you will run into issues and spend the entire day fixing that problem. If you are not prepared to take your machine down to the frame and rebuild it then DTF might not be for you. Most of the desktop printers out there are converted Epson that are not made for this process so you should know that there are going to be issues that come up. You need a good consistent maintenance schedule and to be printing at least every other day. You also need to know that things like printheads are consumables and have a life span and it’s not uncommon for a new one to cost more than the printer. You need to know that a lot of companies don’t offer refunds or warranties on converted printers. If you really want to get into the DTF game then put your credit card away and spend a good amount of time researching and asking questions so you can fully understand what you are getting yourself into.

Aaron: What is the use case for DTF? Why would I want DTF over DTG, or Sublimation or Screen Printing for example?

TODD: This is a great question and as I mentioned earlier this compliments your existing process. If you have a DTG printer then chances are you are able to use that to create DTF transfers. Where this comes in great at is say that you have an order for 24 left chest logos. Well, instead of setting up for printer each time you just need to print the transfers on the sheet and now you’re able to apply those transfers so you are saving time. The other thing is since you are not limited to one type of fabric using DTF transfers you can no use it for those poly items your DTG printer can’t do and for those dark and cotton fabrics that sublimation can’t do. I feel that screen printing will always be king due to the speed and cost-effectiveness of the process and that DTF is great for those low run multiple color items that just don’t make sense for a screen printer to do.

Terry: Another question from the Regulators – Gösta Karlsson asks “For Artwork preparation, When using a DTG as a DTF, what do you have to do differently?”

TODD: We can print using vector artwork or png’s with transparent backgrounds. Designing in RGB seems to be the biggest challenge for people as a lot of people design in cmyk and a lot of artwork purchased is done in it as well. Where you really notice this in DTF printing is black as the cmyk does not produce the rich black that RGB does.

Aaron: For someone who is a relative newbie and wants to get started and have a relatively hassle free experience, what do you recommend

TODD: Keep your credit card in your pocket and buy transfers. If you really want to get into this then buy an Epson 2100 DTG printer and use that because now you will have support and a warranty. Now, you can find a printer yourself, get all the supplies, rip software, and be printing for under 2k. If you want a ready-to-print printer your budget can be from 3k to 17k depending on size and speed.

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