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Direct-to-Film 101

What you need to know about DTF.

Fashion trends come and go, but everyone loves a good graphic T-shirt. Whether it’s a company logo, a niche pop culture reference, or just a cool design, printed garments are a fun and casual way to express yourself.

If you’re looking to start your own garment printing business or want to upgrade your current operation, DTF can help you produce high-quality designs that last. Because this technology is so new, even experienced garment printers may not fully understand what it is or how it works.

A Brief History of DTF Printing

At first, only large clothing manufacturers were able to produce graphic T-shirts and other garments. However, the technologies necessary for garment printing have slowly become accessible. You may have screen-printed shirts at summer camp when you were younger. In more recent years, heat transfer vinyl and paper used with cutting machines have become a popular way to make shirts at home. This has made it easier to start your own garment business, but it doesn’t allow you to create intricately detailed designs and the print may fade or peel easily.

DTF technology – which addresses many of these complaints – first hit the scene in 2021.  However, it took until late 2022 to be adopted as a mainstream production technique.

How Does DTF Work?

DTF printing is a straightforward process, but it does require specific equipment. First, you will need a special DTF printer to print your design onto a heat-transfer film. Much like a standard inkjet printer, DTF printers use water-based inks in magenta, cyan, yellow, and black to create a wide range of different colors. Unlike inkjet printers, DTF printers also require white ink.

Once the design has been printed on the film, it is treated with an adhesive powder and cured.  Once it is cured, you apply the film to the garment where you would like the design and use a heat press to transfer the graphic to the fabric. DTF printing allows you to create highly detailed designs with bold, vivid colors.


You can only print directly on garments made from natural fibers or garments that have been pretreated for printing. DTF printing works on any fabric, even synthetic materials, without treatment.

DTF Produces More Bold and Vibrant Colors

Unless you’re printing onto a white garment, the color of the fabric can make the colors of the design appear muted or muddy. Because DTF transfers the design to a colorless film first, the original colors are preserved.

DTF Graphics are More Durable

Graphics printed directly to a garment may start to fade with repeated washes. However, because DTF graphics are cured first, they tend to last a lot longer.

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