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Ortinau Art

By Marcia Derryberry, Contributing Editor

With deep roots in digital printing, owner Joe Ortinau added DTF technology to his decade-old business when it came on the market and hasn’t looked back.

“My journey in the decorated apparel world began when my collection of random T-shirts collided with what I did for a living,” says entrepreneur Joe Ortinau, Ortinau Art, Pemberville, Ohio. While working as a graphic designer, he discovered what a screen printing press was through one of his employers and immediately started freelancing.

“I credit the passion for this type of work to my T-shirt collection I had when I was younger,” Joe says. “The majority of the designs had funny sayings on them. Many of the shirts identified with my personality at the time and I really liked the idea of being able to provide that for other people.”

Ortinau came into the business from the digital side almost by accident when he went to a local distributor to purchase screen printing equipment. The company had a direct-to-garment (DTG) printer in its showroom and he was fascinated with what it could do given his graphic design background. 

“I saw there was a competitive advantage to create really cool graphics that were full color as opposed to doing one- and two-color designs using screen printing,” he says. “That’s what all the shops in our area were doing at the time – that was about 10 years ago. So, we operated with just that DTG machine for a couple of years and then I ended up buying a screen printing press, also. That grabbed my attention a little bit deeper into learning that whole process.” 

DTF Hits the Scene

When industry friend Todd Downing sent Ortinau a sample pack of DTF transfers, his curiosity peaked. “I obsessively test wash things and keep track of the results with all of my own garments,” Joe says. “So I tested the wash durability and it was pretty insane. So, I figured it was okay to use DTF for smaller, full-color orders and found out these transfers can be applied to a lot more garments than DTG can. So, anytime we were in a situation where we had a small-volume order, but didn’t want to set up to three screens, we would just use this technology instead.”

“We always kind of pushed everyone toward ring-spun cotton on our DTG orders,” he adds. “But now with DTF, if they don’t want to use 100-percent cotton and also don’t want a 50/50 garment, we now have another tool to use for printing on a variety of fabrics.”

Ortinau and his team of two other employees currently purchase DTF transfers from Stahls’ and apply them using a heat press. Joe says that while buying a DTF printer in the future is not out of the question, for now his company doesn’t do enough DTF work to justify purchasing one. While some DTG machines also have the ability to create DTF transfers, his current machine is an older printer and he’s looking into the technology to figure out if it’s worth investing in a new DTG machine to print his own.

“Ultimately, with the amount of time it takes to print one on that machine, it’s just easier to outsource the transfers and have them shipped in one day,” Joe says. “Their ordering platform is exactly why we use our supplier because you just upload, say how many you need, and they automatically configure that for you, whether it’s a gang sheet or not. You don’t have to put it together yourself in the larger file or spend time on it. So, it makes life so much easier.”

Ortinau says his biggest challenge with DTF is the feel of the print being different from a screen print. “We can be overly picky when it comes to the way the print feels when ultimately our customers may not be able to tell the difference,” he says. “If the design that is being printed has a large, filled area in it, we are likely to use another solution because of the way a large transfer feels when there’s a lot of ink being used to fill in the design.” 

But the benefits far outweigh that challenge, he adds. “DTF transfers save us so much setup time, especially for webstore orders,” he says. “DTF transfers are a great solution for when you have orders come in from a webstore and the items are adult sizes but the coach of the team orders one youth XS hoodie for his kid, for example. Because we have a DTG printer at the shop, our old solution would have been to sub in a ring-spun cotton garment in a smaller garment for the order that may have one or two differences.” 

A Bright Future Ahead

Joe’s advice to newbies in the DTF market is to start by having someone else print the transfers for you. “Until you are ordering 400 to 500 transfers a month, it probably won’t make sense to have the DTF printer in-house and deal with all of the problems that can occur by having a machine that isn’t utilized to its full potential,” he says. “I have a large-format printer at my shop that just sits here half of the time not doing anything because I brought the technology in-house instead of outsourcing until we have the workload to accommodate using the equipment enough.”

As far as looking down the road to the future of DTF technology, this savvy entrepreneur predicts more decorators will be adopting the process in the near future. “DTF is especially nice for newcomers into the industry because the learning curve for how to print is minimal compared to screen printing,” he says. “We came into this industry backwards from how most shops do. Our first equipment was a DTG printer instead of a screen printing press. My strategy then was to provide designs with better graphics than the one-to-two color work you see everywhere. Also, it was important to me to not be bogged down with learning all of the details that go into screen printing.” 

Where does Joe see DTF going in the future for his shop in the next one to five years? He expects it to grow given the ease of application, capability to do vibrant, full-color designs, and ability to complete small and large orders for his local decorating work and online stores. 

“We’re probably going to be sourcing the transfers for a number of years if the trend for smaller orders and more color continues,” he says. “We’ll probably bring it in-house once we’re purchasing somewhere between 300 and 500 transfers a month. I would guess that I’d wait until I crunched the numbers enough to show that we’d get our return on investment within one calendar year on the machine. That would make it worth it.”

Marcia Derryberry is the former editor-in-chief of Impressions magazine and content developer for the Impressions Expo conference program. She now owns her own media communications company, Derryberry Media Communications in McKinney, Texas.

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