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SouthEast Impressions

When an innovative print process first hits the market, it’s often impossible to predict all the ways creative entrepreneurs might use the technology. That’s what’s happening in the fast-growing world of DTF transfer printing.

One advantage of being an early adopter of this game-changing apparel-decorating process is being among the first to profit from both the anticipated and unforeseen applications.

Ben Spurlock, owner of the contract decorating firm SouthEast Impressions in Lebanon, Tennessee, recalls “I had no clue that DTF would produce whole new revenue streams for us.”

A technology enthusiast, Spurlock says he was blown away when he first saw a video of the DTF process in action in November 2020. He knew immediately a DTF system would benefit his business.

By the end of January 2021, SouthEast Impressions had installed a ColDesi Digital HEATEFX 242H two-printhead industrial DTF system. The system, which includes an inline dryer and powder-adhesive applicator, runs 24-inch rolls or sheets of film at about 44 to 55 linear feet per hour. This equates to roughly 100 full-front transfers per hour. 

“We had a plan for it, but we didn’t really have a plan for it,” explains Ben. “At first, we thought we were just going to use it to produce one-offs or to add numbers, names, or color graphics to screen-printed jobs. With the ColDesi DTF systems, the transfers can be automatically printed in bulk, stored, and pressed onto garments as needed.”

When the demand for DTF transfers reached the point that required SouthEast Impressions to run their DTF system 16 hours a day, they upgraded to the faster HEATEFX24H4 four-printhead model. Running at 145 linear feet per hour, the Digital HEATEFX 24H4 produces about 300 full- front transfers per hour. 

About SouthEast Impressions

SouthEast Impressions’ primary business is contract screen printing, embroidery, and promotional products for national brands and regional businesses.

The company was founded in 1996 by Ben’s parents Janyce and Terry Spurlock who used a manual screen printing press to decorate uniforms for sports teams. Team uniforms are still a key part of Southeast Impressions’ business, but when Ben joined the family business full-time in 2012, he focused on diversifying into contract decorating.

Today, SouthEast Impressions has 50 employees, four automatic screen-printing presses, an embroidery machine, direct-to-garment (DTG) printers, and the ColDesi industrial DTF system.

How They Use DTF

Before adding the DTF system, SouthEast Impressions used DTG printers to fulfill low-quantity orders. They also used DTG printing to decorate onesies and toddler shirts when artwork originally designed for visibility on adult-size T-shirts would require making new screens for infant wear.

The DTF process is a productive alternative to DTG printing because the artwork can be easily resized and reproduced for the size of the garment being printed. And in shops with multiple heat presses, the transfers can be applied in less time than it would take to run each garment through the printer. 

DTF also produces brighter, more durable colors on all types of fabrics than DTG printing. And DTF is more efficient because garments don’t require the application and drying of pretreatments.

Bulk Transfers

Although SouthEast Impressions doesn’t produce vinyl transfers, they do fulfill online orders from shops that already make vinyl transfers for T-shirt stores that apply transfers requested by walk-in buyers of custom shirts.

DTF transfer buyers like the fact that designs with fine text or detailed graphics don’t require manually weeding excess vinyl after the vinyl transfer is pressed. 

“Our typical customers for bulk DTF transfers are other screen print shops, both big and small,” says Ben. “They just send us the designs that are easier to do with a transfer than to print.”

Online buyers can order DTF transfers from SouthEast Impressions by the sheet, in sheet sizes ranging from 22 x 22 inches to 22 in. x 132 in. The number of transfers that can be ganged up on the sheet depends on the size of the logo, text, or graphics being reproduced. 

SouthEast Impressions also uses DTF transfers as a softer, more supple alternative to embroidered logos on all colors of polyester polo shirts. Customers like it because, “You don’t get the puckering and scratchiness of embroidery with a DTF transfer,” says Ben.


Like any emerging technology, the DTF printing process currently has challenges that will likely be resolved over time.

Ben would like to see both print speeds and color gamuts increase over the next few years. Right now, most systems only use CMYK and White inks. But he predicts the addition of orange and green inks would make it easier for shops to hit more of the brand colors used in logo apparel and promotional products.

Five years from now, Ben believes screen printing companies that decorate large volumes of garments for repeat corporate customers will primarily use three main technologies: automatic screen printing, embroidery, and DTF transfers.

Although garage-based start-ups are buying entry-level, standalone DTF printers and manual adhesive applicators for less than $5000, these entrepreneurs would be wise to focus on doing one-offs and small jobs first. 

Printing on entry-level systems that don’t have industrial-grade printheads won’t reproduce the same level of quality as more sophisticated industrial systems. And systems without advanced white-ink circulation and automatic maintenance features may experience more clogs and require more everyday maintenance than more sophisticated industrial systems.

The heat press settings need to be dialed in too, says Ben, especially when the film transfers are pressed onto colored garments. Sometimes, the dyes used to color the garments will bleed when exposed to too much heat and pressure for a specific film transfer/fabric combination.

Novice apparel decorators also need time to learn the ins and outs of the apparel-decorating business first. One potentially costly rookie mistake is to print and sell garments that feature trademarked logos or graphics they haven’t paid to license. Lawsuits by the trademark owner can be expensive.

Ben advises newcomers to the DTF process to find a combination of film and powder that works best for the types of products they make most often. Switching out films and powder combinations makes it difficult to achieve the type of color consistency and predictability needed for brand clients who can use spot-color screen-printing inks to get precise results.

“I didn’t expect the DTF process to become so popular so quickly,” admits Ben. He originally believed that every apparel-decorating shop would have a DTF system in three to five years. But he says, “That timeline has been sped up.” 

By Eileen Fritsch

 Eileen Fritsch is a freelance technology journalist who covers advances in digital printing and communications technologies that create new business and marketing opportunities for print service providers and creative professionals.

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