Prestige DTF (Direct-To-Film Printing) Overview

DTF R2 Pro with Shaker Oven
Prestige DTF R2 Pro Printer - Side
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What Is DTF Printing?

DTF (Direct-to-film) technology is a modern version of an old technology that uses a special ink which is printed onto a film. White ink is printed on top of the colour inks. This becomes the base colour when the image is transferred onto fabric and is the reason this technology works so well on dark fabrics. When the print comes out of the printer it’s still wet and a powder is sprinkled onto the wet ink. This powder is the glue that adheres the print to the fabric. After this, it’s cured and is then pressed with a heat press onto the fabric item.

This is an advancing technology that has some of the lowest print costs in the industry yet coupled with the best washability. The total print cost for DTF is less than just what the transfer paper costs with most competing technologies. This technology uses a special film, special inks and a powder (which is what sticks the image to the substrate). The powder sticks to the print only, which is why only the print transfers to the substrate. The best printers for DTF are manufactured for DTF from scratch. Early DTF machines (and current low-end machines) use a modified Epson inkjet printer.

DTF Results

Advantages

One of the main advantages is exceptional quality with vibrant colours if used with professional Raster Image Processing (RIP) software, the correct inks and films and printer specific colour profiles.

  • Only the print is transferred and nothing else.
  • Print durability is superior to any other transfer technology (with the exception of sublimation which is only for light / white synthetic fabrics) and even traditional silk-screen printing.
  • The transfer cost (media and ink) is one of the lowest of all the transfer technologies and the cost difference between printing on light and dark substrates is negligible.
  • The print is flexible, ensuring no cracking on the substrate. With the right RIP, you can not only further reduce print costs but also enhance wash durability; this can be achieved by utilizing the halftone function, available on more advanced RIPs like Fiery Cadlink.

Disadvantages

These systems are ONLY for porous substrates (items which absorb water) such as fabrics, paper, board, some faux leathers and so on. The market is currently saturated with individuals selling technology they neither understand nor can adequately maintain. The system requires specialized RIP software. Most low-cost systems either have no rip, or an inferior homegrown rip or even a pirated RIP (so zero support and often doesn’t even work).

The white inks tend to block easily, especially the cheap inks. Quality systems have a pump that constantly cycles the white ink. Anti-head strike technology is essential as head strikes reduce print head longevity. Most low-end systems don’t have this. You need to either be a hands on person or have access to a good technician if you are going for DTF as they do need periodic maintenance.

DTF printers need to be used often to prevent ink blockages and they must NOT be used in temperatures over 30C (else the ink gums up the head). You can’t just print today and forget about it for a week. The print heads are a consumable item that needs replacing every 4-24 months depending on usage, print head used (see Page 14 for the explanation), and model purchased. Choose your supplier with care.

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Muggit-4-1 A3 DTF PRESTIGE R2 PRO

Is DTF For Everyone?

Yes and no. If you are going to be printing daily and have a market for it, then yes absolutely (as long as you are willing to spend the time doing the daily maintenance dtf printers require). The smaller units need more maintenance than the more industrial units which take care of most of the maintenance automatically.

It’s critical that a DTF machine NOT be exposed to temperatures over 30C with humidity levels to be between 35-65%.

If you are only going to print occasionally it's then best to have the prints done for you, until such time as you can justify your own machine. We have partnered with a local company called Epic Distribution who has purchased our A2 Industrial solution and they will be doing prints, they are next to our Joburg office. Visit their website for orders. https://epicdistribution.co.za/

DTF Wash Durability

DTF prints are the 2nd most durable digital transfer after sublimation and the most durable digital transfer on cotton. The combination of ink and film used determines the durability. The best ink comes from Korea and the cheapest from China. Professional Chinese DTF manufacturers only use Korean ink. There are companies selling dirt-cheap inks/films which have poor washability and result in cancelled orders and unhappy customers.

The choice of ink, coupled with film and powder is crucial to achieving the best washability of the product. Skimping on one of these can lead to undesirable results.

We have tested our film and inks to 50 wash and tumble dry cycles with excellent results!

DTF Print Heads Used

The print heads used in DTF can be the secret to your success or failure. To keep prices low, many companies resort to using reconditioned or even B-grade print heads that have been rejected by Epson. However, Prestige exclusively employs A-grade print heads purchased directly from Epson in Japan.

Many A3 dual head printers (dual head = much faster print speed) use an XP600 head to keep costs down but the problem here is that the XP600 heads only last 4-6 months and can trap air which is what reduces their lifespan. Also, they have only 1080 nozzles. A higher nozzle count = better colours and higher speed. The I-series heads are Epson’s Industrial print heads with a native resolution of 600dpi and 1600 / 3200 nozzles, depending on the head. They cost more but last way longer and work out more cost effective over time.

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Prestige DTF A4 Printer
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Are All DTF Systems The Same?

Sadly no. We have purchased numerous machines from different suppliers only to be disappointed every time due to poor print quality (or in most cases being unable to even make 1 print) and reliability issues. The Prestige (formerly known as Galaxy) are the only ones which we feel comfortable selling. They are designed by an American company and include technology not found on cheap units which reduces the maintenance required to keep the machine working, and make no mistake, DTF printers do require ongoing maintenance. Should you not be a hands on person we would recommend you stick with sublimation or white toner laser and let our partner produce your prints.

Just like the solar industry, the DTF industry is full of cowboys. Everyone is happy to sell you a machine but few are willing to support it in the long run. Often you get manuals written in bad English or no manual at all, and if your machine breaks there are no spares or technical know-how to repair the issue.

JG Electronics supplies you with manuals, training videos, a maintenance kit for your printer, and extensive tech support. We’ve been in the business of selling systems for over 33 years, so we’ve got the hang of it. JG Electronics stocks a wide range of spares including pumps, motors, logic boards, piping, and print heads so that if there’s an issue it can be resolved quickly.

Despite our technical expertise and background we also got caught by early DTF machines where the sample units were perfect but the machines we ordered were not. This is the reason we have been very cautious since and only release new models after extensive local testing to local conditions.

A Must Read: Things we learnt the hard way about DTF

When we got into DTF, we believed manufacturers' claims, but we learned the hard and expensive way that:

Almost any Epson printer can be converted to DTF, but unfortunately, they don't last very long.  Often, they don't even work straight out of the box. While they are much cheaper than printers built specifically for DTF, they end up being a waste of money. Looking online, you can buy a DTF printer from China for under 20K.

Issues with converted printers:

  1. The printer itself was never designed for continuous printing, so the motors in the printer start heating up. When this happens, the print speed drops dramatically. Eventually, the printer stops and flashes the red lights of death. At this point, if you're lucky, it will start working again after cooling down. If not, one or more motors will need to be replaced.
  2. The print heads were made for home printing and certainly not manufactured for DTF inks, so head blockages and failures are common.
  3. The electronics of the print head aren’t sealed, so any ink spill can cause the head electronics as well as the printer's motherboard to blow.
  4. Parts are a massive problem, as the motherboards, for example, are modified by the manufacturer. Even buying a new motherboard from Epson won’t get the machine up and running again. You need the exact board from the machine's manufacturer.
  5. Replacement print heads vary in price. The cheap print heads are not new; they are merely cleaned and sold to unsuspecting buyers. Their lifespan is short, if they work at all.
  6. There are loads of videos online that will show the user how to replace the print head, but they don’t mention that the process is very dangerous. A single head cable not inserted properly or misaligned can blow the print head and the motherboard.
  7. The capping station, where the head sits during either a cleaning cycle or when resting, frequently gets blocked and needs to be replaced.
  8. The DTF ink gums up and sometimes eats into the rubber gasket that seals the head when it’s on the capping station. Consequently, it no longer seals properly, leading to head blockages and more costly repairs.
  9. The ink pipes going from the bottles to the print head weren’t designed for thicker DTF ink, leading them to block or burst, resulting in more costly repairs.
  10. With the film not being completely opaque, you will sometimes experience a head strike, which can damage the print head.

Don’t be led astray but low prices and false promises.

What Makes Our DTF Different To Other Systems?

Our machines are not just modified Epsons. Yes, they use Epson parts like the printer carriage, but the electronics and software are custom-made for DTF. The heads used in all our DTF machines are purchased NEW from Epson Japan. Many competing systems have reject or reconditioned heads which don’t last long.

Prestige DTF A4 Closed

Prestige DTF A4 Station

The A4 unit is a great introduction to DTF and prints at around 0.5m² per hour so it’s perfect for someone who wants to test the waters of DTF without spending a lot of money.

Prestige DTF R2 Pro Printer with shaker oven

Prestige DTF R2 Pro Station

The A3 unit uses dual Epson I1600 industrial-grade print heads. These are the same heads used in large-format production machines like Eco-Solvent, UV printing and so on. Most A3 dual-head machines use the XP600 head which while better than an office-grade print head is not the best solution as it can trap air which reduces the lifespan of the print head. The I1600 print head lasts 3 to 4 times longer than an XP600 print head and is far less likely to block.

Prestige DTF A2 Front

Prestige DTF L2 Station

The A2 unit uses dual industrial Epson I3200 print heads and has advanced functions like auto-cleaning, intelligent ink level monitoring, white ink circulating system and a vacuum system. The I1600 and I3200 print heads only differ in the amount of nozzles on the head. Why A2 and not A1 ? A T-shirt’s maximum width is A2. If you buy an A1 printer you waste time cutting the film to fit a shirt and waste money for no benefit.

Items you can decorate with DTF

Did you know that you can decorate a variety of items with a DTF print? We have branded these products with a DTF print ranging from delicate cork to stationery erasers, wooden blocks, cardstock party boxes, faux leather diaries, paperback notebooks, garments, and even sporting goods like tennis balls. The final result is simply stunning, boasting vibrant colours that last.

Print Costs On DTF

Print costs on DTF are much lower than ANY other transfer process. The film is cheaper and so is the ink with durability not possible with other processes. The total DTF print cost is under R 20 per A3 whereas just the paper for dark shirts on other technologies costs more than the total DTF print cost.

RIP Software, Do I Need It ?

In addition to the printer, powder, film and inks, RIP (Raster Image Processing) software is essential. Without a RIP there’s no way to tell the printer where to apply the white (critical when decorating a dark substrate) and tell the printer how much ink to apply. You also need the RIP for accurate colour matching. By making sure the correct amount of ink is applied for each image, the RIP also saves you money. Many low-end competing systems are supplied with a pirate copy of a sub-standard RIP often with no profiles for the printer they are supplied with. When you have a problem you’re on your own.

JG Electronics ONLY supplies systems with an OEM CADLINK DTF RIP License.

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