As a business owner interested in investing in printing technology, you’ve likely encountered two popular options: white toner transfer printers and Direct-to-Film (DTF) printers. Both technologies can produce high-quality, full-color prints on a variety of surfaces, but they differ in their size, versatility, and maintenance costs.
In this blog post, we will provide a detailed comparison of these two decoration technologies. We will delve into the distinctive features of each printing technology, their suitability for different applications, and the associated costs. By doing so, we hope to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of each option, enabling you to make an informed decision about which technology is most suitable for your specific business requirements.
Direct-to-Film (DTF) printing is an advanced heat-transfer based technology that uses dye or pigment-based ink to print designs on a transparent film. The printed film is then coated with adhesive powder and transferred onto the final substrate using a heat press. DTF printers are designed for high-volume production printing and typically start at $15,000 for an entry-level system. The adhesive powder that is required for DTF transfer can be applied manually or with a specialized shaker machine. While some DTF printers come equipped with shakers, others do not, thus require additional expenses.
How Do DTF Printers Work?
Direct-to-film printers are an ink-based printing technology equipped with five colored ink tanks, CMYK+White. They spray micro-droplets of ink onto the film with a printhead to replicate the digital design sent from the RIP software. The ink used in DTF printing is specifically formulated to ensure excellent quality, allowing final designs to precisely depict the desired image on the fabric. These types of printers are particularly useful for dark-colored garments, where the white ink acts as a base, enhancing the vibrancy of colors.
Maintenance – Daily (regardless of whether the printer is operating or not)
One of the downsides of having a DTF printer is that they require daily maintenance to operate efficiently, regardless of whether they are in use or not. Regular cleaning of the print head is essential to avoid nozzle clogging, which can result from air bubbles in the ink cartridge blocking the nozzle. Additionally, the white ink must be continuously recirculated to prevent coagulation, ensuring that it remains in a fluid state. Unfortunately, if proper maintenance is not performed regularly, it can negatively impact the printer’s performance and lifespan making it crucial to carry out these tasks diligently.
The DTF printing process utilizes a white granular adhesive powder to facilitate binding the colored pigments from the printer to the intended printing surface. The DTF adhesive powder is available in various grades, specified in microns, enabling different levels of thickness and performance in the DTF printing process.
During the heat fusing process of DTF powder to the printed sheet, additional precautions must be taken. These include ensuring proper ventilation, implementing air filtration systems, employing fume exhaustion methods, and wearing appropriate protective equipment. It is worth noting that many DTF systems employ powders based on thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Manufacturers of TPU have reported that these powders can emit MDI (methylene diphenyl diisocyanate) vapors when exposed to elevated temperatures.
Health organizations such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have determined that exposure to MDI vapors can result in significant health issues, including respiratory impairments. Consequently, businesses must exercise utmost caution when working with TPU-based DTF powders and ensure the implementation of appropriate safety measures to mitigate the risks associated with MDI vapors.
DTF transfers can be applied onto a diverse array of fabric types including cotton, polyester, treated leather, nylon, 50/50 blends, and other light and dark-colored fabrics. It is often recommended to switch from white powdered adhesive to black when transferring to dark garments.
- Well-suited for large-scale production
- Low cost per print
- Versatile application of DTF transfers to various fabric types
- Produces high-resolution, intricate, and vivid prints
- Ensures excellent washability, durability, and elasticity
- Accommodates rolls of transfer film for printing
- Slow printing speed – single head units print up to 50 full front transfers per hour
- Requires maintenance on a daily basis
- Higher initial investment cost
- Demands ample space for operation
- Most printers require 220v power supply
- The powder adhesive could cause significant health issues
- Higher learning curve to get started
- 1-Year Warranty / 6-12 Months Coverage on Printhead(s)
White Toner Transfer Printing
White toner transfer is also a heat-transfer based printing process. Unlike ink based DTF printers, this technology uses a laser-based toner printing process that prints the design to a special paper or film that is then transferred onto a desired substrate. White toner printers are ideal for short run to small volume production runs. The additional white toner layer acts as an under base that enables producing vibrant and opaque designs on a wider range of substrates. In comparison to the A4 or 11×17 DTF printers mentioned above, white toner transfer printers in this size run about $8,000.
Unlike ink-based DTF printers, white toner transfer is a laser-based printing technology that prints the design to a special paper or film that is then transferred with a heat press onto a desired substrate. White toner printers are particularly suitable for short to small production runs. By printing an additional layer of white toner, these printers enable producing vibrant and opaque designs on a wider range of materials. Compared to the A4 or 11×17 DTF printers mentioned above, white toner transfer printers of the same size approximately cost $8,000.
How Do White Toner Transfer Printers Work?
White transfer printers utilize a dry powdered toner instead of liquid ink to produce electrostatically charged dots on a light-sensitive drum that attracts and transfers toner powder to the paper or film which is then adhered to the desired surface by a heating element called fuser. These printers are usually equipped with four or five color toner stations – CMY+White or CMYK+White. These enable the white toner printers to produce high-resolution images with vibrant colors that precisely replicate designs, ensuring a premium finished product.
As opposed to DTF printers, white toner printers run smoothly without the need for daily maintenance. You can turn them off for extended periods and turn them back on without affecting their performance. With toner-based systems, there are no head strikes, nozzle clogs, or line stops. The absence of liquid ink in white toner transfer printers renders them more convenient and flexible, with trouble-free operation. Conversely, DTF printers require extensive maintenance and repair that can consume substantial time and financial resources.
A sheeted adhesive is used to attach the transfer to the substrate in the white toner transfer printing process. In a “One Step” process, the adhesive is embedded in the sheet that goes through the printer, suitable for light-colored garments and hard surface papers. However, for dark-colored garments, a “Two Step” process is required. In this case, the printed sheet is heat pressed (married) to the adhesive sheet. The adhesive is only applied to the areas with toner, ensuring no excess adhesive is transferred. After removing the adhesive sheet as a hot peel, the printed sheet with adhesive is ready to be transferred to the desired garment or substrate.
Compared to other printing technologies in the decoration industry, the white toner transfers can be applied to the widest variety of substrates, even non-heat applied materials. The versatility of white toner transfers extends to various materials thanks to specially designed paper or films. This encompasses a wide range of options, including fabric, hard surfaces, glass, wood, metal, acrylic, mylar (even balloons), candles, plastics, and more. Not only you can create stunning designs for different materials, but you can also print directly on specific products such as paper (including card stock), window cling, stickers, and more. By expanding your offerings, you can tap into additional revenue streams, increase sales opportunities, and boost your profits.
- No Maintenance
- Rapid printing speed – 540 full front transfers per hour
- Ideal for producing short runs of both single and full color designs
- Compact size, no bigger than a desktop printer
- High-resolution, detailed, and vibrant prints
- Diverse applications – any type of fabric, hard surface or other substrate including mylar, wood, metal, acrylic and more
- Lower initial investment cost
- Utilizes a secure sheeted adhesive
- Minimal training required to get started
- 2-Year Onsite Warranty / 5-Years on LED Heads
- Higher cost per print
- Requires a top-notch heat press
- Transferring to dark-colored garments requires two-step process, which may involve a learning curve to master the marrying process accurately
- Final 30-second press with a specialized silicone sheet is essential to seal the toner exclusively to garments
When comparing white toner transfer and DTF printing technologies, both possess distinct advantages and limitations.
White toner transfer printing excels in its ability to print on a vast array of substrates, producing vibrant and long-lasting prints while requiring minimal expertise, setup time, and expenses. It is ideal for small to medium-sized production runs.
On the other hand, DTF printing offers remarkable color accuracy and is well-suited for a wide range of fabrics. It is perfect for high-volume production environments where the printer operates daily. However, it demands more setup time, training, and entails a larger initial investment in equipment and supplies.
Both printing technologies hold their value in the decoration industry. The decision ultimately hinges on factors such as entry cost, production volume, and maintenance requirements. Your choice between both printing technologies will depend on your specific needs and budget. It is important to consider factors such as the type of surface you will be printing on and the size / quantity of prints you need to produce. By thoroughly evaluating these factors and comprehending the unique capabilities of each technology, you can make an informed decision that ensures a high-quality print while optimizing cost-effectiveness.