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DTF vs Screen Printing: What You Need to Know

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  • Post last modified:June 20, 2024

Are you gearing up to start a customization business or looking to revamp your printing process? If so, you’ve likely come across two titans in the printing world: DTF printing and screen printing. These popular methods produce excellent results, but they differ in their approaches and suit different needs.
We’ll explore the key distinctions between DTF (direct to film) printing and screen printing, comparing screen printing to highlight the involvement of different machines and the high production capabilities of DTF Printers. From fabric types like cotton, polyester, and blends to printing processes, print quality, durability, and turnaround times, we’ll delve into the advantages and considerations of each technique. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of which method aligns best with your business requirements and desired outcomes.

Overview of DTF Printing

DTF (Direct-to-Film) printing is a versatile printing technique that involves printing a design onto a special film using water-based inks and a powder adhesive. The printed film is then heat-transferred onto the desired substrate, such as fabric, using a heat press machine. DTF printing is well-suited for producing full color prints on various materials. Very different from screen printing.
What is DTF Printing?
DTF printing allows you to transfer designs onto a wide range of materials, including cotton, polyester, nylon, leather, and blends. Unlike direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, which works best on 100% cotton, DTF printing is suitable for various fabric types without requiring any pretreatment.

Process and Technology

  • A design is printed onto a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) film using CMYK inks and a white underbase layer.
  • A powder adhesive is applied evenly onto the wet ink on the film.
  • The film is heated to cure the adhesive, preparing it for transfer.

The prepared film is then heat-pressed onto the desired substrate, transferring the design.

Advantages of DTF Printing

• Versatility: DTF printing can be used on various materials, including cotton, polyester, blends, and even non-fabric surfaces like wood or metal.
• No pretreatment required: Unlike DTG printing, DTF printing does not require pretreatment of the substrate.
• Reduced white ink usage: DTF printing uses approximately 40% less white ink compared to DTG printing, resulting in cost savings.
• Durability: DTF prints are more durable than DTG prints, with excellent wash resistance and flexibility, making them suitable for heavy-use items.
• Easy application: DTF transfers can be applied to hard-to-reach or awkward surfaces, as long as they can be heated.
• Faster production: By eliminating pretreatment and drying steps, DTF printing can significantly reduce production time.
• High quality prints: DTF printing produces high-quality prints with vibrant colors and sharp details, resulting in a soft hand feel.
Disadvantages of DTF Printing
• Print feel: While DTF prints are durable, they may not have the soft, hand-free feel of DTG prints.
• Color vibrancy: The color vibrancy of DTF prints may be slightly lower compared to sublimation printing.
• Printed area visibility: The printed area on DTF transfers can be slightly more noticeable than sublimation printing.

Overview of Traditional Screen Printing

Screen printing is a pivotal technique in the custom apparel industry, known for producing vibrant and durable prints. Traditional screen printing involves creating a stencil on a mesh screen and pushing ink through the open areas to transfer the design onto the desired surface. A breakdown of screen printing:
What is Screen Printing?
Screen printing is a printing process where a design is transferred onto a substrate like fabric, paper, plastic, or metal through a mesh screen. The areas not part of the design are blocked off, allowing ink to pass through only the open areas onto the material below.

Process and Technology of Screen printing

A stencil design is created on fine mesh or polyester fabric.

Several layers of ink are pushed through this stencil layout onto the print material’s surface.

Different ink colors are applied using separate screen stencils to create the final printed effect.

Areas to be left clear are covered with an impermeable substance to prevent ink contamination.

Advantages of Screen Printing

• Cost-efficient for bulk printing, making it ideal for large orders.
• Produces vibrant, durable prints that withstand stress and environmental factors.
• Offers versatility in design placement and a wide range of printable materials.
• Thick ink application enables a greater range of finishing possibilities.
• Simple tools and a consistent process, whether done by hand or machine.
• Screen printed transfers are known for their weather resistance, great washability, and versatility.
Disadvantages of Screen Printing
• Higher initial setup costs and time-consuming for small or on-demand orders.
• Limited color range compared to digital printing methods.
• Raised ink appearance on the print material.
• Inability to customize designs as easily as digital printing.
• Environmental impact due to water usage and potential mess in DIY setups.
• Challenging to remove prints from fabrics once applied.
Comparative Analysis: DTF vs Screen Printing

When it comes to comparing the printing method of DTF (Direct-to-Film) printing and screen printing, several factors come into play. Let’s delve into the key aspects that differentiate these two techniques:

Print Quality

DTF transfers excel in producing high-definition, photorealistic prints with impressive detail and color vibrancy. They can reproduce intricate designs and complex imagery with ease, capturing sharp details accurately. Screen printing, on the other hand, delivers vibrant and opaque colors but may struggle with highly detailed or complex designs. The quality of screen print transfers largely depends on the quality of the screen used to create them.

Durability and Washability

Both DTF transfers and screen prints are known for their durability. With proper care, DTF transfers can withstand numerous washes without significant fading. Screen printing directly applies ink to the fabric, resulting in long-lasting prints that often outlive the garment itself. Screen print transfers, when applied correctly, also provide a durable impression.

Color and Design Capabilities

DTF transfers shine when it comes to reproducing a wide range of colors in a single print, making them ideal for colorful or intricate designs. They are capable of producing full-color prints with vibrant colors and complex variations on different fabric materials. Screen printing, however, requires a separate screen for each color, making it more suitable for designs with fewer colors or those that require specific, accurate color matching. Like screen printing, screen print transfers are limited by the number of colors they can efficiently reproduce.

Fabric Compatibility

DTF printing works exceptionally well on both light and dark fabrics, and is compatible with cotton, polyester, and blends. Screen printing is versatile but may not provide the same vibrancy on darker fabrics without a base layer of white ink. Both techniques offer fabric compatibility, but DTF printing provides more consistent results across different fabric types and colors.

Cost and Setup Considerations

When it comes to cost and setup considerations, DTF printing and screen printing have distinct differences that can significantly impact your business operations and budget. DTF printing is one of the most popular printing methods due to its quick production and fast setup time. Let’s explore the key factors:

Initial Setup Costs

DTF printing requires a lower initial investment, typically ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. The essential equipment includes a printer, a heat press machine, and specialized film.

Screen printing, on the other hand, demands a higher upfront cost, often between $8,000 and $15,000. This is due to the need for multiple screens, inks, and a larger press.

Material and Equipment Costs

DTF printing utilizes less ink per item, especially for designs with numerous colors, resulting in cost savings.

Screen printing requires more hands-on work, such as setting up and cleaning, which can increase the cost per print.

Production Speed and Flexibility

DTF printing is generally faster than screen printing, particularly for small orders or designs with intricate details.

Screen printing can be time-consuming, especially for multi-color designs, due to the need for separate screens and alignment.

Cost-Effectiveness for Small vs Bulk Orders

For smaller or medium-sized jobs, DTF printing often costs less per print due to its low setup fees and quick turnaround times.

Screen printing becomes more cost-effective for large-scale orders, as the initial setup costs are spread over a higher volume of items.
It’s crucial to consider your specific business needs, order volumes, and design complexity when evaluating the cost-effectiveness of DTF printing versus screen printing. While DTF printing offers a lower barrier to entry and flexibility, screen printing can be more economical for large-scale production runs.


In the ever-evolving world of custom apparel printing, DTF and screen printing stand out as two prominent techniques, each offering unique strengths and considerations. DTF printing shines with its versatility, accommodating a wide range of materials and designs, from intricate details to vibrant colors. Its cost-effectiveness for smaller orders and faster production times make it an attractive choice for businesses seeking flexibility and efficiency.
On the other hand, screen printing remains a stalwart choice for large-scale production runs, where its durability, opaque colors, and bulk cost savings come into play. While it may require a higher initial investment and more time-consuming setup, its ability to produce long-lasting prints on a wide variety of surfaces makes it a reliable option for businesses prioritizing longevity and specific color matching.