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Blog / Beginner's handbook / DTG vs. DTF printing: which one’s better?

Beginner's handbook

DTG vs. DTF Printing: Which Method Is Better for Your Designs?

DTG vs. DTF Printing: Which Method Is Better for Your Designs?
Jana Magonova

By Jana Magonova

9 min read

DTF, DTG, GTG, FYI, OMG . . . so many acronyms, so little time. 

Jokes aside, let’s discuss the first two—DTF, direct-to-film printing, and DTG, direct-to-garment printing.

DTF printing and DTG are popular methods for printing designs onto garments. Both techniques have unique features and benefits, and choosing between them can be challenging.

Understanding printing in depth can help you decide which suits your designs or brand best, whether you want to start a t-shirt business or learn more about printing techniques.

So, DTG vs. DTF printing—what are their differences, advantages, and best uses? Keep reading to learn all there is about each of these fulfillment methods.

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What is DTF printing?

Direct-to-film printing is a relatively new technique that’s growing in popularity. DTF prints have excellent color accuracy and detail, are durable, and look fantastic. 

Other DTF printing benefits include low production costs, a wide range of color options, and the ability to print on dark and light garments. It’s also suitable for various material types like polyester, cotton, nylon, and fleece.

How does DTF printing work?

Here are the basic steps of DTF printing:

  1. The design is printed onto a special transfer film with water-based inks
  2. The ink on the film is then coated with a special adhesive powder
  3. Then the design is transferred onto the fabric using a heat press

While the process seems lengthy, involving multiple steps and actions, print time for one garment is just a few minutes.

direct to film printing

Source: Printful

What is DTG printing?

Direct-to-garment printing is a method where the ink is sprayed directly onto the garment, which allows for high-quality, full-color prints. DTG prints are soft, breathable, and very durable.

DTG printing is best suited for fabrics like cotton, bamboo, and other natural materials, as the material absorbs the ink. DTG is one of the most popular printing methods in on-demand production.

How does DTG printing work?

Unlike DTF printing, DTG requires fewer steps to get the design printed on the garment:

  1. First, the pre-treatment is applied to the garment to help the ink bond with the fabric

  2. Then the garment is mounted on a platen, and the design gets sprayed with water-based inks on the fabric

  3. After that, the ink is cured to make the print more durable

The main advantage of DTG printing is that it’s easy to print one-offs because there’s almost no setup time. Printing one t-shirt takes just a few minutes, and the production costs are low too.

DTG vs. DTF printing: what are the differences

While both printing methods may seem quite similar—they have some substantial differences. Both printing methods provide awesome results, but there’s more than meets the eye.

Print quality and durability

DTF print quality is excellent. Even though the print has a plastic feel and might be slightly stiff initially, it’ll wear in after a few washes. Other than that, DTF prints are smooth and elastic, which ensures longevity. The prints are resistant to cracking and can handle heavy use and cold to lukewarm washes without fading color. However, the design may develop small cracks if garments are washed in very hot water. 

The DTF method is excellent for printing photos, colorful designs, graphics, and fine art. The results will be amazing because the ink doesn’t soak into the fabric but is pressed on top. The print is very thin, so it won’t feel bulky.

direct to film printing colors

Source: Unsplash

DTG printing also provides fantastic print quality. A fresh print may feel slightly rough but smooths out after a few washes. The print might have a somewhat rubbery feel, but it doesn’t cause any unpleasant sensation to the touch. Usually, it won’t be noticeable at all. 

DTG technique is great for printing colorful designs, graphics, text, and more. These prints always look great, but some factors may influence the outcome of the print. For example, since the fabric soaks up the ink, the print may be less vibrant, especially on black or colorful garments. 

When you follow the printed garment’s care instructions, the prints will last a long time. They won’t crack, peel, or fade. You may be surprised at how durable these prints are!

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Print complexity

When it comes to print complexity, DTF prints are unmatched. DTF printing supports photos, detailed, full-color designs, fine art, small text, graphics, and more. The prints are sharp, clear, and realistic, so they’ll be close to the original design. What’s more, you can print gradients. However, keep in mind that the DTF print’s base (finishing color layer) is white ink, which may affect the gradient or transparency of your design.

direct to film print complexity

Source: Unsplash

DTG prints also support colorful designs, graphics, photos, fine art, small texts, and more. These prints are vivid, clear, and detailed. However, remember that the fabric soaks up the ink, which may affect the clarity of the design. It’s also tricky to print gradients with DTG, so you need to ensure your design is adjusted for that. You can learn more about transparency in DTG printing here.

Color vibrancy

DTF printing uses primary colors (known as CMYK or cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) and white ink for the base. Every design will be vibrant and vivid, no matter the fabric color or type. 

DTG printing also uses the CMYK color model to print all designs. The prints also have a white base color, but only when the design is printed on black or colorful garments. The white base color isn’t used for printing designs on white fabrics. 

Since the ink gets sprayed directly on the fabric, it soaks up the color; therefore, prints may not be as bright or vivid as with DTF printing. Still, DTG produces awesome prints.

direct to garment print color vibrancy

Source: Printful

Fabric suitability

One of direct-to-film printing’s advantages is that it’s possible to print on various fabrics. This flexible printing method can be applied to polyester, cotton, fleece, nylon, and such fabric blends. The material will not affect the print, giving you more product options to design for your store.

Unlike DTF printing, DTG is best suited for natural fabrics like cotton, bamboo, linen, or such fabric blends. That’s because the ink binds with the natural fabric fibers better than synthetic fabrics. 

Quantity

If you’re looking for a printing technique that suits print-on-demand production, DTF printing is a great option. It’s possible to print just one shirt or make a bulk order of t-shirts; therefore, it suits the on-demand production model nicely.

The same goes for DTG technology—it’s perfect for small and large orders. DTG is one of the most popular printing methods among dropshipping companies, as it’s easy to use this printing technique for as many as you need.

direct to garment product quantity

Source: Printful

Eco-friendliness

If you’re looking for a sustainable fulfillment method, DTF printing is an ok choice. This technique allows printing one-offs, so you won’t have to worry about unsold stock. Being able to make products on demand also eliminates overproduction. The inks used in direct-to-film printing are water-based and non-toxic, so they’re environmentally friendly. 

The transfer film used for the design is usually recyclable, so the printing process mostly creates no waste.

DTG is also a good option if you’re looking for an eco-friendly fulfillment method. Like with DTF printing, you can print one-offs with the DTG technique. Making products on demand eliminates overproduction, as you can order the exact amount of products that get ordered. 

For example, Printful partners with Kornit, whose DTG machines produce almost zero wastewater and use less energy, lowering the carbon footprint.

Moreover, Kornit digital printers use water-based vegan inks that they formulate, test, and produce in their own ink factories. The inks are non-hazardous, toxin-free, biodegradable, and contain no animal by-products.

direct to garment print machine

Source: Printful

On-demand fulfillment

DTF printing and DTG are good on-demand fulfillment techniques. It’s possible to order just one or multiple items, and the cost won’t change (bulk orders are an exception, as you may get a discount).

For example, at Printful, direct-to-film and direct-to-garment print products are only made after you or your customers order them. Printful also offers discounts for bulk orders, which is a nice deal if you need to order multiple items.

Upfront investment

You don’t need an upfront investment if you partner with a print-on-demand company like Printful to sell direct-to-film or direct-to-garment products. That’s because your products are made only when your customer orders them. You get money from your customer, pay Printful for the item your customer ordered, and keep the profit.

Suppose you want to print the garments yourself. In that case, you’ll need to buy a DTF printer or DTG printer, blank products, DTG or DTF inks, and other materials for fulfilling and shipping your orders. But you need to consider if making such a large investment will be worth it when you can dropship products with your designs under your brand.

DTF printing and DTG: what designs each printing process is better for?

After exploring each printing method in depth, it’s clear that both provide amazing results and suit businesses with print-on-demand production. However, each print provides a different outcome, which can improve or ruin your design. Let’s recap each technique. 

When to choose direct-to-film printing

DTF technology will be better for your business if you want to sell items made with polyester, nylon, fleece, or other synthetic material. Printing on other items like bags and hats is also possible, giving you more product options.

This technique is worth trying out if your designs are detailed and colorful and it’s important that your art has the best quality when printed. DTF prints always come out vivid and sharp. They are also durable and long-lasting.

However, if you want to print a large design, let’s say a photo, this printing technique might be a bad choice. That’s because DTF prints are not breathable, which means that printing a large design makes the garment less comfortable for long wear.

Before selling items with DTF prints, you can always order one for yourself and compare the same design fulfilled with different techniques.

When to choose direct-to-garment printing

If you want to sell cotton garments or products made with other natural materials, the DTG technique will be the best. With this method, you can print apparel and accessories like tote bags, so you may have plenty of choices.

You can also go for the DTG technique if your designs are more uncomplicated. For example, you’ve got text, logo, or graphic art. However, DTG also supports colorful images and designs; just remember that prints may not be as clear or sharp as in DTF printing.

Direct-to-garment prints are durable, long-lasting, and great for printing larger designs, as the prints are breathable. Just make sure to follow the garment’s care instructions.

It’s one of the most popular printing methods in the world, so not much can go wrong with direct-to-garment prints. You can try this technique depending on your needs and designs and see if the result matches your expectations.

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FAQs

DTF printing or DTG printing: which one will you choose?

In this article, you learned about DTF printing and DTG, their advantages, differences, and similarities, and the type of products and designs each method suits best. Even if you still can’t decide which one’s right for you, the best thing is that you can try both! Don’t be afraid to experiment with each technique on different products to find the one that makes your designs stand out. 

Read next:

Happy designing and creating!

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By Jana Magonova on Mar 23, 2023

Jana Magonova

Jana is a Content Writer at Printful with a background in creative writing and content marketing. She draws inspiration from all things creative and has a deep love for all things written, be it a book, a script, a quote, or a joke.

Jana is a Content Writer at Printful with a background in creative writing and content marketing. She draws inspiration from all things creative and has a deep love for all things written, be it a book, a script, a quote, or a joke.