Direct-to-film (DTF) printing has surprised the industry with its ease of use, fast turnaround times with an ideal setup, and fabulous prints with vibrant colors and good washability. You might be tempted to try it since it’s nowhere as labor-intensive as screen printing, nor does it need a large budget for equipment like direct-to-garment (DTG) printing.
But the first question that will no doubt be on your mind: what DTF printer should you get?
Let this guide help you with making an informed decision.
Wait, What’s DTF Printing?
If you’ve stumbled upon this article out of curiosity, without knowing what this DTF printing is or what it’s about, then this section’s for you.
DTF printing is a process that allows you to transfer printed designs from a special transfer film onto a garment or other type of substrate. You simply print your design on the transfer film, place it on top of the substrate, then heat press the film onto it.
DTF’s popularity comes from its incredible versatility: you can quickly transfer designs onto polyester shirts, mugs, glass surfaces, and even metal.
The main components for DTF printing (besides the printer itself) are:
- The transfer films (sometimes called PET films).
- A unique hot melt adhesive that allows the design to adhere to the substrate.
- The DTF inks you’ll use to print out your designs.
What’s the Difference between Converted and Dedicated Printers?
The printers you’ll be considering will vary in their capabilities, and better (or larger-scale) printers will cost more. If you’re just starting, you wouldn’t want to buy a $30,000 printer and blow your entire budget, even if it boasts high printing speeds, excellent quality, and other benefits.
Nowadays, it’s entirely possible to get a decent starter DTF printer that won’t break the bank, but you’d have to pick between a converted or dedicated printer. Here’s a quick rundown for you.
Converted printers are standard office printers converted to print on transfer films and use DTF inks. Once they’re converted, you can’t reverse the process; they permanently become a DTF printer.
One of the most common printers for such conversions is the Epson L1800. The reasons are that it’s widely available, spare parts are easy to come by, and they’re generally inexpensive.
On the other hand, dedicated printers are manufactured by companies for the sole purpose of use as a DTF printer through and through, nothing more. An example would be Sublistar’s Mini 450i.
The Pros and Cons of Converted Printers
- Low Price Tag: You can easily find converted printers for sale in online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, some going as low as $1,000. It’s suitable if you’re looking to start your own apparel business on a budget, which shows it’s not impossible.
- Compatible Inks: These are made by Dupont and other brands. DTF ink is still cheaper than DTG ink, but every amount saved is cumulative. Plus, compatible inks are pretty durable, too. Test prints can help you ensure you meet the colors needed for each print, or you’ll end up with a misprint with the wrong color gradients, vibrancy, or similar errors.
- Straightforward Self-maintenance: If you need to, you can procure parts from an original printer and swap them to repair your converted printer. However, you must be aware of the general product lifespan; for example, Epson usually has a one-year cycle on all their consumer desktop printers.
- Self-maintenance Can Be Complicated: This is especially true if you’re not sure what you’re doing. You might just end up doing irreparable damage to the printer while also voiding your printer’s warranty in the process.
- Difficulty Procuring Replacement Parts: If that converted printer is based on an older model, you will have trouble finding replacement parts when the converted printer breaks down.
- No Dedicated Tech Support: You can always consult online tutorials, but even those can only help you so much. In the end, if you don’t know what you’re doing, things will only get worse over time.
- Short Consumer Cycle: Don’t expect converted printers to last very long. Moreover, in a bid to keep up with emerging advances in printer technology, a lack of proper quality checks, or an understanding of how new dedicated printers work, the trade-off comes in the form of various reliability issues.
- Not Problem Free: Even brand-new converted printers can break down days after installing them. Be ready for unforeseen problems looming on the horizon.
Some Options Available
With DTF’s growing popularity, you’ll quickly find a lot of converted printers available on the market. Some examples you might find, including printers you’ll need to convert on your own, are:
Offered by Kingdom DTF, this set comprises a regular, unmodified Epson XP-15000 printer, as well as Kingdom DTF’s inks, cleaning kit, and cartridge kit. It doesn’t come with a heat press, waste tank, or other supplementary equipment. If you want to do the conversion yourself, this set is an excellent place to start at the low cost of $1,175.
Depending on the print head, you’ll be paying between $2,000 to $3,000 for this converted printer. You get some starting supplies such as ink bottles, transfer films, waste ink bottles, and cotton swabs for cleaning. It also has an automatic white ink stirring system to prevent print head blockage. It also comes with a built-in heating system to partially dry the inks.
Available on Amazon for $2,799, this converted L1800 comes with a small starter kit of inks and transfer films, as well as a waste ink bottle, an output tray, and a user’s manual. It also has a built-in white ink circulation system to reduce the risk of print head blockages.
An L1800 converted printer assembled by DTGPro; this printer comes with RIP software (which allows the printer to know what design to print and how to print it), an external ink tank system for easy refills, and limited onboarding support to help you with using the printer. You’ll need to buy consumables on your own, however.
The Pros and Cons of Dedicated Printers
- Assured Reliability: Since these dedicated printers were built to cater to DTF printing and only, they’ll do exactly everything you need them to do right out of the box. No complicated conversion processes and no need to swap out parts either.
- Great Printer Quality: You can also expect the overall quality, including prints, to be very good. They won’t break down as often, their print quality is consistent, and they can print much faster than a converted printer without any hitches.
- Easier Maintenance: Maintenance is also a lot easier since you can refer to the manual or get technical support. However, you should ensure you don’t accidentally damage its delicate parts.
- Excellent Results: This isn’t to say that converted printers can’t do a good job, but since dedicated printers were built with DTF in mind, you can easily see the difference in color vibrancy, wash fastness, and even better color matching, too.
- Slightly Higher Price Tag: It’s nowhere as cost prohibitive as buying a mid-range DTG machine, but if you’re looking for more features from a DTF printer, expect your total bill to increase. Larger industrial-grade printers can go for more than $15,000 in price.
- Maintenance Can Get Costly, Too: Once the printer’s warranty expires, it will start to cost you to call for their help. It’s best to ensure the printers are always working optimally so that unexpected problems don’t cost you over time and eat into your profit margin.
Some Options Available
Retailing for about $9,000, this mid-range printer is only 24 inches wide, making it easy to fit in any shop size. It comes with a set of inks, transfer films, and cleaning solutions (among other things) as part of the package. With a maximum resolution of 1440 dpi, you can print multiple sharp, clean designs that stand out at decent speeds.
It might be odd for a DTG printer to make it to this list, but you’ll also get a DTF transfer kit along with your purchase. At $14,995 for just the machine, it’s one of the more costly options available. However, this unique two-in-one printer (not to be confused with actual hybrid printers) offers you DTG and DTF printing capabilities, allowing you to reach a wider audience with various printing options.
Knowing Your Return on Investment
Your business plan’s return on investment (ROI) can depend on various factors. Your business budget will dictate how you price your services and how quickly you can finish potential clients’ orders. Converted printers will take a while for you to see the ROI, considering their print speeds are not as impressive as a dedicated printer.
For example, a converted Epson L1800 has an estimated printing time of 10-15 minutes for a standard A4-sized transfer film. Large-scale DTF printers can print multiple designs on a large sheet in minutes.
There are several important factors to consider when figuring out a good plan for your ROI.
- Sales Time – you need to market your services to potential customers, which takes time. Be it, walk-in customers, people you cold call, or even recommendations from friends, it’s crucial to know your audience and market yourselves according to their needs.
- Accounting Time – how much time do you spend settling your business account, preparing quotes or sales orders, contacting vendors, or even negotiating with customers?
- Shipping & Handling – how will you deliver your orders to your customers? What considerations should you weigh when planning for shipping orders out? Should you mark up shipping and handling fees?
- Maintenance – how often should you clean the printers? Will you need to run daily cleaning cycles or only if they’ve not been used in a while? Any time not spent cleaning is time not spent generating profits; you must balance time and productivity well.
- Labor Concerns – how much are you paying your staff? How many employees do you need? A good setup can help increase productivity across the board, so you’ll need to manage your team and overall expectations carefully.
Be sure to take notes and ask questions about how you want things to go for the business. Consider referring to this in-depth article on how you can calculate the best outcome for your ROI.
At the end of the day, getting a converted printer is ideal if you’re on a tight budget and want a quick start to DTF printing. If you can afford it, a dedicated printer gives you more options and the ability to make better DTF prints with few technical difficulties. Be sure to do a little extra research to better understand what you want from your first printer.