DTF Printing: A Beginners Guide To Production Setup

DTF Printing: A Beginners Guide To Production Setup
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  • Post published:Nov 13, 2023
  • Reading time:10 mins read

The Direct-to-Film printing revolution has had a huge impact on the way that custom apparel and other products are printed. As businesses and individual enthusiasts alike dive into this innovative realm, the fine line distinguishing a good DTF print from a great one emerges.

DTF printing is not as skill / trade-based as embroidery or screen printing and thus anyone can master the art of the decoration method virtually overnight with the right equipment, consumables, and training.

The DTF Print Room

As the saying goes, the environment shapes the artist. In the world of DTF printing, the environment shapes the print:

Forward-thinking businesses, understanding the nuances of DTF printing, often set aside a dedicated workspace exclusively for their DTF printers. This isn’t a mere allocation of space – it’s a pledge to quality and consistency.

The logic is straightforward: smaller rooms allow quicker stabilization of environmental conditions. Such spaces facilitate more rapid humidity and temperature control, ensuring that when you’re ready to print, the room is too.

When setting up a DTF production space you must account for having the necessary electricity and exhaust for the conveyor dryer that is used to cure the ink. Most DTF dryers require 220 volts of electricity and thus are not a typical 110 outlet.

When the ink is cured onto the film a vapor is released that then must be exhausted either out of the building or a fume extractor device must be used to clean the vapor.

DTF Printing Humidity and Temperature Control

Think of humidity as the lifeblood of a DTF printer. These sophisticated machines thrive when humidity levels hover around the 50 percent mark or higher. At these optimal levels, the water-based ink intrinsic to DTF printing maintains its desired viscosity, ensuring it doesn’t prematurely dry and clog the print head. Maintaining consistent humidity isn’t just about preventing problems – it’s about achieving the vividness and precision every print deserves.

With the spotlight often on humidity, temperature’s crucial role sometimes gets overshadowed. However, for the discerning printer, temperature is equally paramount. Operating in a consistent temperature range (between 68°F to 77°F or 20°C to 25°C) ensures that not only does the ink perform predictably, but the printer’s mechanical and electronic components run without a hitch.

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Printer Variables

Understanding and manipulating various printer variables is crucial for achieving optimal printing results. These variables encompass a range of settings that directly impact the print quality and overall outcome. From film loading and tracking to print head alignment, each step plays a vital role in ensuring a flawless printing process. Loading film with precision is essential for even ink distribution, requiring careful handling and resistance against adjusting tension knobs. Proper print head alignment, both vertically and horizontally, is imperative to eliminate potential imperfections and produce sharp, high-definition prints.

Loading Film and Tracking

It may seem like a simple step, but it’s where quality is often won or lost. Proper film loading ensures even ink distribution. Handling only one end while avoiding the temptation to adjust the tension knobs is a practice that guarantees consistent results.

Print Head Alignment

An unaligned head is a precursor to imperfection. Achieving alignment proficiency – both vertical and horizontal – is paramount to producing crisp, high-definition prints.

Choking The White Underbase

Mastering the “white choke” setting is pivotal. Especially for designs with fine details, adeptly adjusting this setting ensures the white ink layer complements the design without overpowering it. A “choke” is the amount of the white underbase that is made smaller so that it does not bleed past the CMYK print, which will create a white outline around the print, if not done properly.

Amount of White Ink

When sending the artwork to the printer it is important to not send too much or too little ink for the white underbase. Too much ink will cause the white to bleed and create a white outline around the print. Too little white ink will cause the CMYK and white ink to look dull / not opaque.

Speed of Print

The speed at which a printer prints will affect the quality of the print. The slower the printer works the more consistent it is at laying down the CMYK and white ink in the right spot. This is important for registration and to avoid the print having a “banding” look.

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Shaker Dryer Variables

Achieving optimal results in the Direct-to-Film (DTF) printing process requires a meticulous understanding and control of various variables within the shaker dryer. This critical stage involves a series of carefully managed factors that influence the application and curing of DTF powder. Each variable plays a pivotal role in determining the final quality and durability of the printed image. From the selection of powder sizes to the intricacies of spreading, shaking, and curing, mastering these shaker dryer variables is essential for ensuring a smooth and high-quality printing experience.


DTF powder comes in different sizes with most being between 20-80 microns. It is not a bad idea to mix 2 different sizes of powder to get a better “hand” feel of the ink while ensuring strong durability as the type of powder used will affect how it holds up through washes over time. It is important that the powder be stored in a low-humidity environment to help prevent it from clumping.

Spreading Powder

DTF powder is placed into a hopper at the top of the dryer that then is spread onto the film with wet ink using a “positive inversion”, which is essentially a rubber blade that spins to push the powder through small holes. It is important to make sure the positive inversion is not spinning too slow or too fast as this can cause too little powder being laid down onto the film/ink.

Shaking Powder

After the ink has been powdered the access must be shaken off. This is done by slapping the film with a rubber blade. It is important to make sure the shaker is not spinning too slowly or too fast as this can cause too little or too much powder to be shaken off.

Curing Powder

After the powder has been spread and shaken off of the film/ink it is then cured through the conveyor oven. It is important to make sure that the ink is fully cured, which typically results in a glassy look and feel. Uncured ink/powder will have a “grainy” feel to it and will have problems when it is pressed and washed.

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DTF Printer Maintenance

In the world of machinery, DTF printers are a rarity, requiring minimal maintenance. Engaging in routine maintenance tasks like head cleaning not only prolongs the printer’s life but ensures it operates at its peak. Techniques like wet capping are essential to maintain the print heads’ longevity and consistency.

Mixing a New Bottle of White Ink

Before a new bottle of white ink is poured into the printer it should first be thoroughly mixed by being slowly rotated, not shaken. Shaking a bottle of ink will introduce air bubbles, which is not optimal and is why the bottle should be stirred. Thoroughly stirring a new bottle of ink will ensure the pigment within the white does not settle and stay on the bottom of the bottle.

White Ink Circulation

Almost every DTF printer has a white ink circulation component built into the printer. The circulation pulls the ink from the tank into a reservoir located directly above the white ink head dampers and then back into the tank. The circulation helps prevent white pigments from building up in both the ink tank and reservoir located directly above the print heads. It is a good idea to run the printer for at least 30 minutes before printing to let the white ink circulate.

Wet Capping Print Heads

At the end of the day, it is a good idea to “wet cap” the print heads by simply adding a couple of drops of cleaning solution or distilled water. This will keep the print head caps and thus heads wet and prevent ink from drying in the head while it is not being used. The simple step of wet capping the print heads is a great way to prevent problems down the line and ensure the ink doesn’t dry in the head while the printer is off.


Embarking on the DTF printing journey is akin to embracing both art and science. As the technology landscape continually evolves, understanding the intimate interplay between environment, equipment, and operator becomes the key to unlocking unparalleled printing prowess. Those dedicated to mastering these interwoven intricacies don’t just produce prints—they craft masterpieces.

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