Screen Printing Transfers vs DTF (Direct To Film) | Tradition vs Technology
Printing technology has come a long way in recent years, offering businesses more choices than ever before. Two popular methods of garment decoration — screen printing transfers and direct-to-film (DTF) printing — have emerged as prominent contenders in the industry. But how do these two methods stack up against each other? Could they exist together? I will make a comparison from the screen printed transfers point of view, as we from Megaprint Transfers, have 20+ years of experience in screen printing, but we are also keen on the new developing technologies such as the new DTF and DTG printers.
Let’s check a few of the breaking points of each technology and how they affect the final result
Colors: Screen Printed Transfers
- Screen printing produces vivid colors with high saturation, making the prints stand out. It’s understandable since the ink is applied on the object by pushing ink through many more “wide dots” than the nozzles could potentially offer.
- Pantone color precision is one of the advantages of screen-printed transfers which are considered “untouchable” by the DTF printers. That refers of course to the dense spot colors (rather than rasters or gradients). The reason for that is that the ink is applied on the substrate as it has been mixed in the pre-printing process. In digital printing technologies, every color is a composition of the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black) and it’s difficult to achieve 100% precision of colors, despite there being very good RIP software lately.
- Photorealistic prints are rather difficult to get for screen printing compared to the DTF and digital printers as the screen thickness is something that is limited. In digital transfers, the CMYK color composition, which makes the spot color less precise, here is considered a plus, because it could easily make all the gradients, shades, and thin lines which makes the photorealistic print so nice.
- Screen printing is color limited despite that the Pantone Color range is much larger than the CMYK gamut. (of course, we are not talking about the full-color screen print as digital print is obviously winning). As screen printing makes every color one by one in a separate stencil, there is still a limit, because when you make for example 20 colors, there is always one last layer which should gather all colors in a single screen back layer, which should be fitting all colors. That increases the possibility of misregistration.
Durability: Screen Printed Transfers
- As screen printing is a traditional technology, there are a lot of manufacturers who have developed a wide range of special inks throughout the years. One of them is the 90C industrial washing inks that are, at the moment, only available for screen printing. However, DTF is currently capable of providing 60C washing transfer, which is above the traditional screen-printed transfers.
- The durability of the screen-printed transfers is high compared even to direct screen printing, where the inks are soaked into the fabric’s thread. The glue of the screen-printed transfers could be printable liquidated adhesive, powder, or both. We at Megaprint Transfers LTD do both for getting the most transfers as we want to be sure that the print will have high durability and be stable on the fabrics.
- The DTF transfers are always layered with powder adhesive which is quite easy to do. That allows for avoiding color misregistration and the adhesive halo over the print, which is visible mostly on dark fabrics. The reason that we can’t have the same approach in screen printing is that the colors are printed one by one opposite to digital/DTF printing where we print all colors at once and on top, we add the powder adhesive.
Production time: Screen Printed Transfers
- Production time is always an important point in heat transfers. Traditional screen-printed heat transfers could be the fastest way of production in case the quantity is big enough. For example, for an order like 1000 sheets in 50x35cm, the production time could vary between 3 to 5 working days in our factory and as far as I know, that would be the case in most companies (except express delivery options).
- DTF is beating screen-printed heat transfers when it comes to small orders. In DTF there are no set-ups (color separation, screens, stencils, etc.), which makes it pretty fast. If the order is about 50 sheets in 50x35cm (DTF is printing on roll but just for example), the DTF transfers would be ready by the time screen printers are making their set-up stuff.
In conclusion, DTF printers are a great choice for small orders, photorealistic, or multicolor prints (over 10 colors). Technology is developing pretty fast, and no one knows what comes next. We might be surprised with new more quick DTF printers in the next year or so. But currently, screen-printed transfers remain one of the best choices when it comes to providing a high-quality look, flexibility in high amounts, colors matching accuracy with Pantone colors, and more.