Comparative digital heat transfer processes

This blog post provides an overview of the four most common digital heat transfer processes, with respective characteristics, advantages and drawbacks: DTF, DTG, White toner and DST or DSST.

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There are many ways to successfully transfer the digital logo or picture you like on a chosen piece of garment. Each of these has its suitable application area, depending on the desired outcome. This blog post provides an overview of the four most common digital heat transfer processes, with respective characteristics, advantages and drawbacks:
• Direct transfer to film (DTF)
• Direct transfer to garment (DTG)
• White toner transfer
• Digital screen transfer (DST), or digital smart screen transfer (DSST).

Please note that, besides the four afore-mentioned processes, there are many others which are not covered in this post. You are always welcome to contact us to discuss your needs if you don’t find herein information that is relevant to you.

Direct transfer to film (DTF)

DTF often uses a desktop inkjet printer, changing the printhead system and adding white inks. First, each color of the digital image is printed directly on a PET liner, including the back white ink layer. Right after printing, the powder adhesive is spread manually or with a powder applicator on the wet ink. Then, the transfer is cured on the heat press or in an oven tunnel. In the end, the transfer is applied on the garment using cold peel with a heat press.

Direct transfer to garment (DTG)

DTG uses either a desktop inkjet printer with additional adjusting plate for the garment, or a dedicated, more expensive, DTG printer like the Ricoh RI 1000. In this process, the modified textile ink is directly smeared on the garment, ensuring direct transfer of the intended picture. This process can be viewed in this Ricoh RI 1000 video.

White Toner transfer

White Toner transfer uses laser toner printers with white toner, like OKI Pro7411 or OKI Pro8432. These printers print in CMYK and incorporate the back white layer. Generally, transfer liner includes two sheets, one to print the transfer and another to transfer the adhesive on the first sheet. The transfer is put on to the garment on a heat press (cold or hot peel), but it requires a second press to deepen the transfer into the garment. No other equipment than a laser printer and a hot press are needed.

Digital screen transfer (DST) or digital smart screen transfer (DSST)

DST or DSST uses professional laser printers with CMYK, optionally with white toner. It can use, for example, the Ricoh Pro or HP Indigo lines of printers, or the OKI Pro9541WT. First, the digital image is printed on a paper or a PET liner. Paper is commonly used in traditional screenprinting, as a cheaper alternative to PET. Then, a back water-based white ink layer, duly mixed with the appropriate curing catalyst, is added via a screen print. After that, the powder adhesive is dispersed manually or with a powder applicator on the wet ink, then the transfer is cured.

Another way to apply adhesive in the DST process is to work with liquid (or printable) adhesive. The white ink must have already been cured before adding the liquid adhesive. For this purpose, another screen print is used. The liners are subsequently cured. Eventually, the transfer is put on on the garment with a heat press (cold or hot peel). Our Digital Serigraphic Technologies A/S (DST A/S) video provides a visual insight of this entire process.

How to choose the right process for your business?

When choosing the optimal process best suited to your needs and goals, several factors must be taken into account. The size of your business, volumes you plan to deliver to your customers, investment possibilities or maintenance availability are just some of them. The table below provides a quick overview on how each process performs on some of the key choice criteria.

Comparative table of heat transfer processes: DTG, DTF, White Toner & DST
Please note that all numbers and figures shown here are estimates.

Highlights & lowlights of each process

DTF, a very slow and high maintenance process

The key advantage of the DTF process is that the white ink is printed at the same time as the digital image, without any specific tool or manual. The powder adhesive is then easily worked in and there is only one-step heat press to apply the transfer. Although reasonably priced, DTF is a very slow process (<50 transfers per day). It takes slightly longer than DTG, since the pressing operation is completely omitted in the latter option. From the four process options, white toner transfer & DST methods are clearly the fastest. DTF is also a high maintenance process. Ink blockage and drying, as well as frequent calibration for image precision can occur, so be prepared to deal with such challenges. The system is suitable for low volumes/small customers, delivering medium to high quality transfers.

Over 100 washes with DST

DTG is relatively moderately priced as well, depending on the automation of the printer. It is an easy process, since the image is printed directly on the garment. However, in terms of transfer durability, it is less performing than DTF or for sure DST. Garments can withstand 50 washes with DTF and over 100 washes with DST before their quality deteriorates. At the same time, those garments made with DTG only tolerate around 20 washes. DTG is therefore merely advisable for low volumes, like DTF, however only delivering low to medium-end transfers. Note that textile inks used in DTG require specific and stable storage conditions.

White toner is the most affordable

The use of white toner transfers is the most affordable system out of all the afore-mentioned options. It requires low maintenance and is faster at creating transfers compared to DTG or DTF. When working with different garment types and colors, as well as quality contour and surface finishing, it can be hard to find the right press settings and achieve medium-end quality transfers. As a result, white toner transfers represent a viable alternative for medium volumes/medium-sized customers, still only delivering low to medium-end transfers though. When using white toner transfers, remember to check out the shelf life of your liners.

Designed for high washability and stretchability

The DST process is especially optimal when supplying medium to big volumes to high demanding customers. It combines the use of a dedicated textile white ink, designed for high washability and stretchability. Transfers made the DST way are of the highest and most durable quality than with those realized via the DTG, DTF or white toner techniques. Another benefit the DST system provides, is the ability to use liquid/printable adhesives, beside the ones in powder form. If most of your customers seek the unique properties that only liquid adhesive can deliver (better durability and super soft aspect), you might consider investing in a DST system. Maintenance on such a system is low and more than one type of (white) ink can be used depending on the garment textile and color. DST A/S supplies White, Clear, Silver and Blocking inks.

On the other hand, the system requires significant investments. However, for a screen printer, these investments are much lower than for someone starting from scratch. Also, there is a significant amount of training and trials required for mastering this process. The good news is our experts are available to help at any step of the process.

Conclusion

In conclusion, selecting the optimal process can be challenging. It depends on the type of customers you service, the quality and durability they demand and you wish to ensure, the resources you have available and/or what growth ambitions you have for this business. We hope the above summary will assist you in making the right choice for the markets you target, as well as for you. And, remember, the price of the machine you initially go for only provides with part of the answer!

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