DTF vs Vinyl Heat Transfer

With the new breakthrough in t-shirt printing technology - the emergence of the Direct-to-Film (DTF) printing, many would like to first know, what is so special about it? What kind of capabilities does the DTF provide that other printing technologies are unable to? Since the DTF utilizes an adhesion to fabric technique, how does it fair against vinyl heat transfer technology?

Vinyl Heat Transfer Printing

Vinyl heat transfer is one of the most common technologies used to customize fabric merchandises. The process involves the utilization of an eco-solvent printer to print on a white coloured heat transfer vinyl before cutting along the contours of the artwork using a vinyl cutting plotter. After printing and cutting, weeding out the excess vinyl is required – leaving only the desired artwork. After which, application tape is applied to hold the artwork in place while removing the under-liner of the heat transfer vinyl, leaving only the adhesive vinyl layer. Using a heat press machine, the vinyl will be transferred onto the fabric. This process is similar to how one would apply a sticker or decal – except this is done on fabric using heat onto common fabric merchandises such as t-shirts, activewear, sweatshirts, hoodies, bags & backpacks.

In addition, there are also heat transfer vinyl that cannot be printed on. Such vinyl comes in a variety of colours, patterns, and characteristics – from solid colours to glossy, reflective and even glittery materials. These non-printable vinyl only requires the user to cut and weed the artwork using a vinyl cutting plotter and apply the vinyl in the same method as mentioned above. The most common application for non-printable vinyl includes the customization of names and number onto jerseys for sports such as football and basketball.

Vinyl heat transfer process follows the workflow: Design > print on heat transfer vinyl > contour cut > weed > apply application tape > heat press > remove application tape > finish.

Direct-To-Film (DTF) Printing

Direct-to-film (DTF) transfer printing is a revolutionary technology that utilises a special water-based DTF pigmented ink to print on Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) film. The artwork will first be printed with a layer of coloured ink before a second layer of white ink is printed. In addition, the artwork printed needs to be in a mirrored fashion for the application to be facing in the right direction when it goes under the heat press. After which, the printed image will go through an automatic powdering and curing machine.

Once the printing and curing is complete, all that’s left is to do a general trim of the artwork. Using a heat press machine, transfer the artwork on the film onto the fabric at about 170oC for about 15 seconds and remove the film.

The end result will leave only the desired artwork on the fabric. DTF can be applied onto the same fabric merchandise as the heat transfer vinyl.

DTF printing technology process generally involves the following: Design > print on film > apply adhesive powder > cure > trim > heat press > remove film > finish.

Why Should I Choose DTF Over Vinyl Heat Transfer?

With vinyl heat transfer being the most common t-shirt printing technology in the world, how does DTF stand out such that user would want to switch over?

  1. First, vinyl heat transfer requires detailed weeding. If the artwork is complicated, one might take hours to weeds out all the unnecessary parts. If the artwork contains a number of small texts, it might not be possible to weed out details that are too small. In addition, it is common to realize that there are some details that go missing after the weeding process. As a result, reprinting or re-cutting certain portions is required to complete the job.

    On the other hand, DTF printing does not require weeding. Instead, DTF technology directly prints onto a coated PET film which acts as the transfer paper as well. The difference in the process results in faster and higher production and efficiency rate.
  1. Since there is no involvement of printing on vinyl in DTF, there will not be an additional layer of vinyl on the t-shirt. Therefore, the durability of the final product will be enhanced unlike vinyl that peels off over time.
  1. In vinyl heat transfer technology, a transfer paper or application tape is required to hold the artwork in place to prevent the artwork from falling apart before transferring the artwork onto the fabric. You will also have to carefully peel and transfer the entire artwork onto the transfer paper – this involves additional time and cost.

    DTF just requires you to print directly onto the PET film which acts as your transfer paper at the same time. Since it is already on the PET film, the process of transferring is no longer required.
  1. DTF printing technology also gives the user control over the feel and texture of the print by controlling the variables – colour ink, white ink, and adhesive powder that goes onto the film. Hence you can adjust the print texture based on product requirements.
  1. Production speed is also an important factor in the t-shirt printing industry. Faster production rates allow for higher production volume. In the comparison between a Roland BN20 vinyl heat transfer printer and an entry level DTF printer, the vinyl heat transfer printer prints at a speed of 1.75m2/hr while the latter prints at 4m2/hr.

    The DTF printing and powder curing process is a streamline process whereas the cutting process for the vinyl heat transfer printer can only be done after the printing is completed. Besides printing and cutting, a large amount of production time is also allocated towards the process of weeding and transferring.
  1. Cost of production
Artwork size: 1ft x 1ft in Full Colour
** For comparison purpose, we will use a simple assumption that the amount of colour ink used is 1ml/ft2 and white ink used is 1.5 ml/ft2.


Vinyl Heat Transfer Technology

  • Cost of vinyl:      S$162 (50cm x 30m)             * ref: China heat transfer vinyl

= S$1/ft2

  • Cost of application tape: S$16 (30cm x 10m) ** ref: China application tape

= S$0.49/ft2

  • Cost of coloured ink: S$165/440ml                      ***ref: Original Roland USA price

= S$0.37/ft2


Total cost per square foot = S$1 + S$0.49 + S$0.37

= S$1.86/ft2


DTF Printing Technology

  • Cost of DTF Film: S$210 (60cm x 100m)        *ref: CASTECH’s retail price per roll

= S$0.32/ft2

  • Cost of Colour Ink: S$100/1000ml                    **ref: CASTECH’s retail price

= S$0.10/ft2

  • Cost of White Ink: (S$115/1000ml) x 1.5         ***ref: CASTECH’s retail price

= S$0.18/ft2 **** ref white ink is 1.5ml/ft2

  • Cost of Adhesive Powder: S$48/kg (1kg covers an area of 538ft2) **ref: CASTECH’s retail price 
    = S$0.09/ft2

Total cost to per square foot = S$0.32 + S$0.10 + S$0.18 + S$0.09

= S$0.69/ft2

With costing at a difference of $1.17/ft2, the cost of DTF printing is approximately 2.7 times cheaper per square feet as compared to the cost of vinyl heat transfer technology. This difference in price will show a large variance in the production cost in the future.


In conclusion, DTF printing technology as compared to vinyl heat transfer shows disparity in consumable costs, manpower allocation, and production efficiency.

Although the 2 printing technologies are often compared to one another, the main difference between the 2 technologies would be its workflow process. DTF printing technology’s main advantage would be its more efficient streamline production process. Without the need for weeding, time and manpower can be more effectively and efficiently allocated for other work purposes.

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