Direct To Fabric (DTF) Printing versus Direct To Garment (DTG) Printing
In digital printing as well as conventional textile printing you either print before or after the fabric is cut and sewn into a garment.
In DTF, the printing is performed directly on a roll of fabric. Depending on the type of fabric various ink types are used (see related post):
- Pigment ink is used for cotton fabrics.
- Acid dyes works primarily with nylon and silks.
- Reactive dyes provides best results on cotton and other viscose materials, and
- Disperse dyes (sublimation) are almost exclusively used with polyester.
While print shops utilize DTF printing in all fabric-related markets, DTG applications are limited to applications using pigment inks on cotton. One exception is in the aree of decorating polyester sportwear with sublimation DTG printing systems.
In conventional printing for DTF, both rotary screen and flat screen processes are used. For DTG, flat screens are utilized. In DTF the printing process is in-line and the fabric is unrolled, printed then re-rolled for post processing. For DTG a garment is placed on a platen and then printed directly. These can be in-line printers or carousels with up to twelve (or more) stations. DTF is usually a much faster process than DTG.
When digitally printing DTF, the printers usually have a roll to roll handling system and utilize a belt (similar to screen printing) that has a sticky surface to keep the fabric in place. The printer has a carriage carrying inkjet printheads that moves back and forth across the web and prints ink to the fabric. For digital DTG a similar carriage is used but usually one garment is printed at a time. The garment is place on a platen, inkjet-printed, then removed for post processing.
In digital DTF process color printing is used. A ‘CYMK’ process with additional light and/or gamut expanding colors is used. A typical DTF digital printer has eight color channels. For digital DTG, process color printing is used, but white background printing is also needed for fabrics that have been dyed with a dark color. Typically we see a DTG printer utilizing a ‘CYMK” process but no light or gamut expanding colors. The DTG printer may have six to eight color channels, but two to four of the channels are for printing white ink.
Digital DTF printers are usually much faster than DTG printers. In DTF printing we see speeds at the low end in the range of 10-50 meters per hour. At the high end, DTF printers are achieving production speeds over 500 meters per hour. The speeds in digital DTG are usually measured in garments per time. Low end DTG printers can take up to 10 minutes to print an image that is limited to a rectangle targeted for someone’s chest or back. Higher end DTG printers can print an image in under a minute without printing white. If white is printed, the process can take two to four times longer. Digital DTG printers have not yet approached production speeds, but in high volume environments many printers are set up and operated by a few personnel that load and unload the garments and perform pre and post processing steps.
We see that Direct To Fabric and Direct To Garment printing processes are very different in both conventional and digital printing. Print quality, color gamut and speeds are higher for DTF than DTG. DTG requires printing white background for dark colored fabrics. DTF requires the rolls to be cut and sewn into finished products. After printing DTG a product is ready for sale. We do see higher production levels available for DTF but DTG enables a high level of customization and higher margin end products.