DTF Transfers (Direct to Film) vs. Screen Printed Transfers - Pros & Cons Comparison

DTF transfers and screen printed transfers are both methods of transferring a high-quality design onto a product, such as a t-shirt, hoody, garment, and other substrates beyond textiles.

DTF transfers involve printing a design directly onto a film, which is then applied to the product using heat, pressure, and time.

Screen-printed transfers involve printing the design onto transfer paper, which is then applied to the product using heat, pressure, and time.

Both methods have their unique benefits and drawbacks, and which is the better option depends on a number of factors, including the quantity, design complexity, number of colors, fabric, garment color, and the specific needs of the person or company using them. Here is a pros and cons list of both DTF transfers and screen printed transfers:

DTF transfers:

  • DTF Transfer Pros:

    • DTF transfers are a digital printing method that uses inkjet technology to print the design directly onto the film.  It uses CMYK + White Ink on all designs.  This allows for greater detail, accuracy, and brightness in the print, and the ability to print truly full-color designs.  Anything you can dream of in design and color has no limitations.
    • If high-quality ink is used, it will print thick enough causing no dye-migration.  It is one of the cleanest and brightest prints you'll ever see.
    • DTF transfers are a quick and easy process, with little setup time and the ability to print as few or as many as you need on demand.
    • DTF Transfers have a much smoother, flatter, softer hand feel.  Especially when the transfer is pressed a second time after removing the film with parchment paper or a thin layer of t-shirt material between the design and the heat press/iron.  It transforms into a completely different look and feel after the second press.
    • DTF transfers can be used to customize a wide variety of substrates beyond textiles, such as plastics and metals.  For example, they could be transferred onto an iPhone case, a cardboard box, or  anything metal and have a very nice hand feel because it's virtually flat.
    • DTF transfers require less pressure OR less time when pressing onto the product because the TPU powder has a high adherence level, regardless of pressure level.  It performs best with medium pressure, but this allows for reduced time or pressure on garments that are more prone to getting damaged from too much heat exposure.  
    • DTF transfers use a clear film for the print, which allows for a translucent view through to the product when pressing, improving the accuracy and confidence of your placement.
    • DTF transfers don't require specificity in printing instructions concerning underbase, choke, PMS colors, ink type for optimized performance on garment type....etc.  You just send the file in your exact colors, size of the image, any art changes for an artist, and it prints with the same settings for ALL designs, making it much simpler because the print science previously required for screen print transfers is removed.
    • Once printed, if you have extras, you can store them for as long as you'd like and transfer them onto any type of garment at a later date.

  • DTF Transfer Cons:

    • DTF transfers may not be as durable as screen-printed designs, but they aren't that far off in durability.
    • DTF transfers may not be as cost-effective for extremely large runs, but it's getting more cost-effective over time.

Screen printed transfers:

  • Screen Printed Transfer Pros:

    • Screen printed transfers are very durable, as the thicker plastisol ink is applied to the transfer paper under high pressure and heat, which helps it to bond to the substrate. This makes screen-printed transfers ideal for substrates that will see frequent wear and tear because the thicker type of ink used helps it to stay intact.
    • Screen printed transfers is a cost-effective option for larger runs, as the setup costs can be spread out over a larger quantity of prints.
    • Screen printed transfers were one of the first types of transfers, paving the way for other transfer methods to develop and evolve.
    • There are many companies that provide this service because it has been around for so long, making the supply chain strong.
    • Once printed, if you have extras, you can store them for as long as you'd like and transfer onto any type of garment at any later date.

  • Screen Printed Transfer Cons:

    • Screen-printed transfers require a separate setup process for each color in the design, which can be time-consuming and costly, which from a price perspective, places it more in the larger quantity orders to gain price efficiency per transfer.
    • Screen-printed transfers are not as detail-oriented as DTF printing, and may not be able to produce as fine a print.
    • Screen-printed transfers can have a bleed on the edges, just as it could when directly screen printing on a garment. 
    • Screen-printed transfers are not suitable for printing truly full-color designs, as each color must be printed separately and aligned with the others.  A separation is still needed which could make it appear as "full-color," with only using 8 to 16 colors.  Printing high color counts requires a screen charge per color, more time to deliver, and more cost, keep in mind.
    • Screen-printed transfers are printed on a white transfer paper.  While this is suitable for many experienced printers and pressers, it is more difficult when compared to the translucent film that a DTF transfer is printed on.

In conclusion, DTF transfers and screen-printed transfers both have their own unique benefits and drawbacks. DTF transfers are more suitable for any-size runs, as well as for printing designs with fine detail and truly full color. They can also be used to print on a wider variety of substrates.

Screen-printed transfers are more durable and cost-effective for extremely large runs, and can also print on a wide variety of substrates. Ultimately, which method is the better choice depends on the specific requirements of the cost/order/job/customer combination.