Comparing DTF to Screen Printing: Selecting the Right Print Method for Your Business 

Choosing the Right Print Method: Compare Screen Printing to DTF

Deciding what technology to use when starting a customization business can be one of the most challenging decisions a business owner can make.  Here in this DTF vs Screen Printing Business Guide, we go over the tips you’ll need to choose.

It is important to examine the differences to make the best decision, based on the size and scale of your business, for creating custom T-shirts. Some of the most popular options for creating transfers or custom t-shirts are Direct to Film Printing (DTF) and screen printing. Both methods provide a high-quality product, but each technology has its important caveats to recognize.

In this article we compare screen printing to DTF, elaborating on both processes and benefits.

What is Direct to Film?

In Direct to Film (DTF) Printing, a special film undergoes inkjet printing to receive designs. Initially, technicians apply the color, followed by a thin white layer on top.

After printing the full color and the white layer, the transfer proceeds through a shaker and dryer. At this stage, a layer of adhesive powder coats the transfer, and curing occurs. This method results in a transfer prepared for pressing onto a t-shirt.

Several factors come into play when comparing screen printing to DTF. In DTF Printing, it’s important to note the involvement of several different machines.

Normal high production DTF Printers create an assembly line that includes the printer, a shaker for applying powder, and a dryer. Once set up, DTF Printers can produce hundreds of transfers an hour in full color. The machines manage the entire printing process, except for applying a transfer onto the t-shirt or chosen fabric.

A business can use a DTF Printer to easily create hundreds of transfers in a single workday.

Investing in Direct to Film

The other aspect to consider when running a DTF business is the time investment between print jobs.

DTF machines require maintenance, including printing every day to avoid ink clogs, refilling powder as the machine runs out, and regular nozzle and print checks. Keeping up with your DTF supplies is important.  Without taking the time to stay on top of maintenance, more time is spent having to fix issues.

This means more downtime and less time printing and making money. When properly maintained, DTF Printing provides an easier path to creating transfers without the physical labor aspects of screen printing.

Quality of DTF Transfers

The other factor to consider is the quality of the finished product. DTF Transfers are printed with CMYK ink. The quality of the inks provides vibrancy that matches the hues of the artwork, along with providing great readability for text, and detailing artwork with fine lines.

These transfers are also incredibly versatile. DTF Transfers work with most types of fabric material, including cotton, polyester, blends, and darks. These transfers are also great for their durability. After being applied on a t-shirt, the designs can withstand natural damage from sun, daily use, wind, and moisture.


Using DTF Transfers for custom t-shirts is a straightforward way to guarantee high-quality results with fast production speeds.

Utilizing Direct-to-Film printing for your business is the strongest path to owning the t-shirt customization market.

DTF Transfers have some of the most vibrant and durable transfers for t-shirt customization and DTF printers have some of the fastest production speeds for finished transfers.

With an automatic process that can print hundreds of transfers without the need for major manual labor, there is a guarantee that any DTF business will produce a quality product, no matter the complexity of the design, or the size of the order.

What is Screen Printing?

The reason many business owners use screen printing for their custom t-shirt business is that, to them, the result is worth the process of creating the shirt. Screen printing is a process of taking single-color stencils, or “screens,” and applying paint inks directly onto the surface of the shirt.

The process involves printing each color onto a stencil on one shirt until the finished design is complete.

After printing all layers, the t-shirt undergoes curing under a heating element to finish the product. This manual process requires physically printing each screen and swapping screens after completing each layer. Additionally, cleaning the screens is necessary once the printing job is complete.

Screen printing is performed using a standard screen-printing machine. Standard screen printers will have two components, a press station to hold the t-shirt, and a color arm for holding the screen.

When screen printing, the color arm is locked down into the t-shirt press station providing the space needed to allow the ink to get pushed into the shirt.

There is also the need for a dryer to cure the ink. This creates a different space requirement than that of DTF printers, as an active screen-printing business requires the space to house the screen printing machines, dryer, as well as all screens being used for the size of the job.

This is on top of the space that may be needed to actively work with the screen-printing machine, including swapping out screens and inventory.

Screen Printing Time Constraints

Along with the cost and space of machines, there is another important cost to consider: time. Screen printing can provide great finished results, but there are additional steps when using screen printing as an option.

Because of the nature of screen printing, the artwork needs to be broken down into several layers, which are then assigned a primary color. The process of breaking down this artwork can be a crucial factor when considering the size and scale of a print job. Additionally, if the artwork is complex enough to require an excessive number of layers, this will add additional steps to creating finished t-shirts. Then, there is the process of cleaning any additional screens between jobs.

The intricacies of screen printing can fit certain designs incredibly well, but managing the additional work that arrives with tackling those unique designs is a major decision for any business.

Quality of Screen Printing

What keeps people coming back to screen printing is the quality of the finished product. Screen printing as a process can be used on almost any material that can be used with the press.

This means that there are not any limitations with the type of t-shirt that can be used with screen printing, just like with DTF. Screen printed transfers are known for being weather resistant and having great washability through multiple washing machine trips.

Screen printing has been a tried in true process for a massive portion of the customization industry. The finished product is worth the time investment for some businesses.

This makes it a great option for highlighting individual orders, but it may take a significantly larger operation to maximize the output. With screen printing, to achieve the same output as other technologies, it may take several hours of significant work.

Screen printing requires both a cost and time investment to create the desired quality. If any customization business feels that the work required with screen printing is worth the investment, then screen printing will provide opportunities for success.

What is the Difference Between DTF and Screen Printing?

New technologies and innovations can make adjusting to a changing market difficult. Every popular technology has a necessary amount of research to find its successes and weaknesses. DTF Printers provide an opportunity for printing hundreds of transfers, with the main requirements being the space to house the machines and regular maintenance.

Screen printing can print high-quality designs, with the requirements being the process of designing the screens and the lengthy application process. While a time-tested process like screen printing can provide impressive results, the time it takes to create that transfer may not be sustainable. Meanwhile, DTF Printing provides flexibility and higher production speeds.

DTF vs. Screen Printing:
Which Option Suits Your Business Best?

The choice between DTF and screen printing depends on the specific requirements of your project.

DTF stands out for its ability to produce vibrant, full-color designs on dark fabrics, making it cost-effective for smaller and larger print runs. On the other hand, screen printing is the preferred method for larger print volumes, especially when featuring simpler designs, thanks to its scalability and cost-effectiveness in high quantities.

If your project involves intricate, multi-color designs in both smaller quantities and high volume, DTF emerges as the superior choice. Conversely, for simpler designs in larger quantities, screen printing is the ideal solution. Learn More about incorporating DTF within your business.

At ColDesi, we are here to assist you in making the right decision for your printing needs. Whether you are drawn to the dynamic capabilities of DTF transfers or the qualities of screen printing, our team is dedicated to guiding you through the process.

If you would like to learn more about the ColDesi line of DTF Printers, call us at: 877-793-3278 or visit ColDesi DTF – ColDesi.