Direct-To-Film Printing File Formats:
Convert Files & Ensure Print Quality
Manufacturers are responding to the print market’s demand for “DTF” printing. Kodak offers a KODACOLOR Film-to-Fabric ink system that comes with PET film, ink, and powder adhesive, for DTF transfers. STS Inks offers a device that comes with DTF powder adhesive and PET film, compatible with Mutoh’s ValueJet 628 24” Eco-Solvent Printer. Numerous Direct-To-Garment (DTG) manufacturers use PET film and DTG inks, to print DTF transfers on DTG machines. With the current trend, more manufacturers and print businesses are likely to follow suit.
Print designs for garments vary wildly, so document designers must understand document requirements for print. In this article, you can learn about this trending technology, advantages, the process, printers, and file formats, as well as software to convert files and to ensure print quality, in DTF workflows.
Hollanders Printing Solutions booth
with printed fabric banners
What Is DTF?
One decorated apparel industry trend is Direct-To-Film (DTF), a transfer technology for printing. In a DTF printing workflow, you can use water-based pigment inks to print designs onto polyethylene terephthalate (PET) film.
You can select a color mode, when you set up your design. RGB is often used to display colors on screen, and CMYK colors are often used for the actual printing process.
After the CMYK colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) are printed, the white ink is printed and, then, a hot-melt adhesive is applied. For the design to print in the correct orientation, DTF workflows use RIP software to create the white layer and to reverse the image.
Overall one could say that the DTF process practically lifts all restrictions that are commonly encountered in other textile printing processes especially when it comes to choosing the fabric to print on. Since pretreatment is not essential, in many cases, the overall cost of printing is brought down hence offering a higher profit margin. The textile printing industry is predicted to see massive growth as more and more fabrics manufactured by DTF will come into the picture. In conclusion, the DTF printing process can be thought of as an effective way to produce fabrics economically.
– Splashjet Inkjet Ink Private Limited, https://splashjet-ink.com/dtf-printing-process/
DTF Powder Adhesive
DTF uses a hot-melt powder adhesive, which is made by grinding polyurethane resin. The DTF workflow can select either white or black powder adhesive, based on the fabric color used. The powder adhesive is sprinkled evenly over the wet ink and cured. This adhesive is not required by some DTF printers, which transfer adhesive prints, while the white ink is printed. The image is then transferred, with a heat press, to the fabric.
Why Use A DTF Printing Process?
DTF has evolved into a sort of universal technology with many advantages. While it helps to know color management and ICC profiles, DTF allows users to:
- easily learn to print transfers of full-color, photorealistic images.
- skip fabric pre-treatment, cutting, and weeding,
- decorate many fabric types (polyester, nylon, etc.) not typically handled by DTG printing
- use a color range that encompasses the gamut of inks used and can handle fine details.
- achieve durability and elasticity,
- often save money and time, compared to DTG printing.
Examples of the same image saved at different resolutions, from
lowest resolution on the left through highest resolution on the right
Dots Per Inch (DPI) In DTF Printing
DPI means Dots Per Inch, which is a measurement regarding print resolution. Generally, the higher the number of Dots Per Inch (DPI), the better the file’s print quality. A computer monitor may display a digital image onscreen, at 72 DPI.
You might receive a good raster file that was saved at 300 DPI, but this file must be saved at print size. The typical ideal file is 12 inches wide, saved at 300 DPI. (Saving at a higher DPI is overdoing it, as it doesn’t make a noticeable difference.)
You can take a document saved at a higher DPI and save it at 300 DPI, which helps to limit the document’s file size. The level of resolution quality affects the final print result.
Vector vs. Raster Files
DTF printing workflows can receive files in vector files and raster files. A logo works well in a vector image format. The logo’s size can be downscaled or upscaled, without jagged pixelation or blurry distortion.
DPI measurement affects the print quality of raster images. To retain resolution quality, raster images must remain the size at which they were created or can be downscaled.
DTF Design Programs & File Formats
Design programs that create these files for us, include:
.Ai is an Adobe Illustrator vector file and is extremely adaptable, for DTF purposes. You can open it at its current size in Photoshop, then print it, or you can adjust the size and export it from Illustrator. You can also edit colors or change the positions of layout elements.
.AFDESIGN is an Affinity Designer file, both raster and vector design, much of which can be used in DTF printing. If you’re seeking affordable, DTF-friendly software, beyond Adobe Creative Cloud, Affinity Designer may be a good choice.
.AFPHOTO is a native raster Affinity Photo file, created in Serif’s graphics & photo editing software.
.AFPUB is an Affinity Publisher file, created in Serif’s page layout software for desktop publishing.
.CDR is a CorelDRAW file, which is a vector format that can export to multiple formats, including Adobe Illustrator. If it appears to be a vector in Illustrator, but you can’t edit gradients, you can export from CorelDRAW to Illustrator, EPS, or PDF.
.EPS is an Encapsulated PostScript file that is a file format to place images or graphics in a PostScript document and can be created in many design programs. Whether it is a vector or raster image is based on the design program in which the image was created.
If it opens in Illustrator as a vector, it should work well. If it doesn’t open as a vector, then open it in Photoshop, which may reveal the layers.
.JPG / JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) is a type of raster image to contain lossy and compressed image data and is likely the file format most used in Direct-To-Film printing.
When you print a JPEG, any background in the image will be included in the print result. To exclude the background from the print result, you must remove it. If it is a web image, it can be of poor print quality and it may need to be rebuilt. A graphic designer can save this image at 300 DPI, as a very high resolution image. If the image is, then, a vector, the size can be adjusted.
.PDF is a raster and (usually) vector Portable Document Format file, a versatile document type created by Adobe for users to share across many formats.
.PNG (Portable Network Graphic) is a raster image file that can be saved with a transparent background, at a higher number of bits, to preserve the transparency.
.PSD is a native, raster-based Adobe Photoshop document, which, if set up properly at 300 DPI, is very good (perhaps ideal) for DTF printing. You can maintain quality, when downscaling, but not when upscaling.
These documents can be organized by layers, to retain text color and editability. You can remove backgrounds and layer effects that do not work well for garment printing. If the file was layered properly, you can remove the background, export the file as a PNG, and submit it to your printer.
.SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is an XML-based, vector file format to describe 2D images and support animation and interactivity for web use.
.TIFF (Tag Image File Format) is an image file format for storing raster graphics and image information.
File Formats Not Suited To DTF
DTF workflows should avoid other file types, including old documents created in:
Although they might work as a reference or to convey a concept, you may have to do extra prep and artwork, for successful printing.
Save & Export Files
- Ensure bitmap images are .PNG or .TIFF.
- Save with transparency.
- Turn off anti-aliasing (or set resample/interpolation method to “nearest neighbor”).
Conversion Software To Convert File Formats
The file format that a DTF workflow receives may not be compatible with the format needed. Markzware’s “Markz” line of products converts InDesign, PDF, and QuarkXPress to IDML and to many other file formats. The Markz line includes:
Print Quality Software To Ensure File Formats Are Print Ready in DTF Workflows
DTF workflows receive many types of file formats, with a multitude of potential problems! Markzware’s FlightCheck is a stand-alone preflight application for macOS to preview, preflight, report, and package desktop publishing files, including fonts, images, colors, and other document elements.
File Converters & Print Quality Control Software For DTF & Other Print Workflows
Markzware offers trusted software for DTF, graphic designers, and other print-related users to preview, preflight, export, and convert PDF and desktop publishing documents. To get the latest news about Markzware products and print industry-related news, join our mailing list and follow Markzware on LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media websites.
When attending PRINTING United, Markzware noticed a lot of exhibitors who use a DTF process. Hopefully, you have found, in this article, some helpful information, solutions, and tips for the Direct-To-Film printing workflow. For more information on software for DTF workflows, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
 “Direct-to-Film Printing: An Emerging Trend in Decorated Apparel,” Johnny Shell, Director of Functional & Industrial Printing Consulting Service, Keypoint Intelligence, WhatTheyThink, March 17, 2022, https://whattheythink.com/articles/109810-direct-film-printing-emerging-trend-decorated-apparel/
 “Artwork Preparation: How To Set Up Your Artwork For DTF Printing,” Born 2 Print Team Member, Born 2 Print, LLC, as appeared online November 2, 2022, https://www.born2print.shop/pages/artwork-preparation-for-dtf-printing
 “Artwork Basics for DTF Printing,” DTF Superstore Team Member, DTF Superstore (largest Direct To Film supplier in the USA), March 11th, 2021, https://dtfsuperstore.com/a/blog/artwork-basics-for-dtf-printing
 “DTF Printing Process (Direct To Film Printing) Ultimate Guide 2022,” Splashjet Inkjet Team Member, Splashjet Inkjet Ink Private Limited, March 23, 2022, https://splashjet-ink.com/blogs/dtf-printing-process/
 “File and Software Compatibility Explained with Leslie Nicole,” Tom Ross, Design Cuts, January 20, 2021, https://www.designcuts.com/learning-hub/tutorials/file-and-software-compatibility-explained-with-leslie-nicole/
Direct-To-Film Printing File Formats: Convert Files & Ensure Print Quality