There are many options when it comes to obtaining print promotional products for your business. Trying to figure out the best option can often be overwhelming. Choosing a printing method is one of the most important decisions you will ever make, as it affects everything from print quality to cost.
DTF printing and sublimation printing are two of the most popular printing methods. They are both heat transfer methods, but what is the difference between them? Which one is right for your business? In this article, we'll explore the differences between DTF printing and sublimation printing, along with their costs and benefits, to help you decide which is best for you and your business needs.
What is DTF Printing?
DTF, or Direct to Film, is a two-step digital printing process that uses inkjet technology and thermal energy to create printed designs on a variety of promotional and personalized products. In the first step of the process, an inkjet printer applies ink to a PET film (polyethylene terephthalate) using a four-color overlay CMYK process. Once the design is printed onto the film, an adhesive is applied to the print and then heat cured. The image is then transferred to the surface of the product using a heat press.
This method is typically used for small-run printed products and can be used on a variety of fabrics, including cotton, polyester, and nylon. The process produces lifelike photo-quality prints that are vibrant in color and durable. This is a great option for businesses that need a small amount of promotional products like t-shirts, flags, banners, and similar items.
What is Sublimation Printing?
Sublimation printing uses a sublimation printer to print your design onto a sheet of transfer paper (or sublimation paper) using special inks. The ink is transferred to the substrate material using heat and pressure, which causes the ink on the transfer paper to become a gas and bond to the substrate. The result is clear, vibrant images that won't fade or crack over time. Dye-sublimation printing is typically used for high-volume printed products on a variety of materials, including polyester, nylon, and acrylic.
Which Material is Best for Each Printing Method?
While both DTF and sublimation printing can be performed on a variety of fabrics and surfaces, there are some that are better suited for each method. DTF printing works best on natural fabrics like cotton, canvas, and linen, while dye sublimation works best on synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon.
Products with hard surfaces such as plastic, metal, ceramic, and wood can be printed using either method.
What is the Main Difference?
When deciding which printing method is best for your needs, DTF or sublimation, it's important to understand the difference between the two. Now that we've explored what DTF printing and sublimation printing are, let's take a look at some of the key differences:
Transfer Process and Print Quality
Although the two processes share some similarities, they are actually quite different—especially in the way designs are translated into products. Both techniques use heat to transfer the design, but DTF uses an adhesive to attach the design to the product, while sublimation actually bonds the ink to the fabric at the molecular level. This difference in how designs are transferred can affect print quality and durability.
DTF printing involves transferring an image onto a fabric or material using transfer paper. Sublimation printing uses a chemical process in which a solid is instantly turned into a gas without going through a liquid stage.
In terms of print quality, DTF printing offers a more vibrant, richer color palette because the DTF inks are laid on top of the product. DTF also has a higher resolution than sublimation, which means you'll be able to see more detail in your prints.
Sublimation, on the other hand, uses a transfer process that embeds the ink into the fabric of the product. This results in a less vibrant print, but the color lasts longer and won't crack or peel over time. Products printed using this method are very durable, so washing and repeated use will not cause fading or deterioration like other printing methods. Sublimation does have a lower resolution than DTF printing, which means some of the finer details in your design may be lost in the print.
Another big difference between DTF and sublimation printing has to do with print size. A DTF is limited by the size of its platen (heated surface pressed against the garment), typically 12”x15”. However, sublimation printers have larger platens that can accommodate prints up to 16”x20”.
DTF is generally better for smaller prints, while sublimation is ideal for larger projects. DTF may not be the best choice if you want to print the overall design on the garment as it requires multiple passes and takes a lot of time to print.
When printing with DTF, the glue on the print, not the ink, adheres to the product. As a result, images using the DTF printing method have a soft and smooth texture because they sit on top of, rather than embedded in, the surface of the material. With sublimation printing, the material absorbs the ink and the image is embedded in the fabric, so the texture feels the same as if the material itself hadn't been printed.
DTF printing can be done on a wide variety of fabrics, while sublimation is better suited for polyester or polyester-coated fabrics, metals, ceramics, and plastics.
DTF printing is suitable for light and dark materials, and DTF printers can print white. However, sublimation is only suitable for light colors and cannot be printed in white.
Number of Products Required
As we mentioned before, DTF printing is usually used for low-volume printing products, while sublimation is more suitable for high-volume printing.
The cost of purchasing print products using both methods is similar. DTF printing may be slightly cheaper since it does not require the use of transfer paper, but the overall cost difference is not that great. Costs will vary based on the type of fabric you are printing on, the size of your order and the complexity of your design.
Which is Right for You?
So which printing method is right for your business? DTF printing or dye sublimation printing? The answer ultimately depends on your specific needs and budget. If you need to print products in small runs and are on a tight budget, DTF printing may be the best choice for you. If you need to print products in larger batches and your budget has more room, sublimation printing may be the best choice for you.
Now that you understand the difference between DTF printing and sublimation printing, as well as their costs and benefits, you'll be able to make an informed decision on which method is best for your business needs. If you want to buy a DTF printer and sublimation printer, welcome to contact us.
FCOLOR is a professional custom inkjet printer and ink manufacturer with 12 years of experience. Our products include DTF printers, inkjet printers, PVC/ID cards, card printers, label printers; dye sublimation/digital printing equipment and consumables, dye inks, pigment inks, sublimation inks, film inks, DTF printer inks and ink cartridges. We also provide customized solutions for our customers.