Comparision Between Direct-to-Film (DTF) Printing & Sublimation Printing


With the textile printing industry rapidly gaining momentum, investors are putting their money into inventive methods to make fabric prints last longer. Direct-to-Film Printing is an exciting new development in the world of digital printing, creating high-resolution graphics and signs that are durable and long lasting. Direct-to-Film Printing has become popular with many businesses or individual needs as it offers faster turnarounds, higher quality print runs, vivid colors and affordability. More people are adding their voices to the comparison between Direct-to-Film (DTF) Printing and Sublimation Printing.

In this blog, we'll take a deep dive into Direct-to-Film (DTF) and Sublimation Printing - two popular methods used to make stunning prints. Learn the nuances between them so you can decide what works best for your next project.

What is Direct-to-Film (DTF) printing?

DTF printing is an incredibly simple and efficient way to transfer designs onto a range of materials. Starting with the design printed on the PET film, it's then heated up using a heat press along with adhesive powder - melting together for lasting quality prints. It’s a two-step digital printing process that uses inkjet technology and heat to produce printed designs.

Differences between Direct-to-Film (DTF) Printing and Sublimation Printing

The printing process of DTF Printing differs from sublimation significantly. Rather than using ink to create images on fabric, this method involves the use of PET film to heat transfer a design directly onto the fabric substrate. As the heat is applied, it activates the chemical components of the film and causes them to be transferred onto the material. Sublimation on the other hand utilizes high temperatures and pressure to dye fabrics so that printed images will become part of them and won't suffer from fading or cracking over time. While both methods produce high quality images, DTF has an advantage in terms of speed and cost-efficiency - making it perfect for those who need quick properties without compromising on quality.

Let’s dive into the depths of DTF and Sublimation Printing - two distinct printing processes to explore! Discover how each process differs, from accessories needed to permanence in materials.

DTF Printing vs Sublimation Printing

- Accessories you need

Actually, there are crafters challenging traditional printing methods by replacing curing ovens with heat press machines for DTF printing, which has been successfully proven to produce the same result and can reduce costs. There are two types of DTF films for different purposes. Professionals in the film industry know that rolls provide cost-efficient production for large scale commercials while cut-sheets offer a more affordable option, perfect for smaller businesses or projects on a budget.

- Printing Process
Let’s go through the printing process of DTF printing and Sublimation Printing to take a close look at their differences.

DTF Printing:
1. Download the design via online design platform or design the pattern yourself. Valid formats for DTF printing are eps, ps, pdf, bmp, tif, jpg, png and psd
2. Print the design/image(mirror mode) out on PET film via DTF printer (NOTE: do not touch the white side to avoid scratches)
3. Put the DTF powder on the white side and cover it completely
4. Melt the powder in heat (you can use the oven or the heat press machine), when powder is melted it will be glossy
5. Transfer the design onto the substrate

Sublimation Printing:
1. Download the design via online design platform or design the pattern yourself. Valid formats for sublimation printing are png, jpeg, svg, pdf, psd, eps, and tiff
2. Print the design/image(mirror mode) out on sublimation paper via sublimation printer
3. Transfer the design onto the substrate

We can see that the whole printing process of these two printing methods is similar and there is only one more step required in DTF printing - the DTF powder part, which actually won’t take too much time.

- Heat Transfer Process
DTF printed design:
1. Preheat the fabric for 2-3 seconds
2. Put the printed film on the substrate
3. Temperature settings: 320-350℉ for cotton and 50/50 blends, 280-300℉synthetic or polyester fabrics
4. Apply medium to firm pressure for 10-15 seconds
5. Peel cold

dtf printing

Sublimation printed design:
1. Preheat the fabric for 5 seconds (no need to preheat for non-fabric substrate)
2. Put the printed sublimation paper on the substrate (recommended to use heat resistant tape to fix the paper’s position)
3. Temperature & time settings: please check Heat Guide for different base materials
4. Peel cold

DTF printing is the perfect choice for natural fabrics like cotton, canvas and linen. Sublimation on the other hand works wonders with synthetic fibers such as polyester or nylon - but you can also create stunning designs using metals, ceramics, plastics and even wood. When picking your ideal method of customization be sure that you understand which fabric best suits each technology -  because sometimes a subtle difference makes an extraordinary impact.

The biggest difference between two methods is that if you want to print on dark-colored or 100% cotton materials, you can only choose DTF printing. Sublimation works only on light colors and cannot print in white, so you'll be limited to light and white t-shirts. A funny example - a white cat on a black blank T-shirt by sublimation, she’s going to be a black cat!

- Heat Transfer Result
1. Touch feel
DTF printing adds a soft and smooth texture to your prints as the images lie on top of materials. Conversely, sublimation provides an extra layer of comfort since its ink absorption allows for prints that blend seamlessly into fabrics without standing out from the surface.

2. Color and resolution
DTF printing offers an explosion of color, with vivid hues and a deeper saturation than sublimation. Its higher resolution helps ensure that even the most intricate details won't be lost in translation

Sublimation paper printing isn't quite as vibrant when compared with DTF printing, but it can still produce beautiful results - especially on fabrics with higher polyester content. Heat press temperature and time are integral factors in determining how vivid your colors will be; raise the heat up or give yourself more time for brighter hues.

3. Wash fastness
Sublimation transfers often have a longer washable lifespan than DTF transfers because the design has penetrated further into the material due to its heat transfer process. This makes sublimation transfers more resilient and able to withstand harsher cleaning processes such as machine washes or high pressure washes, allowing the design to maintain its vibrancy over time.


Digital-to-Film(DTF) Printing and sublimation printing are two processes that enable textile manufacturers & DIY hobbyiests to print their designs onto fabric. The Direct to Film Printing is a great alternative for those looking for T-shirt printing solutions as it can produce equal quality results, without the material and color restrictions of sublimation printers.

Both methods provide designers with unique advantages in terms of longevity, fine detail, cost-effectiveness and overall design versatility. Ultimately, the best method for each project depends heavily on specific needs and preferences - but both methods offer excellent solutions that ensure your designs look great for years to come.

The texturing industry is primed for a boom as the demand for DTF printing skyrockets in the coming years. This upsurge promises to transform this sector, bringing with it unprecedented advances and growth potential!

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