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Secrets to Getting Consistent, Repeatable DTF Transfers

Remember, not all DTF is created equal.




IN THE APPAREL DECORATING BUSINESS, achieving quality prints and long-lasting results is one of the most important aspects that separate successful shops and those struggling to grow. From proper printing and curing techniques with screen printing or the right coating of fixatives for direct-to-film (DTF) digital printing, we all know how important the chemistry is to our industry. DTF transfers are no different.

Accurate applications are paramount for prints that not only “wow” your customers, but continue to delight long after wearing and washing.

For screen printers, entrepreneurs, and shop owners, understanding the ins-and-outs of DTF application can be the key to unlocking consistent, predictable, and repeatable results every time.

Secrets of Success

At the heart of any heat transfer application, you’ll find the heat press recipe including time, temperature, and pressure. These ingredients are integral parts of the heat transfer process, ensuring proper application and long-lasting results. Investing in a reliable, high-quality heat press is essentially non-negotiable for a commercial shop. A dependable heat press not only provides accurate heat and time but also offers precise pressure control—a feature commonly overlooked for consistent and quality prints. Beware of cheap or imported presses that may seem budget friendly. Often, they can compromise your quality or cost you more money in the long-run with inaccurate temperatures or pressure readouts that lead to misapplied transfers.

Not All DTF is Created Equal

First, we need to acknowledge that not all DTF transfers are the same. There is no “one-size-fits-all” application. It’s important to adhere to the guidelines supplied by your transfer supplier. You wouldn’t differ from the recipe on the back of a cake box and expect the same results, would you? One of these steps is the garment’s pre-press on the heat press to remove moisture and wrinkles. Without the pre-press step, you’ll be forcing inks down while steam is evaporating from the garment forcing its way up and out.

While most transfers will apply perfectly fine without a pre-press, you’ll be compromising the longevity of the print, which is the worst-case-scenario for apparel decorators. If you’re lucky, your customer will reach out with the problem and you’ll get the opportunity to reprint it and save a customer. But nine times out of 10, your customer will never return.


Here’s the low-down on the process:

Step 1. Load your garment on the heat press. Threading the garment allows for quicker loading and unloading and isolates your printing area to just one layer of fabric.

Step 2. Preheat your apparel. Just 3-5 seconds should be enough to remove excess moisture and flatten any wrinkles in the garment. This is a great opportunity to check your pressure settings.

Step 3. Position your DTF transfer. With the ink side facing down, the print should appear in the correct orientation with the adhesive side facing the garment.

Step 4. Close and lock the heat press. For the correct time, be cautious to not overapply. Auto-open heat presses can help avoid this complication.

Step 5. Peel the carrier hot or cold. Refer to your specific transfers for the correct application. For cold peel, remove the transfer from the press and allow it to cool to room temperature.


In addition to following the correct time, temperature, and pressure, you may notice the introduction of another variable, and that’s the peel.

A Tale of Two Transfers

With DTF transfers there are two common applications: hot and cold peel. Hot-peel transfers, characterized by their single-step application process, offer efficiency and time savings. Priced very similarly to their cold-peel counterparts, hot-peel transfers eliminate the need for secondary post-press sealing or waiting for a transfer to cool down. This makes them an attractive option for streamlined and efficient production. Press and peel, and the garment is finished.

On the other hand, most cold-peel transfers require a two-step process, requiring you to remove the pressed garment from the heat press and allow it to cool completely to the touch. This is because, when left on the lower platen, the carrier and inks will never cool completely. Then return it to the press for a second press.

This second press will require a cover sheet to protect the transfer and alter the finish for more of a premium matte appearance. Parchment or craft paper works the best for this, as non-stick or Teflon sheets will typically increase the gloss of the transfer. The time of this secondary press may vary based on the specific transfer type you’re using, and in some cases, it is a second application at full time. This truly doubles the impressions you have to make vs. the hot-peel transfer option.

Common Trouble-Shooting Tactics

Just as with any screen or digital printing method, running into some tricky situations may happen from time to time. However, armed with the right troubleshooting tactics, you can tackle those challenges quickly.

Transfer Application Failure: Verify that the time, temperature, and pressure settings are correct, along with the correct peel temperature. For cold peel you should have a room-temperature transfer. On the other hand, while hot-peel application tends to be more versatile, you should peel right when the press is open. If all else fails, some faulty transfers may be to blame, so consult your printer if issues persist.


Lack of Durability or Wrinkling Prints: Again, confirm the accuracy of your press settings, pre-pressing steps, and the fabric compatibility. Beware of any coatings or waterproofing that may impact adhesion.

Dye Migration Woes: While advancements in dye-blocking technology are underway, they’re not quite available yet. DTF transfers are still prone to dye migration. Exercise caution when working with sublimation or garments known to have issues.

Adhesive Outlines: DTF is great for those sharp edges free of any clear adhesive outlines. However, from time to time, you may see them on your prints. This is likely due to too much pressure and overapplication. Reduce your pressure on the press to see if it eliminates the issue. On some synthetic materials, the adhesive does not have anywhere to go and will spread out from underneath the print.

Additionally, this may be caused by too much humidity in the printing process, in which excess adhesive can stick to the outside edge of the ink. You can try dialing in the climate with the correct temperature and humidity for your DTF printer, or source custom transfers from reputable suppliers with stringent quality control measures.

Secrets to Getting Consistent, Repeatable DTF Transfers

Consistently loading the T-shirt on the platen of the heat press makes transfer print placement effortless.

Secrets to Getting Consistent, Repeatable DTF Transfers

Place the DTF transfer onto the garment with the ink side down.

Secrets to Getting Consistent, Repeatable DTF Transfers

Most DTF transfers apply in as little as 12-15 seconds.

Secrets to Getting Consistent, Repeatable DTF Transfers

While DTF peels hot or cold depending on your vendor or supplier, immediate hot-peel transfers are preferred for efficiency.



Let’s Talk About It

Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive Screen Printing Industry

LET’S TALK About It: Part 3 discusses how four screen printers have employed people with disabilities, why you should consider doing the same, the resources that are available, and more. Watch the live webinar, held August 16, moderated by Adrienne Palmer, editor-in-chief, Screen Printing magazine, with panelists Ali Banholzer, Amber Massey, Ryan Moor, and Jed Seifert. The multi-part series is hosted exclusively by ROQ.US and U.N.I.T.E Together. Let’s Talk About It: Part 1 focused on Black, female screen printers and can be watched here; Part 2 focused on the LGBTQ+ community and can be watched here.

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