There is a lot of hype around powderless DTF printing at the moment. In the nutshell, instead of having to apply and cure DTF powder, you pre-treat the t-shirt instead, like you would for DTG printing. You can then stick a freshly printed transfer straight onto the garment, skipping the whole smoky powder curing process. This makes a lot of sense logically. It’s a standard procedure when it comes to DTG printing and because there is no powder layer, in theory you should get a very soft and breathable print. DTF and DTG inks are very similar and can sometimes be used interchangeably so why wouldn’t it work? It turns out there is a major flaw to powderless DTF however. Washability.
Let’s run a quick experiment. I used 2 types of tried and tested DTG pre-treatment (Epson and Resolute (Kodak)) to pre-treat a Gildan 64000 t-shirt as you would for DTG. A different pre-treatment solution on each side. I then applied a few wet transfers straight out of the printer to each side followed by more transfers that were left to dry for a few hours after being printed. Surprisingly, wet ink smudging was not that big of an issue. I then pressed the transfers at medium to high pressure and an exact temperature/duration as instructed by the pre-treatment manufacturers. Same way I used to press our DTG prints. The t-shirt was then left to dry for a few days before going into the wash. I did a quick scratch/stretch test and it seemed like there was hope. The transfers held well. After 1 wash cycle at 60C without using a dryer, the transfers became very fragile, despite surviving the actual wash just fine. I could easily rub holes in them with even mild pressure. The corners became easily peelable. With such poor durability, I don’t think these t-shirts would be sellable. Even though the overall feel was incredible.
Here is a short video showing the results:
I speculate the main difference is that when you spray ink onto a pre-treated t-shirt using a DTG printer, not only do you apply more ink in total, you also spray it right onto the garment, allowing it to be absorbed by the t-shirt fibres, creating a stronger bond. When you apply a DTF transfer on the other hand, it acts more like a thin sticker and sits mostly on the surface of the garment.
I can see powderless DTF becoming a viable printing method in the future but for the time being it just does not pass the wash test. We may need better pre-treatments or a non standard application process. This is something I’m still experimenting with, keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, if you are interested in DTF printing you can start by purchasing your supplies in our DTF shop here.