DTF, HTV, and screen printing, oh my! The difference between all these apparel decoration methods can be overwhelming to new and even established decorators, especially when you’re doing a full-color design. While all of these methods have multi-color capabilities, each has their own benefits and limitations. Understanding DTF vs screen print vs HTV and when to use each decoration method will help you save you time, money, and achieve the desired results.
Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV)
Heat transfer vinyl involves the use of a vinyl cutter to cut a design into the roll of vinyl, weeding the excess material, and applying with a heat press. Regular heat transfer vinyl comes in a variety of colors and finishes, and some can be layered on each other to create multi-color looks.
For full-color looks, a print/cut system can be used to print full-color designs onto printable HTV. Printable HTV also comes in a variety of finishes and textures, including glitter, gloss, twill, or iridescent. Printable HTV generally applies to cotton, polyester, or tri-blends, however some types can also apply to other fabrics such as nylon, neoprene, or leather.
Benefits of HTV:
- Applies to a variety of fabrics
- Available in multiple finishes and textures
Limitations of HTV:
- Large designs may feel heavy on lightweight garment
- May not be cost effective in low quantities
Screen Printed Transfers
Screen printing involved the process of burning screens for each color within a design and using plastisol ink to transfer the design onto the garment. Using a similar process, screen printed transfers are printed onto a carrier that is then used to heat press onto the garment.
Screen printing is different than printable HTV and DTF because you are limited by the number of colors you can include in a design.
Benefits of Screen Printed Transfers:
- Traditional plastisol ink feel
- Faster production
- Cost effective for high-quantity jobs
- Can print neon inks, as well as some special effects
Limitations of Screen Printed Transfers
- Not the most cost effective for small quantities
- Cannot print gradients
- Limited number of colors per design
Direct to Film (DTF) Transfers
Direct to Film (DTF) transfers are the industry’s latest and greatest full-color decorating solution. Using water soluble inks, these transfers are printed directly onto a PET carrier and backed with adhesive. Compared to heat transfer vinyl (HTV) or screen printing/ screen printed transfers, DTF transfers don’t require any weeding or burning of screens. This makes them a great option for small logos or designs that have intricate details.
Another advantage of DTF over screen printing is that there are no color limitations. Each design can have an unlimited number of colors, including gradients.
Benefits of DTF:
- Unlimited colors
- Fine detail
- Low order minimums
- Cost efficient in low quantities
- Applies at a low temperature
- Can apply to cotton, polyester, spandex, or tri-blends
Limitations of DTF:
- Large prints may feel heavy on the garment
- Not the most cost effective for high order volumes
- Cannot print neon or very vibrant colors
- Cannot produce special effects such as glitter, reflective, glow-in-the-dark, etc.
- May not apply to nylon, neoprene, leather, or other materials not intended for use