Have you ever seen those super cool graphic tees with the really vibrant, flawless prints? Or custom-decorated phone cases with sharp, photorealistic images that seem to pop right off the surface?
Chances are those were decorated using direct-to-film (DTF) printing.
DTF is an amazing technology that lets you permanently print full color graphics and photographs directly onto all kinds of materials like fabric, plastics, metals, glass, and more.
But you’re probably wondering – can I convert my existing printer into a DTF machine to start creating these awesome prints at home or for my business?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about converting standard printers for badass DTF printing.
Is It Possible To Convert A Printer To Dtf Printer?
Yes, it is possible to convert a standard printer into a DTF printer with some modifications.
The most common printers used are wide format inkjet models with pigment ink, such as Epson SureColor and HP DesignJet series.
Additional required components include a RIP software, bulk ink system, exposure unit, transfer films, and DTF powder sprayer.
With upgrades to the ink delivery system, printheads, heating elements, and firmware, many consumer/prosumer inkjet printers can be transformed into direct-to-film printers.
It involves some investment and technical skill, but with the right printer model and conversion accessories, users can unlock game-changing DTF printing abilities.
The finished DTF printer allows printing of high-resolution, photorealistic full color transfers onto flexible media for heat transfer onto fabrics, plastics, ceramics, metals and endless substrates.
What Types of Printers are Suitable for DTF Conversion?
OK, so you can turn regular printers into DTF printers. But what kinds of models are up to the task?
The most commonly used printers for DTF printing are wide-format inkjet printers designed for graphics, signage, and poster printing.
Pigment ink printers are ideal because pigment ink sits on top of the media you print on rather than absorbing into it like dye ink.
This allows it to release cleanly from the transfer film onto the final surface when heat is applied.
What Epson Printers Can Be Converted To Dtf ?
Here are some Epson Printers that are suitable for DTF conversion :
You can also read our complete review of Epson EcoTank Pro ET-5880 and see whether or not it is the best for you.
You can also read our complete review of Epson SureColor P800 and see whether or not it is the best for you.
On the more budget-friendly end, Epson EcoTank ET-15000 or ET-2750 are good starter options for small format DTF printing up to 13 inches wide.
Dye sublimation printers from brands like Ricoh and Sawgrass also work very well for DTF when converted with the addition of a white ink system.
Lastly, laser printers and thermal transfer printers that can print onto transparent film media are also suitable for DTF conversion with some modifications to the fuser/heating unit.
So if you already own one of those types of printers, you’re in great shape for transforming it into a DTF machine!
Converting a Printer to DTF: What You’ll Need
Alright, you’ve got your base printer selected. Now what? Here’s an overview of the key components you’ll need to convert it for DTF printing:
RIP Software – RIP stands for raster image processor. This interprets your artwork files and optimizes them for printing. RIPs allow you to do color management and easily print multiple copies or batches. Some good options are CADLink, ColorGATE, Wasatch, and ONYX.
Bulk Ink System – External ink tanks with a continuous ink supply to the printer. This lets you print high-volume DTF jobs cost-effectively. InkXPro and Cobra both make great bulk ink systems.
Hot Swap Cartridge Kit – It is used to switch between normal inks and white ink for darker surface
DTF Film – Special transfer film designed for direct-to-film printing. It has a coating that receives inks, allowing them to release during heat transfer.
DTF Powder – A fine nylon or polymer powder sprayed on top of the printed film. This gives the inks something to grab onto and improves image transfer.
Exposure Unit – Uses UV light to cure inks onto the film. Can be as simple as putting the print in the sun or as complex as a commercial UV exposure unit.
Heating Elements – Heating print bed upgrades help pre-heat garments and cure inks during printing for better wash durability.
There are also complete DTF conversion kits available that provide everything you need in one package with detailed instructions for installation.
Definitely look into those printer upgrade kits to save some headaches.
How To Convert a Printer To DTF (Step-By-Step)
Once you’ve gathered all the equipment, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Here’s a simplified step-by-step overview of the DTF conversion process:
Step 1: Select a Suitable Printer
The first step is choosing a compatible printer model. For DTF, you’ll need a wide format inkjet printer with pigment ink such as:
- Epson SureColor P-Series (400, 600, 800)
- Canon IMAGERunner Advance Series
- HP DesignJet T-Series
- Roland TrueVIS
Ensure your selected printer can print on rolls or rigid sheets at least 17” wide. Integrated printheads are ideal.
Step 2: Install a RIP Software
RIP (Raster Image Processing) software is crucial for optimizing print files, managing color, and printing multiple copies more efficiently. Popular options like ONYX or Caldera work very well. Configure the RIP with proper print settings and ICC color profiles for your printer.
Step 3: Set Up a Bulk Ink System
Bulk ink systems allow continuous ink flow from large external tanks to the printheads.
Carefully remove the original ink cartridges and install replacement bulk ink tanks and tubing suited for your printer. Prime the ink channels to fill them.
Use ink specifically formulated for DTF printing.
Step 4: Install a Hot Swap Cartridge Kit
This accessory lets you switch efficiently between standard CMYK inks and specialty inks like white. Attach it to your print carriage according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Step 5: Add a DTF Film System
Mount the film roll holder and feed/take-up reels. Insert the specialty DTF film and load rollers suited for the thicker media.
Attach and align the film transport guide. Install a vacuum transport table if available.
Step 6: Add a Powder Spray Unit
This applies a thin and even layer of DTF powder on the film to receive the ink droplets. Mount the powder sprayer bar inside the printer following the supplier’s instructions. Refill with powder as needed.
Step 7: Install Exposure Lights
Exposure lights cure the ink onto the film after printing. Install UV LED strips or an exposure unit. Dial in the optimal exposure time to properly set the inks without overexposing.
Step 8: Upgrade the Print Bed
A heated print bed helps control the surface temperature. This improves ink drying and adhesion. Install a print bed heater suited for your make and model.
Step 9: Calibrate and Test
Run nozzle checks, clean the printheads, then print test patterns to fine-tune alignment and color.
Try sample transfers and tweak settings until image quality and ink adhesion is excellent. Your DTF printer transformation is complete!
With these upgrades, an ordinary graphics printer becomes a powerful DTF machine ready to churn out stunning direct-to-film transfers in no time.
Why Convert a Printer for DTF? Benefits Explained
Converting an existing printer does take some effort. So what are the major perks that make DTF worth it?
Awesome Print Quality – DTF allows incredible photorealistic prints, intense colors, smooth gradients, and fine details far beyond screenprinting.
Limitless Printing Surfaces – Print on fabrics, ceramics, plastics, metals, magnets, etc. If you can heat press it, you can print on it with DTF!
Simple Operation – Compared to setup, registration, and cleanup of screenprinting, DTF printing is a breeze. Just press print, apply transfer, and heat press.
Cost Effective Short Runs – No burned screens needed. Digital DTF printing is ideal and affordable for batches as small as 1-25 prints.
Minimal Supplies + Maintenance – Aside from ink and film, DTF printers have very low consumable costs compared to solvent inkjet printers.
Ease of Design – Make edits and print new designs in minutes. No remaking screens or plates needed.
White Ink Capabilities – Print on dark-colored fabrics without needing an underbase layer. White ink allows bright, opaque prints on any color substrate.
DTF utterly transforms the capabilities of your printer, empowering you to print dazzling full-color graphics onto almost any material or object you can imagine!
What is DTF Powder?
DTF powder is a critical component in the direct-to-film printing process. It is an ultra-fine powder made up of small particles of nylon or polymer material.
Here are some key facts about DTF powder:
- Purpose – DTF powder provides a tacky surface for the printed inks to attach to on the transfer film. Without powder, the inks would lack adhesion and bleed or smear.
- Application – The powder is evenly sprayed on top of the transfer film either before or during the printing process. This creates a thin layer the ink droplets can grab.
- Thickness – An extremely fine powder is used, ranging from 5-15 microns thick. This prevents a heavy texture while still allowing ink bonding.
- Materials – Nylon is the most common base due to its suitability for high heat pressing. Some powders use polymers like PET or PU for specialized applications.
- Melting – The heat and pressure of the transfer process melts the powder layer, causing it to bond the ink to the garment or substrate beneath it.
- Consistency – Keeping powder thickness and dispersion consistent is crucial for print quality. Density can impact ink saturation and bleeding.
- Recyclability – Some powder can be recovered and reused, while other types are single-use. Proper disposal is important for recycled powders.
In summary, DTF powder is a thin nylon or polymer coating sprayed on transfer film that allows inks to anchor effectively so images release cleanly and permanently fuse to the end product’s surface when heat pressed
Frequently Asked Questions About DTF Printing
Here are answers to some of the most common questions people have about converting to direct-to-film printing:
What’s the difference between DTF and sublimation printing?
Sublimation uses special inks that turn to gas when heated to infuse color into polyester fabrics. DTF sits on the surface so it works on cotton, poly, blends, and rigid materials like mugs and plastics.
Do I need design software like Photoshop?
Yes, you need image editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator to prepare your artwork for printing. Many DTF RIP packages include basic image prep tools too.
What heat press do I need?
A good quality heat press like Stahls’ Hotronix or Geo Knight is recommended for applying DTF transfers. Look for precise digital controls and even platen pressure.
What resolution do I need to print DTF transfers?
Print at the highest resolution your printer allows, ideally 1440 x 1440 dpi or higher. This ensures maximum print quality and detail.
How do I create white ink underbases for dark garments?
Print a white ink underbase layer first, then print your color design aligned precisely on top. This creates an opaque white base for colors to really pop.
What file formats can I print?
Common graphic formats like PNG, JPG, TIFF, PDF, etc are fine. For best results, don’t compress images too much and use the printer’s native RIP to process files.
What surfaces can I print DTF transfers on?
Cotton, polyester, blended fabrics, ceramic mugs/tiles, plastic products, stainless steel, aluminum, magnets, mirrors, glass, wood, and more! Test new materials first.
I hope this guide has shown that converting an existing graphics printer into a DTF printing machine is not only possible, but also a really smart move for any print shop looking to expand their offerings.
DTF printing bridges the gap between screen printing and digital printing, allowing you to print photographic, production-quality full color graphics on almost any surface imaginable with relatively simple equipment.
With some DIY spirit and the right printer model, RIP software, bulk ink system, and accessories, you can unlock game-changing direct-to-film superpowers and start pumping out incredible custom prints.
So don’t let anything hold you back from joining the DTF printing revolution today! Let me know if you have any other questions down below. I’m always happy to help spread the word about this awesome technology.