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DTF Transfers with Sublimation Ink vs DTF Printer: Pros & Cons You REALLY Need to Know!

Printing DTF Transfers with sublimation ink as an inexpensive hack that's being done instead of using an actual DTF printer. 
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Direct to Film solves a lot of problems and this hack allows you to put sublimation on cotton...but not all cotton. BUT...how do you do DTF printing with a sublimation printer...and is it really safe?  Read on to find out! 

What are Direct to Film Transfers? 

Direct to Film is a process in which the ink is laid down on clear DTF film, then covered with a powder that needs to be cured to become an adhesive and then applied directly to the garment.  

True DTF printers lay down a white layer over the full color image allowing the transfer to be placed on any color shirt or any type of fabric - including black. There's no cutting and no weeding and really no limitations on the garment color or fabric type. See why it solves A LOT of problems?! 

The biggest problem for many crafters and hobbyists is the startup expensive...and that's why we are where we are with this hack of printing DTF transfers on sublimation printers.
 
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Can You Really Do DTF Transfers with Sublimation Ink?

The answer is...yes-ish. 

Sublimation printers don't print white ink so you'll still be limited to light and white t-shirts when printing DTF transfers with a sublimation printer.  As you can see putting a DTF transfer printed on a sublimation printer on a dark shirt doesn't work. 

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You do, however, solve the issue of not being able to sublimate onto cotton shirts - they just have to be light or white colored.

Is Printing DTF Transfers with a Sublimation Printer Safe? 

You should know that DTF powder comes with a giant warning that it can cause health issues...this bag of hot melt powder warns: "Caution: Must wear a mask".  

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The DTF powder and curing process is why most DTF printer setups include an air filter. If you're using a sublimation printer, my hunch is you're probably not using a curing oven and filter when curing the powder.

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I'm putting both of those big "warnings" out there first so you know what you're getting into when you decide to try this sublimation printer DTF hack.  

How Much Does a DTF Printer Cost?

If you've gotten this far you're probably more interested in the big advantage of using a sublimation printer for DTF transfers and that is the price...which I can totally understand. It can cost almost 8x more to invest in a desktop DTF printer setup than it can the lowest price sublimation printer. 

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How to Make DTF Transfers with Sublimation Ink: Step by Step 

Alright so how do you print DTF transfers on a sublimation printer? First make sure you have the correct DTF supplies. You'll need DTF film and hot melt DTF curing powder

Start by loading a sheet of DTF film into your sublimation printer.  Make sure the film is oriented so it prints on the cloudy side of the film. 

Open your design in your sublimation printer print manager - whether that's Epson or Sawgrass. You can do the layout in Silhouette Studio if you want or if it's just a single PNG image, just open in the print manager. 

I am printing to a true Epson Sublimation printer so I opened the print manager, adjusted for the number of copies, selected the correct color profile and sent the design to print.  Make sure the image prints in reverse. 

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I specifically printed this roller skate design because I have also printed true DTF transfers using this same design. This will allow me to then compare the sublimation DTF transfer to the original DTF transfers printed on my Prestige A3+ DTF Printer

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When the DTF sheet comes out of the sublimation printer the ink will be wet which will allow the DTF powder to stick to it. Cover the sheet with DTF powder and tap off any excess. 

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Cure the DTF powder to melt it. 

This is what is usually done in a curing oven with air filter - which is what I recommend for health and safety.  You can also cure DTF powder under a heat press by letting the top platen hover over the DTF film sheet for a minute or so. 

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Once the powder is cured, you're ready to apply the DTF transfers.

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Traditional DTF transfers are applied at about 320 degrees for 20 seconds or so, but I found DTF transfers with sublimation ink are better applied closer to 360 degrees for about 45 seconds with a heat press. 

After the time is up, peel off the DTF film and the transfer will be on the shirt.  

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Here's a side by side of the DTF transfer with the sublimation ink on both dark and light compared to the true DTF transfer made with a direct to film printer. 

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I also have a video showing the full process of how to print DTF transfers with sublimation ink that you may want to check out. 

  

Want to learn more about DTF printing and the desktop size DTF printer options that are available? Check out all of my direct to film printer tutorials and videos

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