DTF Printing vs. Heat Transfer Vinyl | What You Need to Know

Blog Post image showing a graphic of a DTF printing shirt and HTV shirt shown off face to face.

When considering textile printing for your upcoming event or apparel customizations for employees, it is important to choose the right printing methods, because that can have a huge impact on the outcome – and therefore, on how well the products are received.

Today, we will discuss DTF printing and heat transfer vinyl – what each is, and which is right for you!

The difference between DTF and HTV Printing Process

Let’s go over the basics first. What exactly are these printing processes, and what puts them apart?

DTF is short for “direct to film”, and the printing process involves printing your selected design onto a DTF film, and then transferring it onto the end material (t-shirt, bag, etc.). A DTF printer is a specialized device, and we could bore you with the details of how a DTF print is made, but we’ll spare you (this time)! In short, direct to film prints are printed on transfer film using a special inkjet printer.

Heat transfer vinyl (often abbreviated as HTV or simply called ‘heat press’) is a process where a heat-activated adhesive is used to apply designs to t-shirts and other materials.

That was the super in-a-nutshell summary, and as you can see, the two are very different. However, how does the difference manifest itself for you? For starters, vinyl is more efficient and cost-effective in the short run. If your goal is to have variety and/or quantity, then DTF is the better option. For simple, small-scale projects involving limited colors and materials, HTV is more suitable. Both options however, are applied using a heat press machine, which is the printing industry standard.

Now let’s discuss this more in-depth.

More info about DTF printing


One of the key things you need to know is the difference between DTF and DTG printing. The latter stands for ‘direct to garment printing’, and is a printing technology mainly suitable for organic fabrics, like cotton and bamboo. The results from a dtg printer usually aren’t as vibrant or durable, and the fabric limitations make it so it is overall not the preferred option, despite having its advantages.

Steps in the process

The DTF printing process can involve as many as ten steps during apparel customizations. These include design creation, fabric prep, printing on the film, powdering the film, melting the hot melt adhesive powder (often done by baking!), pre-pressing, transferring the print to the fabric, peeling the film, post-pressing, and finally, adding any finishing touches necessary. And voila! Your merch is now ready to use.

Advantages of Prints from a DTF Printer

  • DTF printing provides high print quality results that can potentially last much longer than printing done by other methods
  • DTF printing works on a broad range of textiles such as, cotton fabrics, polyester, and blends
  • It is more environmentally friendly, as it uses water-based inks
  • DTF printing is done via a film, which means it can be done in awkward or hard-to-reach surfaces
  • It allows for more complex designs
  • While DTF process is slower than other processes, it is quicker than HTV

Disadvantages of Prints from DTF Printers

  • DTF doesn’t offer special finishes such as velvet, emboss or glitter
  • It’s more expensive in the short run, or for small batches
  • It is not easy for hobbyists or small businesses to get hold of a DTF printing setup

More info about HTV or heat press


One important step that differentiates the HTV process from the DTF, and which often makes it more time consuming, is weeding. This is a process wherein you remove the excess vinyl from the design.

Steps in the process

Heat transfer prints have fewer steps. They include: Designing the print, printing on the HTV, contour cutting, weeding, applying the application tape, heat pressing, removal of the application tape, and finally, adding finishing touches.


  • The end result feels smooth and flat, as opposed to fabric-like. This is ideal for t-shirt printing, for instance, where you want a smooth finish
  • You can apply special finishes and textures
  • It is cost-effective in the short run
  • Heat presses don’t take up much space, so it’s great for events held in small or medium-size spaces


  • The print is less durable compared to DTF printing
  • The options are limited when it comes to substrates – non-fabric substrates aren’t suitable for HTV printing
  • You can’t make complex or intricate designs with a heat press, so your design options will be limited

Frequently Asked Questions

What is DTF in printing?

DTF is short for ‘direct to film’ printing. It is a process in which a design is printed on a film using inkjet technology, and then transferred to your substrate using a heat press.

Is DTF better than sublimation?

Sublimation printing is a digital printing process that uses the combined power of heat and pressure to print designs. There are several benefits of sublimation. For instance, the print is durable, and it doesn’t easily crack or peel. However, the fabric needs to be polyester, which is not the most comfortable, and it also must be white or light-colored. DTF is much more versatile, and is therefore generally preferred.

How long does DTF printing last?

The average wearable garment lasts between 30-50 washes while retaining its original quality. DTF can withstand upwards of 35 washes, while HTV can last for 25-30 washes. The actual time would depend on how often you wash the item in particular – but you can expect it to last a few years in general.

Which is better DTF or vinyl printing?

DTF printing is versatile, time-efficient and suitable for large t shirt projects, whereas HTV or vinyl printing is better for small projects or hobbyists that need simple designs that come with special finishes.

Is DTF the same as printable vinyl?

Generally speaking, printable vinyl is an adhesive material that you can print on using a desktop inkjet printer. In the world of printing on fabric, it usually refers to a hobby heat press method, which is different from DTF printing.

Is DTF more expensive than vinyl?

For small projects, yes. However, when printing a large amount of items, DTF tends to come out on top. So for small projects, opt for HTV and vice-versa.

To Sum Up The Debate: DTF Printing vs Heat

DTF offers more versatility and durability, but can be a little more expensive for small projects. HTV offers the possibility of printing interesting finishes and is cost-effective in the short run, but can take longer. 

Both have their pros and cons, and which is better depends entirely on your needs. If you aren’t sure which is right for you and need quantitative terms, feel free to reach out to us. Depending on your project other printing methods such as screen printing could even be the answer!

Hopefully this article helped you decide which process is right for you. Chicago Signs has undertaken numerous projects of apparel (t-shirts) customization, and is here to help with any questions you may have! You can contact us by filling out this form. You can also call us at 312-273-1833 during business hours.

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