Direct to Film Printer Case Study | Girl Scouts Cookie Shirts

ColDesi, Inc. has a long history of helping the community, and so we pitched in and helped local Girl Scout troop #1232 get ready for Cookie Season by printing up some super-cute “No-ProbLlama” shirts.

For this case study, we showcased our newest technology, “Direct-To-Film” printing or also known as DTF printing.  Using our DTF-24H2 printer is a perfect choice for this type of job. In other words, a job with multiple colors where you are doing under 1000 prints.

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Direct-to Film T-Shirts for Cookie Season (Troop #1232)

DTF has the following advantages that make it a perfect fit here:

Direct-to Film Solves That Headache

With DTF, the Print Process and the Application process are SEPARATE –  This ability is probably the biggest game-changer for DTF printers.  The machine will print all your upcoming jobs at once and store them on a roll.  You don’t have to stand in front of your machine constantly while it’s producing the prints.  You are free to do other things.

And THE PRESS TIME IS ONLY 10 seconds?  Let that sink in for a minute…  For instance, with a DTG system, you must stand next to your machine while it prints so you can load another shirt.

Because of this, Most DTG operators spend most of their time waiting for the machine to finish.  There isn’t enough time to do much else.  I mean, sure, you can try to fit in other work in between shirts, but you can imagine how distracting that can be.  A job that should take you 10 hours can stretch out to 15 because you are also trying to answer phones and pre-treat your next garment.

The DTF Printing Process: How to DTF Print?

The DTF process is a series of simplified steps, which come together on the hardware and the software level.  They are:

The Printing Step with a DTF Printer:

DTF printers use Poly Ethelene Film (PET) that is thicker than what you would find in traditional methods.  These PET films are nearly a millimeter thick and have transfer chart eristics that are better all around for working with multiple unique garment types.

The DTF-24H2 that we used for printing the Girl Scout shirts has four color channels CMYK (multiple ink tanks) and the ink was specifically designed to accept the adhesive powder and keep the print head clear of any debris.

The DTF process incredibly works using a modified ink-jet technology, so the process eliminates the rollers and complex fusing system that you find with white toner printers.  With DTF printers, you DON’T NEED A/B Papers.  One simple film holds BOTH the colors and the white under-base!

DTF Modified printers typically come with multiple colored ink tanks. These tanks allow the printers the

So, if you’re looking for beautiful crisp prints, with 300+ DPI details (on a shirt) that are a picture-perfect representation of what you wanted the print to look like, the DTF is the choice.

– PET film, printing in reverse, white ink, dual-head design, easy stir of white ink

Applying the Adhesive | DTF Printer Process

The Direct to Film printing powder is a hot-melt adhesive powder that is also moisture seeking.  It’s like those little packets that look like salt that come in shipping boxes.  The powder is LOOKING TO BOND to the ink.  It’s a white granular product that acts as an adhesive coating to help solidify and lock in both the color layer and the white under base.

The bond made between the powder and the ink is so strong that we are noticing wash times that stand up as well as traditional screen printing (approx. 20+ wash cycles minimum).  These Girl Scout shirts should hold up well through cookie season and beyond.

There are several grades of the hot melt which are specified in microns.  The size of the grains perfectly matches the DTF process.

The DTF 24H2 also has a unique shaker powder shaker system that applies the adhesive hot melt powder and has an automatic excess powder remover.  This is handled both mechanically and through the use of a slight vacuum during the heating step.

The Drying Step for DTF Printing

After all the excess powder is removed and the adhesive has a strong chemical bond to the ink, the entire transfer flows through the curing oven.  The DTF-24H2 has multiple controls that allow you to track precisely the perfect speed to match the feed rate of your designs.

Curing is essentially a small belt-fed t-shirt oven designed to cure and melt the adhesive powder, making sure that the transfers will be dry to the touch.

Another brilliant feature of DTF printers is that they can remain on a shelf once cured for over a year. If you have any makeup orders or extras that need to be printed (there always are), you can print up a few extra cheap transfers for the job.  You can tack on your additional orders and the end of any production run.

Cutting the “No ProbLamma” DTF Prints

The next step in the process is where the manual labor begins.  The designs are already done and printed, and it’s only now that you need to do any work on them individually. 

There’s no weeding or A and B Pressing; all you have to do is swipe a razor across the rows of design to break them out into individual transfer sheets.  Easy Peasy.  As mentioned above, those sheets are good TO STORE for up to a year or more.

Pressing Your DTF Printed Shirts

Lastly, we come to the step where the “rubber meets the road.”  Or in this case, where the “transfer meets the shirt.”  And so, here’s the kicker.  The pressing step is super-easy and only takes 10 seconds or so.  That’s the same 10 seconds whether you’re working on a cotton shirt, polyester, or a poly-cotton blend.

*In this case, we also used a finishing press (recommended to improve washability and rub fastness).

And something else to consider.  If you’re a more extensive shop with, say, thousands of prints to do in a noticeably short time.  There is nothing that would prevent you from having multiple press stations. 

At 10 seconds for the application, your going to get about five shirts per minute from every person you can have manning a heat press.  So, what’s to prevent you from having multiple heat presses and an army of assemblers to keep up with the RMO (Raw Machine Output) of the DTF?

Scaling up with DTF is as easy as buying a few extra heat presses for times when you’ve got a rush job.

Calculating the Costs – As If This Were a For-Profit Job.

So, let’s take a moment to check out what kind of profits this job can generate, had it been a paying job:

In this case, the Troop provided the shirts. So, they were donated by the parents for free.  However, if this were for your own business, you would expect to pay about $2-5 Dollars for the shirt, depending on the cut and quality.

And here’s another brilliant feature of the DTF process.  You can mix and match the cut, size, and quality of the shirts you are pressing because DTF transfers adhere to virtually any standard fabric.

In this case, the cost comes in right in the middle: The shirt used was similar to the Gildan ® Heavy Cotton ™ 100% Cotton T-shirt sold by Colman and Company.

Here’s the link:

It comes in many colors and sizes and is also available in medium-range weights for shirts that might do better in hotter climates.  In this case, with kids, it’s always good to go with a heavyweight shirt for durability and washability.

At the time of the print, the shirt was: $2.63 cents per shirt.

To give you a breakdown of the time spent on the job:

Print Time:


Removing the Transfers Time:

Finishing Press:

Total Job Time:

  • Print, Powder & Dry: 15 mins.
  • Application: 35.5 mins.
  • Peeling Transfers: 3 mins.
  • Finishing Press: 11 mins.

Total: 64.5 minutes for 30 shirts.

That’s particularly good. When compared to screen printing, the job would still be in the set-up phase by the time the job was completed with the DTF system.  A hands-down winner.

Compared to DTG, unless you used the heat press to cure the pre-treatment, you would still be waiting for the pre-treatment to dry.  The Downside to DTG is if you have a rush job, you must waste extra time and energy manually curing the pre-treatment so you can even start the print.

So putting this all together:

Garment Costs Per Print $2.63 X 30 = $78.90 or less
Materials / Ink Costs per Print $ 0.40 X 30 = $12.00
Labor Costs – ( Less than 1 hour) $15.00 x 1.075 hours = $16.13

You might easily expect each of these custom shirts to cost on the exceptionally low end $18 each and in many markets up to $25.00 per shirt. Thus:

Retail Price of the Job      $540.00    to  $750.00

Final Profits:     $432.97  –  $642.97

As a business owner, you can easily see how low “per shirt” costs increase your ability to make in-kind trades to sell more:

Imagine that you are bidding on a 500+ shirt order for the local lacrosse team.  And, let’s say you know the whole job will bring you in over $3,000 in profits for a couple of days’ work. You might easily decide to donate a few extra coaches’ shirts to close the deal and look like a hero! 

So, DTF not only lowers your costs on nearly every job you do.  But it also gives you much more flexibility to be generous and make trades that work out best for your customers and yourself. 

This case study shows that working with your local teams and groups can add lots of extra $ to your bottom line.

For more information on DigitalHeat FX DTF printers just chat below or contact us here.