ImagesMagUK_June_2024 JUNE 2024 images 59 MARKET INTELLIGENCE generates a large amount of plastic-based substrate waste. How detrimental is this step, and is there a greener alternative to using a PET-based film? The PET film used for DTF printing is a polyester substrate that has a number of different coatings. There are conflicting views at present over whether this film can be recycled. As an industry, we really need to understand whether polyester DTF film is genuinely recyclable and, if so, how to dispose of it responsibly so that it does not end up in landfill. The introduction of films that contain recycled PET can be considered as a positive step. Arguably, those DTF print shops that are using these DTF films, which include circa 40% recycled content, are choosing a more sustainable option when compared with printing on virgin PET film. Recently, we have seen the introduction of paper-based DTF substrates. The development of what appears to be a more sustainable transfer media compared with PET is an excellent step in the right direction for the garment decoration industry; however, we need to better understand the finer details of this solution to accurately gauge the scale of its potential impact. What many may not realise is that these paper-based substrates are coated in thin layers of plastic for stability. This could complicate the recycling process. The use of circa 60% paper content would seem to be a positive development, but without a true understanding of the whole lifecycle of the product (from cradle to grave), question marks will remain over this promising new technology. There are also some technical concerns regarding these paperbased substrates. As mentioned earlier, one of the advantages of the DTF process is that a defective print can be detected before it is pressed onto a shirt. With an opaque paperbased substrate, however, it can be harder to detect defects, which may lead to more wasted garments. Print registration when using an opaque substrate is also more difficult, which again could lead to a higher number of defective prints being applied to garments. Having said that, I would imagine that DTF users will quickly get used to this nuance of using paper-based substrates and learn to work with it. DTF inks All DTF inks for printing onto garments are water-based, but not all water-based inks are the same! Each ink contains complex formulations of different cosolvents, binders, surfactants and colours. To ensure the safety of these products, there are a number of factors that need to be considered: ■ Is your ink ethylene glycol-free? Ethylene glycol is a commonly used co-solvent in inkjet inks. It is harmful to human health. ■ Does your ink have any certification? Choose an ink with Oeko-Tex, Gots or another certified body’s approval so that you know it is safe for use on a garment ■ How far has your ink travelled? Ink that has travelled from China, for example, already has a relatively large carbon footprint due to the shipping involved. Next steps As an industry, what steps can we take to increase the sustainability of the DTF process? ■ Treat the garment as king! Just because blank cotton T-shirts don’t cost a lot of money to buy that doesn’t mean that we can just throw them away. Whether it be DTF, DTG, screen or any another decoration method, make every effort to waste as few T-shirts as possible. Not only does this save you money, but it also reduces your impact on the environment. ■ Request more information on the recyclability of DTF film from the manufacturers How do we dispose of the film we use responsibly and with the lowest possible environmental impact? ■ Evaluate the new substrates that are now arriving on the market Are they actually better for the environment when you take a holistic view of the technology? It takes time to understand new technology, gather data and evaluate the evidence. If paper-based sources are not the environmental answer they claim to be, are we better with recycled polyester and could this be recycled again? ■ Source products from local manufacturers Whether it is inks, film, powder or machines, local manufacture reduces the carbon footprint of the DTF process. For this we need more manufacturing of the raw materials in Europe. Inks have been made here for a number of years; now powders and films are emerging, and local printer OEMs are starting to enter the market. It’s complex DTF is a complex process that requires a number of consumables that appear to deliver a negative environmental impact. However, the process also offers some environmental benefits when you look carefully at the lifetime of a garment and the reduction in the number of wasted garments. Now that the technology is advancing, those who are already using the DTF process, as well as those who are about to embark on their DTF journey, can take practical steps to reduce their environmental impact for the good of the planet. Indie Ink manufactures its Gots-approved inks from scratch at its UK factory in Newcastle upon Tyne