This Episode

Marc Vila and Howard Potter

You Will Learn

  • Space and power requirements for DTF printers
  • Questions to ask the equipment seller.
  • Why Direct To Film printing is such a game changer.

Resources & Links

Episode 195 – What You Should Know Before Buying a DTF Printer with Howard Potter

In the latest episode of Custom Apparel Startups, we are excited to feature Howard Potter, from A&P Master Images, who brings his wealth of knowledge to the table on the topic of Direct to Film (DTF) Printing. Our discussion, “What You Should Know Before Buying a DTF Printer,” covers the A to Z of preparing to make an informed purchase of a DTF printer for your business.

Howard emphasizes the paramount importance of conducting thorough research to identify a trustworthy company. It’s crucial to partner with a company that not only sells you a printer but also supports you throughout your printing journey. Equally important is considering the space your operation has available, as DTF printers come in various sizes and have specific space requirements for optimal operation.

He advises potential buyers to request samples from providers. This step ensures that the print quality meets your business’s standards and expectations before making a significant investment. Additionally, Howard stresses the importance of investing in quality supplies, including inks and films, to guarantee the best output and durability of your printed products.

A central part of our conversation revolves around the challenges businesses might face, particularly concerning time management and staffing. DTF printing, while lucrative, demands careful planning and allocation of resources. Howard shares insights from his experience, noting that even the largest units are not overly complicated in terms of power requirements, which can be a common concern.

Highlighting the potential of DTF printing, Howard reveals an impressive fact: it is possible to generate more than $500,000 in revenue with a single DTF printer in a year. This statistic not only underscores the efficiency and profitability of DTF printing but also serves as a powerful motivation for businesses considering entering the space.

This episode is packed with invaluable advice for anyone looking to venture into DTF printing or expand their existing operations. Howard Potter’s expert insights provide a roadmap for navigating the complexities of purchasing a DTF printer, making this episode an essential listen for those in the custom apparel industry.

Here are the top considerations before purchasing a DTF Printer:

  1. Find a company you can trust
  2. Consider the space you have to work with
  3. Get samples
  4. Look for a company that provides quality supplies with their machines


Marc Vila:
Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of the Custom Apparel Startups podcast. My name is Marc Vila. And today we’re going to do something a little bit different, we’re going to do a mini podcast series. And we have a very special guest with us that I’ll introduce momentarily. But the point of these podcasts are to talk about one specific topic where we’re going to dive semi deep into a question and get some real world answers from a real world professional out there. And without further ado, time to introduce. So we’ve got Howard Potter with us today. And I figure rather than me talking and telling all about your story, I’d like you just to tell us a little bit about you. So Howard, why don’t you tell us about what you do, what kind of business you’re in, and maybe how long you’ve been in it?

Howard Potter:
Again, thank you for having me on. My wife and I started A&P Master Images about 21 years ago. It’s a family owned business. Both of our kids are in it. We do everything from design, work, build online stores, screen print, embroidery, direct-to-film, sublimation, rhinestones, sewing, you name it. We offer over 10 different processes and services within our company, and we’ve been very blessed to grow this thing to what it is today, so, again, thank you for having us on.

Marc Vila:
Excellent. And everything that you said there I think is enough to show that all of those processes are challenging in and of their own, selling those processes each individually have their own benefits and pros and cons, so you’ve learned a lot. And the most recent technology that has swept the market is direct-to-film printing, which is one you’ve mentioned. So you do sewing, which is a very old technology that’s been around for generations and generations, and direct-to-film, which is a new technology, and I think that asking you questions about direct-to-film is really important because you’ve gone through rhinestones, you’ve gone through cutting, you’ve gone through screen printing, all these other things that you’ve gone through, you learn a lesson, you go, you learn a lesson, you go. Just before this started, we were actually had a brief conversation with each other and we talked about cooking, and if you like to cook with your family or your family likes to cook for you, the more you cook or bake, the better you get at it in general.

So if you’re handed a cut of meat or a particular baking recipe, and you’ve been baking or cooking or grilling or barbecue for 20 years, once you get that new one, you’re immediately probably going to be better than the person who’s never done it before. And we run into a lot of folks here who are either brand new to the industry or maybe just been in a few years and they’re thinking about direct-to-film printing, they don’t have that experience. So the question I want to start today, or the question we’re going to cover today, Howard, is what should you know or what are some decision-making things when it comes to buying a direct-to-film printer? So what should you know before buying a direct-to-film printer? And I’ll give you the floor to answer that however you see fit. What are some things you should know and some things that are part of the decision making process if you’re going to buy one and what you’re going to buy?

Howard Potter:
Okay. The history of my direct-to-film experience is now just over a year old, about almost a year and a half old now, from research to production, everything. What actually sparked the interest was the email that came about where I’d seen the equipment come through on my email and I immediately started researching. And a lot of people are going to ask, “Well, why’d you stop in the middle of your day and start researching?” Because we talk about processes like screen printing. It’s a process that’s very, very old, still very lucrative, still very good, but there’s a lot of steps to it, there’s a lot of technique to it. It’s more demanding of your time, there’s a higher risk to making mistakes, there’s a higher risk to not being able to fix your mistakes in a timely fashion.

So I’ve been screen printing now for, out of 21 years of business, at least 15, 16 years of it, and have done very well with that part of the process where at one point I think almost two years ago before we got into direct-to-film, I think we did close to 900,000 just in screen printing. And so the thing that I asked myself was if I’m going to get into direct-to-film, what’s the longevity of it? What’s the quality of the prints? How much space does it take up? How long does it take to learn? How much educational time is it going to take for me not only to educate my staff but my customer? So I took about four hours, which is a very short time period to research a process, to realize there’s different quality levels of inks and powders and mixtures. But other than that, you’re not dealing with very many other components besides a quality machine, quality ink, quality adhesive powder, and then you have your quality company that you want to team up with to purchase all this from that you know you can rely on.

So once I got past all that, that’s where ColDesi came in, because I have a longstanding history of working with your guys’ company on rhinestones and different processes, buying materials and things like that, and supplies, and I was like, “Wow, let me look at their printers.” And I think at the time you had three different models. And from there I’m like, “All right, what’s our business plan?” Well, our business plan is to keep growing. We grow by 15 to 30% a year. So I had to research and make contacts I think it was with Mike Angel, one of your guys’ sales reps there, great source.

And I asked him, I said, “What are the dimensions of these machines? How much space do I need around the machine to comfortably work for safety and for production purposes?” And so we stopped, we talked, we went over all those things, and I knew out the gate that the middle machine that you guys sold, which I believe it was the two head, just before you get to the forehead, would do the job. But when I looked at the cost comparison from the second machine to your largest unit, I’m like for, “$250 to $300 at most a month more for everything I’m looking at, I can go into the biggest unit they make and I can grow into the machine and only take up a little bit more square footage than if I went with the middle size unit.”

For us, it comes down to the ergonomics of the equipment. It came down to not only that, it pulls less power than screen printing. Screen printing, I have two dryers that pull 60 amps each. And when we first got into direct-to-film, we only had the machine running for an hour or two at a time with only a 30 amp unit for the entire power consumption. So I looked at the power, the ease and all that type of stuff. And after those four hours, I reached out to you guys and also went over, hey, can we get samples of the prints so I could test the durability and the quality?

And I want to say it was with three to five days, you guys had some test samples, prints and we tested them. And how I test is most people will think you’ll just go home and test the laundering at home, right? No, we went to a customer of ours that owns a local laundry mat and we had them literally put it in with every load they were washing for a day. It had to have gotten washed almost 30 times that day with some quick cycles, and hot heat, extremely hot commercial heat, and it held up really well, so I was really impressed with that. Because at the end of the day when we started screen printing, we wanted to be one of the best out there quality wise and turnaround time, so our screen printing will last two, three years. When you look at direct-to-film, I believe you guys state that it’ll last a minimum of 55 washes before it even starts to even think about showing any signs.

Now, I can tell you, over a year later, I’m wearing stuff that still looks like brand new and I wear it at least once a week. So we’re past a year I’m already getting and it still looks like new. So it’s nice that you guys give a base minimum, but it actually lasts longer than that if you’re doing a good job on your end, on your production artwork, your adhesive powder, and all that. So you also have to look at what’s the consumer need. Do they need a physical print that’s going to last four or five years? The average person don’t keep a shirt four or five years. It’s usually a year to a year and a half they’re throwing it out and getting another one. So this process, the ease of the use, the quality, it hits all those different spectrums for you the person that’s going to be selling retail or wholesale. So for us, it checked a lot of boxes.

Marc Vila:
That’s great. And actually, I opened up my notepad here so I could take some notes on some points you made, because I want to be able to write in the notes of this episode the answer to the question. So let me just go back and summarize, and then I’ll just make a couple quick comments on some things that I really liked that you said. For one, research the process was the first answer that I got from you that I heard. It was you saw some information come in and you said, “You know what? Let me look at it.” You took a few hours, I think you said four hours, to just go through whatever it was, watch videos, read articles, just understand the process. So I think that that’s important is understanding the process. Then you had mentioned about finding a company that you can trust. And of course I try to keep the Custom Apparel Startups podcast semi-agnostic from recommending ColDesi.

I work for ColDesi, that’s no secret in the podcast, and we try to just give the right answer, and then ColDesi as an organization just tries to provide the best product and service we can. So we hope that the right answer is ColDesi, and I like that you shouted us out on that. But all the things we’re going to talk about today are all things that everyone from salespeople to management and in between talk about on a day-to-day basis, and we try to answer these questions and say, “How do we make a printer that answers all this?” So you said find a company you can trust, I think that’s important. There are printers, cutters, screen printing, everything that you named that you sell you can buy from eBay, you can buy from Amazon, you can buy from overseas by yourself, but that takes away a company you can trust.

I trust that if I need a toothbrush, I’ll order it from Amazon and get it tomorrow. Whatever. And even a phone charging cable. However, if I buy a direct-to-film printer or a cutter from there that’s a generic brand, I’m going to have no relationship with Amazon on that. There’s going to be no conversation there. So those are things we talk about a lot. The next on the list, just to bullet through these next few, consider the space you’re going to be working in, I thought that was great. Way too often people don’t consider power or space when they’re making equipment decisions, and they could have gone bigger because they have more room, or they got something a bit too big and they can’t get it in or out, or they don’t even have the right power. So consider your space and all that else.

Get samples, I really liked that. I tell folks all the time, we get comments on social media mostly, but everywhere, what does it feel like, what does it wash? And this is not just direct-to-film, this is every technology we sell people ask that and I just say, “Just ask for a sample. They’re free. You call us up or live chat, say, “I’m interested in direct-to-film printing or direct to garment printing or whatever you want, can I have a sample?” And we’ll send it, and wash it, wear it, touch it, feel it, do whatever you can because the proof is right there.” And I think that’s part of working with an organization you can trust is that there’s no shyness about getting samples out as long as your expectation is set correctly. And then the last bit, which was actually you said towards the beginning, but I wrote it down late, was quality supplies, making sure that your working with an organization and a printer that uses good ink, good powder or glue, good films, and then of course the parts within the equipment are important too.

So all of those together, I loved all that stuff. And I can go on and on about it, but I think you answered it well. Now to go a little bit deeper into some of this stuff, you had mentioned something about that there were multiple models, and one of them was going to get the job done, but you decided to go a little bit bigger because it was just a couple hundred dollars more a month. And the mindset that… Well, how do I word this? The troubling mindset with folks is someone who’s been in business for 20 years, you don’t look at a machine payment like it’s a car payment. You’re looking at as this is a cost of owning business, what’s it going to produce and what is this output?

And for folks new to business or brand new to business or very short time in business, they consider the payment to be more of a liability than maybe it is. So I would like to ask, when you’re making a decision on a direct-to-film printer, how did you go through that thought process without considering, well, wow, 200 and something dollars more a month, that’s a lot more money. Somebody might think of it that way. You thought of it differently. And I’m curious on that thought process.

Howard Potter:
Yeah, there’s multiple factors that go into it. So let’s go back to the unit that I purchased, which was your guys’ 4 head. It’s given me two sets of print heads, so I can print a lot faster. I want to say it’s about an hour and a half, two hours, somewhere around there to almost print a full roll of this material. So if you’re on the middle of the road machine that you guys offer or that most people would offer, it prints a lot slower. So right there, you’re gaining time. Now, let’s be honest, the average screen print shop or shop in general doesn’t have more than one to four staff, so what’s limited on you every day? Your time, your resources, your manpower. So buying the larger unit out the gate gains you revenue naturally because your employee isn’t standing at that printer as long. So that’s step one.

Step two, they could actually, the size, most shops screen printing takes up more square footage, pretty much I would say quadruple the square footage and then some, depending on your size of company. Your largest machine you sell, you’re talking for 150 square feet with the printer, and that’s being generous with it, because I measured mine, and it’s roughly to safely have space all around it comfortably with supplies you’re talking eight foot by 15 feet of space, that can fit in most homes or garages. The fact that it’s off a 30 amp breaker is the same as your dryer in your house, so your power consumption… So even if you wanted to start up out of your house with the largest unit you guys make, you could be making serious money and growing into this thing. To give some facts and figures, last year we had your guys’ unit running for 11 months after we got it up and running and we did a slow roll of it, we still produced a little over a half million dollars worth of production with that one printer and still didn’t maximize its capabilities.

So when I’m looking at the payments, I’m looking at all different factors, looking at the space, is it going to make my staff’s job easier, because when we compare direct-to-film versus screen printing, I’m not burning screens, I’m not printing positives, my designers don’t have to sit there and make multiple layers for the artwork to get it set up, they’re not having to clean screens, they’re not having to clean squeegees, they’re not having to clean spatulas, they’re not going to have to wipe up the ink around the stations from the screen printing ink, so that automatically gets you into faster production instantly. So it makes my designer’s job easier. Now, again, if I’m a smaller shop, which I’ve been there because we started out of our house, out of a 15 foot by 15 foot room, your time’s limited. So this machine naturally pays for itself because of you’re gaining time on all different avenues, you’re not taking up a ton of space, it’s a cleaner work environment. So there’s a lot of benefits all the way around with this.

Marc Vila:
Okay, great. I love that answer actually. And I took a few more notes that… And all this will be in the notes for those who go to the website or are watching this on YouTube. I’ll have these notes in there. But one of the things you mentioned that I like a lot is one of… Or I’ll paraphrase this, but one of the biggest challenges is time or the staff of your time or the time of yourself, whoever’s running the equipment, that’s the biggest challenge consistently in all of business. So this is a completely side story, but this is literally how it works and why this is so important is that I had worked for a restaurant when I was young and they were open for breakfast and lunch, and they wanted to try opening up for dinner. Right?

Howard Potter:

Marc Vila:
The challenge wasn’t the recipes, because they had great chefs. It wasn’t the menu, it wasn’t ordering the supplies, it wasn’t advertising. That was all easy, that was easy to do, every single one of those things. It was you couldn’t have people work from 05:00 AM getting ready for breakfast until 10 o’clock at night when dinner is done. So they needed essentially a whole separate staff and they couldn’t all just start working night with no experience, so they had to split the staff. So I had worked some weekends for breakfast and then weekdays for dinner. All the challenge was the time and the staff. So it doesn’t matter if you’re screen printing, if you’re direct-to-film printing, if you’re running a restaurant. Whatever you’re doing, time is everything. I don’t even remember who said this, but I’m going to pretend to quote it anyway, it was something to the effect of physicists saying that some of the stuff that they’re scared of… I think it’s actually it was an Interstellar, I believe he said the only thing he was scared of was time because time is the one thing that we can’t control.

So when you’re investing in a good piece of equipment, time is what you consider as the killer. And I had spoke with somebody who was doing vinyl cutting, and they were doing a lot. They were doing I think 200,000 a year in revenue in cutting vinyl, so that’s moving a lot of vinyl material, but it was working like 15 hours a day, weeding, weeding, weeding. So the cost of the equipment was really low, but the cost of the time. And the gentleman said, he’s like, “I was basically getting ready to just shut the doors.” And somebody was like, “How can you shut the doors? You’re doing a quarter million dollars in revenue.” And he’s like, “No sleep, no time with my family. Can’t golf anymore. Can’t go out drinking with my buddies anymore.” All the things he loved to do, he stopped doing. So he ended up getting a direct-to-film printer, boom, all of that. You mentioned something else that you said that you were printing about a roll in an hour to be-

Howard Potter:
About an hour and a half, two hours roughly, yeah,.

Marc Vila:
Hour and a half, two hours, sorry.

Howard Potter:
It depends on the file loading and everything we’re doing.

Marc Vila:
And so just for those who don’t know, that’s 100 meters worth of material. And then the answer of that is very variable depending on what you’re printing. The larger the prints, the more space, the longer they take to print. But that’s why that number can vary. You could print an entire roll in 30 minutes if you have tons of negative space, you could probably do it in three hours if you’re filling up every single millimeter of that role. So that’s how much you’re talking about there. Another piece of note I said is a large unit isn’t necessarily complicated in space and power, which is great. It was back to a consideration earlier that you had mentioned. But when you’re looking at all different types of equipment and you’re considering what you’re going to do, consider the power, take a look in your home or business, what breakers do you currently have now, what power do you have available.

And this is not only true of direct-to-film printers, but anything. Heat press machines can use up a bit of power too. But all of this stuff is not unreasonable compared to when you say some large-scale screen printing equipment does require some pretty special electricity. If we would just want to use a simple terminology, it’s not something that’s just a ready installed where you may or may not already have some of the stuff enough to run a direct-to-film printer quote already installed in your home or business. And then the success story is the last note I just made here is that not even necessarily pushing it to the max. You had a half million in revenue in one printer. And I think that’s a great story to tell about getting an equipment for your goal. Not always. There’s a balance for everything. You’re not going to buy 40 machines at once. That’s ridiculous. But there’s a healthy balance in that.

Howard Potter:
Well, the thing is too, the payment being a couple hundred dollars more or $250 more, whatever it ends up actually being with everything that you invest, you have to look at it this way. If you know you’re going to be in business, I don’t care if it’s 10 more years, 15 more years, whatever it’s going to be, you only have so much square footage to work within, so you need to maximize. So how we do everything in our company is our embroidery, for example, we did 900,000 in embroidery in 650 square feet. So I take that dollar amount that we did in actual production divided by the number of square feet, now I got a gauge of what am I actually producing per square foot. So I’ve maximized my output and my value per square foot in my space. And like I said, I’ve started in very small spaces. If I would’ve had something like this, I probably would’ve never got it in the screen printing.

And it’s nothing against screen printing, screen printing’s always going to have a purpose, but let’s think about something, you get done printing screen printing a 24 shirt or 50 shirt order that’s a three color front, two color back, and one of them happens to get messed up and you don’t notice it when you’re packing out the order, the customer gets it, and they have to have it, because it’s for an event and everyone in the company’s got to have it. What do you do?

You either don’t replace it and you just wipe it off the bill, and you lose the customer forever. Great, you didn’t have to deal with the headache. Or you have to reregister five screens that can roughly take you 10 to 15 minutes per screen, reset all the ink, retest print, then print one final piece. You’re going to have an hour, hour and a half right into that. Or you have a direct-to-film printer, you warm it back up in 10 to 15 minutes, and under a half an hour you have the print set up and done and heat pressed on and out the door with zero extra bodies having to pitch in. One person can handle all that.

Marc Vila:
Right. And one person can do that. And I would also imagine that, and maybe you do or don’t do this, but it’s probably pretty easy if you’re printing the fronts and the backs there to just print two extra fronts and two extra backs that you just cut and store and put in the customer’s file.

Howard Potter:
Yeah, no, that’s exactly it. And the other factor is too, I love screen printing, we still screen print to this day, but we’ve actually made… So here’s the other thing. This is where direct-to-film, if you’re already screen printing, adds value to your screen printing. So I tell everybody, I’m like, “All right, you’re getting a full color print for the price of a one to two color screen print. So now we’re not screen printing nearly as much and it’s usually bigger, bigger orders on our automated press, not so much on our manual. So now that just made it even easier for my team. Two, we’re turning our dryers on less, but we still have them in case we need them.” So it made that end a little bit more streamlined. Now our minimum screen print order is a minimum of 12 pieces.

But what’s happening is everyone’s going away from the screen printing to the direct-to-film because they want that full color now, now that the capability’s there. And let’s face it, what do you have with screen printing? You have setup fees for every screen. Direct-to-film, unless you choose to charge a setup, you never have to charge a setup fee. You just build in your cost of your artwork time or whatever, and that’s it. You’re done. So it’s a cleaner interface, requires less people, less space, less cleanup. It’s checked so many. And if you’re starting from your house, you don’t really ever have to evolve from your house unless you choose to.

Marc Vila:
I love everything you said that. And I like the evolution of this conversation a little bit because it went into what should you consider when you’re buying one, but it’s also a bit of why it might be right for you too, because that question really it’s part of the question, because the first thing that we said was research the process. Once you understand how it works, if you’ve got a good visionary mind and you’re thinking about business, then you start considering the things like, well, how fast does it, are my customers going to be happy with it? What can I sell that’s different? And thinking about the forward movement of technology.

So I think we answered this question thoroughly and there’s a million little rabbit holes we can get into, and I hope to again on some more episodes, but we can wrap this up for now. And we’re going to speak more with Howard on a few other topics, so definitely stay tuned for other episodes. Howard, thanks so much for coming on. You can feel free to drop a final thought if you want to for now. I’ll give you the floor for a moment.

Howard Potter:
The biggest thing I want people to start thinking about in our industry, and, again, I started this when I was 22 out of my home, it’s one of those things that’s an evolving industry. Technology is always leading the way, and sometimes we get caught up in the minutiae of every day, not looking to turn to more of the technology to make our life easier. So we’re not that guy in the vinyl shop weeding vinyl and not having the time with our family, or feeling like we’re just never getting ahead. So I’m very thankful for being on this podcast because I get to learn and remember things that I taught myself or things that I need to look back at, and I hope everyone just keeps gaining more information and knowledge and ask themselves more questions about what could be better within their company from this podcast.

Marc Vila:
That’s excellent. I work in marketing, and the same is true for that just as it is in this industry that we work in and that I market in. But if you just consider thinking about businesses over the years of our lives and businesses that have come and gone, and if we just consider big brands, we grew up going to Blockbuster Video. Friday night, that was the best if you can get a pizza and go and pick out a movie, and you had to get there early enough because you knew you wanted to watch that one, and you didn’t want all the copies to be gone. And Blockbuster Video owned this, and Netflix just took them over.

And there’s plenty of story there, but they tried to do the streaming and they tried to do… But they were just like they had this model that was working really well and the world was changing, and they did not adapt and change when they had the power and ability to, and the same happens in marketing if you aren’t considering the new platforms or considering how you’re going to market or new ways to market. And then the same in our industry, as you mentioned, you’ve got to adapt your business, offer different technology. Maybe you don’t get into every new technology because that doesn’t make sense, just like I’m not going to market in every single place, but you got to find the ones that are right for you and you have to move forward.

Otherwise, eventually you will get stuck, and you don’t want to end up being the shop that has an old sign with a customer base that’s [inaudible 00:30:41] slowly. And like yourself, you mentioned your children, if you’re the type of person that’s looking to build a legacy type of business, something you could pass off to your kids, which when we survey our customers, I don’t remember the number, but it was a huge number, surprisingly, 80% or something like that, 85% said one of the main reasons they wanted to do this was something that passed to their family. So if you’re thinking about that, what you said is right on it. I think that was a great finishing thought.

So thank you so much. Hopefully people are going to find this really valuable. I know a lot of people will. So thanks everybody for listening to another episode of the Custom Apparel Startups podcast. You can go to and you can see this video and read some of the notes that we’re going to put in there. You can go to and see some of the equipment that we’ve talked about. And thanks again to Howard. We’ll see you again next time.

Howard Potter:

Marc Vila:



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