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DIGITAL PRINTING ON FABRIC

 

Digital printing on fabric is also known as digital textile printing. Here is the one stop complete guide to know about digital fabric printing in detail.

 

This guide will help you, doesn’t matter if you are just a beginner or you are an expert.

 

I bet you one thing:

 

You are going to know a lot on digital fabric printing just by reading this step by step guide.

Yes! You will.

 

You don’t have to invest any of your valuable time in reading anything else on the web after this!

Why I wrote this guide?

 

I wanted to know about digital textile printing myself when I got started, and was trying to find the best place to learn everything about it and so I created one for people like me, who are interested to know about digital printing on fabric.

This might save you some time.

  1. What is Fabric Printing?

  2. How Digital Printing on Fabric Came Into Reality?

  3. What is Digital Printing on Fabric?​

  4. How Digital Textile Printing Works?

  5. Other Fabric Printing Methods

  6. Why Digital Printing on Fabric is Better?

  7. What are the Possibilities?

  8. What Future Holds?

Here you go:

  What is Fabric Printing ?  

Well if you are like me who didn’t know what is fabric printing when I got started, here’s the answer:

Fabric printing is the process of applying colored patterns and designs onto fabric.

 

In fabric printing one or more colors are applied to it in certain parts only, and in sharply defined patterns.

In fabric printing one or more colors are applied to it in certain parts only, and in sharply defined print patterns.

Here in the image the repeated print pattern is shown. The pattern is repeated from all sides.

In a properly printed fabric, the colors are affixed to the fiber, so that it may not be affected by washing and friction.

 

Now you may ask if dying is same as printing?

 

I will say:

 

Dyeing is similar to printing but in dyeing the whole fabric is uniformly covered with one colour, where as in printing, repeat patterns are getting printed all over or on certain part of the fabric.

 

Printed Fabric

Dyed Fabric

I think we have discussed enough about fabric printing.

Now ! The important question:

  How Digital Printing on Fabric Came Into Reality ?  

It all started way back in 1968, when the inkjet printing technology used in digital printing was first patented.

Desktop Printer

In the 1990s, ink-jet printers became widely available for paper printing applications – you might even have one on your office desk right now!

 

The technology has continued to develop with time.

The technology is evolving so much that now there are lot of big companies manufacturing specialized wide-format “digital printing machines” or let me say “digital printers” which can handle a variety of substrates – everything from paper to canvas to vinyl, and of course, fabric.

 

That’s how digital printing on fabric got its start.

Now that you have got the overview of the subject, we will move a little deep:

  What is Digital Printing on Fabric ?  

Digital printing on fabric is printing your puppy’s picture on your cloth. Seriously?

“Yup!”

 

Sorry for the bad analogy but that’s the truth in some sense!

 

Here is all you need to know:

 

“Digital fabric printing is act of printing digital files onto fabric using ink jet based printers.”

Digital printing on fabric is a new and innovative process that involves printing a design, a pattern or an image directly from the computer onto the desired media by way of a large format digital printing machine, aka an ink-jet printer.

There are mainly two successful digital printing methods:

1>Sublimation Digital Printing

2>Direct Digital Printing

 

The technology behind both printers is same, but the media that is to be fed into the printing machine and the processes to get the fabric ready differs in both methods.

We will learn about these methods in our next topic:

  How does Digital Textile Printing Work ?  

As we discussed there are two kind of digital printing methods:

 

1. How Sublimation Digital Printing Works?

 

Step 1> Ready Your Design:

 

RIP your digital print pattern, and get it ready for printing.

 

Step 2> Printing:

 

Print mirrored reflection of digital file on specially coated paper. Your print emerge as the print head passes right to left and back again across the paper, laying the ink on the paper in layers over a number of passes.

Sublimation Digital Printer

Step 3> Fusing / Heat Transfer:

Printed coated paper is then transferred onto any polyester-based fabric under extreme heat and pressure using heat transfer machine.

Few things to know here:

-The coated paper is also known as heat transfer sublimation paper.

-The process of transferring the print on fabric under extreme heat and pressure is known as fusing method.

-The heat transferred machine could be either oil-based or electric.

2. How Direct Digital Printing Works?

 

Step 1> Pre Treatment:

 

Apply coating chemical to the fabric before printing. This is also known as padding. Padding is useful because coating chemical holds and penetrates the reactive dyes better.

 

Step 2> Ready Your Design:

 

Choose the profile according to the fabric, and RIP the design to get it ready to print.

 

Step 3> Printing:

 

Your fabric is placed flat on the sticky printer belt. Coated fabric is then fed into the direct digital printer for printing. The fabric is then gets printed. This is the bit where we look a like a cat watching the tennis

 

Step 4> Drying:

 

Your printed fabric gets dried by the heater attached with the digital printer.

 

Step 5> Post Treatment:

 

The printed fabric is gone through the streaming, washing, drying, and ironing. This is the most vulnerable process. Each fabric requires a different length and quantity of steam depending on a number of variables including fabric type and length of fabric.

 

Few things to know here:

 

-In traditional screen printing the thick ink ‘fixer’ is incorporated into the ink itself, but with digitally printing this fixer would clog up printer’s micro-sized ink heads, so the fixer must be applied to the fabric before it is printed.

 

-When your fabric is placed on the printer, the ink head is set to the correct height for the fabric; there are only a few millimeter clearances over the fabric. This head height is important not least to protect the ink heads but it also affects the crispness of the printing.

 

-Steaming process: In order to fix the fabric it must be steamed so that the printed ink can bond to the fibers of the fabric.

 

-The fabric needs to be washed in order to remove any excess ink after the steaming process, further fix the print and wash out the excess fixer which has now done its job. The fabric is then dried and ironed along with our final quality control check.

As we know, both of these processes are similar to the computer controlled paper printers used for office applications but on a somewhat complex scale where numerous variables like:

  • Design,

  • Fabric GSM (Grams per Square Meter),

  • Fabric type,

  • Color management,

  • Printer brand,

  • Print-head,

  • Number of head passes,

  • RIP software

  • Temperature and Humidity,

  • Pre-post treatment chemicals and equipment,

  • Ink / Dyes

These variables are managed to give you the best possible outcome on fabric.

Dude! There are lot of variables at play here.

 

Yes, unfortunately there are.

Digital fabric printing is NOT a perfect science and there will be slight lot-to-lot variation.

It is still better. Why? See some traditional methods:

  Other Fabric Printing Methods  

 

There are lot of different kinds of printing methods used for printing textiles. Mainly there are three other than digital printing:

1. Screen Printing:

Screen printing is by far the most common printing method today. There are two basic types of screen printing processes: rotary screen printing and flat (bed) screen printing.

 

In this method, a blade (squeegee) squeezes the printing paste through openings in the screen onto the fabric.

 

Normally, with each slide of the frame, a repeat of the design is printed.

2. Roller Printing:

 

Roller printing is also known as cylinder printing or machine printing.

 

This method is machine version of block printing, engraved copper cylinders or rollers are used in place of hand carved blocks as you can see in the image.

 

With each revolution of the roller, a repeat of the design is printed.

3. Block Printing:
 

Block Printing is also known as Hand Block Printing or Wood Block Printing.

The blocks are usually made from wood or metal. The block design is hand carved. The print paste dyestuff is applied to the block design on the face of the block, and the block is then pressed down firmly by hand on fabric surface.

 

The process is repeated with different designs and colors until the pattern is complete.

 

You might be wondering:

 

Oh man! All these printing processes look so old-fashioned, inefficient, and laborious.

 

I will say:

Our feelings are mutual! :-)

And that leads us to our next topic:

  Why is Digital Fabric Printing Better?  

There are lot of benefits for digital printing but following are the main benefits digital printing on fabric brings to the textile industry:
 

  • Print on demand, print as much as you need

  • Low cost start up

  • Needs less operational space

  • Quality of printing: high printing accuracy, sharp printing

  • Savings on electricity

  • Reduced water consumption

  • Lower need of resources enables faster production cycles

  • Fashion designers can print low quantities, increased number of niche products hence more creativity in apparel industry

  • Personalization of home and household fabrics according to consumer requirements

  • Needs less education as compared to traditional printing

  • Wide range of Color variety, unlimited colors

  • Cost savings from absence of ongoing need of plates or drums

  • Print short runs without any preparation

  • Short time needed to design a textile print pattern

  • Low inventory levels for fabric, ink, and other chemicals

  • Reduced time to introduce new designs or garments, less Time needed to get the product ready for market (Fast Fashion)

  • Low cost for making a prototype of an apparel

 

Yes. This is CRAZY!

 

Now:

  What are the Possibilities ?  

Simple! Wherever the printed fabric is needed!

 

Seriously!

 

The market comprises many different applications and requirements. The intended use of the fabric is the most important starting point to identify exactly what’s needed to produce a specific end-product. A fabric may vary from natural yarns to synthetic fibers.

 

Think about this:

 

  • Clothing

  • Fabric banners

  • Flags

  • Tents

  • Sails

  • Car covers

  • Curtains

  • Window blinds

  • Upholstery

  • Light shades

  • Table cloths

  • Napkins

  • Chair covers

  • Company Uniforms

  • Swimming Costumes

  • Sports Jerseys

  • T-shirts

  • Indian Kurtis

  • Leggings

  • Canvas Shoes

You will say, “PLEASE STOP NOW! The list is endless.”
 

Okay, okay!

 

Just wanted to get your eye balls wide open on the possibilities.

 

Now we will go to the next question:

  What Future Holds ?  

Dumb question!

 

Because, digital textile printing is the future. Right?

100%.

 

How?

Let me try to answer this logically:

 

In the textile industry, the majority of fabric printing is done in traditional method but there is a growing interest for digital printing on fabrics.

 

While fabric is still about clothing and home-use fabrics, the fabric industry as a whole is one of the largest printing industries in the world with great diversity.

 

The demand for Digital Fabric Printing for apparel and home furnishings is rapidly growing owing to the numerous technology developments and increasing adoption of the technology.

 

Digital fabric printing is really a big deal.

 

First of all, there is a big practical aspect to it.

 

Imagine this:

 

“Regular fabric patterns were created through screen printing that required individual screens for every color used and large yardage.”

Simply put, you have to make expensive metal screen plates for every individual color, and will have to print lot of fabric and waste a lot of time and you would still be restricted in your choice.

Considering fashion changing so fast, guess what happens to the plates after the fabric gets printed?

Garbage!

You don’t need it no more because you won’t be printing the same print pattern for years.

With fashion changing so fast in cities like Paris, New York, London, Los Angeles, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Berlin, Madrid, Tokyo, Mumbai, and Delhi, consumers wanting for more exclusivity and customization, what do you think about the scope of digital printing?

If you are like me then you will say “It is going to SKY-ROCKET!”

You’re right!

Brands like Zara, and H&M has already integrated the concept of fast fashion which helped them bringing the fashion from the fashion models walking on ramps to the consumer’s closet very fast.

No wonder, digital printing on fabric is at the core of their supply chain.

How promising is the future?

 

Digital fabric printing is always pushing the boundaries of innovation and has come long way since its inception.

 

One thing is sure:

If you have been to any textile exhibition, or a major trade show, you will find digital textile printing a HOT industry to jump in. In fact SUPER HOT!

Ever Noticed? Of course you did!

More and more traditional wide-format printing equipment manufacturers are introducing units that will print on fabrics.

Lot of printing machine manufacturers has been successful in making advanced machines but still there are many flaws in the current printing machines but as the time passes more and more printing equipment makers will try to make the best machines possible that will reduce the flaws we have at this time.

As the machines gets lower flaws in printing then more buyers will buy digital printed fabrics. That is how the industry will evolve like any other industry has evolved.

Digital fabric printing is a growing market and will continue to grow as a viable mainstream option in the specialty imaging community, also it will be getting a bigger market share in apparel and home furnishing segment.

It is important to see it as a complimentary technology to conventional printing as compared to a competition.

Conventional printing will continue to be used for fabric products which are produced in long runs and where time-to-market is not a critical issue.

 

Digital printing may be able to take over conventional printing no time soon but if the cost of raw materials goes down, which eventually will, because with time the demand will rise and competition will be increased between manufacturers of inks, machines, chemicals, and heat transfer paper.

 

In India, there is a slow and steady growth in digital fabric printing we can see right now.

 

What’s the bottom line?

 

Digital fabric printing will definitely change the landscape of fabric printing in India, and also worldwide!

 

Well! That’s all about digital printing on fabric!

  Who can Benefit From This Guide ?  

 

This guide is useful for all fashion enthusiasts, crafters, DIYers, fashion designers, fabric wholesalers, fabric retailers, manufacturers, factory owners, surface pattern artists, fashion bloggers who cares about their readers and want to give them heads up on the latest and interesting textile printing method.

At Hollyflower, we provide fully customized digital fabric printing to turn your imagination into a reality.

Are you ready to get to get a digital printing ride with your apparels?

At the end I have few questions for you:

  • How will digital fabric advances impact your business?

  • Have you made your own designs?

  • Have you tried digital printing on fabric?

  • What has your experience been like?

  • Any suggestions?

I will be constantly updating this article, as I learn more.

I am excited to hear about what you have to say!

I will try answering as much friends as I can.

If you liked this guide and you know someone who can benefit from this then share it and show them your love. :-)