Let’s Go To Print!

Here’s a very common collection development scenario that we encounter almost daily at Teg: you, as an emerging designer, discover a fabric you just love. It has the perfect hand and texture. Maybe it drapes like a dream, and you can already see in your mind’s eye how stunning your samples are going to look. 

Unfortunately, your fabric vendor offers this perfect fabric-of-your-dreams in just a couple of solid colors. Sadly, you don’t really like any of them and, to be honest, you’d actually prefer a design motif to a solid anyway.

Well, before you take a pass, why not consider printing? First, check with your fabric vendor if the fabric you love is a good candidate for printing, and if they offer a “base” color that will work well as a starting point for your print. While you’re at it, ask them to recommend the preferred print method for your fabric: digital or screen?

While the fiber content of your fabric – along with your design and color requirements – will be the ultimate deciding factor, technology in the printing industry has come a long way. So read on, there are some new and innovative methods to printing that may not have occurred to you. 

Digital Printing

Digital printing is an excellent option to traditional screen printing. First of all, it does not require design engraving and separation, screen making, or color mixing. The setup time for digital printing is typically very short. And lastly, digital printing produces smoother detailed prints than traditional screen printing methods.

Also, digital printing does not have limitations on the number of colors printed. In fact, your color options are virtually limitless.

So which fabrics are a good choice for digital printing? 

  • Cotton. This natural fiber is loved for its high moisture control, comfort, and durability. To obtain the finest quality possible, most digital printers use reactive inks since this type of ink provides the highest wash fastness for prints on cotton.
  • Viscose. Due to the beautiful drape of viscose, designers love to work with it. And now, with new advances in sustainability, there are some eco-friendly viscose blends on the market. The process for digital printing on viscose is virtually the same as for cotton.
  • Silk. Another natural fiber, silk, can be digitally printed with reactive ink (when high color-fastness is priority) or with acid inks (if a color gamut is your priority).
  • Polyamide lycra. Often used for yoga wear and swimwear, his fabric is also a good candidate for digital printing. The exact method of digital printing varies, and it’s always best to test first. By using acid inks, you’ll obtain the highest color brilliance, wash fastness and resistance to saltwater and chlorine.
  • Polyester. Recycled polyester has become an increasingly popular fabric within the fashion industry. The most popular digital printing technique for polyester is  sublimation printing. 
  • Wool. While it is possible to digitally print on wool, this largely depends on the type of wool you are using. If you want to print on “hairy” wool – meaning a type of wool which has a lot of loose threads sticking out – the print heads have to be positioned as far away from the fabric as possible. Wool printing requires a level of printing expertise not always readily available at your average print house.
  •  Mixed fabrics. Fabrics consisting of two different types of materials – can sometimes challenge digital printing machines. That’s because only one type of ink at a time can be used in digital textile printing. So you have to use the ink that is suitable for the material that makes up most of the fabric. This can cause the ink not to stick to the other material that is used in the fabric, which could result in uneven or pale colors. 

In short, the question “which fabric is best for digital printing?” really depends on your desired result. Almost all fabrics can be used as digital printing materials, as long as the right inks are being used.

Screen Printing

The main advantage to traditional screen printing over digital printing is cost. Screen printing does require more manpower to produce one design, but the per-yard cost can be attractively low if you are printing larger runs. In terms of quality, digital printing produces finer detail, but screen printing produces deeper dark colors.

Design limitations will usually dictate which machine your design will be screen printed on – rotary, flatbed or digital. Screen printing is an excellent choice for items that have a single design motif, such as a graphic tee shirt.

As far as fabric choices go, you’ve got a lot of options here as well. Let’s discuss a few:

  • Cotton. Cotton is ideal for screen printing because it absorbs colors well. It’s also the most commonly used fabric in screen printing.
  • Silk. Silk typically has a smooth finish. It’s one of the reasons designers and consumers love it. That inherently smooth finish means there’s  less risk of ending up with an uneven design compared to other fabrics. Keep in mind though, silk is a bit resistant to absorbing color. Therefore your design will have a muted, pastel look. This sounds like a negative feature, but depending on your particular design, it might be a positive one!
  • Wool. Wool absorbs colors well in the screen printing process. However, due to the thickness of the fabric, it can often be difficult to ensure the ink is evenly absorbed into every inch of a wool item. Also, moisture and heat also often cause wool to felt, something to watch out for.
  • Linen and Hemp. Some beautiful prints are created by screen printing on these natural fabrics, and they both typically take color well. 
  • Natural/Synthetic Blends. Synthetic fabrics are man-made and include, for example, polyester, nylon and viscose. Many fabric mills combine natural and synthetic fibers as a way to offset the drawbacks of each of these two types of fabric. Items made from these natural/synthetic blends are excellent candidates for screen printing.

What Is a “Strike Off” and Why Do You Need It?

As with any print project, always get a “strike off” from your printer to approve before printing the entire bolt. And what’s a strike off, you ask? A strike off refers to a printed fabric sample, created and dyed to your requirements. It’s basically a mock-up of your pattern or print so you can assess how your chosen fabric takes to the printing technique and reflects the color. It also allows you the opportunity to assess the scale of your artwork once translated into actual fabric.

So isn’t it nice to know that your fabric choices aren’t limited by exactly what is available from your fabric vendor? Thanks to technology – along with a little creativity and ingenuity – you don’t need to sacrifice design to get the fabric quality you need.

In our upcoming Specialty Fabric Blog Series, we’ll be talking to you about print matching and how it affects your production patterns and markers. In the meantime, please talk with your pattern maker if you plan on using prints. Printed fabrics can have a major impact on the development process

Also, having a Fabric Treatment Manager on your development and production team can make a big difference in getting your fabrics just right. We’d love to talk with you in more detail about how we can help. Feel free to reach out to us at https://tegintl.com/get-in-touch/ or give us a call at 800-916-0910.

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