Fabric printing is the process of applying a pattern or a design to the fabric with dye. This is a very old process, dating back to 3rd Century in China. In the olde days, people used carved woodblocks for printing letters or designs on fabrics with naturally-sourced dyes. This block printing method is still being practiced in certain parts of the world, but the modern process has evolved through the years and digital fabric printing techniques are discovered.
How Digital Textile Printing Works?
Digital textile printing works quite similar to your inkjet printer at home. This is because digital textile printers are essentially the same as inkjet printers, only larger. There are two different types of digital printing used by manufacturers. The first is sublimation digital printing and the second is direct digital printing.
While the technology is very similar, the results and processes are not the same. Sublimation printing uses a specific type of coated paper. You print your design onto that paper and transfer it to your fabric via a process called fusing, or heat transfer.
The other method is direct printing. You coat your fabric with coating chemicals before printing and just print your design directly to the coated fabric. Then, you dry the fabric and treat it with steam and then wash, dry and iron it.
How Digital Printing on Fabric Came Into Reality?
Transfer printing is not a new concept, and acutally it has been around since the 1950s, while digital printing on fabric is a relatively new process. Manufacturers started seriously experimenting with digital printing in the 1990s. Although there have been attempts made in late 1980s to use digital printing as an alternative to the analog screen printing, these did not occur to be very viable. However, with the discovery of dye-sublimation printing in the 1990s, the process it took off. Nowadays, manufacturers use inkjet printing directly on the fabrics, too.
Where Are Digital Printed Fabrics Used?
Digital printing fabric is used as decorative upholstery fabrics. Because almost anything can be printed in high-resolution, people can easily find digital printed items suited to their taste. It can also be used in smaller and decorative areas such as placemats, runners, throw pillows and cushions.
Apart from homeware, they can also be used in promotional materials such as banners, flags, t-shirts and more. As they are cheaper to manufacture and can be printed to accomodate any design, promotional uses for digital printed fabrics are being preferred by businesses throughout the world.
Other Fabric Printing Methods
Nowadays, screen printing and digital fabric printing, also known as direct-to-garment printing, are the most common printing methods around. Screen printing is realized with a mesh screen stencil. A special ink solution is poured over a blade, and it is then passed onto the fabric below through the screens.
While not desirable, there is also heat printing. This is a fast, yet lower-quality method of printing. It makes the fabric stiffer, makes ironing almost impossible and the prints easily get washed away or break into chunks.
Why Digital Printing on Fabric is Better?
In some cases, digital printing on fabric is preferable to other types of fabric printing styles. First and most importantly, digital printing provied better resolution quality in fabric printing. While the resolution obtained in traditional screen printing is 540 dpi, the resolution obtained in digital printing fabric can go up to 2880 dpi, which allows more details to be processed on the fabric. More dots mean more intricate details able to be printed onto the fabric.
Another advantage is the cost. In terms of production costs, equipment such as the molding room and dye house required for traditional screen printing, are not needed in digital printing fabric production. All that is required is one pattern machine and one paper fabric transfer machine. Which results in lower finished costs. Also, because digital prints are made to order, there are no minimum order quantities.
Another big advantage of digital prints is the time. Screen printing can take a long time. However, digital printing is quick, simple, and cost effective and provides high-quality. These features of digital printing make this method the best choice for high-detailed items to be ordered in lower quantities.
What are the Possibilities?
When it comes to digital fabric printing, the possibilities are endless. With the rise of this printing method in the last decades, the process became simpler, the quality exponentially grew and now, digital printing is the most preferred textile printing option.
In the past, digital printed fabrics had low quality and mostly synthetic. However, nowadays there are more advanced digital printing techniques and the equipment is used every day by almost all manufacturers. These machines are able to transfer prints directly onto even the most premium fabrics. Also, the resolution and quality of prints occur to be better than traditional screen printing, which is a big plus. You can get almost every design printed onto any kind of fabric with a digital printing method. So, when it comes to the possibilities, the sky and your imagination are the limits.
What Does the Future Hold?
The future is looking bright for digital printed fabrics. Machine costs are coming down, the durability of the inks are much better, there are virtually no limits to what you can print and it is more environmentally friendly. This is very important in this day and age.
With digital printed fabric, manufacturers use minimal amounts of chemicals, and the products are made to order, so there is almost no leftover fabric which means there is less waste. This is very important for various reasons. First, digital printing is very cost effective, there are no minimum orders, also no waste means the prices and quality is consistent. Lastly and most importantly, it is good for the environment.
So, in the future, it is fair to say that digital printing will have even higher quality and become more affordable. The quality will go up even further and it is easy to see that digital is here to stay for a long time.
Frequently Asked Questions about Fabric Printing
What does digital print mean for fabric?
Digital print is a fabric printing process. It is kind of like the inkjet printer in your living room. But instead of paper, these machines print the desired design or pattern onto fabrics.
Which fabric is used for digital print?
Almost any fabric can be used for digital prints. While polyester and nylon were the only fabrics you could print back digitally in the day, nowadays you can use almost any fabric, even the natural ones like cotton and silk.
Does digital printing on fabric last for a long time?
Yes, it does. The water-based dyes used for digital printing can last for quite a long time. However, if you want your digital printed items to last even longer, you have to wash them in colder water. This way, they can last for years to come.