Let’s Go To Print!

Published On: April 3, 2023

Here’s a very common collection development scenario: you, as a 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 wonderful your samples are going to look when they’re all sewn up.

Unfortunately, this perfect fabric-of-your-dreams is only available from the fabric vendor in maybe 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 can be printed, and if they offer a “base” color that will work as a starting point for a print.

While the fabric content of your fabric and your color requirements will be the ultimate deciding factor, technology in the printing industry has come a long way; you might be surprised at all the options now available.

A great place to start is with 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, at lower minimums.

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 is a natural fiber that 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. The same caveat holds true for viscose.

Another natural fiber that can be used is silk. Silk can be digitally printed with reactive ink (when high color-fastness is priority) or with acid inks (if color gamut is priority).

Other fabrics that are good candidates include polyamide lycra (often used for swimwear), preferably with acid inks.  By using acid inks, you obtain the highest color brilliance, wash fastness and resistance to saltwater and chlorine.

Over the last couple of years, polyester has become an increasingly popular fabric within the fashion industry. The most popular digital printing technique for polyester is  sublimation printing.

Printing on wool with digital textile printing is possible, but 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 pale colors.

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

Traditional screen printing’s main advantage over digital printing is cost, but only if the runs are large enough. It requires much more manpower to produce one design. But the per yard cost can be very low if 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. Designs without motifs running across the width of the fabric that can be used as a joint line must be printed on a rotary screen printing machine or digital printing machine. Screen printing is a good choice for items that have a single design motif, such as a graphic tee shirt.

As with any print project, always get a “strike off” from your printer to approve before printing the entire bolt. Oh, 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, reflects the color and gives 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.

Having a Fabric Treatment Manager on your 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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