It is really important to have some basic understanding of fabric printing to make the most of the services we offer for your business. We offer choice and we offer quality – but to get the most of this we would like to let you in on some background details that can help you work with us to make the choices that work for you. Fabric printing has the ability to revolutionise your business – we would like to show you how.
We hope you enjoy our guide to fabric printing – this is everything we think you should know to ensure you get exactly what you need.
Fabric printing is, simply put, the process of applying colour to fabric. The point of the colour application is to make this colour permanent, and therefore making it resistant to washing and to friction. This printing may involve repetitive patterns into lengths of fabric or it might be a single defined design, such as you find on the front of t-shirts.
It is important to broaden your thinking about fabric printing. It may be that you want clothing items printed for your business, it maybe that you want some internal design for your offices with the logo of your company. Fabric printing covers all transference of colour design onto fabric – and can be much more imaginative than a logo printed onto a cap.
There are many different methods for printing onto fabric – these provide different finishes, at a different level of quality, and at a different price. Therefore, the first thing a business needs to know is the type of printing that will best suit the task you need fulfilling.
The method chosen for printing depends on many factors and there isn’t always an obvious approach. The best means of fabric printing depends on the fabric you are working with, the quantity of fabric, the quality of finish you require and, most importantly, the level of detail in the design.
There are five favoured printing methods that can be chosen, including direct to garment (DTG), sublimation printing, screen printing, heat transfer, and block print. Here is a basic introduction to these different printing methods.
DTG, as you would imagine from the name, takes the design and prints it directly on to the fabric using a specialised inkjet printer and water- based inks. The fabric will need to be pre-treated to ensure the colour absorbs quickly and neatly. Then, the design is passed through another machine that uses steam and heat to fix he design before it is washed and dried to remove any residual chemical.
This is the best method for particularly complex designs – that have a lot of colours and intricate details. For instance, if you wanted a photograph printed on the front of a t-shirt then you would use DTG. Using lighter fabrics such as 100% cotton gets the best results from DTG.
This is the cheapest approach if you only need a small amount of printing as the set-up costs are low. It is felt that this form of printing has revolutionised marketing and promotional wear for companies – because it is an effective way to produce low cost items, personalised to the company, that last much longer than paper printed products.
This is also a digital printing technique. Instead of printing directly onto the fabric, the design is printed onto a specialised paper and then transferred onto the fabric with heat. You get much better colours and distinct design with sublimation – it also works better on synthetic fabrics. However, it is more expensive than DTG – and cannot be used on cotton. You are likely to use this process with polyester products – so there can be cost saving in the fabric that is lost in the printing process.
There are two types of screen printing – there is flat bed and there is rotary. It is possible to fully or partially automate flat-bed screen printing – or can remain as a manual process – all be that a slow process. flat-bed printing involves uses a squeegee to transfer an ink paste through an engraved screen. Rotary printing, also known a cylinder printing, forces the paste through a screen using pressure. Screen printing can take some time – as only one colour can be applied at a time – therefore the nature of the design is usually much simpler than with DTG and sublimation techniques.
You would choose screen printing for large orders. The finish is more consistent across a large number of items than other printing methods. It is best for simple designs – and usually, ones that use solid colours, rather than requiring too much shading.
If you need a lot of printing onto fabric – then this is the most affordable method. The initial set-up cost is high – but this is where the majority of the cost lies. Therefore, if you print lots then this set-up cost is evened out across items. The more colours you use the more expensive it will become – as the fabric will need to be repeatedly passed through the machines.
You begin the heat transfer printing process by printing onto special paper and then transferring this design onto the fabric using heat. This is a brilliant means of transferring logos and labels onto fabric – as the finish is so clean and vivid. You would use it on sportswear and swimwear, where you wouldn’t want an embroidered label. It is better on synthetic fabrics – but it is also quite expensive and slow. This is a technique that is used for specific specialised fabric printing and may be offered if your technician feels it is appropriate.
This is a blast from the printing past. It dates back to the 5th century BC in the Far East and involves using wooden blocks with hand-carved designs. You would cover the block with ink before pressing this onto the fabric. The design is then fixed with a chemical. This is a method for the artisan – the skilled craftsman – and is unlikely one that you would choose for your business unless you were looking for a crafted, organic finish. It is worth knowing about block printing if you are looking for something extra special – as it produces a finish that cannot often be achieved with more modern, machine-based processes.
It is highly likely that the sort of printing you will use for your business is digital fabric printing. This is the act of transferring a digital file onto fabric – and uses a machine much like a large desktop inject printer. This is the most common for standard business print runs – producing the right quality levels at a reasonable cost.
Here are some tips to help you make decisions about your digital fabric printing.
There are four types of dye: acid dye, reactive dye, disperse dye and pigments. Pigments work on all materials but is expensive. Acid dye works well on silk, wool and nylon. You would choose disperse dye for polyester. The most common dye used is reactive dye – and this can be used on cotton, linen, rayon, silk and wool.
It is more than likely that you will choose reactive dye digital printing – as this is the most versatile technology – producing high standard finishes on silks and plant-based materials. However, if printing onto polyester you are more likely to use sublimation techniques. The only way to print white onto dark textiles is to use pigment printing – which can be a lot more expensive.
Your printing company should talk to you about the chemical treatments that should be used to make your fabric printing wash and rub resistant. You should also expect your printing to come back having been washed and dried to remove these chemicals before you receive the items.
The clearer you are in the design you desire the more you will be satisfied by the end result. This means choosing colour and fabrics well. When selecting colours, it is about having some fun – there is no restriction on the number or type of colour used in digital fabric printing. This is not screen printing – where the more colours you have the more expensive it becomes. DTG and sublimation techniques allow for a wide range of colours with no impact on end cost.
The fabric too is a matter of taste – but fit the fabric to the end use of the item. If it’s a scarf you might choose silk, if it is a curtain you would likely choose a heavy linen. You should be guided by practicality and cost – but also maybe the quality of finish you want your customer to perceive.
Remember that anything that can be printed onto paper can be printed onto fabric. Therefore, the preparation of your digital file for fabric printing is similar to the process of preparation used in normal paper-based printing.
However, as a rule, the better the file standard the better the design. The graphic should be to the correct scale and orientation for the design. It is likely you will be asked to provide a file format in RGB. It is best that the resolution of images is at least 150 dots per inch (DPI). The higher the resolution, the better the print, but the longer it will take for the fabrics to be printed. Professional printing usually demands 300 DPI – with formats such as Tiff, PDF, EPS and PSD.
If you are designing multiple graphics into a fabric and some are light, and some are dark – cluster the lighter graphics together and the same with the darker colours. This is the same principle as when you do your washing at home – it just helps with the clarity and quality of the end printing.
Always, always, always ask for a sample of your design. You have made a lot of decisions before getting to this point – design, colour, dye-type, layout, repeat of pattern – and more. If this is the first time you have printed the design, then you will be surprised how different it looks on the screen to how it looks on the fabric.
The alignment of all printers tends to differ too – so even if you have printed this design before – you cannot be sure it will come exactly the same. Therefore, you should ask for a test piece. Most companies will print a 20cm sample of repeated design or a single print onto a t-shirt – to allow for you to judge if it is what you expect. Just going for it with a large print run can lead to an expensive reprint!
So, now you know all the things you should consider when fabric printing – but why should you bother? Why would your business benefit from fabric printing? Here are the five main reasons you should consider fabric printing for your business.
You might have decided that personalised and branded fabrics for your business is just too expensive. However, it could be the best cost-saving marketing choice you make. By personalising garments for promotional and marketing purposes, you send your work out onto the street – to be seen by passers-by – like a walking billboard.
Using personalised fabrics can also help your exhibition stand out as being distinct. It offers something different – and suggests a company that is highly professional, offering the highest quality products in whatever sector you work. Remember how happy you were the last time you were given products in a textile bag at a trade show – it just feels like you are valued.
By using a fabric printing service, you can make sure all fabric printing is the same across products – whether it is garments or fabric backdrops – something that is absolutely essential in the world of marketing and promotion. It is the only way to ascertain brand consistency and awareness.
Imagine you are at a trade show or exhibition – you want the representatives to be in branded workwear – you want the backdrop, furnishings, and accessories all printed with the same design – on a piece of tactile fabric – high-quality, long-lasting = showing your class – this is why you choose fabric printing.
Our customers expect us to act ethically in our business practices. It is no longer acceptable to use methods that are unsustainable and wasteful. This means you need to consider if the materials you use in your business comes from a sustainable source. Fabrics are environmentally friendly – especially if using natural, plant-based fibres. They offer more ethical promotional materials than the mass production of leaflets or other paper-based marketing material. Even the printing process onto fabrics is more economical than onto paper – with much less chemical waste.
Cost-benefit analysis in business is essential. Therefore, when planning your printing you need to consider the impact of the pounds you are spending. The biggest budgets do not always have the biggest impact. It is possible to produce a large amount of materials for a low cost when printing on fabric – and the materials produced last much longer than paper-based products. Therefore, no matter the size of your budget – it makes sense to consider the value of fabric.
If cost is an issue – know that printing in pastels tends to be cheaper than printing in dark, heavy colours. There are always ways that you can be helped to make fabric printing affordable.
Fabric printing allows you to be creative and imaginative. The setting up processes are relatively cheap – so it is possible to experiment with a number of designs before selecting the one that suits. The size of orders can also be much more flexible. With paper-based printed materials it is often true that the batch sizes are prohibitively large – something that penalises smaller businesses. There are usually no such limits on fabric printing. This means you end up spending less for something with much higher quality and value.
Right now, you are probably thinking you could get 1000 leaflets for every 100 fabric-based promotional products. However, 1000 leaflets are only cheap if you actually have a thousand places where you would be putting your leaflet. Can you be certain that your leaflets will be read 1000 times – and how many of these will be wasted? Are you paying to fill up recycling centres or landfill sites?
The ultimate reasons to select fabric printing is because of the creative verve it demonstrates. People are attracted to fabrics – much more than paper – they want to touch a fabric and to look at the design more closely. Fabric products will draw people to look at them – and will not have the same dismissive quality as paper. Your fabric design can create a personal connection with your customer that other types of printing just do not achieve.
The most popular kind of fabric printing businesses tend to undertake is t-shirt and textile bags – but maybe you could afford to be more creative? There are so many options available. How about a tea towel if you sell kitchens? What about a swim cap if you are a personal trainer?
We have provided a lot of information that could guide your choices with a fabric print company – from types of dye, to types of fabric, to the different print methods available. If we were to simplify the message, here is what we would want you to take away:
We hope this guide has helped you to understand the issues and the values of fabric printing. It could be the choice that revolutionises your business, driving future success.
James Birch is the sales and marketing manager at Colour Graphics. He is an expert in quality printed marketing materials
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