While digital fabric printing may be a new arrival in the grand scheme of the format printing industry, the number of ways it can be applied to your print business is already substantial.
First invented in 1968, the inkjet printer is the catalyst for digital printing, and it became available to almost everybody in the 1990’s. As the technology behind inkjet printing developed, the variety of materials it could print on, increased rapidly, and soon included vinyl, paper, canvas, and fabric.
Most of the fabric you see today that is commercially available was rotary screen printed, and each print run usually runs a few thousand yards in length. The reason for these high minimum runs is that they cost a lot of time and money to set up, with unique designs requiring a separate screen for each different color. Digital printing is much faster and more cost efficient because it can handle much smaller design runs and there aren’t any screens to prepare. Digital print runs can even be as small as a yard or less.
Most fabric that we can buy in fabric stores has been dyed rather than printed even with traditional screen printing methods. Grand format print is bringing small batch opportunities for things like custom prints for athletic clothing, for furniture, for dresses, and more.Digital printing is much faster and more cost efficient because it can handle much smaller design runs and there aren’t any screens to prepare. Digital print runs can even be as small as a yard or less.
Each type of fiber used in digital printing has the ink made specifically for it. When the printing process begins, the fabric is sent through the printer on rollers where the ink is dripped onto the fabric in droplets by the thousands. After that, the ink on the fabric is cured using either steam or heat. Fabric that has been printed digitally will last as long as any other type of fabric printing as well, although particular types of inks are prone to fading after the first trip to the washing machine.
The design process for digital fabric printing is relatively simple and can be completed with almost any graphic design software on the market. Already existing photos or artwork can also be scanned and manipulated digitally into a pattern. The most common way designs are printed in seamless patterns that are repeated across the surface of the fabric. Designs can also fill entire yards without repeating but this can cause problems if the file is too big to process.
Some Useful Tips to Keep in Mind When Designing Digital Fabric Prints Are:
- Simplify the colors
- You will need to pick colors that work with your printer, and don’t expect them to show up on the screen exactly as they do in real life. Make sure you arrange your design so that you can quickly change your colors if you have to.
- Don’t forget the finish
- Remember that the print itself is not the finished product, and it still has to line up with the end product. Use a ruler to keep your print to scale.
- Test your designs
- Some fabrics have a very noticeable effect on your prints. If your fabric is translucent, you may need to double up your designs onto the fabric.
- Come up with your designs
- While it might be tempting to use an already existing print, they are usually copyrighted. If you can’t come up with your own, then hire someone to do it for you.
One of the main benefits of digital fabric printing is the variety of possibilities it gives you. Some of these include:
- Every yard of fabric that you have printed can be personalized for whatever color or type of item you desire.
- Unlike rotary printing, digital fabric printing allows you to print test samples to see what they will look like, even on the same day as the full print.
Ability to Keep With Current Trends
Digital fabric printing allows the printer to come up with designs and have them printed immediately after compared to rotary prints which take up to a year to hit the market after print. This allows printers the flexibility to keep up with the ever-changing trends customers of today demand.
While digital fabric printing does usually cost more than regular rotary printing, it offers so many more features and benefits that the pros far outweigh the cons. While those who choose to keep printing on rotary screens will save money in the short term, it’s the digital fabric printers that will profit in the long term, and eventually, take over the industry as rotary printing goes extinct.