“Digital Fabric Printing 101”
So, maybe you have just started your brand or you want to start a brand, have very minimal experience or understanding of digital printing on fabric, so if that’s the case, then this is for you!
Simply there are two types of printing being traditional rotary screen printing and digital printing.
Let’s start with Rotary Screen Printing, so the easiest non tech way to explain it is that the design/ pattern film is wrapped around a cylinder that has dye placed inside and rotates over the fabric which then prints the design/pattern on to the fabric as you can see below.
Courtesy of www.kbc.de
European fabric printing mills usually can print a maximum of twelve colours using this process. However they can reduce the amount of screens to make it more cost effective by combining colours and editing the design in some areas. This type of printing is infamous for volume retailers such as Primark or Walmart as some examples. This is used for the “Pile It High, Sell It Cheap” business model and the way large numbers of product are sold at very competitive prices. This is basically just answering the need for low priced fast fashion.
Chinese factories in recent years have developed their technology and offer something called Semi Digital. Firstly there is nothing digital about this, however because of the cheaper labour prices and cost generally they are able to offer more cylinders/screens which can go up to twenty in some cases. This gives the design/pattern a more digital look, it’s still not comparable to digital printing, however good enough for the fast fashion department stores and garment wholesalers. Chinese printing factories need volume orders as they work on low profit margins which in previous years was a very good business.
With loss of volume orders in recent years and Chinas growing domestic retail market the prices have increased significantly. Digital Printing fabric is now very competitively priced in Turkey and on some qualities like 100% polyester chiffon are very near to those of China.
Digital Fabric Printing is pretty much as you would think, a design from your laptop or smart device is electronically digitally printed. Just think of the printer on your desktop, it’s just a much larger and technically advanced version. There are many wonderful features to having your fabric printed in this manner and here are some basic pointers for those who want to know a little more.
Digital Fabric Printing has actually been around since the 80s, it did not become the method of choice due to the high cost, even if the printing was incredible. Just think back to the 80s (if you were around then, wont bore you too much if you weren’t) anyway after the 1980-81 recession it was a time where there was a good supply of money and retail sales were exceptional. Unfortunately nothing lasts forever as they say and there has been a continuous decline in retail sales which brings us to 2021 where some of the leading brands such as Oasis Stores, Top-Shop and Debenhams have gone out of business in their original form. The huge amount of competition verses declining customer purchases has pushed many low price discounters also out of business
The last few years has seen expediential growth of etailer start-ups as a new market emerges where branded premium and luxury fashion product is increasingly desired. The retail selling price of a premium product no matter if it is fashion, interior or even fashion accessories is much higher than the discounters who use higher margins.
As the years have progressed, the machines have got larger, faster, more eco-friendly and more energy efficient driving the price down. Now you will find that digital fabric printing on anything from recycled woven polyester chiffon to organic cotton elastane jersey has dropped in price incredibly, around a 40% price reduction in under twenty years.
MOQ or Minimum Order Quantity is what the printer will tell you is the minimum the factory can print of a design. As a rule of thumb Turkey & the EU producers will be less for rotary screen fabric printing than China and the Far East. Something like 1000mts of a colourway.
For Digital Fabric Printing MOQ there is not much difference between the EU and The Far East. This is because digital printing is not based on a labour cost. It’s based upon the energy cost and the greige or grey fabric (AKA the raw material cost)
The Far East does have a slight advantage because many fabrics are produced and then sold onto EU Fabric Printers which gives them a price disadvantage straight away.
However Turkey produces incredible amounts of both knitted and woven fabrics, so it’s more of a straight fight.
Turkey if anything has a slight advantage for premium brands, simply as the quality level of making a garment generally is superior to China as an example. Another point to note is shipping costs to the EU and UK is much cheaper and faster than The Far East production.
Some dedicated digital fabric mills in Turkey can even ship from five days and if you find the right printer the mins can be very low. As the digital machine is highly intelligent, it will only print exactly what is needed, with rotary screen printing there is huge waste of chemicals and dye which is not very eco-friendly. This is increasing the eco-friendly sustainability issues the world is having in many ways from the chemicals used through to the coal fire energy China uses giving them the tag as the “world’s number one contributor to global warming” based on its reliance on fossil fuel energy.
Sublimation (AKA Paper Printing)
This is where a design is printed on transfer paper, this then will get heat pressed onto polyester rich fabric which should have something like a minimum of 80% polyester in the fabric mix, can be mixed with cotton or viscose as a couple of other examples.
Any design printed on 100% polyester fabrics will look incredible showing every intricate detail and 3D photographic looks where needed.
There are also now recycled polyester fabrics which is a sustainable quality option and will help with your Carbon Offset.
NB: when you use sublimation printing remember with the thicker & heavier qualities you will hardly get any penetration of the print through the surface. So if you are making a shirt as an example, when you turn the cuff the other side it will not be printed and will be the raw colour of the greige fabric, being white or off white.
Firstly this type of inkjet printing uses nozzles that simply spray the exact amount of the desired dye onto the fabric to create the printed design/pattern with quality in the main being very good.
Unlike sublimation the dye does penetrate through the surface of the fabric and is the main method of digital fabric printing which comes with varying options dependent on the base.
Natural & Semi Natural fibres like cotton and viscose are printed using reactive dyes
Synthetics (manmade fibres) such as polyester are printed using disperse dyes
Nylon & Silk are printed using acid dyes, this brings out the colours with incredible sharpness and Clarity (silk can also be printed using reactive dyes, however acid is far superior)
Cotton & Most other qualities also have a possibility to be printed using pigment dyes. This type of printing is where the surface of the fabric is printed with t-shirts being a good example. The process also will not stand up to the same continuous washability that reactive and acid printing will offer using inkjet.
|Fabric Composition||Process Used|
|Polyester||Sublimation or Disperse|
|Cotton, Viscose, Tencel, Hemp, Linen, Silk||Reactive|
(Which it works on much better)
Digital printing is amazing and is being used to print on pretty much any fabric these days. Some qualities look better than others, some qualities make the print look extra bright or extra dull, always do your tests before going to bulk production.
Disclaimer: The above information is a guide, it is not advice and the results you get from printing on all fabrics depends on the fabric, the dye, the printer and most of all on the digital file given to the printer.
Where Can I Find A Digital Fabric Printer?
If you want to find a digital printer in Turkey or the EU please secure message us here and we will recommend some of our customers and friends who can help you.
So if you want digital printed swimwear fabrics, digital print dress fabrics or even interior fabrics send us a message and we will try and hook you up.