Fabric/Textile Designing is an art of creating designs and patterns on fabrics be it woven, knitted or non-woven fabrics. It also includes putting embellishments on the fabric. Creating appealing designs and patterns on the fabric is an integral part of decorative art. It is done to make a piece of fabric.
Printing styles are classified as direct, discharge, or resist. In direct printing, coloured pastes are printed directly on the cloth. For discharge printing, the cloth is first dyed with a background colour, which is destroyed by reagents, or reducing agents, carried in a print paste. This action may leave the discharged design white on a coloured background, although print pastes may also contain colouring matters not destroyed by the discharging agent, producing a coloured design. In the resist process, the cloth is first printed with a substance called a resist, protecting these printed areas from accepting colour. When the cloth is dyed or pigment padded only those parts not printed with the resist are dyed. A special application of this technique, imparting plissé effects, is the printing of the fabric with a resist, followed by treatment with caustic soda.
1. Engraved Roller printing
Engraved roller printing refers to fabric printing in which dye is applied to the fabric, which is passed through design-engraved rollers in the printing machine.
The advantage of this printing is that the same high-quality print is made throughout the whole lot in the same way. A separate roller is used for different colors. The fabric, after it is printed is passed through processes of drying and steaming to set the dye.
You can print as much as 120000 yards of fabric in a day with a single machine and that too any intricate pattern you have in mind with precision and perfection.
2. Screen printing
Screen printing is a direct fabric printing method in which screens / mesh/ films are used to transfer patterns onto the fabric.
It involves the use of a porous mesh screen which is stretched over a frame. In screen printing, a stencil of the design is made out of porous nylon fabric. The areas which do not have prints are covered and then the screens are placed on the fabric and a wooden squeegee is used to work the color through the porous screen onto the fabric.
There are two types of screen printing – flat bed screen printing and rotary screen printing. Flat bed screen printing is expensive. Rotary screen printing is a mechanized version of flat screen printing and is the most commonly used textile printing technique commercially
An advantage of screen printing over thermal printing is that you can print on light colors as well as dark colored fabrics with the same intensity. Also you can make very large patterns with soft outlines like the one you have seen in silk scarves with this method
The main disadvantage of screen printing is that it is a labor-intensive method and hence printing small lots is not cost-effective with screen printing. The setting up cost of each job is slightly high but once that is set up you can make a lot of prints in a very cost-effective way.
Another thing is that solid colors are best printed with screen printing, so no photograph printing etc where you have many variations and gradations of colors.
If you have a business where you need to print a lot of fabric pieces screen printing is the best viable option.
Some people have a problem with screen printing because of the method used and the waste it produces.
What is Screen Printing?
This fabric printing technique is a lot like the stencil painting we do at home. It involves using specially made screens to apply ink to the fabric.
The screen is made by stretching a mesh on a wooden or aluminum frame. This screen will have the ink blocking stencil with the pattern or the design. The ink is applied with a squeegee and the stencil will ensure the ink passes through the mesh and make the correct image in the fabric
This is the best printing technique when you want a single design to be printed on lots of clothes – think of those racy slogans you read and enjoy on t-shirts on the streets. They are most probably mass printed this way
You can print on garment fronts, backs, sleeves, pockets, hoodies, hats. Even vinyl, wood etc are printed with the screen printing technique.
3. Stencil printing
This printing involves using stencils cut in the shape of the designs. The stencils are made of metal, wood, paper, or plastic. The dye/color is applied to the spaces cut inside the stencil.
The disadvantage is that it is labor intensive and takes a long time to print. It is mostly used for single-use purposes.
This is the method of creating prints with a block of wood, copper or other material bearing a design.
Metal or wooden blocks are carved in the design and dye is applied to the carved design. This is then pressed and applied to the face of the fabric.
5. Spray printing
As the name suggests, controlled spraying using specialized sprayers is used to transfer dye onto the fabric. A spray gun is used to force the color onto the fabric through screens.
6. Heat transfer or thermal transfer printing
This method involves a printing machine and a heat press machine to transfer designs on fabric. This is one of the most inexpensive methods used in garment printing business – think thousands of t-shirts printed this way with logos and messages.
In this printing process, the printing is done on paper first and then this design on the paper is transferred to the fabric surface by passing the paper and fabric through hot rollers.
There are some problems inherent in this method though. The main problem with this method is that the dye does not penetrate the fabric deep enough and the fabric may show through the design. Sometimes the colors fade after a wash and at times the transfer may peel or crack. Sometimes the fabric feels rough after the printing is done. At times the outline of transfer paper becomes visible on the fabric surface.
But because of the beautiful and clear cut designs made with this printing technique, this is used by many designers
7. Direct to garment digital printing (DTG)
This is the process in which a special inkjet printer with special ink is used to print directly on fabric from the computer directly. The artwork and the dye is heat set with a heat press or tunnel dryer.
The advantage of direct to garment digital printing is that you can make any number of prints, even small lots at low cost and you get realistic looking pictures printed onto the fabric.
The disadvantage is that the effect may wear off with repeated washes. It is also best when used on lighter colored fabric with darker ink colors. There are also some fabrics which are not suited for this printing. Another disadvantage is that as quantity increases cost increases exponentially.
But the fast and easy application and versatility make this a favourite method of printing especially for making samples.
8. Printing with inkjet printers
This is a homemade version of the direct to garment printing. An ordinary inkjet printer is used to print on fabric pieces. Checkout the post on inkjet printing on fabric for more details.
9. Sublimation transfer printing
This method involves a sublimation dye which is transferred to the fabric with heat. An upgrade of the earlier mentioned heat transfer method of printing.
You need a sublimation printer (or an inkjet printer that used sublimation ink), sublimation ink, and a heat press machine for this printing technique.
This method is definitely costlier than the thermal transfer method as the ink is very costly. But the resultant prints are very vivid and attractive.
A major disadvantage of this method is that it is not possible to print onto cotton fabrics (the best fabrics are 100% polyester) and if you want to use this method for printing onto the cotton fabric you will have to apply an appropriate polyester coating on the cotton fabric surface.
Though sublimation printing is supposed to be very durable and lasts a long long time it may wear off with exposure to direct sunlight. But that is a long way off
10. Photo Printing
In this type of printing the fabric is coated with a chemical ( Liquid photo emulsion) that is sensitive to light and then any photograph may be printed on it.
Blueprinting is one such technique that is used very frequently. This was a method invented by Sir John Herschel and with this, you can make an impression of most objects on your pretreated fabric. White /light-colored prints are made on blue background.
11. Pigment Printing
Pigment printing is one of the most popular printing techniques for use on cellulose fibres, making them ideal for use on natural fabrics. It is one of the fabric printing methods which can be used on synthetic materials as well, which makes it pretty versatile. It is a localised technique which involves applying the dyes to the part of the fabric that you want your design to be seen. This is done over and over and slowly builds up the colour.
12. Reactive Printing
Reactive printing is another of the heat activated fabric printing methods. It is done by pre-coating the fabrics and then and using a binder (similar to that of pigment printing) and a printing additive. It prints a dye or wax onto the fabric, and the heat reaction permanently bonds the image to the textile. Put simply, it is similar to coating the fabric with the design and then steaming it to create a reaction which bonds the design to the material.