Printing on Fabric

How to print on fabric? This will be the key question looked at in this article. Although this is a huge subject we will focus here on how to select the right fabric for the right market and what print technology is best suited for the purpose.

The fabric you choose will depend on the site it is to be displayed at, the type of image that is to be portrayed, the capabilities of the printing machine and the amount of money allocated to the project. Once this is decided then you will be faced with printing on fabric either using a direct to textile printing machine or a paper transfer method.

Currently the main types of ink used for printing onto polyester fabrics are either disperse water based, UV cured, latex or solvent inks. The former can be applied either direct to the textile or by printing first onto paper and then using heat to transfer the image onto the textile.

Digital printing on fabric is in its most simple terms done by a machine that has developed from a typical desktop printer. In other words it receives instructions via a computer with a drawing programme to map out an image onto the textile. The carriage, which will contain the cartridges of ink, then is driven backwards and forwards across the fabric. The fabric is moved through the print heads by means of a let-off and take-up roller at either side of the carriage.

In order for printing on fabric to have the right vibrancy of colour and to be weather proof it needs to use the correct ink type and then to be subjected to a fixation process, which normally involves the fabric passing through steam or thermal heat at temperatures between 1900 – 2100 Centigrade.

Colour management is a crucial aspect of successful printing on fabric. The CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) gamut was the original set up but now it can be applied with 6, 8, 12 or more systems allowing for a very versatile process colour range to be used. Mixing occurs on the fabric and process colours are supplied by ink manufacturers. This gives a very versatile and instantaneous changeover of output colours. Infinite gradations of colour are possible and this gives photo-realistic prints.

The DPI (dots per inch) that is used is crucial for achieving the right degree of definition you require when printing on fabric; some images may require a very detailed print. Others may be suited to a more coarse appearance so this is a further consideration, as it will affect output speeds.

How to print on fabrics is a huge subject and this article is designed to just give a flavour as to how to begin to look at digital methods for printing on fabric.

Article by Chris Drury

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