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People have used color and design to distinguish themselves from ancient times. Up until today, people still do. Through fashion, they do their best to set themselves apart from others. Perhaps, textile printing is the most vital and versatile technique there is to compliment your garment’s design, color, and style.

What are the Best Fabrics to Print On?

To delve into fabric printing, you should know that natural fabrics absorb liquids easier than synthetic. It makes them much easier to print on. You may want to begin your fabric printing quest using cotton shirts. Other natural fibers include denim, wool, and silk.

Fabrics made from synthetic and natural fibers are also ideal for printing because they absorb colors well. Furthermore, they are durable, shrink-resistant, and comfortable to wear. If you want to print on synthetic fibers, learning about the techniques you can employ may take more practice and skill.

There are a variety of techniques that you can use to print on your fabrics. The most popular are:

Screen Printing

Screen printing is a direct fabric printing technique involving screens, mesh, or films. You can use either of the latter substances to push the ink and transfer patterns and designs on the fabric.

The porous substance is stretched over a frame. Next is to create a design stencil out of absorbent nylon fabric. Cover the areas which do not have prints. Then place the screens on top of the material. A wooden squeegee is applied to the colored inks through the porous screen and finally onto the fabric.

Screen printing has two types:

Flatbed screen printing: Previously done by hand, individual screens are made for each color and design pattern. They print a limited area and not a continuous one. This method allows several strokes of the squeegee on each screen to apply large amounts of print paste. It can be expensive.

Rotary screen printing: This type is the mechanized version of flatbed screen printing. It is a continuous printing process with a perforated cylinder acting as a spherical screen. These automatically feed with paste from inside by a special pump to transfer the design onto the fabric. It is the most commonly used technique in commercial settings.

Pros and Cons

One advantage of screen printing is that you can print on light colors and dark-colored fabrics with the same intensity. Enormous patterns with soft outlines similar to silk scarves designs can be straightforwardly printed using this method. It is also ideal for designs with sharp edges and solid blocks of color. In addition, if you print on large runs, this method is your best option for cost-effectiveness.

Conversely, screen printing can be labor-intensive. Printing small quantities does not make it cost-effective. Because the setup cost for each job is high, it is wiser to use this method for high volumes. It uses one color per screen, which is not ideal for multi-colored designs. Photograph printing that requires many variations and gradations of colors is not possible in this method.

Direct-to-Garment Printing

Usually called DTG, this method prints directly from a special digital ink printed onto the fabric. A particular inkjet printer with special ink is utilized to print on fabric from the computer. Then, set the design or dyes with a heat press or tunnel dryer.

Pros and Cons

The advantage of DTG is that you can make any number of prints. It enables you to produce small lots cheaply. You can also ensure printing excellent pictures on the fabric. The quick and easy application and versatility make this the preferred printing method, especially when generating samples.

Light-colored fabrics must be used with dark-ink colors to create a more intense picture. However, the computer-printed design may fade with repeated washes. When using this method, read your fabric’s label carefully, as some materials do not suit this printing yet. Another disadvantage is that as the quantity of your lot increases, cost also increases exponentially.

Transfer Printing

Also known as heat transfer or thermal transfer printing, it involves a printing machine and a heat press machine to transfer the design on the fabric. Probably one of the most inexpensive methods used in the garment printing business, tons of t-shirts have been printed this way with logos, graphics, and other statements.

This technique involves printing being done on paper first. Then, the design on the paper is transferred to the fabric surface by passing or pressing the paper and fabric through hot rollers or heat press machine surfaces.

This printing technique can be done at home using transfer paper and your standard steam iron. This type of paper is a special paper on which a standard household printer can be utilized. Printed on the transfer paper is the design. Afterwards, you can transfer the design onto your chosen fabric using your household steam iron. This method has already been upscaled and done professionally on larger runs.

Pros and Cons

Because the design is computer-printed, this method produces beautiful, clear-cut images. It is used by many designers worldwide. Standard printers, heat press machines, or steam irons are generally accessible. Additionally, the process is cost-efficient and not complicated to duplicate.

The main problem with this method is that the dye does not penetrate the fabric enough. The colors may be vivid initially, but they will wear off after a few washes. It may even peel or crack. Since the design sits on the fabric, the fabric will feel rough after printing.

Sublimation

This method melts pigments onto the material for smooth color transitions. Beautifully detailed images are then created. It involves transferring sublimation dye onto the fabric with heat. 

Considered an upgrade of the heat transfer method discussed above, a sublimation printer (or an inkjet printer that uses sublimation ink), sublimation ink, and a heat press machine are what you need for this printing technique.

Sublimation printing is a multi-step process that produces some of the best results out of all the fabric printing methods. You can print your designs onto dye sublimation paper. Heat and pressure move the print on the fabric to permanently bond the inks to the material’s fibers.

Unlike heat transfer, sublimation leaves your fabric as soft as it was before you printed on it. The deep infusion technique also makes your print permanent. They are ideal for intricate details and colors.

Pros and Cons

Sublimation generates exceptional image reproduction that is permanent. It leaves no texture or residue on the fabric, so the material does not roughen after the print. Because you use water-based ink, it is eco-friendly and does not fade, crack, or peel. It is suitable for all lot or run sizes.

This technique is much costlier with resultant vivid and attractive prints. Ideal for polyester, it is not possible to print onto natural fibers. Moreover, it would be best if you had specialist equipment, dyes, and in-depth knowledge and experience to employ this technique.

Screen printing and DTG printing are the best methods for natural fibers. If you want to print on synthetic materials, you can try your hand at transfer printing or sublimation printing to get the best results.

Are you a Fabric Printer? Spandex Warehouse sells natural and synthetic fabrics that you can use for printing. We offer textiles from cotton, polyester, silk, denim, and other fabrics for garments, upholstery, curtains, and many more. For more details, you can call us at 213-629-7416 or send us an email at [email protected]