How to print on fabric: The right techniques for fabric printing
How to print on fabric? Choose the right method depending on the fabric you're using. We list the different methods and which is best for each particular product.
How to print on fabric? We have all the answers for you.
There are several different techniques, and each method works best for different material types.
Choose the fabric (your base printable fabric), depending on the product you’re making. We use different materials for different purposes, from upholstery and clothing to sportswear, soft furnishings or linen.
You also have to think about the tonesyou intend to use. Consider the weight of the fabric and how much you plan to print. Also, take the print’s colour-fastness and durability into account.
Here’s an in-depth look at how to choose the right material for your product, which method to use as well as maake’s fabulous selection of 13,000+ designs to print. If you like, you can also create your own design.
How to print on fabric: Methods
Popular techniques used for reproducing designs on textiles include virtual, lino, rotary, foil and screen fabric printing. Here’s an in-depth look at each of these techniques and the results you can expect…
What is digital fabric printing?
Manufacturers use this versatile method mostly for reproducing detailed images and patterns, photographs and complicated graphics. Additionally, it is most advantageous when designs have multiple hues and the required meters or run rate is lower.
A computerised textile printer is effectively a huge version of your desktop inkjet printer, with print heads for each shade that ‘jet’ the ink onto the material as it passes over with incredible accuracy. Hence the name ‘inkjet’.
The base material chosen is usually white, ecru or ivory, as this will give the best reproduction of the design. It is possible to use coloured material. However, like your desktop printer, it will only add the shade on top and may affect the overall effect.
Typically the amount of inks used in a computerised textile printer ranges from the 4 process tones of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK) to between 8 and 12 shades. These additional hue channels will add to the overall ‘gamut’ or tones pace of the textile printer – expanding the range of tones that the machine is able to reproduce.
How a printer reads shades correctly
The wider the gamut, the greater the ability to reproduce fine tones , hit specific spot tones or outlying bright hues. Some printers may use Orange, Blue, Green, Red etc to improve the strength of certain shades, use light hues such as Light Magenta or Light Cyan to improve skin tone gradients, or greys and blacks to help with Black tones.
Some machines even allow the addition of fluorescent shades channels. However, currently with a computerised printer, you are unable to print metallic hues.
A computerised textile printer digitally reproduces any patternyou want to create and allows you to use as many tones as you wish, at any scale.
Software called a ‘RIP’ converts the virtual images to tones for each channel.
There are two main types of printer – a direct-to-textile and a sublimation printer. They both use similar or even the same machinery with slight modifications to allow and optimise to variance in material handling.
A direct-to-textile printer works by printing directly onto the material itself. We often 'prepare' the fabric with a special coating to improve printability, colour-fastness, vibrancy and sharpness of print.
Manufacturers use various inks in this method depending on the type of material – including Reactive, Acid, disperse, VAT and pigment ink. Read our blog about ink to find out more.
At our North London mill, maake uses special pigment inks in the printer for cotton, linen and other natural and blended-fibre material such as polycottons.
Using a virtual printer offers several advantages:
- Ability to print multiple designs at no additional cost
- Eco friendly as only what you need is printed
- A relatively inexpensive and fast process from start to finish
- As many tones as you want can be printed – this won't affect the cost of printing
- You can create a sample first to see the effect at minimal cost.
Perfect for polyester and poly blends, this relatively new professional reproduction process using thermal paper offers excellent results. We use dye sublimation printing on fabric using special thermal paper sheets at maake for all polyesters and man-made material.
Sublimation printing is a chemical process that involves printing designs in a mirrored form on a special type of thermal paper known as ‘dye sublimation paper’.
To bring the design from the paper to the textile, we use heat and pressure. In this scientific process, the heat causes the water-based type of ink to evaporates into a gas which bonds chemically with the textile fibre.
One then transfers the design from the paper to the textile. The inks penetrate deep into the fabric, creating a permanent print.
Sublimation printing with thermal paper is great for creating detailed designs and various tones on synthetic material.
Advantages of sublimation printing:
- Sustainable, as the water-based inks don’t fade or peel, and they use no water in the process
- Produces excellent detail, time after time
- Great for both small and large runs
- Prints are very bold and clear. You won’t see any excess ink left on the paper
- Prints are long-lasting and the designs don’t scratch off.
We usually use this process at home to create paper gifts, cards and memorabilia on a home laser printer. Professional artists also use the lino process to produce artworks. There’s no printer involved; you print on fabric by hand.
For lino printing on fabric you need a steady hand, an iron and good hand-eye coordination. And you can use as many or as few hues as you wish.
Once you’ve created your design, you move it onto a lino block. You then ink it with the shade of ink you’ve chosen. When the ink has dried, you use an iron to transfer the design to the material.
- You can do this at home using your iron
- Great if you’re handy and artistic
- Make one print, or more.
When you wish to print something shiny on a fabric, you’ll use foil printing.
This procedure involves using a foil sealant on the material. You then press the foil onto the textile with a steel roller. Make sure to use a good quality sealant for a more durable design.
A second foil method involves reproducing first on the foil and then pressing the foil on the fabric. You do this with an iron or a steel roller.
Preferably one should dry clean foil printed items.
Advantages of foil printing:
- It’s a creative way to print any design. Used for clothing, homewear or décor items
- You can do this with an iron!
- There’s a wide selection of foil in different shades.
At maake, we have some material which will give you a foiled effect such as our Eco Glitter Dot lycra – perfect for active, swim and dance wear.
Screen printing on fabric involves reproducing each color separately on a separate screen.
This process is best for simple designs and shapes that only need a few shades. A white design on black material has usually been screen printed.
You can either screen print using a printer or by hand. If you do this yourself, you’ll squeeze paint through a screen made of a steel frame and nylon mesh.
The hand screen process is a favoured artistic technique, made popular by creatives like Andy Warhol.
People adopt different methods for different products. For instance, if you print on a ready-made item (T-shirt, handbag etc), you’ll use flat screen printing. For entire rolls of fabric, the rotary screen process is best.
Advantages of screen fabric printing:
- Ideal for solid shades
- Cost-effective for reproducing large volumes
- You can print on any material
- You’ll see that hues are vibrant and intense
How to print on fabric: Materials
Take a look at the different materials. Then see how each fabric responds when you have printed on it.
Here at maake, we print on over 100+ fabric types, so just what type of fabric are you looking for? We have prepared a little summary below of some of the most popular types:
How to print on canvas
People often choose to print on canvas when they have a photo they want to frame and display or for internal/external uses such as bags, deckchairs, seating, bean bags, etc.
For artists, the best type of canvas is a special blend of cotton and polyester that is completely matte – called archival canvas. You’ll see that the quality is exceptional.
We often use it for prints for exhibitions in art galleries and museums.
People make most canvases out of polyester or cotton, or a mix of both.
There are several different processes. The most common methods are sublimation (thermal paper) and inkjet printing. Laser printed fabric is also popular, but it lacks the clarity and definition you get from the other methods.
maake offer both sublimation and inkjet printed canvas materials, perfect for indoor and outdoor applications that require the durability and robustness of a canvas fabric.
Using a printer for linen designs
Linen textiles and linen blends, both medium and heavy weight, offer stunning fabric quality for use on a printer.
We choose linen fabric for a number of different products, including upholstery, handbags and other accessories, quilts and clothing.
Here’s an interesting fact: because of linen’s structure, some of the fibres come loose during printing, leaving a white or beige mark. But that adds to the item’s beauty.
On linen textiles, maake likes to use a virtual process. This is a very popular method on this type of material. The ink utilised in the process stick to the fabric surface by means of a binding agent.
You'll notice that the design looks like it has been painted on the the sheets, as if the material was paper. It’s that perfect!
Printing on cotton
Cotton is a natural fibre. People often choose cotton fabric for clothing. The fabric industry chooses it because it’s so comfortable and durable.
How to print on cotton fabric? We usually print shades and designs on cotton using a virtual printer.
We use direct-to-textile printers installed with a wide range of special computerised inks that are colour-fast, durable and are certified for both GOTS 6.0 and Oeke-tex class 1 regulations.
People choose this method because it’s quick, much more sustainable and we can use it on both natural and synthetic fibres. Also, cotton materials retain the ink well, giving designs excellent clarity.
Printing on polyester
Although we often choose polyester as a fabric for clothing and fashion, it’s important to choose your method very carefully.
Sublimation printing has become the method of choice for polyester, both recycled polyester and synthetic polyester blends. We use this method at maake, because it’s more sustainable and saves on quality.
When we use this process, 100 percent of the design paper image transfer is absorbed by the ink and embeds into the fabric fibres. So the design doesn’t fade after a few washes and the fabric still feels like new.
People use very versatile material because it is so elastic and the body moves without being restricted. It’s also very long-lasting and has the ability to breathe. No wonder it’s one of the most popular textiles in the garment industry.
We often use a class of synthetic fibres called lycra fibre. People gave this trademarked brand name to this specific class of synthetic elastic fibres.
People call it ‘spandex in the US, and ‘elastane’ in the rest of the world. It’s mainly the choice for activewear, sports and dance garments.
Thanks to its texture, it’s also extremely breathable and doesn’t wrinkle.
Lycra prints beautifully and the hues are bright and vivid. We often use the sublimation process with thermal paper for lycra textiles including acrylic, nylon, rayon and spandex. We use pigment printing for cotton bases with a lycra content.
Take a look at the last swimwear purchases you made. You'll see that this material is polyamide lycra, a fabric manufacturers use for a lot of swimwear.
Manufacturers print it with acid inks for vivid hues that are colour fast and resistant to both salt and chlorine.
Explore maake’s base printer fabric
On one of the pages you visit, you’ll find the perfect one to print your design on.
If you’re looking for a textile to complete a DIY craft or a garment for your business, you’ll find one here, too. Our superior quality materials are excellent for lining, backing and facing matching printed fabrics. And minimum orders are just 1 metre!
Professional fabric projects
We’ve taken the time to source the fabric crafts used most in some detail so that you have all the information you need on how T’s, fashion, upholstery and cushions are printed.
maake uses either the digital pigment or the sublimation process, depending on the fabric.
Factory printers use special inks for cotton and linens, and a dyes sublimation printer with thermal paper for polyester and man-made fabrics.
Printing for fashion requires an intimate knowledge of not only how the fabric looks and feels, but how it performs and drapes for the particular fabric.
maake print over 60 fabrics that are brilliant for use in all sorts of fashion applications including :
- Children's wear
- Mens and womens fashion
- Swimwear and activewear
- Formal wear and suiting.
There are some key considerations you want to think about when you are choosing a fashion fabric that is right for you:
Knitted or woven
This will mainly split you between more flexible knitted fabrics such as jersey fabric for T’s and rompers and poly lycra textiles for activewear and swimwear – versus the more structured woven materials for shirts, dresses, trousers and jackets.
Natural or man made
What type of fibre you pick will decide the final effect. Man-made textiles print fantastic vibrant colours, are durable and wash well. We used these most all over the world in 2021.
Still, many customers prefer the cooler, more breathable options of natural fibres such as cotton and linen.
Sustainable options – such as Organic or Recycled
Many fashion brands choose sustainable textiles for their custom collections. In fact, customers are often happy to pay a premium to know their materials are produced from organic cotton materials or more sustainable man-made options such as recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles.
The surface effect
Whether you looking for a lustrous face for evening wear such as our Duchess satin or a more subtle matte finish like our Top sateen, the surface effect of the fabric plays a big part in the overall look of the garment and often the perceived value and provenance.
The weight of the material
Lastly, the weight of the fabric and its subsequent drape make a big effect on how the garment will sit on the person. Too heavy and it will not sit right; too light and it will be too sheer for the person to wear.
Our online fabric specifier is a great place to start, as it shows images and specifications of the fabric, alongside descriptions and advised fabrics in order to help you make the best choice.
Upholstery textiles: What to choose
There’s a wide choice of textiles to use for upholstery. It depends on what you’re looking for.
If you have pets or kids, and want a long-lasting fabric, leather is a great choice. If you don’t need your living room furniture to be that durable, you have a variety of other options…
Sure, cotton is strong, resists pilling and it's long-lasting, so we often use it for upholstery items. If you add a synthetic fibre to the cotton mix, like polyester or nylon, the upholstery lasts really well.
We also often choose cotton blends, as they’re durable, don’t wrinkle and can be treated so that they are stain-resistant, too.
Polyester in any form is another excellent choice for chairs, couches and other furniture items and usually has excellent durability and rub fastness ( something which is a must in upholstery).
Once you’ve chosen the fabric, you can continue and choose the reproduction process to use accordingly.
Before you choose fabric for cushions, consider what you’re going to be using the cushion for.
Choose hard-working materials that are durable and wash well if the cushions are for regular use and think about long-lasting options for outside furniture.
We use cotton and linen as well as blends of these two textiles widely.
The reason is simple… you can wash these natural materials, they last and are perfect for those with sensitive skin. Cotton resists creasing, which is another plus.
People usually make couch cushions from cotton, cotton blends or wool, as all these materials are easy to clean and last well. If you are looking for a more durable option, choose a synthetic fabric such as polyester, rayon, vinyl or microfibre.
Cushion fillings vary, too. Choose from feathers, hollow-fill fibre, polyester, foam or batting – or a combination of these.
Reproducing on cushion fabric depends, again, on the type of fabric you’re using. Take a look at the sections above that cover the different fabric choices and the methods used to print on each.
Choose the right fabric for your business and DIY crafts
- Uploading your design. If you haven’t created one, you can choose one from our unique collection of 13,000+ designs created by local artists that work well with various business and DIY crafts and products.
- Select the fabric from our list of base fabrics.
- We then print it and ship it to you, wherever you are. We ship all over the world.
- Ask us any question you’re unsure of. We’ll reply right away.
Design your own fabric
Over the years Adobe Photoshop has become the software of choice for those wishing to design on fabric. It features a wide selection of tools that can assist designers create exactly what they want.
Whether you’re keen to transform an image, manipulate it, or create something quite unique, this is the perfect programme for you.
Once you’ve created your fabric design, maake's process is easy.
- Select the file and upload
- Confirm copyright is yours
- Your design is ready to upload.
Note: Large designs can take up to 5 minutes, so please be patien