Printing on fabric: The most popular print methods for printed fabric
Choices, choices… You can print on material at home or in your a business in several different ways. Each process creates a different look and feel on the material.
When you print on fabric, you are basically transferring an image or pattern onto the material of your choice using dye or pigment inks in different colours or shades.
Here we look at the various ways of permanent printing on textiles and explain the pros and cons of each method.
What does printing on fabric entail?
Fabric printing involves applying a pattern or design to material. People have used this process continue to do so since the 4th and 5th centuries BC. The first type of fabric printer method was block printing to create art on fabric.
In the late 17th century, the East India Company used to ship printed cotton to the UK. Not long after that, art printing services on textiles started right here.
By the 20th century, people were using printing on a range of textiles as a quick, affordable way of decorating fabrics to create art. They would then start sewing the materials into clothing and home décor items.
Businesses know that their customers want a vast selection of patterns printed on different fabrics. They want to use these patterns on various products, from clothing and accessories to upholstery, home décor and much more.
As a result, the digital textile business is booming.
Why it’s important to use sustainable textile printing
These days, we reproduce sustainably in the fashion and interior design industries.
Sadly, fast fashion has become a very unsustainable manufacturing method. Brands are manufacturing inexpensive, low-quality garments. These should only last a short time (as long as the latest trend). People are then discarding this clothing in landfills.
People emphasise sustainability because they are aware of the incredible amount of fabric waste that is ending up in landfills. These days, we are trying our best to change this, one minimum order at a time.
They are also looking for more environmentally friendly methods of print on fabric. These sustainable methods use less energy and water than regular processes.
For a more in-depth look at how to print sustainably, read our blog Digital Textile Printing: the most sustainable option for printed fabric.
How we use fabric printing in the fashion industry
Fashion designers and garment manufacturers use the fabric printing regularly to make unique patterns and designs on fabric.
As a result, they need to have a knowledge of what a fabric print company does. They also need to know what the reproduction process on material entails. This way, they can use the correct reproduction process on the type of fabric they want to print on.
How maake prints fabrics in our factory
- Printing on natural or organic fabric: At maake, we print our natural fabrics (such as wool, linen etc) sustainably, using special Pigment ink.
We use no water in this process. We also use approximately 95% less energy than other reproduction methods, including the traditional screen reproduction process.
- Fabric printing on synthetics: We use no water in the reproduction process. All the inks we use meet Oeko Tex requirements and pass EN71-3 certification.
Ask yourself these questions before printing
- What type of fabric are you planning to print on?
- What sort of product or products will you be creating with the fabric? Is it for labels, homeware items or clothing?
- How much fabric are you planning to print? Is it for a tiny sample, a half metre of labels, or a range of products that require a lot of material?
- What are you looking for when you reproduce on fabric? Do you want vivid colour, some uniformity or both?
- Must the design be durable?
Different printing methods for fabric
Most used methods for printed fabric
- Transfer or dye sublimation print method: This method uses a special image or photo transfer paper or dye sublimation paper. First you print the design onto this paper, and then you use the paper to reproduce onto fabric.
In this process, you use heat and pressure to bond the water-based inks to the fabric fibres. You can do this at home using a home printer or steam iron, or you can do it in a factory with a machine. However, this type of print does not last, so don’t use it on labels as after a few washes, the print won’t be visible.
- Digital print method: The most modern and fastest reproduction method. It involves one spraying tiny drops of ink onto the fabric through different nozzles.
We call the most common and cost effective type of technology Inkjet printing. We also use this printing process with pigment ink for printing on organic and natural fibres and synthetic fabrics.
Why digital print is so popular
This reproduction process has become the most popular form of printing, because:
- Reproduction result is excellent. You can create bespoke fabric by reproducing any design or pattern on the material.
- When you make your print order, you are requesting that your print is bespoke, exactly the way you want it, with your choice of colours.
- You can print CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) as well as spot colours (eg blue, purple and orange).
- One can also reproduce bespoke patterns on a variety of different types of fabric.
- And you are able to print fabrics in a wide selection of colours with precision.
- A person can reproduce delicate and intricate designs and patterns.
- Fast reproduction method.
- People find this method very cost-effective. The number of colours you choose for your order and what the print involves doesn’t affect the prices for printing.
- Can repeat your custom print order for your fabrics time and again.
- Reproduce designs on large amounts of fabric, or order smaller custom runs – even just one bespoke metric piece of fabric that you can use as a sample pack to get an idea of what the print will look like.
- More sustainable than other reproduction methods – uses less energy and almost no water for printed fabrics at maake.
Which is the right fabric to print on?
The most important decision you have to make before you order fabric to reproduce on is which fabric will work best for a particular product. Here we display 8 commonly used fabrics and which products they suit best:
- Canvas: A plain weave material usually made from medium to heavyweight linen or other natural material. This very hard wearing, heavy duty fabric is often a blend of cotton and synthetic fibres and used for bags, tents, and outdoor furniture as this makes it waterproof.
- Cotton and organic cotton: A gorgeous natural, often organic fabric that comes in various weights. It’s a soft fabric that is extremely hard-wearing and strong. Often used for everyday items including lots of clothing (T-shirts, dresses, pants) and homeware (tablecloths, serviettes, tray cloths, etc) as well as bed linen. Colour reproduces beautifully on this material.
- Linen: It's lightweight and very strong at the same time – linen is another natural material we make from flax. We often use it when we are sewing home ware (bed sheets, table ware), summer clothing and mens shirts, as it’s very cool to the touch, and breathes well. However, it tends to crease.
- Georgette: A type of crepe material, either made from silk or synthetics like polyester, rayon and viscose. Is light, sheer with a slightly crinkled effect. Prints gorgeous colours and often chosen to print fabrics with stunning floral patterns.
Synthetic fabrics and/or blends
- Jersey: This type of fabric fabric is a popular smooth, soft and stretchy knit fabric. We used to make jersey out of wool, but now we make jersey fabric from various fibres, often synthetic ones, as well as cotton and other blends.
Jersey material can be light to mediumweight. We use it commonly for home ware like bed linen and clothing for men and women and home ware, especially sweatshirts. Despite its texture, we often print on cotton jersey.
- Modal: We make this semi synthetic fabric from wood pulp, usually the pulp from beech trees. We use it mainly for clothing, especially underwear, and home ware such as bed sheets and towels.
We often blend Modal with other fibres such as spandex, which gives it some stretch. It’s a soft, breathable, hard-wearing fabric that is quite pricey. In fact, it's more expensive than many natural fabrics including viscose.
- Polyester: There are 2 types of polyester, a man-made synthetic version and a semi-sustainable one (called Recycled Polyester). We make Recycled Polyester, or rPET, out of recycled plastic bottles. Both fabrics are durable and very popular, because they are strong, breathable and don’t absorb sweat. The fabrics also reproduce beautifully. Our eco velvet is a fabulous rPET (recycled poly) material.
- Toile: We often print on this unbleached linen fabric with romantic, pastoral patterns. We mainly use it to make garments, upholstery, curtains and bed linen.
Choose the best method for your product
You'll find that different reproduction methods work better for different types of fabric products. These products include clothing, upholstery, home ware (aprons, tablecloths etc) and soft furnishings (cushions, quilts, bed linen). Let’s check out what works best for each item before you order your printing.
Remember: fabric comes in different colours, but white, ivory or ecru will reproduce colour the best. If you do choose to custom print on coloured fabric, be aware that this order may affect the overall look of the material.
At maake, we print digitally as the results are vivid, detailed images, graphics, a photo or patterns. These fabric printing methods are excellent for printed fabric on-demand, including credit stock. This means we only print exactly the amount of fabric you need, no more, and save on wastage.
Read what we put together for you on Sustainable Fabric Printing UK: How printing fabrics will change in 2023.
The 2 methods of digital textile printing
In the UK, at maake, we use 2 different types of print methods to reproduce digitally on fabric. These are the direct-to-textile reproduction process and sublimation printing. When we print on either method, we use fast, high quality machines. Sometimes we use the same machines that we have altered slightly. Let’s take an in-depth look at both:
1. Direct-to-textile method
This reproduction method prints directly onto the fabric. We often prepare the fabric first, and give it a special coating before it’s printed on. This will improve the quality of the printing, make it more vibrant and sharp. This also assists in making the fabric colour-fast.
You can use different inks to reproduce textiles in the direct-to-textile method. This depends on the type of material you plan to print on. Inks include Reactive ink, Acid, disperse ink, VAT and pigment ink.
In the UK, maake uses special pigment ink to reproduce on natural materials like linen, plus fabric blends.
Why we use the direct-to-textile method:
- We can reproduce various patterns on textiles at no extra cost
- As we print fabric on demand (ie, just what you need), we don’t have any waste, which is very sustainable
- The process is fast and quite cost effective
- It doesn’t matter how many colours are printed on fabrics: the reproduction price doesn’t change
- As we are able to print a small run, we can print a sample for you. This way, you can see exactly what your fabric will look like when we reproduce a design on it.
2. Dye-sublimation printing using image transfer
We mostly use this reproduction method for synthetic fabrics (polyester and other man-made fabrics) or fabric blends with natural and synthetic fibres.
We sometimes call this reproduction the thermal paper method (see dye-sublimation printing details above). Don't confuse it with the iron-on transfer printing method.
In this process, a fabric printer uses a scientific method. It involves heat and pressure to create an image transfer of the pattern or design from the paper to the fabric.
The heat makes the water-based ink evaporate into a gas which goes deep into the fabric fibre and makes a permanent print. This method is perfect for printing detailed patterns and lots of colours. We mostly use it for printing on synthetic fabrics or fabric blends.
Why we use the sublimation method:
- This reproduction method is eco friendly, as we use no water in the reproduction process.
- The water based inks we use to reproduce textiles for our projects with never fade.
- The detail in this fabric printing process is exceptional, every time.
- You can print a little, or a lot of fabric sheets with a printer using this method.
- Patterns come up clear and bold. We leave no excess ink on the thermal paper after printing.
- The patterns printed are very long-lasting.
Printing services available at maake
As we mentioned above, maake is one of a few a sustainable UK fabric printing companies. We print our fabrics sustainably on both natural and synthetic fabrics, as well as a blend of fabrics.
When we print on natural fabrics, we use special pigment ink. We also print on man-made and synthetic materials with special sublimation inks.
Are you ready to take advantage of our services before you start to buy and then start your design and sewing projects? All you have to do is choose a design from our exclusive selection of over 15,300 stunning designs. Or you can create your own pattern and then make sure to have the design uploaded for max usage!
Before you start printing, choose your base fabric here.
If you’re feeling creative, design your own fabric here