Digitally Printed Fabric

Since the first inkjet digital fabric printers were created in the late 1980s, digitally printed fabric has been a very interesting concept, however, thanks to huge developments in digital printing technology since then, and particularly within the past 5-10 years, digitally printed fabric is now more than just an idea. 

In fact, digital fabric printing is now a mainstream production process, with millions of metres of digitally printed fabric being produced for the homeware, furnishings and fashion markets and beyond.

Meshtex have been involved in the textile printing industry since the early 1970s, providing colour separation services and screen engraving for traditional rotary screen printing.  We still work with traditional screen printing, and we do not have any particular bias towards digital printing, on the contrary, there are certain applications and industries for which screen printing cannot be rivalled in terms of producing the right finished product at the right price. 

But, there’s no doubt that digitally printed fabric has become a very valid commercial option, and in some cases is the very best choice for the job in hand, which is why we decided to offer digital fabric printing as a service. 

In this article, we’re hoping to highlight the benefits of digitally printed fabric, to help you decide whether it may be the way forward for your particular requirements.

No Setup Costs. 

One of the major benefits of digitally printed fabric is the lack of setup costs, which makes digital a very popular process for startups. 

If you’re launching a new brand or a new product for an existing brand, and the first production run is fairly small – the setup costs can work out to be very expensive per metre, depending on the number of colours in the design, and therefore the number of screens that will need to be created for the design.

An example of this is a customer who came to us recently with a view to printing a new design via screen. 

There were multiple colours in the design, and as a result the setup charges for screen printing were going to be in the region of five thousand pounds, this is before a single metre of fabric has been printed. 

If the initial production run was going to be several thousands of metres, then the cost for screen printing can still be very competitive even for a design with several colours, however in smaller volumes, screen printing can be expensive.

When the print cost was added to the setup cost, and divided by the number of metres the customer required for the initial production of their product, it worked out at around £85 per metre. 

As a result,  this first production would have been done at a significant loss, and the client’s hope was that if the product was a success, in time as the print cost reduced, they may break even and eventually end up in profit. 

The obvious choice in this case, was digital printed fabric as opposed to screen. In this case, the price per metre was in the single figures including the chosen fabric, which would allow the client to aim for a profitable product from the very beginning, with minimal outlay and risk.

Good Colour Fastness

Bespoke tea towels made from digitally printed fabric.
The digitally printed tea towel on the left is printed onto a pre-treated fabric for enhanced vibrancy and colour fastness, the tea towel on the right is printed on untreated fabric, so the vibrancy and wash fastness won’t quite be the same, however thanks to developments with the inks themselves, even digitally printed untreated fabric performs relatively well for wash and rub fastness.

We often receive enquiries from people who believe that digitally printed fabric doesn’t perform well when it comes to colour fastness.

In fact, we often speak to clients who were under the impression that fabric which has been digitally printed, can’t be washed or tumble tried, without the print simply washing off – which simply isn’t the case.

The problem when it comes to technology which has improved relatively quickly is that it takes time for web content and opinions to adjust and update accordingly. 

One of the challenges with digital textile printing initially, especially with pigment inks, was colour fastness, but things have moved on a lot since the early days. 

Fabrics which have been printed digitally with pigment inks, and reactive dyes, now perform very well in terms of wash fastness and rub fastness, thanks to improvements in the fabric treatments and developments with the inks themselves (when it comes to pigments). 

By the way, if you do find yourself reading negative opinions or reports on the web about digitally printed fabric,  just check the published date, and you’ll often discover that you’re reading reports from several years ago – and a lot has changed in the meantime.

No Repeat Restrictions

When printing fabric via the traditional rotary screen printing process, the repeat is restricted by the circumference of the screen.  When printing onto fabrics digitally, you can decide on the exact size of the repeat you want for each design. 

Fast Turnaround 

While digital textile printing isn’t as fast per metre as traditional screen printing, the lack of setup steps means that there is little delay, printing can start straight away.

So for small to medium production of digitally printed fabrics, digital printing can compete well in terms of overall lead time, while of course rotary screen printing would win a longer race, due to the much faster printing speeds. 

Reduced Costs

One of the reasons digital fabric printing is now a more valid process commercially is that the price of digital textile printing machinery has decreased a great deal as the technology has improved. 

It is no longer as expensive to invest in digital fabric printing equipment as it once was, and as a result the fabric printing costs have come down accordingly over the years. 

Reliability

Another reason for the growth of digitally printed fabrics is that digital textile printers are a lot more reliable than they were in the past.

Downtime costs money, so the output from unreliable machinery is ultimately going to cost more than from a reliable machine that just keeps on running. 

These days, as long as the printers are properly maintained, the leading brands of digital fabric printer are generally very reliable. 

Digitally Printed Fabric – a Commercially Viable Print Process in its Own Right.

All things considered, in 2018 digital fabric printing is now very much a commercially viable and broadly accepted textile printing process in its own right. 

When we say “in its own right”, what we mean by this, is that while it does compete with traditional printing to some degree, really it’s a completely different process to traditional “wet” printing.

Digital textile printing, rather than taking work away from the screen printing industry, has made production possible that wouldn’t have been possible, or at least wouldn’t have been practical, with screen printing. 

For example,  if a designer had a design with dozens of colours, and with tonal detail, and a relatively small amount of printed fabric was required initially, such a job would have been either impossible or at least impractical via screen, due to the number of screens required and the setup costs as a result. 

Now though, thanks to how much digital printing has improved – such a design is no problem at all, it can be printed digitally onto fabric, with no setup costs, and with a reasonable cost per metre even at a fairly small volume. 

We’re not suggesting that digitally printed fabric competes with traditional screen printing across the board, this isn’t the case and probably never will be.

For example, if a customer has a design which fits perfectly into a rotary screen repeat, and it’s one or two colours, and the volume is initially into the thousands of metres, it wouldn’t make commercial sense to print this job digitally. 

But there are many instances where digital is the perfect choice, and to have produced the printed fabric the traditional way rather than digitally, wouldn’t have been possible without compromises. 

Fancy a Chat? 

If you have specific questions about fabric printing, why not give us a call on 01625 876949, drop us an email, or use the quotation form

If you’re close enough to our premises in Cheshire (Poynton, SK12) to come in, give us a call and arrange to pop in for a brew, we’re a friendly bunch – and we can even print a sample for you while you’re here.