Five tips on printing digitally onto fabrics

Fabric Printing

Getting the perfect print onto a piece of fabric can be tricky and is often both an art and a science. Using the right ink, accounting for possible shrinkage of polyester fabric, applying an under base if necessary, and curing at the right temperature, the list goes on and on.

Fortunately, the rise of digital printing has eliminated a significant proportion of this complexity. Still, the savvy printer would be well advised to do all he or she can to cut down on time and material wastage–by getting things right the first time round.

With this in mind, below are five tips to help those new to digital fabric printing to get started.

Higher-resolution images are better

When it comes to digital printing, it is often better to start off with a high-resolution image than a low or mid-resolution one. As any graphics professional will tell you, an image that is too large can easily be trimmed down in size with a variety of digital tools; the reverse is often not possible without the appearance of pixelation that culminates in a low quality printout.

As such, always request higher-resolution files than you need from your clients. If necessary, the artwork can always be resampled to a lower resolution in order to speed up the printing process later.

Digital print, digital protection

This could be somewhat unorthodox, but it may be a good idea to consider investing in the appropriate UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) device to protect your physical printers and their corresponding print servers against power outages.

While power in countries like Singapore and Malaysia are generally highly reliable, the UPS also has an added role of protecting against localized power trips. Importantly, the power conditioning circuits in a modern UPS can also serve as an additional layer of protection against power surges or from brownouts harming your expensive hardware.

More haste, less speed

While digital printing has eliminated many of the traditional bottlenecks and processes in printing to fabrics, there is no running away from the need to cure (dry) the resultant printouts. In most cases, this necessitates manually moving the printed fabric to a heater to dry it.

As you can imagine, this is a case where more haste could well equate to less speed–as well as possibly increasing your wastage. To address this problem, be sure not to overcommit by promising to deliver within a timeframe that doesn’t include a good time buffer to account for machine breakdowns or staff falling sick.

Never plan on zero wastage

While it is true that digital printing offers the ability to significantly reduce wastage, don’t count on that happening every time. Always plan for a certain margin of wastage, and ensure that you have sufficient amount of additional fabric on hand to cover this.

After all, the worst thing that can happen is run out of the requisite fabric on the eve of a deadline due to wastage. Obviously, the cost of the additional material should be incorporated in your quotation to your client (You don’t have to itemized it though).

Do a test print, and sign off on it

One of the advantages of digital printing is the ability to print in low quantities with little or no setup time. As such, the savvy printer will be wise to do a test print and have their client to sign off on it before going ahead with the full production run.

On one hand, this ensures that expectations with regards to color reproduction and appearance are met. Importantly, it also gives printers a “reference” sample to monitor for deviations that could result from problems with their machines, or a non-obvious quality problem with the underlying fabric.