When deciding which printing method to choose for your fabric, there isn't always an obvious answer. The best method for your product relies on a number of different factors: the fabric you are working with, the level of detail in your designs, the quantity of fabric you are printing and the finish you are looking to achieve.
The top 5 printing methods
1. Direct To Garment
Direct to garment (DTG) is a digital printing technique where designs are printed directly onto the fabric or garment using an inkjet printer with special water based inks. Before being printed, the fabric needs to go through a pre-treatment process which involves coating it with chemicals that enable better absorption of the ink. It is then passed through another machine that sets the ink using steam or heat, before being washed and dried to remove the chemicals.
What’s DTG good for?
- Complex designs with intricate details, a broad range of colours, or realistic photos.
- Designs that need to be printed right to the edge of the fabric.
- DTG printing works better on lighter fabrics, composed of 100% cotton, or a cotton blend.
- Low set up fees, which means it's quicker and cheaper to sample than other types of printing such as screen.
- You can print small quantities at relatively low cost.
2. Sublimation printing
Sublimation, like DTG, is a digital printing technique that uses an inkjet printer. But, instead of directly printing the fabric the design is printed in reverse onto paper and then transferred onto the fabric.
What’s sublimation good for?
- You can get more vibrant colours and vivid pictures than any other printing.
- Sublimation works great on 100% polyester but isn't compatible with non-synthetic fabrics like cotton.
- Sublimation is more expensive than DTG and the sampling cost is higher.
3. Screen printing
- There are two main types of screen printing; flat bed and rotary.
- Flat bed screen printing can be fully automated, semi-automated or manual. This method uses a squeegee to transfer the ink paste through an engraved screen.
- With rotary or cylinder printing, pressure forces the paste through engraved roller screens.
- For both types, each screen can only apply one colour at a time.
What’s screen printing good for?
- Large order runs. Rotary printing gives you a more consistent finish compared to screen, and is great for print runs of 1000m or more.
- It’s a great choice for simple designs with only a few colours though it's worth noting that it’s hard to achieve consistency of colour across batches of fabric.
- Solid colours come out well but shading is hard to achieve. Lines on the designs need to be well defined and slight bleeding of colours is common.
- It’s an affordable method of printing that gives a fantastic end result but the set up cost to develop the screens is high, as is making changes to your designs after the screens have been made.
- The more colours, the more screens need to be engraved and therefore the more expensive it becomes.
With this method, you print on paper and transfer the design to fabric by heat. The finish is vivid and clean and is ideal for logos and labels on products like sportswear, underwear and swimwear where you don't want a fabric label. It's most effective on polyester and is inexpensive, but slower compared to other types of printing.
Block printing is the oldest printing technique with roots in India, Japan and China dating back to 5th century BC. Wooden blocks are hand carved with designs, then covered in ink before being hand pressed onto the fabric. The dyes for block printing are usually mixed by hand and eye to match the desired pantone – a job requiring incredible skill and experience.
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