In the fashion industry, there’s a zillion ways you can customize your designs – one of these is through custom fabric printing.
But with a multitude of possibilities, there’s also an endless list of options you can choose from.
And I know it can be overwhelming.
So, in this article, I’ll dive into the basics of fabric printing and teach you about the most commonly used printing techniques – helping you find the best ones for you designs.
Why am I qualified to write about this stuff? In my 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, I’ve journeyed from being an in-house designer, starting my own brand (yep!), to growing my freelance career to $100,000+. Now, with all the knowledge I’ve learned along the way, I want to help fashion designers (and PDs, TDs, etc.) like you make it in the industry.
Fabric printing, also known as textile printing, is an essential element in the fashion industry. It offers fashion designers and brands a blank canvas to translate their creative visions through different customization methods.
You’ve probably seen renowned designer brands with their signature fabric prints and styles – like Versace’s bold prints, Marimekko’s Unikko pattern, Louis Vuitton’s monogram canvas, and so many more. These are all possible because of the limitless bounds of fabric printing.
You can have the simplest dress silhouette but give it a unique and eye-catching print, and it can turn into a one of a kind masterpiece.
And of course, the use of print in fashion extends not only to artistic expression but also offers practical benefits. I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with the camouflage pattern (that also became a design trend some time ago 👀).
It goes deeper than that, as certain types of fabric prints carry cultural significance, serving as symbols of identity expression for communities worldwide.
Fashion designers create pattern renders using software applications like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop.
Once the design is locked in, the next call is picking the right fabric and the ideal printing method. It’s crucial to find the right combination of the two and make sure the two are compatible – avoiding any fabric quality issues and print defects along the way.
To make sure that these prints are of top-notch quality and last long, some fabrics may also undergo pre-treatment or finishing techniques to lock those prints in. These processes ensure that the pigments adhere properly during printing and will not fade off or bleed.
So, if you’ve had your garments all turn red after laundry day, chances are, that’s the poor quality crimson shirt that you bought for 80% off!
And just like how garments undergo a sample review process, fabric prints may also undergo several rounds of sampling to get the desired final outcome.
In manufacturing lingo, we call this the print strike off – a test print of a design or print on fabric, allowing fashion designers and manufacturers to check the design accuracy, assess color and quality, confirm fabric compatibility, and make any necessary adjustments before finally proceeding with full-scale production.
There are dozens of ways to create custom fabric prints.
But I know that you don’t want to be looking at a looong list of fabric printing methods – and just feel defeated and overwhelmed.
Which is why I’ve gathered the most common types of textile printing methods in the fashion industry, helping you weigh in your options more easily.
I’ll talk about how each method is done, what type of products they’re commonly used in, along with some pros and cons that you’ll need to consider.
Screen printing or stencil printing is one of the most common types of fabric printing methods. It involves creating a stencil (screen) for each color in the design and then using a squeegee to push ink through the screen onto the fabric.
This printing technique is known for giving off vibrant, long-lasting prints. There are a few types of screen printing techniques, such as rotary screen printing and flat screen printing.
Suitable for: T-shirts, sweatshirts, scarves
Roller printing involves the use of engraved metal rollers to apply consistent and intricate patterns onto fabric. These rollers are coated with ink and pressed onto the fabric as it passes through a series of rollers.
Suitable for: Various types of products such as dresses, skirts, and blouses
Digital printing is a modern fabric printing method that works much like your home ink-jet printer but on a larger scale. It allows fashion designers to create intricate, full-color designs directly onto fabric with precision and detail – making it a versatile choice for creating custom clothing and accessories.
Suitable for: Custom clothing like t-shirts, dresses, leggings, and personalized accessories like scarves and hats
Heat transfer printing involves printing the design onto a certain type of transfer paper and then heat-pressing it onto fabric. If you’ve ever gotten a customized shirt or mug with your company logo on it – chances are it was made using this method.
Suitable for: Various personalized clothing items like custom T-shirts, jerseys, and sportswear
Dye sublimation printing uses heat to transfer dyes onto the fabric, creating vibrant and durable prints. It has no size constraints and works well with synthetic fabrics (like nylon, acrylic, and spandex), but is not suitable for natural fibers due to the high temperatures involved in the heat press procedure.
Suitable for: Sportswear, swimwear, outdoor apparel
Block printing is a traditional method using carved blocks to apply ink onto fabric. It’s known for its handmade and artisanal appeal – but, it’s not the quickest way to make lots of items as it is often done manually by skilled artisans.
Suitable for: Artisanal and bohemian style clothing and accessories
If you’ve ever considered making a career out of designing fabric, fabric print design is a great niche to get started in the fashion industry (even in freelancing!).
You can take a look at the story of freelance textile designer Katerina who does her DREAM JOB creating vibrant custom prints for startups and small brands worldwide. Now, she’s earning way more than she did in her full time job WHILE having the freedom to travel between her family in Macedonia and partner in Italy.
If you’re interested in this area of freelance fashion design, I dive into aaalll its intricacies in my Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Textile Designer.
As a fashion designer, understanding various fabric printing methods gives you limitless creative potential.
Becoming well-versed with various fabric printing techniques also helps you make smarter decisions – streamlining your design and development process.
Whether it’s selecting fabrics or planning collections, you now understand the pros and cons of each method, and which one is the most suitable for your ideas.
So, consider this your go-to resource for exploring your fabric printing options.