There are a huge number of ways to print designs onto fabric, but only some will be suitable for your business.
Depending on the material you’re using, the durability of your products and how much you need to print, you’ll quickly find which textile printing methods work best for you.
Each printing method has its own list of pros and cons, which we’re going to explain below.
It’s important to get your business started on the right foot. Which means ensuring your products are the highest quality from the get-go. Those first few years may feel like you’re putting a whole lot into your business and getting little return – so it can be tempting to downgrade your materials and find cheaper ways to do things.
But, with a great quality product from the start, you’re bound to succeed. Through word of mouth, marketing, and a little support from friends and family, you’ll soon remember why you started your business in the first place.
So, to help you understand the best printing methods for your business, here’s a breakdown of the top 6 fabric printing techniques.
1. Stamp Printing
Remember making potato stamps as kids? Stamp Printing is pretty much the same practice.
Rather than using your favourite carb, you’ll create a stamp that can be used again and again. Your design will be cut into wood, cork, or rubber, dipped into ink, and placed onto your fabric to transfer the design.
Should I use stamp printing for my business?
It’s a quick, simple, and easy printing technique that’s perfect for home crafters or children’s activities.
For small businesses with single designs, stamp printing could be quite effective; there’s no need to invest in machinery and the design will always come out the same. With little upfront investment, stamp printing is a great way to test the waters and understand what kinds of products look good with your designs.
However, it’s quite tricky to create a stamp with intricate detail, and once the stamp is made, you can’t edit the design. It also means when your business grows, you’ll be stuck manually stamping the design onto your products which can create quite an inconsistent quality.
Tip: Stamp printing is a great little addition to have for branding your business, instead. Stamp designs onto letterheads, packaging and thank-you notes for your customers to add something extra special to each order.
2. Transfer Printing
Transfer printing uses specialist paper which allows you to transfer your design onto garments and fabrics using heat and pressure. Transfer paper can typically be bought at local stationery shops, printed on through a standard printed and iron on at home.
Transfer printing can be done on a small or large scale, with companies offering the service for businesses looking to print in bulk.
Is transfer printing good for business?
Printing designs onto fabric with transfer printing probably isn’t the best option. It’s great for small gifts, crafts, or t-shirts you want to wear yourself. However, when it comes to selling your products, you may get a few disgruntled customers as the prints can crack, peel and fade after a few washes.
Transfer printing can also leave a shiny surface on your design which might ruin the appearance. It’s also quite an expensive option for those who will be processing a good number of orders; transfers can only be used once and can sometimes be low resolution.
Tip: Printing onto fabric using transfer paper may be good for novelty items like hen-do t-shirts and stag parties.
3. Screen Printing
Screen printing is commonly used in the textiles industry, particularly silkscreen printing. Using nylon mesh and a stencil, ink is washed over the design to print onto the fabric. Waterproof fabrics or masking tape can be used to block off certain areas of the design so that just specific areas are flooded with coloured ink.
The process creates sharp and fresh results with solid colour.
Screen printing pros and cons
As mentioned above, screen printing can create great, long-lasting patterns with sharp edges and strong colours. If you only have one design in a single colour, your stencil can be used again and again so it can be quite a cost-effective technique to use for bulk printing.
That said, if you’re looking to process multi-coloured designs, screen printing isn’t ideal. Screens can only be used with one colour so you wouldn’t be able to use gradient colour schemes or replicate real photos.
The other issue with screen printing for small businesses is that it’s quite labour intensive with a lot of waste.
Tip: Screen printing is great for bulk creating merch like tote bags.
4. Pigment Printing
For natural fabrics, pigment printing is possibly the most popular printing technique.
It can also be used just as effectively on synthetic materials, making it great for businesses that have multiple products in different fabrics. Dyes are applied to the surface of the fabric over and over, building up a vibrant colour.
Is pigment printing right for me?
Pigment printing offers a vibrant finished product that has accurate colour matching to your original digital design. It’s cost effective and although it requires some specialist printing, it isn’t as much of an investment as other options. It can also be done quickly, making it ideal for mass production.
However, when using pigment inks, you’ll need to use a binder which can often leave a coating on the fabric. And rather than printing deep into the fibres of the material, pigment prints sit on the top.
5. Reactive Printing
Reactive printing is a heat activated printing technique. Fabrics are pre-coated then printed with a binder and additive. This type of printing uses dye or wax to transfer the design to the material while heat is used to bond the pattern permanently. Like transfer printing.
The advantages and disadvantages of reactive printing
Reactive printing is so effective as it creates a chemical bond with the fibres in the fabric. It works well on natural materials and offers amazingly vibrant colouring. It’s also wash and rub-fast so is great for clothing or other textiles that will be continuously used.
The downside to reactive printing is that it requires post and pre-treatment, and it’s not the easiest printing technique to master. And, with all the additional treatment, it’s not as cost effective as other methods.
6. Sublimation Printing
At British Made Gifts, we use sublimation printing as we think it provides the best results.
There are two stages to sublimation printing: The first step is to print the design onto a thermal transfer paper called dye sublimation paper.
In the second step, the design is heated and rolled onto the fabric to transfer the pattern. While it’s being heated, inks from the transfer paper turn into a gas which then bonds permanently to the fibres in the fabric – leaving a vibrant print for even the most intricate of designs.
Is sublimation printing right for my business?
There are certainly pros and cons for dye sublimation. The image reproduction is incredible, which is why our fleece blankets are so popular. The colour is permanent, and there’s no residue or post treatment film left on the fabric. The design looks and feels exactly how it should. The water based are also eco friendly and there’s no peeling or fading in sight.
However, sublimation printing doesn’t work for natural materials. So, if you’re not using polyester textiles, it’s best to stay away. It’s also quite expensive to get set up – with specialist equipment, dyes and training needed. While this type of printing works well for larger companies with large quantities of orders a day, it would be a long time before a small business made a profit from the upfront costs.
Tip: For smaller products like our bar runners, you can use a smaller heat press machine to make the process a little more efficient.
So that’s a breakdown of some of the most common printing on fabric techniques in the industry, and why we use sublimation printing. If you’d like to use our fabric printing services, sign up now to order a colour swatch.