If you do even a bit of research, you will know that digital fabric printers are among the most advanced and time-saving fabric printing technology on the market nowadays.
However, digital fabric printers can be a lot more expensive than sublimation printers or other printing techniques.
So, what exactly are digital fabric printers? Digital fabric printing is a process where digital files are printed onto fabric. Similar to using an inkjet printer to print on a piece of paper, digital fabric printing allows you to transfer a digital design directly on the fabric without any transferring mediums.
If you’re wondering how digital fabric printing differs from other fabric printing techniques like sublimation printing or screen printing and whether they were worth it, this guide will help you understand all about digital fabric printing and help you find some suitable digital fabric printers.
Digital Fabric Printing
There are many types of digital fabric printing technologies that can be used to print various types of fabric. Similar to other printing techniques, the quality of the ink and the fabric’s fiber composition will decide how colorfast and long-lasting the design will be.
Natural fibers like silk, cotton, or linen are often very absorbent, which is why they work better with fiber-reactive dye and pigment ink.
If you use these types of ink with natural fabrics, the ink will be able to be absorbed into the fabric, creating a print quality that seems as if it is a part of the fabric itself.
Synthetic fibers like nylon require a bit more effort to help the fabric absorb the ink, which is why they only work with acid dye. In the case of polyester, a very popular synthetic disperse dye works best.
Even with the right fabric and ink combination, the result of printing on synthetic fabric is not as seamless as working with natural fabrics.
Since the synthetic fibers don’t absorb dye very well, the ink will sit on top of the fabric, so the design and the fabric won’t appear as seamless and smooth as printing on natural fabrics.
Sublimation Printing Vs. Digital Fabric Printing
Sublimation printing and digital fabric printing are very similar in that the result will be a corner-to-corner result, meaning you can cover an entire piece of fabric with your design. There are some differences between the two, however.
The first is what the printers actually print on. Sublimation printing requires a transfer medium – sublimation paper. The printer will need to print the sublimation print on the paper, and a heat press is used to transfer the design to the fabric.
With sublimation printing, the printer is quite small – similar to your office printer – usually an A4 size. So, the size that you can print on is constrained by the size of your printer and the size of your heat press.
Since a heat press is used, sublimation printing is also limited because it won’t be able to print on highly sensitive and delicate fabrics like silk.
With digital fabric printing, the design is transferred directly from your computer to the fabric, so there are very few constraints when it comes to printing.
The other difference when it comes to the two popular types of printing is the type of ink itself. Sublimation printing uses sublimation ink that is designed to work well with a heat press and will bond with the fabric fiber very well.
With digital fabric printing, the ink fixer is applied to the fabric before it’s printed instead of being mixed in with the ink itself. This is because the ink fixer makes the ink very thick, which will clog up the ink heads in most printers.
Because of the fixer, the fabric will need to be steamed, washed, and ironed after printing to fix the ink and remove any excess fixer after printing.
However, the result is a beautiful and colorfast fabric that can have corner-to-corner designs, which is why digital printing on fabric is a much more popular technique in textile production.
Sublimation printers are not to be confused with dye-sublimation printers. Dye-sublimation printers use dye-sub ink but can also print directly on a piece of fabric without the need for a transferring medium.
Usually, you see dye-sub printers used to print on mugs, keycards, and other non-porous surfaces. Some dye-sub printers can also be used to print on fabrics, although dye-sub printers won’t be as efficient as digital fabric printers when printing on fabric.
How Does The Print Process Work?
Let’s talk about all the steps that it takes to actually print the design on your fabric.
As we have mentioned, digital printing on fabric requires the fabric to be pre-treated with an ink fixer before going through the printer. This process is also called “padding.”
After the printer is adjusted to the right settings (such as the amount of ink it needs to transfer your design to the fabric and how much the fabric will shrink), you can print a small sample to check if you have achieved the right color and detail quality.
Here, the height of the ink head is adjusted to ensure that the printing is as crisp and bright as possible. The height of the ink head differs depending on the fabric so that the ink head is only slightly hovering over the fabric to give you the best result.
Since each type of fabric has a different thickness and quality, the printer will need to be adjusted to the right media profile before printing. Silk, for example, is a very delicate and thin fabric that needs a different setting than printing on cotton.
That’s why sampling is important each time you switch to a new fabric. Testing out the settings first before printing on a big piece will really help you make sure the print quality will turn out exactly how you want it before going ahead with the actual print.
Once you are happy to print, then the fabric is ready to be placed in the printer to get printed.
Then, printing! This is the part where the print head goes back and forth to lay down your design, and your fabric emerges anew over a series of passes.
The print is not yet ready after it comes out of the printer!
Because the fixer is not mixed in with the ink, you will need to set the ink in order for the print to really stick. To do this, the fabric needs to be steamed thoroughly to allow the ink to be absorbed.
Depending on the fiber content of your fabric, the amount of steam needed will vary. Once dry, the fabric needs to be washed to remove any excess ink and to fix the print. After ironing, your fabric should be ready to be sewn!
What To Know
Digital fabric printing doesn’t sound any more complicated than printing on a piece of paper in your office, but there are a few things you should know to get the best result.
This technique allows you to print as many colors as you like, so you are allowed to be creative with your design without having to worry about printing quality.
The printing quality depends on the printer as well. You will notice that the printers have a DPI (dots per inch) number that indicates how detailed the final printing result will be. A very high DPI (up to 1920) is similar to the HD quality you get when printing photos.
However, a high DPI is not always needed. High DPI is often associated with higher printer prices, and when printing on a small piece of fabric, you can get great quality with a mid-range DPI printer.
As we have mentioned, depending on the type of fabric, the ink will show up differently.
We recommend using natural fabrics like cotton or linen with fiber-reactive dye, which will produce a seamless print quality that is unmatched compared to other types of printing.
If you are using synthetic fibers, make sure to use acid dye or disperse dye to help the design bond with the fibers better. Even then, the design will still appear as a texture on top of the fabric instead of blending in seamlessly with the fabric fibers.
The printer needs to be adjusted for every print job to make sure that the settings will work well with the print and the fabric, so it’s highly recommended that you print a sample first to ensure that you have the right settings before moving on to the real thing.
Why Is Digital Fabric Printing Better?
Now that we understand the digital fabric printing process, let’s investigate why it is the preferred method for textile production, compared to other fabric printing techniques.
1. It’s Faster
Compared to other printing methods, digital fabric printing is definitely faster by a long shot.
Although some prepping and after-printing treatments are still required, printing directly on fabric is still much faster than other techniques like sublimation printing or screen printing, where you have to prepare a transfer medium.
The speed at which a piece of fabric can be printed is why this method is quite popular among textile manufacturers.
2. Color Quality
Methods such as screen printing are quite limited in that you can only print a few colors at a time, resulting in the print not showing up as vibrantly as you’d like.
The color quality of digital printing is comparable to sublimation printing because you can print as many colors as you’d like in a design, and the colors will show up just how you like it in the fabric!
3. Corner-To-Corner Printing
Corner-to-corner printing is the ability for a design to fully cover the entirety of a fabric surface.
While this is true for sublimation printing to a certain extent, sublimation printing is quite limited in the size that it can print because of the size of the printer as well as the size of the heat press.
In comparison, a digital fabric printer can print an entire piece of fabric with ease, and you don’t have to be limited by the size of the transfer medium.
4. Not A Lot Of Equipment Required
Compared to screen printing and sublimation printing, where you need to invest in a lot of tools and equipment – the heat press and transfer medium (sublimation printer or screens) – digital printing is definitely a huge bonus.
You don’t need a lot of tools, except for the printer to produce a piece of fabric, which is both time-saving and money-saving compared to the other printing methods!
The direct-to-fabric printing process is what we’ve been talking about, where we use a digital printer to print directly on a fabric surface.
This process works well with all types of fabrics, and you can get an incredible printing resolution, up to 1440 DPI (which is color photo quality).
If you want to invest in a high-quality digital fabric printer for your small business, we definitely suggest taking a look at the following printers.
The Tx300P-1800 is a high-speed inkjet printer for printing onto fabrics and textiles.
Printing onto fabric and textiles requires a wide range of ink and textile combinations, and this high-quality inkjet printer can support every type of fabric dye to help you achieve a 540 x 360 DPI in all of your print jobs.
The large maximum print width (75.6″) allows you to print a large piece of fabric really quickly, thanks to the maximum print speed of 66 m2 per hour. This is a superior digital fabric printer that can help you significantly scale up a small business.
One of the fastest printing systems on the market, the ValueJet 1938T is a 75″ direct-to-fabric printer capable of printing up to eight different colors at speeds up to 914 square feet per hour.
Featuring a customized, easy-to-use feed and take-up system designed specifically for fabric, this printer provides a variety of options to get you started with commercial textile printing. You can print up to 8 colors at a time to create a high-quality print on your fabric.
This digital fabric printer is compatible with reactive inks, acid inks, disperse dyes, and pigment inks, which means you can use it to print on every type of fabric out there to get a superior quality print!
Dye Sublimation Printers
The use of dye sublimation printing is widely used in the textile industry. Because this process uses chemistry to work with sublimation ink, dye-sub printers are most often used for polyester and synthetic fabrics to produce a long-lasting and high-quality print.
Most dye-sublimation printers can print directly on the fabric, but keep in mind that dye-sub printers are usually smaller and more suitable for home use compared to digital fabric printers.
Let’s take a look at a high-quality dye-sub printer below.
The HP Stitch S300 is an industrial-strength, high-performance printer designed for commercial environments like textile productions and custom apparel businesses.
This professional printing solution can take all types of fabrics but works best with synthetic fabrics like polyester.
The four-pass ink cartridge system delivers brilliant full color, up to 1200 dpi photo-quality prints with water-resistant and fade-resistant sublimation ink.
With this printer, you can easily cover a 64″ wide piece of fabric with the design of your choice. Thanks to the printing speed of 365 ft² per hour, you can easily scale up your textile production while creating brilliant, high-quality prints for your business.
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