10 best Textile Printing Techniques

Information about the different printing techniques on fabric, the benefits and limitations of each technique, and which fabric printing method is suitable for different needs.

Fabric printing refers to creating beautiful designs and patterns on textile surfaces. Here is a list of the most popular methods used to do this.

textile printing methods

The beautiful swirls of patterns and designs on that pretty fabric you bought from the fabric store look seamless, effortless & easy. But fabric printing is anything but easy. It is challenging to achieve precision and perfection in details with durable and vivid colors on the surface of fabrics.

The different methods of printing on textiles are Screen printing, Digital printing, Sublimation printing, Heat transfer printing, Block printing, Rotary printing, Discharge printing, Foil printing, Pigment printing, Direct-to-garment (DTG) printing, Transfer printing, Reactive printing, Water-based printing, Flock printing, Plastisol printing, Foaming printing, burnout printing, Embossed printing, Resist printing, and Photographic printing.

If you are looking for ways to print on T-shirts, which is a subject in itself, check out this post on the 12  best ways of T-shirt printing.

Related posts: 

fabric patterns

In the production process of textiles, patterns and designs are usually printed in the final stages. When you read about it, the printing process is simple enough – dyes or pigments are used to make those designs. But to make them stick there, separately without a mess, yard after yard – that is the tricky part.

Basic Textile printing methods

The three most important types of textile printing methods are

  • Direct printing
  • Discharge printing
  • Resist-printing

Direct printing involves printing directly onto the fabric’s surface with dyes/ pigments.

Discharge printing involves removing colors from specific areas from an already dyed fabric by applying appropriate chemicals.

Resist-printing involves applying a special resist-paste on the fabric in patterns and then dyeing the fabric so that the paste-applied areas will resist dyeing and appear as the base color. Batik and tie and dye are examples of this type of fabric printing.

Read more on resist printing here. Read more on resist printing here.

Printing onto fabric is done done in various methods involving different processes; some important ones are described below.

textile printing techniques

Textile/Fabric  Printing – 10 popular methods

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1. Engraved Roller printing

In engraved roller printing, the fabric is passed through design-engraved rollers in the printing machine in which dye is applied to the fabric. This is how most printed fabric is made – the rolls of fabric you buy to make clothes.

The same high-quality print is made throughout the whole lot in the same way, which is an advantage of this printing. A separate roller is used for different colors. After it is printed, the fabric is passed through processes of drying and steaming to set the dye.

You can print as much as 120000 yards of fabric in a day with a single machine and any intricate pattern you have in mind with precision and perfection.

2. Screen printing

Screen printing is a direct fabric printing method in which screens / mesh/ films are used to transfer patterns onto the fabric.

It involves the use of a porous mesh screen which is stretched over a frame. In screen printing, a design stencil is made of porous nylon fabric. The areas which do not have prints are covered, and then the screens are placed on the fabric. A wooden squeegee is used to work the color through the porous screen onto the fabric.

There are two types of screen printing – flat bed screen printing and rotary screen printing. Flat bed screen printing is expensive. Rotary screen printing is a mechanized version of flat screen printing and is the most commonly used textile printing technique commercially.

An advantage of screen printing over thermal printing is that you can print on light colors and dark-colored fabrics with the same intensity. Also, you can make very large patterns with soft outlines like the one you have seen in silk scarves with this method.

The main disadvantage of screen printing is that it is a labor-intensive method and hence printing small lots is not cost-effective with screen printing. The setting up cost of each job is slightly high but once that is set up you can make a lot of prints in a very cost-effective way.

Another thing is that solid colors are best printed with screen printing, so no photograph printing etc where you have many variations and gradations of colors.

If you have a business where you need to print a lot of fabric pieces, screen printing is the best viable option. 

Some people have a problem with screen printing because of the method used and the waste it produces. Learn more about screen printing in the post “What is Screen Printing?”

3. Stencil printing

Stencil printing involves using stencils cut in the shape of the designs. The stencils are made of metal, wood, paper, or plastic. The dye/color is applied to the spaces cut inside the stencil.

Stencil printing is a very easy method of printing on fabric, and it can be done even by a kid. But the disadvantage is that it is labor intensive and takes a long time to print. It is mostly used for single-use purposes.

Related posts : DIY Stencil techniques ;  make homemade stencils

4.Block printing

Block printing is the method of creating prints with a block of wood, copper or other material bearing a design.

Metal or wooden blocks are carved in the design and dye is applied to the carved design. This is then pressed and applied to the face of the fabric.

Checkout the post on diy block printing for more details as well Ideas to make fabric stamps on your own and the best paint to use for fabric stamping and block printing

block printing

5. Spray printing

As the name suggests, controlled spraying uses specialized sprayers to transfer dye onto the fabric. A spray gun is used to force the color onto the fabric through screens.

6. Heat transfer or thermal transfer printing

transfer photo to fabric

This method involves a printing machine and a heat press machine to transfer designs on fabric. This is one of the most inexpensive methods used in the garment printing business – think thousands of t-shirts printed this way with logos and messages.

In this printing process, the printing is done on paper first, and then this design on the paper is transferred to the fabric surface by passing the paper and fabric through hot rollers.

There are some problems inherent in this method, though.

  • The main problem with this method is that the dye does not penetrate the fabric deep enough, and the fabric may show through the design. 
  • Sometimes the colors fade after a wash, and the transfer may peel or crack.
  • Sometimes the fabric feels rough after the printing is done.
  • At times the outline of the transfer paper becomes visible on the fabric surface.

But because of the beautiful and clear-cut designs made with this printing technique, this is used by many designers.

More on this can be learned in these posts : How to apply iron on transfer stickers on t-shirts; 6 Best methods to {Transfer Photos/Pictures/Images to Fabric} at home.

7. Direct to garment digital printing (DTG)

DTG is the process in which a special inkjet printer with special ink is used to print straight on the fabric from the computer directly. The artwork and the dye are heat set with a heat press or tunnel dryer.

The advantage of direct-to-garment digital printing is that you can make any number of prints, even small lots, at a low cost, and you get realistic-looking pictures printed onto the fabric.

  • The disadvantage is that the effect may wear off with repeated washes.
  • It is also best when used on lighter-colored fabric with darker ink colors.
  • Some materials are not suited for this printing.
  • Another disadvantage is that as quantity increases cost increases exponentially.

But the fast and easy application and versatility make this a favourite method of printing especially for making samples.

8. Printing with inkjet printers

This is a homemade version of the direct-to-garment printing. An ordinary inkjet printer is used to print on fabric pieces. Checkout the post on inkjet printing on fabric for more details.

9. Sublimation transfer printing.

This method involves a sublimation dye which is transferred to the fabric with heat. An upgrade of the earlier mentioned heat transfer method of printing.

You need a sublimation printer (or an inkjet printer that uses sublimation ink), sublimation ink, and a heat press machine for this printing technique.

This method is costlier than the thermal transfer method as the ink is very costly. But the resultant prints are very vivid and attractive.

A significant disadvantage of this method is that it is impossible to print onto cotton fabrics (the best materials are 100% polyester). If you want to use this method for printing onto cotton fabric, you must apply an appropriate polyester coating on the cotton fabric surface.

Though sublimation printing is supposed to be durable and last a long time, it may wear off with exposure to direct sunlight. But that is a long way off.

Learn more about sublimation printing method here.

10. Photo Printing

In this type of printing, the fabric is coated with a chemical ( Liquid photo emulsion) that is sensitive to light, and then any photograph may be printed on it.

Blueprinting is one such technique that is used very frequently. Sir John Herschel invented this method; with this, you can make an impression of most objects on your pretreated fabric. White /light-colored prints are made on blue background. You can learn more about blue print fabric here.

  Checkout this tutorial on doing this type of printing yourself 

Related posts : Sublimation vs screen printing – which is better?;  How to make printing permanent on fabrics – 5 tricks; Definition of textiles How to dye clothes – a simple tutorial; How to tie-dye ; 10 easy tie-dye designs50 different methods to embellish and decorate fabric

textile printing on inkjet printer

 

potato stamp printing

More questions on printing on fabrics

Which are the 3 most cost-effective methods of printing on fabric?

Screen printing, Heat transfer method and inkjet printing. Screen printing is the most inexpensive if you have a lot to print.

Out of these, which method is the most enduring / longlasting method?

Screen printing

Which is the latest way of printing on fabrics which is also durable?

Sublimation printing gives very long-lasting results with vivid colors and good precision. It is becoming very popular.

If you want to design fabric of your own, which methods are recommended?

Sublimation, direct-to-garment digital printing and screen printing- all of them have their own advantages and disadvantages.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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