As a consumer, we all have the freedom to choose from hundreds of patterns and designs on apparel. A quick walk through the ‘bazaar’ will confuse any shopper on which item to select. Most of us do not have an idea about how these prints are made on the material? In this article, we will go behind the doors of a manufacturer to understand fabric printing in detail.
What is Fabric Printing?
As per Britannica, Printing is a process of decorating textile fabrics by application of pigments, dyes, or other related materials in the form of patterns.
“There is evidence of printing being carried out in India during the 4th century BCE”
Modern textile printing is highly sophisticated. It mainly has 3 major steps. They are:
The textile printing process starts by preparing the grey goods (raw fabrics). Grey goods are the product of weaving. It is a dirty and stiff material. This is due to the starch and sizing used to stabilize the yarns. The grey fabric is dirty because the yarns are not cleaned or processed before the weaving process.
Once the print factory receives the grey goods, it is prepared for printing after these basic steps.
- Singeing: Singeing is the process of removing the hairy parts of the fabric. This process is done with the help of a singeing machine.
- Scouring: This is a chemical washing process that removes the natural wax and seed fragments from the fabrics.
- Desizing: As the name indicates, this treatment removes the size from the fibers.
Most of the time, after these processes, factories normally get a yellowish fabric. But in order to print, pure white fabric is required.
- Bleaching: Now the yellowish fabric will undergo bleaching. It is a process involving hydrogen peroxide. During the bleaching stage, the fabric goes through a series of baths, each bath increasing the concentration of the bleaching agent and temperature of the solution.
- Mercerization: This is a process done after bleaching in order to strengthen the fabric and give it more lustrous appearance.
- Shrinkage: During mercerization, the fabric can also shrink. A tempering machine stabilizes the width of the fabric.
The resultant fabrics are dried using steam and hot rollers and is ready for printing.
(Note: Above preparation process is explained in terms of cotton fabric. Slight changes will be there depending on the fabric used for printing)
Before we jump into the next section, I want you to understand an important process that goes behind the screen. That is the preparation of dye. It is done in the ‘factory kitchen’. Dyes are mixed and the colors are matched using a computer system.
Once we have the fabric ready, it is time to print our designs on it. There are many different types of fabric printing methods. Each of them gives a different result and is used for various purposes. The four main methods of textile printing are:
- Block Printing:
Block printing is a conventional method of printing that uses wooden blocks to print onto the surface. The wooden block will be carved with the design that needs to be printed. A dye paste is applied to the wooden block and it is then placed onto the fabric to transfer the design.
Before we move on to the next, let me briefly introduce screens. Screens are used on both rotary machines and flatbed screen printing machines. Screens contain the design that needs to be printed onto the fabric.
- Roller Printing:
Roller printing or rotary printing is used for the large production of printed fabrics. It is also used for printing designs that are not possible with other methods. The advantage of roller printing is that it takes up much lesser space compared to screen printing.
“The modern roller printing machines are based on an initial design that was in use during 1783
The prepared fabric rolls through the machines, underneath the rolls. The fabric is engraved as it passes through each roll. The quality of the print is dependent on the quality of the engraving.
- Screen Printing:
Screen printing is another method that can be done either by hand or an automatic machine. The finished fabric is laid on a printing table and then the design is applied through a screen made of silk or nylon gauze stretched over a wooden or metal frame, on which the design for one color has been produced.
The screen is placed over the fabric on the table and the paste is poured onto the screen. An operator or an automatic arm squeezes the surface over the surface of the screen so that color is pushed through onto the fabric.
- Heat transfer Printing:
Polyester and other highly polyester blends fabrics are used for heat transfer printing. A paper that is carefully dyed is printed with the desired pattern. The paper is then applied to the fabric by passing the two together through a hot calendar. The pattern will be transferred from one to the other. This method also paved paths for new effects like the halftone effect.
There are also various printing styles adopted by factories for applying the dyes. They are:
- Direct Printing:
According to Wikipedia, Direct printing is a process of printing on textiles using specialized aqueous inkjet technology. The color is directly applied to the fabric’s surface.
- Discharge Printing:
In the discharge printing process, a print paste is applied to the design area on a pre-dyed fabric. The print paste removes the dye on the fabric, either completely to give a white color or leave a separate color on the previously dyed fabric.
- Resist Printing:
Resist printing is an opposite technique to discharge printing. Here a paste is applied to the fabric before dying. Once the dyeing process is complete and washed, the print will be having a different shade from the rest of the fabric.
The finishing process is the final step in the printing process. It involves a series of washing stages. This ensures that all excess dyes are removed and the fabric meets the color fastness standards. Finally, the fabric is dried and folded into carts, and taken for inspection. Once the final quality is complete, it is rolled and sent to the customer.
Source Printed Fabrics
Our journey ends here. As a guide, I believe that now you have an overall idea of the fabric printing process. Still, there are other least used printing processes that are outdated or only used by a handful of artisans around the world. Comment below if you know any of them.