Top 10 Textile Printing Techniques

by Jesse Luginbuhl // updated on: September 3, 2020

The art of transferring stunning and gorgeous designs, graphics, illustrations, representations, icons, and logos onto different fabrics is called fabric printing. Though we always appreciate the high-quality of the images and designs on the fabrics, we don’t mull over how the graphics are created. The impressions and illustrations which appear so smooth and perfect are the handiwork of highly skilled and seasoned printers and craftsmen.

Excelling in fabric printing requires the printer to have extremely honed skills to impart the designs on textiles with perfection. If you’re intending to become a professional printer keep in mind that it might take years for you to transfer impressions onto fabrics with precision. Embossing imprints and graphics onto various types of fabrics constitutes the final step in the textile production process.

Theoretically speaking, the printing procedure per se sounds straightforward and simple-you employ a special technique and pigments for transferring the imprints. But in reality ensuring that the impressions stay permanently on the near infinite yards of fabrics calls for having specialized printing skills. Printers make use of three distinct textile or fabric printing techniques for embossing designs-resist   printing, discharge printing, and direct printing.

In resist printing, you daub a specially created resist paste or glue on the textile in a particular pattern. When you dye the textile or fabric, the sections where you’ve applied the paste remain impervious to the pigment. Once you’re through with the dyeing process, the tint of the pasted areas becomes prominent as the basic or base color.  

Discharge printing is the removal of colorants from particular sections of a dyed cloth with the application of special chemicals. Direct printing has to do with transferring designs and graphics directly onto the fabric surface using pigments and dyes.

In this review on the top 10 textile printing techniques, we’ll focus exclusively on the direct printing methods for t-shirt printing.

Screen Printing

Screen printing involves transferring design blueprints and prototypes onto textiles via films, meshes, and screens. In screen printing, you draw out an absorbent film or mesh over a structure or framework. Thereafter you place a stenciled design (usually shaped out of permeable nylon fabric) on the porous screen with the unprinted sections covered.

Finally you position the screen on the substrate (the fabric surface) and then use a squeegee made of wood for pushing the pigments through the mesh onto the substrate. The screen printing technique is categorized under two broad types-rotary screen printing and flatbed screen printing. Rotary screen printing involves the use of perforated spherical or cylindrical screens to which a special pump feeds paste automatically.

While printing the paste is squeezed out through the perforations in the screen onto the fabric surface for obtaining the intended design. The flatbed screen printing is similar to the rotary screen printing technique only that the former is carried out manually. Rotary screen printing continues to be the most popular fabric printing method from a commercial perspective.

Block Printing

Block printing as the name indicates is a special type of fabric printing where you use a wooden or metallic block for embellishing fabrics with designs. The block which is usually shaped out of a hardwood or metal such as copper or zinc bears the imprint engraved on them. The metal or wooden block is pressed onto the fabric surface for passing on the impressions and imprints.

Stencil Printing

Stencil printing primarily entails using stencils that are cut with precision so as to have the same shape as the designs. Colors or pigments are smeared on the cutouts in the stencils which are usually carved out of plastic, paper, wood or metal. Though this fabric printing technique is very simple and straightforward, the method is quite time consuming and labor intensive.

Design Engraved Roller Printing

As per this method, a printing machine equipped with built-in engraved rollers transfers the designs to dyed textiles passing through the rollers. The printing machine carries multiple engraved rollers each having a distinct color. Once the patterns are transferred to the textile, the cloth is dried and steamed using scientific processes for setting the dye.

The biggest benefit of this type of fabric printing is that you can print in high volumes without sacrificing quality. Most of the fabric rolls used for making garments and apparels bear prints imparted to them via design engraved rollers.   

Heat Transfer Printing

This is one of the most inexpensive methods used in 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

Inkjet Printing

Printing designs onto fabrics, created using an inkjet or laser printer, rival screen printing in terms of popularity. A heat press machine exploits heat transfer technology for passing on the impressions onto the fabrics. You first create a design and take a printout on a heat transfer vinyl (HTV) or carrier sheet with a laser or inkjet printer.

Thereafter you place the HTV onto the top surface of the fabric and iron down on it applying heat and pressure with a press. This transfers the imprint onto the fabric or the t-shirt; using a heat press machine for this purpose offers you better results.  

Spray Painting

Spray painting as the expression or term implies, is a fabric printing method where you spray dye onto the fabric using a special sprayer.  Simply put, you use a specially designed sprayer (a spray gun to be precise) for squirting the pigment over the fabric, via a screen.  

Photo Printing

Photo printing involves coating the fabric with a special chemical (liquid photo suspension or emulsion) that tends to be very light-sensitive. You can print any type of photo or picture over the chemical applied onto the fabric surface. A very popular method for exploiting the photo printing system is blueprinting which finds extensive application.

Sublimation Printing

You chiefly use sublimation transfer printing process for transferring designs onto t-shirts stitched out of white polyester fabric. You can also use this fabric printing technique for imprinting on tees embroidered from blended polyester and pretreated textiles. You’ll have to keep a heat press machine, sublimation ink, and a color laser or inkjet printing ready for sublimation printing.

The dye or colorant is vaporized in this printing process which is thereafter absorbed by the t-shirt’s polyester fabric. This method of fabric printing tends to be very expensive, mainly because of the costly sublimation ink but the end result is striking and durable.

 DTG Digital Printing

If you’re printing on t-shirts in lots of 5-6, then the DTG digital printing method is your best bet. You can straightaway print photos and images onto your t-shirts for personalizing them, using DTG printing technique. You’d need a DTG printer for the job and can expect excellent results with regards to quality prints.

You can exploit your creativity to the hilt with this printing method for customizing your personal shirts and dress materials. You also have the leeway of applying a wide range of colors for printing photographs or your name on the fabrics.

Other Posts You'll Like