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What Are Your Digital Fabric-Printing Options?

Behind every beautifully custom printed textile is a specific fabric printing chemistry and process that will vary from application to application (or from fabric type to fabric type). For example, printing on cotton canvas requires a different method than printing polyester sports apparel. The fibers in each material respond differently to various ink chemistries, meaning there is no single process that will provide the ideal print for every fabric sublimation printing fabric

However, digital fabric printing can be less complex than it sounds. In order to find the exact fabric printing machine that’s right for your intended use, you just need to understand the processes that are available for your application. Two of the most common techniques — dye-sublimation and direct-to-garment (DTG) printing — are detailed below to give you an overview on how digital printing on fabric should be approached for each type of material.

Dye Sublimation Printing
When it comes to fabric printing on polyester, dye sublimation is the go-to chemistry. Techniques can include using a traditional dye-sub transfer printer or a direct-to-fabric dye-sublimation printer. While transfer printing is more prevalent, direct-to-fabric printing on polyester is certainly possible and will actually yield better results during certain applications.

The dye-sub printing process uses a specific ink type: disperse dyes. Graphics are printed onto transfer paper, which is then placed in a heat press (clam shell or roll-to-roll calender unit) along with the polyester fabric that you’re decorating. The heat turns the dried, solid inks into a gas, penetrating the polyester to create a permanent graphic. Polymers in the polyester allow the inks to bond and become fully embedded into the material. The result is a completely washable, high-resolution image consisting of vibrant colors.
If you’re looking to print directly onto materials like cotton, nylon or silks, roll-to-roll direct-to-fabric printers are required. It is important to understand that for printing on all non-polyester fabrics, there is no “paper-transfer process” available. The ink chemistries best suited for all of these fabric types require the ink be printed directly onto the fabric. The process is just as it sounds — it involves printing directly onto a roll of “prepared-for-print” fabric. Direct-to-fabric is sometimes also referred to as direct-to-textile or direct-to-garment printing.

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